I received the following question:

I have a question from something I heard from (someone we both know.)  He said “I don’t believe the church started at the beginning of Acts but at the end.”  I don’t exactly follow.  I know that there were two different ecclesias going on during the Acts period (the old qahal and the replacement one of Christ) but wasn’t this already going on during the Acts period and not during our dispensation of grace?  Was (this person) meaning the “church” of today didn’t start till man made it into a religion in this dispensation?  The ecclesia that was replaced with the disciples, is that still being built today then or is it consummated till the kingdom?  Obviously I know no one is directly positioned out of Christ today but could it still be being built of believers? 

Well, you have to understand that the traditional idea of dispensationalism is “when did God stop working with Israel and start working with the church?” What a “church” is is never defined, of course, and it is generally assumed that it is somehow related to Christianity and Christendom today. Most dispensationalists place the division at Acts 2, and say that that is when God started working with “the church.” The mid-Actsers make it to be Acts 9 or 13 or somewhere in there, and say that that is when “the church” truly began.

As you know, we have gone back to look at the word “church” itself, and the words “ekklesia” and “qahal,” and have realized that these things were not anything like our “churches.” There was always a “church” throughout Israel’s history ever since Moses, so the question “when did Israel end and the church begin?” is a bad question from the start. The church really “began” with Moses. It is NOT a contrast with Israel. The ekklesia in the Acts period was built as God chose out His representatives. Today, if there is an ekklesia, it is only in the future sense, that people WILL be positioned out of God in the future, not that we actually have any kind of position today.

That said, there are some (okay, lots of) Acts 28 dispensationalists who do not look at things that way. What I have set forth above was largely Otis Sellers’ study of these things, and the conclusions he came to, which I happen to agree with. Many in the Acts 28 movement have just taken the same old question that other dispensationalists ask, “When did Israel end and the church begin?” and have answered it, “The church really began at Acts 28:28.” They don’t necessarily define “church” any better than anyone else does, and end up (I think) hurting the argument by stating it in the wrong terms.

I absolutely agree that God’s current work began at Acts 28:28. Yet I do not think that that means that that is when “the church” began. Yet there are many in the Acts 28 camp who WOULD say that “the church began at Acts 28:28.” The person you heard say that must be one who defines it this way. I think he is wrong to say that about Acts 28:28. It just creates a lot of confusion, and it can be absolutely denied, since there are so many references to “ekklesia” before Acts 28:28, not to mention to the “body of Christ.” I know what he meant, that that is when God started his current work, but I don’t think he put it very well. He might not have a very clear idea of what a “church” is at all.