Sharing Your Faith - Lesson 10

By Stafford North

How to Explain the Departure and Return

Lesson Text


The student can draw and explain a diagram showing the beginning of the church, various departures from the original plan, and an eventual return to the apostles' teaching.


How and when did the church begin?

When John the Baptist came, his message was "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). Jesus delivered the same message (Mark 1:15). In Mark 9:1, Jesus even told his disciples that some of them would not taste death before they saw "the kingdom come with power." Most of His parables were about "the kingdom of heaven." Thus, Jesus' disciples were expecting the long-awaited and often predicted kingdom to come, and soon. In John 16:13, Jesus told the apostles he would send them the Holy Spirit to "guide them into all truth." In Acts 1:5-8, Jesus commanded these apostles to wait in Jerusalem to receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them. The Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, empowering them to speak as God's representatives. Putting these passages together, we learn important truths. The prophesied kingdom would come in the lifetimes of Jesus' disciples. This kingdom would come with power. This power would come when the Holy Spirit descended on them, revealing to them the truth they should proclaim. Since this power came on them on Pentecost after Christ's resurrection, it was on that day that the kingdom came and on that day they began to preach the gospel message that Jesus had come to bring salvation. Thousands heard Peter's message on Pentecost that Jesus was Lord and Christ and asked what they should do. Peter told these believers to "repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 2:36-38). Three thousand obeyed and were baptized that day. And these "continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and in fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayer" (Acts 2:42). The apostles, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were preaching a body of teaching in which people were continuing steadfastly. This set of doctrines had several names. Sometimes it was called "the truth" (2 Timothy 2:15), and sometimes "the gospel" (Romans 1:16). Jude said, "Contend earnestly for the faith, once for all delivered to the saints" (v. 3). Thus he not only gave the body of teaching a name, "the faith," but said to contend for it, and said it had all been delivered. All of the apostles and others who had been given the gift of prophecy (revelation) preached the same message and people all over the world were obeying it. When a question was once raised as to whether these were all teaching the same thing about an issue, receiving Gentiles into the faith. At a meeting in Jerusalem they demonstrated that the Holy Spirit had told them all to preach the same message on that point as on all others (Acts 15).

Did any ever teaching something else?

Yes, a few began to teach things that were not the same as the inspired apostles had taught. Paul, for example, warned the Galatians that anyone who taught anything different than what he had taught was to be accursed. He had, he said, received what he taught "through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:12), and they were to reject anything else as a distortion of gospel (v. 7). John also mentioned some who had left them, denying that Jesus was the Christ (1 John 2:18-22). Paul also corrected false teachers at Corinth and Thessalonica, while Peter and Jude gave correction to some they knew who were not following the true teaching. 1. The Line.

Was there, then, a fixed standard by which to judge what is being taught?

Yes, there was a fixed body of teaching called "the truth," "the gospel," "the faith," and the "apostles' teaching." This message had been divinely revealed and so was right. It was the standard by which all teaching should be judged and any who varied from it were called back to it or were marked as false teachers.

How might we represent this visually?

To represent this fixed standard by which we are to measure what anyone preaches or teaches, let us draw a straight line and place beneath it the Bible terms that may be applied to this body of apostolic teaching. This is “the line.” The "P" represents Pentecost, because it was on that day that this new message began to be preached. The first point of this lesson, then, is this: the early preaching and teaching of inspired apostles and prophets provided a standard for all to follow. Whether called "apostles' teaching," "the truth," "the gospel," or "the faith," it was the body of teaching for all to follow. Even during this early time, any who did not follow this teaching were quickly corrected and, if they pursued their "distortions," disciples were urged not to follow them.

What did the apostles anticipate for the future?

