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New Testament Churches

 By Dewey Roberts - Posted at Vanguard Presbyterian Church:

How large were the churches in the New Testament? What was the membership of the church at Corinth? Or at Ephesus? Or at Rome? Or even at Antioch or Jerusalem? Do we know? Do we have any way to know? The Scripture never really gives us that information. We know that there were 3,000 people converted to Christ at the Feast of Pentecost, but they represented many different regions and countries—from Parthia, Media, Elam, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene, and Rome. That is a very large geographical area represented by the converts. We know that there were about 120 believers who gathered in the Upper Room after Jesus’ resurrection. There were over 500 people who saw Jesus ascend into heaven 40 days after His resurrection. There were about 5,000 men who believed as a result of Peter’s second sermon in Jerusalem. Many of those were probably Jews who lived in Jerusalem or Israel. In Acts 21, we are told that there were “many thousands. . . among the Jews. . . who have believed.” So, we know that there were thousands of believers, but beyond that we know very little. The main reason why is because the Scripture is more interested in relating the stories of genuine converts, like Lydia or the Philippian jailer. Also, the Scripture gives us the marks of a true church—the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. The Protestant Reformers taught that the three essential marks of a true church are: the faithful preaching of the Word, the right administration of the sacraments, and the right exercise of discipline. Where those marks exist, a true church also exists. Where those marks do not exist, there is no true church. And, of course, there were many individual congregations or churches, but only one Church. The head of the one true Church is the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are many churches mentioned in the Scripture. There were the various congregations of believers in Jerusalem—the Mother Church of all others. There was a church in the city of Samaria—probably in the same area where Jesus had evangelized the woman at the well and various men of the city. After the great persecution in Jerusalem, Philip went down to Samaria and “preached Christ to them.” Peter and John followed Philip in Samaria and the Holy Spirit was poured out on that area. Meanwhile, Philip evangelized the Ethiopian eunuch, who was converted, on the road to Gaza. From there, he went to all the cities from Azotus (Ashdod) to Caesarea, preaching to all of those cities. So, there were certainly converts and churches that started in Samaria and the coastal cities of Israel. Further north of Caesarea was the great church at Antioch—the Mother Church of Missions. That was the church that sent out Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys.


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