THERE IS A PREDICTABLY RELIABLE WAY to tackle
the problem of who is right. Rather than trying to decide which of the over
2,500 Christian groups in North America keeps the original faith best by
studying what they are like right now, we can start from the beginning of the
Church itself and work our way through history to the present.
The birthday of the Church was Pentecost, the
day the Holy Spirit descended on the twelve Apostles in the Upper Room. That
day some 3,000 souls believed in Christ and were baptized. When the first Christian
community began, "they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine
and fellowship, in the breaking of bread (Communion), and in prayers"
From Jerusalem, the faith in Christ spread throughout Judea,
to Samaria (Acts 8), to Antioch and the Gentiles (Acts 13), where we find new
converts and new churches throughout Asia Minor and other
countries of the Roman Empire.
From the pages of the Epistles and the book
of Acts, we learn that the Church was not simply another organization in Roman
society. The Lord Jesus Christ had given the promise of the Holy Spirit
"will guide you into all truth" (John ). That promise was fulfilled at Pentecost, when the
Church was given birth as an divine institution far above all earthly
organizations. In Ephesians (Eph. )
St. Paul called it "a holy temple of the Lord."
The Church was a dynamic organism, the living Body of Jesus Christ. She made an
indelible impact in the world, and those who became part of her were inwardly
But we also discover in the New Testament
itself that the Church had her share of problems. All was not perfection.
Individuals in the Church sought to lead her off the path the Apostles
established, and they had to be dealt with along with the errors they invented.
Even whole local communities lapsed on occasion and had to be called to
repentance. The Church in Laodicea
is a vivid example (Revelation ch. 3). Discipline was administered for the sake
of purity in the Church. But there was growth and a maturing even as the Church
was attacked from within and without. The same Spirit who gave her birth gave
her power to correct and purify her members. The Church grew and became strong
until she eventually covered the whole of the Roman Empire.