  1. The Prediction. The second point of this lesson is this: inspired prediction were given as warnings that there would be a large-scale departure from the truth. On several different occasions, Paul warned of a coming apostasy. He told the elders of the church in Ephesus, for example, "from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). Particularly in his writings to Timothy, Paul mentioned a coming departure. 1 Timothy 4:1-2: "But the spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, . . . men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods." In 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Paul discusses those who would lead others astray, those who "oppose the truth" and who are "rejected as regards the faith." In 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Paul continues this discussion saying that "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine … and will turn away their ears from the truth." So first, there was a standard from which no one was to depart. And second, Paul predicts that there will be a substantial departure from "the truth," "the faith" by those who want to leave. He expects this warning to help keep people with the truth so they will not follow any departure. Did the predicted apostasy come?
  2. The Departure. This is the third point of the lesson. Soon after the apostles died, there did begin to creep into the church some changes from the original order of things. In the second century some of the elders of the church began to take more authority. The revealed plan was to have a group of elders over each congregation of God's people. Then there began to be only one over a congregation and then one over a group of congregations. By 315 A.D., this hierarchy had developed to where there were five major "bishops" over all the church. These were located in Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. By 606 A.D., the bishop at Rome had declared himself the "universal bishop," or "pope" and, while not all agreed to follow him, he had enough power to rule most of the church. Obviously this was a departure from the plan of a group of elders over each congregation and no greater authority on earth than this. The second century also saw the beginning of changes in the practice of baptism. Originally, only adults had been baptized, because one was first to believe and repent. Since babies could not do this, they were not baptized. Some began in the second century, however, to "baptize" babies. In the third century, other departures developed. Men began to be designated as "priests" to put more ritual in their worship. The church in some places felt that the simple worship plan of the New Testament did not compete well with the rituals of the pagans. They wanted, therefore, to have more ceremony carried out by people with special dress and actions. Also in the third century, there began to be a few cases of people being "baptized" by pouring rather than by immersion. The first recorded case was a man named Novatian in 253 A.D. He was thought too ill to be taken to a baptistry and so water was poured over him as he lay in bed. Such baptisms were called "clinical baptisms" and were not common. Baptism by anything other than immersion, however, was not common until about 1200 A.D. Other departures continued to come. About 500 A.D., images began to be placed in church buildings as historical memorials. Instruments of music in worship, which the church had strongly opposed during earlier times, began to be added about 1200 but were not common until after 1400. In 1074, some were forbidden to marry and in 1564 a decree was issued that the church and not individuals must interpret scripture. In 1870, a decree was issued that when the Pope speaks officially, he is infallible. Since the bishop of Rome had declared himself the "universal bishop" in 606 and had been able to exert strong authority over others, the church in which these changes were taking place is now known as the Roman Catholic Church. How might we represent the departures visually? If we return to our original approach, we have a horizontal line representing "the apostles teaching," "the truth," "the gospel," and "the faith." We have now seen that there was a departure from this original plan on many points. Visually we may represent what we have studied so far like this. These letters represent not just nine but a wide range of departures that developed after the first century, some significant ones of which have just been outlined. Of course, the Catholic Church did not change everything from the original plan, but on many significant points of teaching, worship, and morals, they did make changes. Did anyone ever oppose any of these changes?
  3. The Reformation. Many opposed these changes, particularly as people began to emerge from the middle ages and to think more for themselves. One of the practices that had developed in the Roman church, especially in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was the sale of indulgences.

According to this doctrine, one could purchase temporal forgiveness for a sin, even before it was committed. The sale of these indulgences was widespread and brought huge sums into church coffers. The sale of these indulgences so upset Martin Luther that in 1517, he posted ninety-five propositions opposing them on his church door in Wittenburg, Germany. As copies of these circulated, they created a sensation. Luther had wanted to correct certain practices in the church he believed were not scriptural. The response of the church, however, was not to change but rather to drive him out of the church. Others of that general time were also opposing certain doctrines of the Catholic church and were suggesting what they believed were teachings closer to scripture: Calvin, Zwingli, Savanarola, and others. Those who followed these "reformers" began examining more closely the teaching of the Bible. Since they were "protesting" about the Catholic church and seeking to reform it, their efforts became known as the Protestant Reformation. And that is our fourth point. While some progress was made in identifying practices and teachings that were departures from the original plan presented in scripture, often these reformers did not agree among themselves on central issues. In addition, there often developed divisions and splinter groups among each of the branches of the Reformation Movement. In 1534, Henry VIII left the Roman Catholic Church to start the Church of England. As a result of these various breaks with the Catholic Church and the work of various reformers, a number of new churches were begun—now called generally Protestant Denominations. Often, the original churches have now subdivided, each with several branches. How may we represent these new details on our drawing? Going back to the beginning point, we may illustrate the original plan, the departure, and the Reformation Movement like this.

