When Did the Church Start?

At least most Christians acknowledge that there is one universal church to which Christians belong.
Matthew 16:18: "And I [Jesus] tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it."

But when was Jesus' prophecy fulfilled and the church actually started?

Some who think the church did not start until later believe that water baptism is not for today.

Most Christians think the church started at Pentecost.
Acts 2:37-41 "Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'What should we do, brothers?' Peter said to them, 'Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.'" With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, 'Save yourselves from this perverse generation!' So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added."
However, some believe a "mid-Acts church view" that these Jewish Christians were not the church but a continuation of the old covenant of law, through Jesus Christ. They say that the church did not start until Paul started preaching the gospel of grace and fell into conflict with Peter, James and others.

Acts 9:31 "Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria experienced peace and thus was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the church increased in numbers."

Still others hold to a "late-Acts church view" that the church did not start until Israel officially rejected the gospel as Paul formally announced in Acts 28.

Acts 28:24-29 "Some were convinced by what he [Paul] said, but others refused to believe. So they began to leave, unable to agree among themselves, after Paul made one last statement: 'The Holy Spirit spoke rightly to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah when he said, 'Go to this people and say, 'You will keep on hearing, but will never understand, and you will keep on looking, but will never perceive. For the heart of this people has become dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.'''" 'Therefore be advised that this salvation from God has been sent to the Gentiles, they will listen!"

However, Gentiles were flocking into the church long before Paul made this statement near the end of his life.

Some may think that Christians prior to the church were still under some form of the law. Alternately even after Paul's preaching were Jews who accepted Christ under a different dispensation or set of rules than Gentiles who accepted Christ?

Here is what the Bible shows.

The church existed prior to Saul becoming Paul.
Acts 8:1 "Now Saul agreed completely with killing him [Stephen]. Now on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Some devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was trying to destroy the church; entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison."
Philippians 3:6a "In my zeal for God I persecuted the church..."

How could Paul persecute the church if the church had not existed yet? If the church did not exist until Paul, certainly Paul would have known that, but he knew of no such theory.

Even Peter and Jewish believers during Paul's time were commanded to eat all kinds of meat.
Acts 10:9-16 "About noon the next day, while they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing the meal, a trance came over him. He saw heaven opened and an object something like a large sheet descending, being let down to earth by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth and wild birds. Then a voice said to him, 'Get up, Peter, slaughter and eat!' But Peter said, 'Certainly not, Lord, for I have never eaten anything defile and ritually unclean!' The voice spoke to him again, a second time, 'What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!' This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into heaven."

So it was not just Gentile believers that could eat all meat, but Peter and thus presumably all Jewish believers too.

However, they did not necessarily practice that; Peter would not eat with Gentiles in Galatians.

Paul said that Peter was wrong for doing that. Paul did not say Peter was just performing a different ministry; rather Paul said Peter was wrong here.

Paul said that some believers would eat only vegetables, and regard one day as holy, while other believers would not in Romans 14:1-23.

This would have been the perfect place for Paul to state what additional restrictions Jewish Christians had, but Paul did. Romans 14 teaches liberty and variety, not restrictions.

While Peter was primarily an apostle to the Jews, God choose him to preach to the Gentiles too.
Acts 15:7 "After there had been much debate [at the Jerusalem council], Peter stood up and said to them, 'Brothers, you know that some time ago God chose me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message of the gospel and believe."

Christ did not have two bodies: a Gentile one and a Jewish one.
Ephesians 4:4 "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling,"

There are not two faiths: a Jewish Christian one and a Gentile Christian one.
Ephesians 4:5 "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

According to Paul there is (and still is) only one baptism in one body.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13a "For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body - though many - are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.

Was Paul talking just to Jews here or just to Gentiles here? - No!
1 Corinthians 12:13b "Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit."

There were not two classes of Christians.
Galatians 3:27-38 "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female - for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

James and Peter had a "subset" of rules for the Gentiles.

Acts 15:19-20 "Therefore I [James] conclude that we should not cause extra difficulty for those among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things defiled by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood." The letter in Acts 15:28-29

These were not restrictions at that time for just Jewish Christians, but restrictions for Gentile Christians too. Some say these restrictions are still applicable today. After all, not eating blood did not start with the Mosaic covenant but long before with non-Jews under Noah.

Questions for a Conclusion

1) How could the church not start until the middle of Acts, or later, if Saul of Tarsus persecuted the "church" in Acts 8:1 and Philippians 3:6?
2) Could Jewish follower of Christ eat all kinds meat in Acts 10? The heavenly angel was not commanding something bad was he?
3) How can there be more than one body of believers, since Ephesians 4:4 and 1 Corinthians 12:12 say there is only one body.
4) In the one body, are we to make any distinction between Jew and Gentile, in Galatians 3:27-28 and 1 Corinthians 12:13?

Bible quotations are from the .NET Bible.

by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.