Did the Lord Jesus establish a church?

According to most people the Lord Jesus is the founder of the Christian church. Therefore that church is supposed to be central in Christianity. However, there are still Christians who reject this suggested founding. Some even state that therefore this church is unimportant or a side-issue. What is the church actually and what is its purpose? What is written about it in the Bible?

By Marco van Putten

The word ‘church’ supposedly comes from the Greek word kuriake – that which is from the Kurios (1 Cor 15:23). The Lord Jesus is called Kurios (Greek: Lord) in the New Testament (NT). The church is thus seen as His domain. Property is also seen as a political sphere; the worldwide institution of Christendom, its organization and legal corpus.
In general sense it represents the community of all (Jewish and gentile) Christians which together form a diversity [1]. But it also represents a locality, the building in which the Christian service is held.

Word study
The word ‘kuriake’ is nowhere used in the Bible meaning ‘church’. That meaning is given to the Greek word ekklesia. This is a combination of the words ‘ex – going out of/exit’ and ‘kaleo – invitation/calling from’. However, it is remarkable that this word only is used twice in one Gospel (Mt 16:18; 18:17). The word seems to be connected with the Hebrew word ‘edah’, meaning ‘the community (of believers)’ and stems from the root ‘oed – testify/announce’.

But there are more Greek words that have the meaning ‘church’ and are translated as such, like paneguris – general assemble (of believers) (Hb 12:23) and pan-agora – bringing all together. These have the same meaning as the Hebrew word qehillah – community (of believers), which stems from the root qahal – gather/assemble. Even more fitting is the word combination synagogue (Hb 10:25; Jam 2:2), which is a combination of the words ‘sun – together’ and ‘agoon – congregate/meet up’. The name ‘synagogue’ however became unsuited for Christians since Judaism and Christianity grew into enemies and ‘synagogue’ was used already for centuries as the name for the Jewish house of worship.

Requirements for church establishment
To determine whether the Lord Jesus actually did establish a church, it is necessary to study what that requires:

The break up with traditional Judaism

The church represents a new religious community, while the group around the Lord Jesus became a faction within traditional Judaism.

The Temple on earth (temporarily) no longer the central institution

The new church institution, with its own religious authority, could not be established in the time that the Temple still existed. The time that the Lord Jesus was on earth. The Temple authorities regarded the teachings of the Lord Jesus as blasphemous (Mc 14:64).

The establishment of an alternative central governing body on earth [2]

The governing body of the church has to have its own hierarchy, as alternative for the caste of priests of the Temple.

The adjustment of Israel’s religion

The church stands for an adjustment – the church doctrine – of the religious teaching of Israel, with which the church justifies itself. Especially since the OT contains no prophecies announcing the coming of a church.

The writing off of Israel

The people of God, which the church claims to encompass, should then explain the existence of Israel. The writing off of that Israel is evident.

Facts about the Lord Jesus
What is written about the Lord Jesus in the Bible [3]?

The break up with traditional Judaism

The Lord Jesus had sharp, fundamental criticism on traditional Judaism of His days, but not on the original Biblical religion of Israel. He even based His criticism on the fact that the two were so different. He condemned tradition Judaism as being corrupted (Mt 15:9; Jh 16:3). With this He revealed what the core issue was of His ministry.

The Temple on earth (temporarily) no longer the central institution (Lk 2:34).

The Lord Jesus foresaw that it would go from bad to worse (Jh 16:2). Therefore, He broke up with traditional Judaism by announcing the New Covenant with His 12 apostles, in which He appointed them as Israel’s representatives (Mt 19:28; Lk 22:20). He also prophesied that the Temple would be destroyed (Lk 21:6), and that it would be rebuild (Jh 2:19). He always recognized the Temple as the central institution (Mt 8:4) and visited it often (Mt 26:55; Jh 8:2). After His ascension God made Him into High priest of the Temple in heaven (Hb 8:1) until His return to earth. So, the Temple remained the central institution [4].

The establishment of an alternative central governing body on earth

God made the Lord Jesus the Head of the community of believers (Ef 1:22; Col 1:18) – the High priest –, but He received that position only just after His arrival in heaven. On earth that would then have been impossible, since His office was Martyr-Prophet (Mt 20:18-19; Jh 7:33). He also didn’t appoint a successor [5]. The community of believers was supposed to be ruled out of heaven by the Lord Jesus and on earth by believers with ministries inspired by the Holy Spirit (Ef 4:11). Elders (Greek presbuteros; Acts 14:23; Tit 1:5) were appointed, following the example of the organizational structure in Israelite communities, until the Lord would return as Messiah-King. The community of believers was for a long time led by pillars (Gal 2:9). He explicitly forbade His disciples to name themselves ‘father’ (Greek Patri / Latin Pope) (Mt 23:9), since God is the Only Father of the believers.

The adjustment of Israel’s religion

The torturing, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus opened the way for the Holy Spirit to be poured out by thereby the believers were reborn. From these it has to be concluded that this meant a renewal, a betterment and a new impulse of the original Biblical religion. A completely new religion is not announced in the NT.