Remember that this is only a conceptual drawing. It is not meant to represent historical detail with accuracy. The concepts so far are four: (1) there was an original body of teaching given by inspired men in the first century which God intended us to follow, (2) the apostles predicted a departure from this plan, (3) as predicted, there was a departure from this original plan in many respects, and (4) beginning in the sixteenth century, there were efforts by some to move back toward the original plan and other developments which resulted in a new set of churches called Protestant Denominations. Is it possible today to go all the way back to the line? 5. The Restoration. The scriptures make it clear that God intended that His plan, revealed through the inspired apostles and prophets of the first century and written by them in permanent form, was to be followed without change. There are repeated warnings against false teachers and frequent calls to stay with "the truth," "the faith," "the gospel," and the "sound doctrine." If this was God's intent, surely it is possible for people, even twenty centuries later, to follow His instructions. And indeed it has been done. Over past centuries, many have made a return to scriptures their goal. Interestingly, often without knowing of the efforts of others, these have studied the scriptures and come to very similar beliefs and practices. Let us mention just a few of the cases since the late eighteenth century. In Scotland, there were John Glas and Robert Sandeman and the Haldane brothers. In America, all of the following were involved in movements to restore the New Testament plan: Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Barton Stone, James O'Kelly, Racoon John Smith, Elias Smith, Abner Jones, and many others. These came generally to the same conclusions about how to become a Christian, how to worship, how believers were to be organized, and how Christians were to live. They often came from different denominations such Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist. In addition, people in many different parts of the world, with just their Bibles as a guide, have also re-planted the "seed" of the Word and begun Christ's way in their time and place. Cases come from India, Germany, France, Ethiopia, Australia, Strasbourg, Nigeria, Spain, Italy, and more. One of the most interesting involved inmates inside the walls of the El Reno Federal Prison in Oklahoma. There, with only a Bible as their guide and no outside help, these prisoners started a congregation of their own. Only later did they learn that others on the outside were baptizing like they were, worshipping like they were, and believing as they were. This should come as no surprise to us. Jesus said the word is a "seed." Anywhere one plants a seed, it will grow and produce exactly the same thing. The word of God is a seed, prepared by God for planting in the human heart. Wherever and whenever this pure seed is planted, without any human errors alongside it, true followers of Christ will result. How may we illustrate this last step on our chart? So far we have learned that (1) there was an original gospel message to be preached and preserved, (2) that the apostles resisted efforts to change it but predicted that eventually such departures would come, (3) that over a period of centuries such changes came in faith and practice, resulting in what is today known as the Roman Catholic Church, (4) that there were attempts to undo some of these changes in a Reformation Movement but the result was the establishment of many denominations which often differed among themselves, and (5) that about 1800 many people from a wide variety of churches and from many different countries, began seriously to restore the New Testament church. These steps can be represented in visual form as shown. Again, this chart is not intended to be a historical representation, but a conceptual one. (1) There was a body of truth to which people responded to become and live as Christians in the first century. We have represented this as a line. God wanted us to stay on the line. Paul, John, Peter, Jude and others called people to stay there. (2) There were apostolic predictions, however, of departure and the predictions can true. (3) Step by step, new doctrines and practices were introduced that resulted in the Roman Catholic Church of today. While many of their teachings are still consistent with scripture, many others are the result of these departures. (4) There was a movement that began to correct some of the unscriptural practices of the Catholic Church which now is called the Reformation Movement. This movement did point out and correct some of these practices, but brought some errors of its own, and resulted in a multiplication of churches called denominations. (5) Over the centuries, but particularly around 1800, different people in many of these denominations decided to leave the churches of which they were part and to "return to original ground," to discover the teachings of Jesus and the plan for the church as it was in the first century when apostles and prophets were guided directly in their teaching and decisions. As these, usually independent from each other, searched the scriptures, they came to very similar conclusions. Their work led to the replanting of the seed of the word and it is being replanted daily throughout the world.


