What was the original church? Was the first church / original church the true church?
Many religious groups have claimed to be the original church or first church, but what was the true first church? The Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 marks the birth of the church. On that day, the 120 followers of Jesus in the upper room of Jerusalem were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Peter preached to the crowds of Jerusalem and 3,000 were added to their number that day (Acts 2:41).
This first church is described in Acts 2:42-47. Verse 42 says, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." Learning, community, service, worship, and outreach all took place, resulting in the daily growth of the church.
After the death of the first martyr Stephen (Acts 7:54-60), the early Christians were scattered to other cities. Churches then began to expand into other cities in Judea and Samaria as Jesus predicted (Acts 1:8). The conversion of Paul led to further church multiplication that included a vibrant church in the Empire's capital of Rome just 30 years after Jesus' resurrection.
By the fourth century, Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire. As a result, the church became a state church in addition to being a spiritual movement. The Roman Catholic Church was the result, including the development of many traditions such as apostolic succession that taught that the Roman Catholic Church was "the" church because its lineage could be traced to the apostle Peter in Rome.
In the 1500s, the Protestant Reformation sought to return people to the Bible as the authority of the church rather than the pope or church tradition. It, too, claimed to be the true church, led by God and His Word rather than by human leaders.
So what is the true church? Scripture defines "church" in three distinct ways. First, there is the universal church (often written with a capital C). The universal church consists of all believers in all locations who are truly saved through Jesus Christ. Acts 9:31 is an example of this usage: "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up." Here the word church referred to all of the local churches in the region.
The second way church is defined in the Bible is in reference to local churches or congregations. Each home in which believers gathered for regular worship was called a church. For example, Paul wrote, "Greet also the church in their house" (Romans 16:5).
The third way church is defined is in reference to the local churches of a particular city or area. For example, when Paul wrote to the church at Rome, it consisted of multiple house churches or house locations in a particular city. These individual smaller congregations were collectively included as the church at Rome.
In summary, the first church was the church in Jerusalem in Acts 2:42-47. The true church consists of all true believers. The word church can refer to all true believers, individual congregations, or the churches of a particular region. However, there is no biblical basis for the "true church" in the Roman Catholic sense that excludes other genuine groups of believers.
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