Shackelford on Baptist History (Complete)

Chapter 4: The First Church

The night before his crucifixion the Saviour formally assembled his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem, and with them he instituted the Memorial Supper. This was the closing act of his life as far as it related to his church, and was well calculated to remind it continually of the responsibility which rested upon it as the executor of his laws, and the administrator of his kingdom.

This Supper was to be perpetuated with his church, or churches, until he should come again, and would remind his servants continually of the charge committed into their hands, and their responsibility to him as their king. The ordinance itself is invested with increased interest when we recall the manner in which it was instituted, and the hour when it was given to the church. They were gathered together, apart from the multitude and the rest of the disciples, according to a previous appointment of their Master, for he said, “I shall eat the passover with my disciples,” and when it was done he instituted, with them, the Memorial Supper.

The Supper is therefore in a peculiar sense a chwrch ordinance. So much so that no one was present at its institution except those who composed the church. Paul makes reference to this when writing to the church at Corinth, and says he hears there are divisions when they come together in the church. He was careful to recount the exact manner in which he had first delivered this tradition to them, and how the Lord gave the Supper to his disciples, and told them “when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.” In an especial sense, therefore, did the Lord give this ordinance to his church, as such.

If it is to be observed as he gave it, it must be observed strictly as a church ordinance, for certainly in this way did he institute it. There were many other disciples who had been baptized by John, as well as many who had been baptized by the authority of Christ, “for he made and baptized more disciples than John,” yet none of these participated in the Supper. Jesus had sent out seventy disciples under an especial commission, who preached him in every city whither he himself would come, who had been endowed with power to perform miracles, and whose “names were written in heaven,” (Luke 10:20,) yet these not being members of Christ’s church, were not invited to participate in the Memorial Supper. Mary, the loved mother of Jesus, and Joseph, in whose new tomb the body of Christ was so soon to rest, were neither of them present.

What a lesson this should teach us in coming to the Lord’s Supper to remember no one but Jesus. “As a Jewish family they observed the passover. But as they were now about to take their stand and rank as a Christian church before the world, the Saviour gives to them, as the first Christian corporation, or church, the supper institution as a memorial of himself, their Founder, Head and Life, and a pledge of his final coming to take his people to his heavenly home. As the passover was God’s special institution, given to every family of the Jewish nation to remind them of the divine interposition by which they were rescued from the bondage of Egypt, so the Christian passover, or Lord’s Supper, is Christ’s special institution given to every one of his churches to remind all the members of their great deliverance from the bondage of Satan, and to keep before their eyes the person and especially the sufferings of their Deliverer.”—Teasdale.

This was the last meeting the little church had with our Saviour during his natural life, and the last instructions the disciples had from his lips were given at this time. Now all the appointments of the church are complete, and it is invested with full authority to act as Christ’s judiciary and executive upon earth. Upon it rested the responsibility of preaching the gospel to a lost world.

Paul wrote, “Where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator, for a testament is of force after men are dead; otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.”—Heb. 9:16,17. Now that Christ is about to die, he of necessity must have an executor, to execute his laws and to carry forward his work to the end of time. While he lived he was the executor of his own laws, and hence his church was not vested with this power; but now that he is to depart, he makes his church the executor of his will and testament. The church is fully prepared, so far as instruction is concerned, to take the place of Christ in the execution of his laws, but not until after he had given to the world the most indubitable proof of his divinity by coming forth from the grave and repeatedly appearing to his disciples and to hundreds of other witnesses, did he say unto them, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”—Matthew 28:18-20. Henceforth we find this church actively engaged in preaching the gospel and administering the ordinances of God’s house.

From the tragic hour of our Lord’s sufferings until his ascension, we find the little church in a state of expectancy and confusion. They had been directed to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endowed with power from on high. Acts 1:4,8. During this time the disciples had indisputable evidence of the divinity of their Master. He had appeared unto them repeatedly, and had been seen by more than five hundred brethren at one time. 1 Cor. 15:6. The disciples had talked with him, handled him and eaten with him. He led them out from the city as far as Bethany, and after receiving his blessing, and in the presence of a large multitude, they witnessed his ascension. The Lord had risen indeed, and no evidence was now lacking to prove to the world that he was indeed the Christ, the Son of God.