That such a return to the New Testament is possible is evident from the many times and places where it has been done. We commend these who have led the way and urge others to follow in making Jesus our model and the New Testament church, which is His kingdom, to be our pattern.

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student can draw and explain a diagram showing the beginning of the church, various departures from the original plan, and an eventual return to the apostles' teaching.


  1. Have a chalkboard or marker board ready for use.
  2. Have copies of the Review/Notes sheet for the students.
  3. Have copies of the quiz over last week’s lesson ready to give.


The church began under the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent to the apostles. God intended what they taught and practiced to be the model for all time. After apostolic times, departures from that teaching began and led to apostasy. Later, others went back to the original plan.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (about 15 minutes)

  1. Call the roll and welcome visitors.
  2. Make any necessary announcements.
  3. Sing “Thy Word Is a Lamp unto My Feet” or “How Shall the Young Secure Their Hearts” or “How Firm a Foundation” and emphasize that the song is about the Word of God which should be our guide.
  4. Have a prayer asking God to help us to follow His Word.
  5. Give the quiz over last week’s lesson. To grade the quiz, give 11 points for getting each of the three questions, 11 points for each of the three answers, and 11 points for each of the three answers. This will total 99 so give everyone one extra point.
  6. (Tell briefly the story of the events of Pentecost, 30 AD. You may want to let students fill in some words orally if that suits your style. Below is a sample of how you might do it with some words underlined to indicate that you might pause before these words and let the students provide these words orally if you choose. The important thing here is to set up the Day of Pentec ost, 30 AD as the beginning of the church.) Jesus promised that when He left the apostles, He would send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. On the Day of Pentecost, just 50 days after Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, Christ kept His promise and sent the Holy Spirit on the apostles. Now they were divinely guided in what they said. As they spoke in tongues, which were real languages they had never studied, a great crowd gathered. Peter preached them a sermon about Jesus, reminding them that He worked miracles, fulfilled prophecy, and was raised from the dead. Now he calls on these Jews to accept Jesus as both Lord and Christ. When they asked what to do, Peter said to repent and be baptized to receive forgiveness of their sins. A total of 3,000 people accepted Peter’s message and obeyed Christ. “And the Lord added to them daily those that were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Q: Of what is this the beginning? (The church) Today’s lesson is about what happened after this beginning and it is very important for us to understand these things so we can do a better job of sharing our faith.
  7. Now hand out the Review/Notes sheet for today’s lesson and ask students to complete it as the lesson moves along.

Learning Experiences: (about 25 minutes)