The writing off Israel

Initially the Lord Jesus emphasized the nationality of Israel (Mt 10:5). Because God made Israel into a nation owned by Him (Ex 19:5), thus nationality remains intact and with that their inheritance (Rm 9:4-5; Gal 2:15; Ef 2:12). After His resurrection however He formally commanded that also non-Jewish people should be made His disciples (Acts 22:21). The people of God then were named ‘Christians’ (Greek christioi / Hebr Masjiechiem; Acts 11:26) instead of Israelites or Jews. The new name was especially beneficial for the believers coming from the nations. But that did not mean that immediately became clear what the Christian identity was [6]. The apostles sustained the command to love one another amongst believers (Jh 13:34), took confusion away and didn’t want to jeopardize missionary work. But Israel was not written off (Rm 11:1). Hence, there was a prophetic expectation about the recovery of Israel (Rm 11:26).

Facts about the church
What becomes clear form church history?

The break up with traditional Judaism

The church continued this break up that the Lord Jesus started, but also broke up with the original Biblical religion of Israel.

The Temple on earth (temporarily) no longer the central institution

The church states that the Temple and its service were abolished by the assumed completed work of the Lord Jesus. The destruction of the Temple is seen as proof of it. The blessings of God [7] are supposedly only received via the church.

The establishment of an alternative central governing body on earth

The church from early on appointed patriarchs (church fathers over a region or country) who amongst themselves were regarded as equals and had regular contact. Later the church stated that, after the death of the 12 apostles, no new apostles or prophets were appointed. The governing body of the church is supposed to embody all the ministries within it [8]. The bishop of Rome – nowadays known as ‘Pope’ – soon strived to take the position of arch patriarch of the whole church. Just like the Roman arch king (emperor) of his whole empire. Political ambitions became more and more the characteristic of the church.

The adjustment of Israel’s religion

The adjustment was made into a thorough break up with the original Biblical religion which was enforced by establishing a new religion; the single Christian doctrine [9].

The writing off of Israel

According to the church the Jewish nation was, for all eternity, rejected and cursed by God and replaced and super seceded by the church [10].

Had the Lord Jesus really established a church, then this would be mentioned explicitly in the Bible. This can nowhere be found in it. Still, what can be found is the fact that He broke up with traditional Judaism, since it had broken up with Biblical religion preceding it. The idea that God had commanded the establishment of the church after His ascension to heaven is dubious, since the church has everything to do with the Lord Jesus and the believers on earth [11]. The establishment of the church therefore has no basis in the Bible [12]. That means that God didn’t want a church, since it was established by man. The governing body of the church, however, has made all kinds of self confirming claims [13] and thereby made itself first of all an instrument to keep believers away from the blessings of God [14]. The church is not the representation of God’s people, since it has not the characteristics of a people. Likewise, the Temple in Jerusalem never represented the people of Israel, but the High Priest represented them. The Temple in heaven became the one sole Temple after the Temple on earth was destroyed and is the active Temple for which the Lord Jesus is appointed High Priest to represent the people of God in it.

Still, the establishment of the church is not illogical [15]. Potential advantages of the church are that it makes the disciples of the Lord Jesus visible and could look after their issues. Important questions should be answered: How is the Lord Jesus Head of His Body? What must His Temple service as High Priest mean for it? But also, what will be the consequences for it when the Lord Jesus returns to earth? The answers to these questions seem to have been avoided. Therefore the church eventually will become irrelevant [16].

[1] The name ‘members’ (or body parts) of the corpus of believers gives raise for the concept of diversity. Every body part having its own distinguishing function (1 Cor 12:26-27).
[2] Although Christianity accepts the Lord Jesus as the Head of the church and therefore struggles with the position of a church head on earth, still it is for several reasons obvious that a church has a central governing body on earth.
[3] If the Lord Jesus was the founder of the Christian church, then this has to have happened before His crucifixion.
[4] In contrast to what Judaism claims.
[5] Although the Roman-catholic church firmly is convinced that Simon Peter was the successor of the Lord Jesus (Mt 16:18) and that he was the first of the dynasty of bishops of Rome. However, before Peter arrived in Rome there already was a bishop in that city. Also, Peter went to the city as missionary, was put in captivity (Jh 21:18) and received there his death by torture.
[6] That for example becomes clear in the heated debates about the observance of the rules of the OT (Gal 2:14).
[7] Like God’s forgivingness, reconciliation, instruction and judgment.
[8] Especially this point is heavily disputed, because it clearly goes against the NT.
[9] That was confirmed by all sorts of official doctrines and church meetings (Catholicism) whom were supposed to be acknowledged by the worldwide church. This was never realized.
[10] Despite the fact that the church is only an institution and not a nation. The replacement thus is based on subjects that cannot replace each other.
[11] It is even named His Body (1 Cor 12:27).
[12] This is about the theological argument and not about judging how the church took shape over the centuries.
[13] Like, that the church had to take over the position of Israel, represented God’s people and that it was the sole channel for the blessings of God.
[14] Exactly the opposite of what was intended with it.
[15] The church was established in a culture wherein it was the norm to be part of a group, a collective. In the Bible the emphasis is on the fact that each believer has its own responsibility to act according to its religion (children of God).
[16] This explains why all kinds of theories are made up to give the church a final destination in heaven preceding the return of the Lord Jesus to the earth.