Nearing the end of this Pentecostal week, I wanted to address the Church’s beginning. Sometimes, you notice parochial signs or bumper stickers that list the foundation of the Church in A.D. 33 (more likely A.D. 30, but who knows?). As far as I can tell, dating the foundation of the Church to Pentecost is a Western idea, though one can find it among Orthodox Christians in America. When, then, did the Church begin? It certainly did not start in Los Angeles, California sometime in the 1970’s, or in Boston or Utah in the nineteenth century. It predates the Great Schism. The Church was alive and strong with the first of the ecumenical councils at Nicea, as its nascence came before the first ecclesial council in Jerusalem about which we read in the Acts of the Apostles. Then, we have the tradition that founds the Church at Pentecost, with the tongues of fire. Yet, in the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus met the disciples before his Ascension:
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the LORD.
Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
Indeed, the Lord commanded the Great Commission afterward, but before the Pentecost, and yet are we to think that there was no Church to receive the order? So, perhaps, we can trace the Church to the death and resurrection of Christ? Christians are the Paschal people, after all. However, before the Passion, Peter addressed Jesus as Lord on Mount Tabor, and, as Paul writes, “No one can know Jesus as Lord except by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.” Wasn’t the Church present when Peter, James, and John witnessed the Transfiguration?
The Church is Israel, matured and blossomed, and its saints lived long before the coming of the Messiah in time and space. The Church exists before the temple, and it exists before Aaron and the Kohanic priesthood. For the people of God had already assembled to receive the law from Moses. As the Church is Israel, maybe we should date the Church to Jacob and his children, but what about Abraham? Wasn’t the sacrifice of Isaac a great milestone in the history of God’s economy with man? Perhaps, we should go back to Noah, when universal laws were given for all nations. Yet, certain men before Noah were righteous and communed with God. Consider what such piety did for Abel. So, it seems sensible to start at the beginning, with the Church’s coming to be in time with the creation of Adam. Yet, time itself is an image of the eternal, and from all eternity the Body of Christ exists for the mind of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes,
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;
Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:
That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
Think again whether Pentecost is truly the Church’s birthday. I contend that it might be better to consider Pentecost as the Church’s Bar Mitzvah.