THE IGLESIA NI CRISTO (Church Of Christ) believes that the members of the Church established by Christ in Jerusalem in the first century, eventually apostatized, that is, they turned away from the true faith. Thus, the Church Of Christ that reemerged in these last days, is the restoration of the Church founded by Christ.
The gospel according to Matthew gives us an insight on the events that would take place in the history of the Church built by Christ in the first century. It is important to understand the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ here on earth and the purpose for which God sent Him.
Matthew 16:18—The establishment of the Church
The mission for which Christ was sent has something to do with man’s reconciliation with God, according to the apostles:
“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”
(II Cor. 5:18-20 New King James Version)
Since all have sinned (Rom. 5:12) all have been separated from God (Isa. 59:2) and became His enemies (Col. 1:21). The righteousness or law of God requires sinners to pay for their sins (Deut. 24:16) and the full payment for sin is death (Rom. 6:23)—in the lake of fire, which is the “second death,” according to the Bible (Rev. 20:14).
To fulfill the purpose for which He was sent, Christ established His Church. He declared, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18 NKJV). He made the Church His body (Eph. 5:23).
Matthew 24:14—This Kingdom will be preached in all the world
Christ did establish the Church. In the beginning, the Church Of Christ was merely a little or small flock (Luke 12:32; Acts 20:28 Lamsa Translation), but through the guidance of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Church Of Christ which was centered originally in Jerusalem, flourished during the administration of Christ’s apostles. The number of disciples increased in Jerusalem (Acts 6:7), in fact in one instance, 3,000 souls were converted to the Church (Acts 2:41) and daily they increased in number (Acts 2:47).
Time came when a great persecution arose against the Church in Jerusalem which caused the members to scatter to the regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). Ironically, this persecution, which was originally aimed at thwarting the Church’s growth, even became the catalyst for its expansion. Those who scattered to various regions of Palestine continued to spread the gospel (Acts 8:4).
Through the instrumentality of Apostle Paul, the Church Of Christ spread to the Gentile nations (Acts 13:46-49; Rom. 16:4, 16). The labor of Apostle Paul and his companions was in line with the mandate of Christ that the Good News about the “Kingdom” be preached through all the world for a witness to all mankind (Matt. 24:14 Good News Bible). This kingdom which was propagated by the apostles, to serve as a witness to all mankind, is the Church Of Christ (Col. 1:13-14 NKJV; Acts 20:28 Lamsa).
Matthew 24:4 and 11—The rise of false prophets
Before His ascension to heaven, Christ warned of the future rise of false prophets: “And Jesus answered them, ‘Take heed that no one leads you astray … And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray’” (Matt. 24:4, 11 Revised Standard Version).
Even the apostles, who were being guided by the Holy Spirit, were aware of this foretold occurrence:
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” (I Tim. 4:1-3 King James Version)
While the apostles were still alive, they were able to restrain the falling away or the apostasy of the Church (II Thess. 2:8, 3 New American Standard Bible). But they were also aware that time would come when a number of believers would be removed. The departure of the apostles (Acts 20:29) or their death (II Tim. 4:6-8), would be the turning point of the first-century Church Of Christ from her status as God’s chosen people (I Pet. 2:9-10).
Apostle Paul knew that the false prophets would rise up from among the leaders of the Church:
“Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:30 NKJV)
He was so troubled about what was going to happen that he said:
“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” (II Cor. 11:3-4 NKJV)
The corruption of the faith and beliefs of the members of the Church after the death of the apostles was the reason why the organization lost its status as God’s children. According to the Bible, God refuses to accept as His children those who have acted corruptly toward Him (Deut. 32:5 NKJV).
Matthew 7:13-14—Enter the narrow gate
Christ made it clear that He truly wanted people to benefit from His work of redemption. He taught:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14, NKJV)
The narrow gate that Christ admonished people to enter is in fact Himself, and those who enter in by Him will be saved:
“So Jesus said again, ‘I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. … I am the gate. Whoever comes in by me will be saved …’.” (John 10:7, 9 GNB)
Those who have entered in by Christ are in the flock or fold (John 10:9 Revised English Bible; 10:16) which is the Church Of Christ:
“Take heed therefore to yourselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, to feed the church of Christ which he has purchased with his blood.” (Acts 20:28 Lamsa)
In our time, the true Church Of Christ has reemerged. Though Christ and His apostles prophesied about the apostasy or turning away of the first century Church Of Christ, Christ also said:
“And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16 NKJV)
We believe that the prophesied “other sheep of Christ” are the members of the true Church Of Christ today—the Iglesia Ni Cristo.
The true Church Of Christ has always been just one religious organization, in the first century and even now. The true Church, no matter how far and wide it reaches, will always share the same beliefs, faith and hope, as it was during the time of the Apostles: “There is one body [the body is the Church—Col. 1:18] and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:4-6 NKJV).
Matthew 28:19-20—Make disciples of all nations
Before ascending to heaven, Christ said to His apostles:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age …” (Matt. 28:19-20 NKJV)
One has completely entered into the body of Christ, or the Church Of Christ, if he is baptized in it (I Cor. 12:13; Col. 1:18). But true baptism can only be facilitated by one commissioned to teach the true commandments that came from God. Christ warned about the proliferation of false preachers (Matt. 24:11), so one must be careful in his choice of preachers. Since discipleship is the result of faith and obedience to the true commandments of God and Christ, one should examine first all the doctrines and teachings being propagated by any particular preacher or religion before adhering to such. Christ promises only to be with those who observe what is in line with what He taught.
Therefore, the true identifying characteristics of the true Church Of Christ today are the teachings it observes. Even if an organization traces its history back to the original Church established by Christ in the first century, yet if it does not follow and uphold the true teachings of Christ, it could not be considered as the true Church Of Christ.
Matthew 10:36-38—Prove our love for Christ
But it’s not easy to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Being a member of His Church entails enduring persecutions and tribulations. The Bible declares:
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’.” (Matt. 16:24 NKJV)
Among the crosses that one must take up or bear is persecution. Christ said:
“And ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt. 10:36-38 NKJV)
Those who are able to prove their love for Christ despite persecution and trials are the ones He considers as worthy and faithful. Their sole inspiration in enduring all pains and sufferings is Christ’s promise of great blessings when He returns:
“And the Lord said, ‘Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes’.”
(Luke 12:42-43 NKJV)
And so with utmost determination, a member of the true Church Of Christ will strive to complete his course because Christ fervently promised:
“But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”
(Matt. 24:13 NKJV)
This article was originally published in the Pasugo: God’s Message Magazine, September 2014 Issue.