  1. Q: What words go in the blanks of Number 1 on your sheet? (Pentecost, 30 AD.)
  2. Have someone read Acts 2:42. Q: After Pentecost, what four things did the people do? (continued in (devoted themselves to) the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread (communion) and prayer.) Q: What is meant by “apostles’ teaching? (That body of instructions the apostles’ were giving through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.) Have someone read the following verses and then ask what word in each verse describes this same body of teaching. Galatians 1:11-12 (the gospel); Jude 3 (the faith); James 5:19 (the truth).
  3. Now here is point one of the lesson. Visual: The Line. Write this on the upper left hand corner of the board and leave room for four more such expressions. You will now start on a diagram that will develop as the lesson goes along. The completed diagram is on a separate page near the end of the lesson. Have access to that page as you think through this lesson before you teach it. Instructions will be given about how to draw this diagram in pieces. As you draw the diagram on the board, students should be drawing it along with you on their paper. To start the diagram, draw a horizontal line across the board about five feet long. At the first of the line put a “P” to stand for Pentecost. Put an arrow at the right end of the line to represent continuing time.) This line represents the apostles’ teaching. Visual: under the line write “apostles’ teaching.” Q: What are other words that also describe this line? (the truth, the faith, the gospel). Visual: The Truth, The Gospel, The Faith. This line, then, represents the revealed message God gave the apostles. Q: In the beginning, did the church follow this line? (Yes. Any time they started away, the apostles called them back as in Galatians 1.) Visual: Draw a line close to, above and parallel to the existing line, starting at the P and moving to the right about a foot. This represents the fact that we read in Acts 2:42—the church continued in the apostles’ teaching. The first point of our lesson then is “The Line.”
  4. Visual: The Prediction. Visual: somewhere beneath the words “apostles’ teaching” write the three scripture references given next . Have someone read 2 Timothy 4:3-
  5. Q: What does Paul predict about the line? (People will leave it). Visual. Have someone read 1 Timothy 4:1. Have someone read Acts 20:30. Q: What does Paul predict about the line? (That people will lead others to leave it. So the second point of this lesson is “The Prediction”—that is the apostolic prediction that people will leave the faith, the gospel, the truth.
  6. Q: Did the predicted departure from the faith come? (Yes). And that is our third point of this lesson, “The Departure.” Visual: The Departure. Soon after the apostles died, there began to creep into the church some changes from the original plan, the line. Visual: draw an angled line from the horizontal line, starting about a foot from the left end, extending up about two feet. As you mention each of the departures listed below, make a dot on the line to represent that departure.
  7. Here are some of the changes that were made:
    1. In the second century, some elders in took more authority to themselves. In the original plan, each congregation had several elders and each congregation was independent. But some elders began to take authority over single congregations and then over more. By 315 AD, this departure had developed to where there were five “bishops,” each in a major city, over all of the churches. By 606 AD, the bishop of Rome claimed to be the “universal bishop” or “pope.”
    2. In the second century, the practice of baptizing babies was begun.
    3. In the third century, men were designated as “priests.” They wore special clothes and added some rituals to the simple worship of the New Testament.
    4. Also in the third century a few people who were sick had water poured on them instead of their being immersed. The first recorded case was of Novatian in 253 AD. Baptism by anything other than immersion, however, was not practiced often until after 1200 AD and even then immersion was still the usual practice.
    5. Instruments of music were added to the singing in worship about 1200 AD but were not common until after 1400.
    6. In 1074 some were forbidden to marry.
    7. In the eleventh century the theory of “indulgences” began to develop. Eventually this theory led to the sale of access to forgiveness with the implication that people could be forgiven of the guilt of sins. The Catholic Church raised large sums of money by such sales.
    8. These are just a few of the changes to represent the concept of people leaving “the line” of apostolic teaching. There was a departure!
  8. It should come as no great surprise that those who start out following God’s would soon turn away from it. This was the consistent pattern in the Old Testament. Think of Adam and Eve, the Israelites with the golden calf, the Israelites during the time of the judges, Solomon, the kings of Israel and most of the kings of Judah. Much of the story of the Old Testament is the story of people following the God’s word for a while and then departing from it. Two kings of Judah, Hezekiah and Josiah, led movements to return to the message of God after realizing that a departure had taken place.
  9. Now we come to the fourth point of the lesson: “The Reformation.” Visual: from the angled line, draw two other lines, each about a foot long, angled somewhat back toward the original line. Put 1517 by the point at which these lines break away.
  10. In 1517, Martin Luther decided to take a stand against indulgences and he also had concerns about some other practices of the Roman Catholic Church. He and John Calvin, along with others, eventually became the leaders of a movement to “reform” the Catholic Church. Since the church resisted their proposals of reformation, the eventual result was the starting of the churches of the Protestant Reformation. Visual: along one line write Luther and along the other write Calvin. Although these men were not the only reformers, these two lines represent the two major lines of The Reformation.
  11. Visual: From each of the lines for Calvin and Luther, draw additional lines showing sub-division among the followers of each of these men. Then add a second level of subdivisions. This is to represent how disagreements within these churches resulted in many different “Protestant” churches, commonly called “denominations.” As each new denomination formed, it became set on certain traditions and practices and those who wanted to make other changes began churches of their own.
  12. Now we come to the fifth main point of this lesson: “The Restoration.” Visual: The Restoration. Remind the students this drawing is not intended to cover all the history but is only a general model of what happened. Visual: draw from the various end points on the subdivisions lines back to one point on the original line. To the right of these lines write “1800.” Sometime around 1800, in such places as Scotland and America, there arose men who wanted to get back to the original plan of the apostles. Rather than “reforming” their existing churches, they sought to “restore” the teachings and practices of the church as it was in the beginning. In other words, they wanted to get back to “the line,” not to start a new church or denomination but to revive the original one. Often they were not aware of each other but, after making efforts to teach and practice what the apostles had, they learned of others who were doing the same. These would then often join efforts. They believed the best way to please God was to follow as closely as possible the model of the early church when it was guided by divinely inspired apostles. Thus, they could be sure their lives and service to God would please Him. Since the apostles had warned against changes and had sorrowfully predicted departures, they believed God wanted people to stay with the original plan. They believed that if they took the scriptures as a guide, they could, in any time and place, be the church of the New Testament.
  13. This effort was successful and attracted many followers. Today there are people all over the world who are seek to go back before the departure and attempts at reformation just to be the church of the New Testament. Jesus compared the gospel to a seed. A seed planted anywhere and in any time period will produce the same fruit. Thus, planting the seed of the gospel, the truth, the faith, will result in the same church wherever that message is followed. The result is not a “new denomination” but a revival of the original church that Jesus built.

