Some Christians believe that the early Church fell into apostasy (serious error) sometime in the first few centuries A.D. Others believe that the Church faded away, disappeared from the pages of history, or dwindled into obscurity. Some believe that the Church’s failure was a part of God’s plan; that the Church was meant to be hidden for all these centuries only to resurface in our own age. They believe that it is up to us to restore the Church so that she can fulfill her intended purpose.
But if we listen to the words of Christ, we can see that the Church had its one and only start with the Son of God and cannot pass away or fall into oblivion. “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) The Church was built strong enough to withstand the powers of Hell. Why should anyone find it necessary to improve on such a structure? Why should such a Church ever need to be rebuilt by mortal man?
Those who do believe that the Church must be “restored” in our present age generally look to the Bible as a guide for their reconstruction. However, the Bible does not contain a blueprint for the structure and function of the Church. The Church does not arise from the pages of Scripture; rather the Church sprang forth from the lips of Jesus as He breathed life into her at Pentecost. “‘…as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22) From that moment the Church has bore witness to Him throughout history. This Church, which Jesus established, is a Spirit-filled Body centered on the Resurrected Christ.
We cannot build anew what Christ Himself has already built. The Church cannot be discarded when we perceive some abuse or neglect, either real or imagined, and then re-established or re-constructed by every passing generation. And yet new “churches” spring up in every corner of the globe - “Bible-based” churches - as though the Church is a “thing” to be assembled like a jigsaw puzzle from pieces scattered throughout Scripture.
But the Christ-centered Church, the Church that was built by Jesus to withstand the powers of Hell, was built to last. Like the wise man in the parable (Matthew 7:24-27), Jesus built His Church on the “rock,” not on “sand” like the foolish man. “[U]pon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Like a “light to the world” and “a city set on a hill” for all to see, His Church is standing still.