The Church Age in Scripture
By Dr. Ken Matto
Recently I was pondering the term “Church Age” and have taken that term “church age” and I have looked for it in the Scriptures and have been unable to locate it. The church age is a term which is used by those in the Dispensational movement as a period of time between Pentecost and the pre-wrath rapture of all the saints before the time of the Great Tribulation begins.
The church age has been defined by Dispensationalists with the seven churches found in Revelation 2 & 3. There is not the slightest indicator in these two chapters that they are to be understood as each church representing an era.
Dispensational Church Age Chronology
Ephesian - 53-170 AD
Smyrna - 170-312 AD
Pergamos - 312-606 AD
Thyatira - 606-1520 AD
Sardis 1520-1750 AD
Philadelphia - 1750-1906 AD
Laodicean - 1906-Present
The Dispensationalist teaches that the church age is partitioned into seven distinct eras. The problem with this analogy is that no church characteristics in Revelation 2 & 3 were unique to each time period. The problems listed in each church could be found in various churches at various times throughout the entire 1958 years. For example, the Dispensationalists teach that the Philadelphia period produced a very faithful church. Can anyone give proof that during that 156 years, that no false or apostate churches existed? The answer is no because there was apostasy in every time period of theirs as there is today.
There was no period in church history of a perfect church consisting of 100% saved people. Before John Wesley began to preach in England, there was much debauchery as England sunk into a spiritual low. This was supposed to be the time of the church of Philadelphia, the faithful church. This is why it is dangerous to take a doctrine like the seven dispensations and try to make them blanket doctrines, applying them to every church in the world. America was having an awakening under Jonathan Edwards while England was suffering spiritually. To judge the entire world by what happens in one place is a very flawed practice and will lead to false conclusions.
Meeting Places
Now when we read the book of Acts and the Epistles, we read that the beginning of the church, after Pentecost, the believers met in homes and because of persecution they met clandestinely in different places to avoid persecution. Even today, the church in countries hostile to the Gospel meet in that same manner. Now during the early church era and the middle ages, the Christians were not meeting in any specific buildings designed for worship. It was only after the Reformation in 1517 when Christians began to build buildings to assemble in. Those buildings became known erroneously as “churches.” The church is not a physical building but it is the body of believers. Fancy artwork, steeples, and other things were taken from the paradigm of cathedrals. In fact, I grew up in the Hungarian Reformed Church in Perth Amboy, NJ and within the confines of that building is an exact replica of the Pulpit that Luther preached from. I must be honest, it is a beautiful wooden pulpit, true to old cathedral style.
Since Christians in the middle ages had to avoid persecution, they could not build, nor could afford to build buildings where they met corporately. This would invite the local Catholic sympathizers and Inquisitors to have the ability to hold them inside the church and burn it down with them in it. Since Christians could not nor did not meet in specific buildings (there may have been some exceptions), for the first 1500+ years, this means that the church age is only about 500 years old and not 1958 years old. For the first 1500 years, evangelism was done by groups of people and not by local churches. It was basically in the 1600’s when Protestant Denominations started to form and then Christians felt safe attending, so the number of church buildings grew and with it came the different forms of governing the local bodies. Then missionary societies grew out of those church bodies and the church organizations have continued until the present day. Some of the dates of the founding of the denominations are below:
Presbyterian Church - Founded 1523 in Geneva, Switzerland - To USA in 1611
Episcopal Church - 39 Articles in 1563 - To USA in 1607
Congregational Church - Founded 1581 in England - To USA in 1620 with Pilgrims
Reformed Church - Founded in 1628 in New Amsterdam (NYC) by Dutch immigrants
Lutheran Church - Founded circa 1529 in Germany - To USA in 1623
Methodist Church - Founded in 1739 in England - To USA in 1761 by Philip Embury
Mennonite Church - Founded in Zurich, Switzerland 1525 - To USA in 1683
Plymouth Brethren - Founded in Schwarzenau, Germany in 1708 - To USA in 1850
So we see that the “church age” is really a very recent event. Church buildings for true Christians have not been around for 1958 years and the majority of Christian work for the first 1500+ years was done outside of any denominations or church assemblies as we know them today.