Applications: (about 5 minutes)

  1. Q: Why do you think it has been so common for people to leave following God’s message for their time to live and worship differently?
  2. Q: What should we be doing to try to follow God’s plan as He intended?

Assignment: (about 1 minute)

  1. Use the Review/Notes sheet to prepare for the quiz for next time.
  2. Using your notes, do the drawing for someone and explain it to them. Evaluation: (next class meeting)
  3. Tell the students you will ask them to draw the chart with all the details for the quiz next time.

Further Resources:

  1. The writer of this series has an article which was published in the Gospel Advocate which is titled “On the Line.” You can expand your understanding of this concept by checking that article on his Website. Click here.


Sharing Your Faith

Lesson 10

    1. The church that Jesus established began on the day of ______ in Jerusalem in the year _____ AD.
    2. Acts 2:42 _____ they devoted themselves to the apostles ______ ____________, to fellowship, to breaking of bread, and _________.
    3. Galatians 1:11-12 describes the body of teaching the early church followed as the ___________.
    4. Jude 3 describes the body of teaching the early church followed as the __________.
    5. James 5:19 describes the body of teaching the early church followed as the __________.
    6. Point One: ________ ____________
    7. Point Two: ____________ ________________
    8. Point Three: __________ ______________.
      1. Elders take more -2nd Century.
      2. Some baptize _____________. -2nd Century
      3. Men are designated as _______________ to put more ritual in the worship. -3rd Century
      4. Some who are sick have water ________ on them instead of immersion. -3rd Century
      5. ________________ are used for music in the worship. ______ About 1200 AD but not common until 1400 AD.
      6. Some forbidden to ________ 1074 AD
      7. Theory of __________ develops and leads to people seeking to buy forgiveness of sins. -11th to 13th Centuries
      8. Point Four: ______ __________


Sharing Your Faith

Lesson 10

Draw the chart below from the last lesson to demonstrate the original plan, the departure, and the return. Include in your drawing the following: “the line” with its names, one passage predicting departure, the line showing the departure and three instances of departures with a date for each, lines representing the Reformation and what goes with them, and line representing the Restoration and what goes with it.

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