After witnessing the ascension of Christ from the Mount of Olivet, and receiving the assurance from the heavenly messengers that their Lord would “come again in like manner as they had seen him ascend,” the disciples immediately assembled themselves “in an upper room.” Luke speaks of this as the abiding place of the disciples. Acts 1:13. Jameson, Fausset and Brown understand it to mean their place of rendezvous, and not their place of lodgment. There is no reason to believe that they had abandoned their families and taken up their lodgment here. It was evidently the place were the eleven had been accustomed to assemble themselves—the meeting place of the church. Certain it is they were all present on this occasion, and “continued with one accord in prayer with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.”

Here we find the church actively engaged in work. Heretofore the executive authority belonged alone to the Master, and the church had been passive. Now, as Christ’s executive, it becomes active .and proceeds to carry out the commission. At this meeting of the church there were added to the original eleven about one hundred and nine members. Among those honored names were the names of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers, also those of Joseph Justus and Matthias. When these names had been enrolled, for “the number of names together were about one hundred and twenty,” (Acts 1:15,) Peter stood up in their midst and instructed the church with reference to their duty in selecting a successor to Judas. Two members, Joseph Justus and Matthias, were put in nomination, and the vote was then taken which resulted in the election of Matthias, “and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”—Acts 1:26.

This is the first record we have of the church meeting together for the purpose of transacting business. Here we find it receiving members and electing an officer. It is worthy of special mention, just here, that the church was capable of selecting an apostle, which shows the subordinate position of that office. On the well recognized principle that the greater always includes the less, it follows that all church officers, including the bishops or pastors, are subject to the disciplinary powers of the churches.

It is but fair to suppose that Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her other sons, became connected with the church at this time, for they are expressly mentioned as having been present at the first meeting after the ascension of our Lord. Acts 1:14. While frequent mention is made of them by the evangelists, this is the first mention made of their meeting with the twelve in their congregated capacity. All these events transpired before the day of Pentecost. So we have found a church, actively engaged at work, electing an officer, receiving and enrolling members all before this day.

The next ingathering, of which we have any account, to this primitive church was on the day of Pentecost. On this occasion the disciples “were all of one accord in one place, and were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Peter is again spokesman, and standing up he expounded the Scriptures to the people, and preached unto them repentance and faith “in that same Jesus whom they had crucified and slain.” When the people heard him many of them believed, “and they that gladly received the word were baptized.”

It is frequently stated that three thousand were baptized on the day of Pentecost. This statement is entirely gratuitous. That this number could have been baptized in one day is easily proven. That there were, is without any scriptural evidence. Nor do I believe that they were added without having previously been baptized. I do not think that any one maintains that correct church relations can properly be maintained without baptism. There may not have been the half of three thousand baptized on this day. Only as many as gladly received the word were baptized. John, the harbinger, had baptized large numbers who came to him and professed faith in the coming Christ. Jesus himself “made and baptized more disciples than John, though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples.”—John 4:1,2. Evidently these baptized disciples, except the one hundred and twenty, had up to this time no church relationship. It is but fair and reasonable to suppose that if this was required of the one hundred and twenty, that it was required of all the disciples. Therefore, as many of those previously baptized disciples as were present were added to the church on that day, thus swelling the number to about three thousand, including those who had gladly received the word and were baptized. This is but a natural conclusion, such as we would arrive at if reasoning upon such a meeting at the present day, and becomes the more conclusive, if possible, when we read further on that “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” The Scriptures no where justify a Christian in living outside of proper church relations, and so I take it that all the baptized disciples at this time held membership in the Church at Jerusalem.

Author of the “Compendium Of Baptist History”. Please inform the Editor of the AHB (via the Contact page) if you have biographical information on this author. Thank you.

Shackelford on Baptist History (Complete)