Biblical Duration of the Church Age
A question arises. How does the assembling of Christians together in a building constitute an age? The answer is simple! It doesn’t! Whenever we look at periods of time or ages, as the Bible puts it, we must go to the Scriptures for our answer and not a systematized theology based on human creation.
The church began with the calling of the first believer, whether it was Adam, Eve, or Abel, and will end when the last one is saved. Then cometh the end. Look at the following Scriptures:
The Present Age
(Rom 8:18 KJV) For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
(1 Cor 7:26 KJV) I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.
(Gal 1:4 KJV) Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:
(2 Tim 4:10 KJV) For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
(Titus 2:12 KJV) Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
(Mat 13:40 KJV) As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
(Luke 20:34 KJV) And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage:
(John 8:23 KJV) And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.
(Rom 12:2 KJV) And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
(1 Cor 3:19 KJV) For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
(Eph 2:2 KJV) Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
Look at the characteristics that represent this present world:
Romans 8:18 - This is a time of suffering
1 Corinthians 7:26 - This world is a time of distress
Galatians 1:4 - This world is evil
2 Timothy 4:10 - This world draws us back with all its sinful enticements
Titus 2:12 - This world is comprised of ungodliness and worldly lusts
Matthew 13:40 - This World will have an end
Luke 20:34 - There is physical marriage
John 8:23 - Christians are not of this world but are of Heaven
Romans 12:2 - Christians are not to be conformed to this world
1 Corinthians 3:19 - The Wisdom of this world is foolishness
Ephesians 2:2 - Before Christians were saved, they walked according to the sinful ways of the world.
This is how the Bible sums up the present world or age that we live in. It is an age that began at the time of creation and will not end until the last one becomes saved on the last day. Now let us look at the other age that the Bible speaks of:
The Age To Come
(Heb 13:14 KJV) For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.
(Heb 9:11 KJV) But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;
(Heb 6:5 KJV) And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
(1 Tim 6:19 KJV) Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
(1 Tim 4:8 KJV) For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
(Eph 2:7 KJV) That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
(Eph 1:21 KJV) Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
(Luke 18:30 KJV) Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.
(Mark 10:30 KJV) But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
Every one of these nine verses carry a common theme, and that is eternal life. The things of this world are passing away and are but shadows. As we read them we see there is a permanency attached to the ages or world to come. That next age is going to be the New Heaven and the New Earth. (2 Pet 3:13 KJV) Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Absence of a Church Age
We have seen that the Bible speaks of only two ages on earth. The present age began with Adam and Eve, and will end when the last one of God’s Elect will be saved. The second age is the eternal age. The Bible does not designate a specific age for believers meeting in special buildings. In fact, the Bible is silent on how Christians are to meet. There is nothing commanding us to meet in special buildings nor is there any command for us to meet in homes. The command for the believers is that they gather on the Lord’s Day which is Sunday and not Saturday. The meeting place is academic. Throughout history believers have met in many different places and as I already have pointed out, church buildings did not come into permanency until the 16th-17th century. The word church is the Greek word “ekklesia” and it means “called out assembly.”
This means that the church is the body of believers and not the building. In the Epistles of Paul, there were the seeds already planted for future church buildings and congregations. This is why God gave Elders, Pastors, and Deacons to care for the flock of God. These offices were already in use at the time of Paul. These offices were then transferred to the larger churches when they began to multiply and grow. House churches are to be under the same type of government as the large churches.
If there was a church age and an end to this church age, before the Lord's return, would not that constitute a sign that we are living in the final hours? Did not Jesus say that an evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign? Then He said the only sign was that of Jonah. So if we try and start piecing together all these numbers in Scripture to try and come up with a date of Christ's return, then we are seeking a sign, in fact, many signs, and that is against Scripture. Is it not true that there will be two in one field and one bed, and one will be taken and the other left? This means business as usual. If God revealed the date of Christ’s return and if people knew what day that was, how could they sleep and why would they work? What would be the purpose?
There is not one Scripture in the Bible that teaches a dispensational “church age,” whether seven time periods or one time period. The church age is imbedded with this present age as God is saving His Elect out of it to prepare them for the next age, which will be eternity. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are just as much part of the church as any other blood bought believer. God is calling out of this present world system His children for eternal life. When the last one becomes saved, then that ushers in the end of the church/present age.
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