On the Church

Let’s take a look at the history of the church. We’ll do that first by looking at the
church around the world. One statistic informs us that there are three hundred
thousand local congregations across the United States. Another statistic tells us that
there are 37 million local congregations around the world. I have a simple one-mile
commute to work, and over the course of that mile I pass four churches. I used to
live in Lancaster, Pa., and as I drove around I tended to count silos and churches. I
don’t know how many of the 37 million churches are in Lancaster, but there are a
lot.

Archaeologists tell us that the oldest church building dates to AD 230. It is in
northern Jordan, and it’s actually underground. Remember, this was a time of
persecution, when the church and Christians were being persecuted by the Roman
Empire, so this is literally an underground church building. It also has an inscription
on the floor that reads, “The seventy beloved by God.”

Of course, the earliest churches were actually house churches—congregations that
met in members’ houses—and there were also congregations that met in
synagogues when the members of the synagogue converted to Christianity. Many
local churches have fascinating histories. The church I grew up in had church first
and Sunday school afterward, which was a practice that went all the way back to the
beginnings of the church. It was a circuit church, meaning that the pastor preached
there and then preached at another church. So, he would preach at this church first,
and then he’d hop on his horse and ride to the next town and preach there. And that
tradition of having an early service stuck.

I recently spoke at another church that had a fascinating history. This church was
founded in 1942 by a student of J. Gresham Machen named Henry Wellben. Wellben
went to Princeton as a student and was with Machen for one year—the 1928–29
academic year—and when Machen left Princeton after that year and founded
Westminster Theological Seminary, Wellben went with him. He graduated in 1932,
pastored a few churches, and sided with Machen in the dispute over missions within
the Presbyterian church, and for that he found himself in hot water in his churches.
Finally, in 1942 he planted this church where I spoke celebrating its seventy-fifth
anniversary.

And this pastor has an interesting history. He was still pastoring when the Korean
War broke out, and suddenly some black sedans pulled up to his house and he
disappeared. He had grown up in Korea and was a son of missionaries, so, during
the Korean War, he was enlisted by the CIA to serve as a spy. After the Korean War
he went back to planting churches again.

As we look at the three hundred thousand churches across the United States and the 37 million churches around the world, we know that these churches all likely have interesting histories. And the churches that are faithful to God’s Word and faithful to proclaiming His Word, we know that not only do they have interesting histories but they are histories that ultimately tell of the faithfulness of God.

What is the history of your local church? Maybe you can be the local church historian and can uncover some fascinating and interesting facts and ideas from the history of your church. Every church has a history. What’s the history of your church?

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