Universal vs. Local Church
A prevalent doctrine being taught among denominations today is universal church. Universal church doctrine is that all of the saved on the entire planet make up the invisible church body of Christ. Therefore to be saved puts one into the church. The universal idea came out from the Catholics, Catholic meaning universal.
The Bible bears out a different doctrine concerning the Lord’s church. The church the Lord Jesus started is not a building or a corporation but instead it is a local, visible assembly of born again, scripturally baptized believers that have been called out by Jesus Christ for the purpose of evangelizing the world, exalting the Savior, and edifying the saints. That church Jesus started goes forth carrying out His commission and organized groups of saved and baptized believers into churches. A pattern of a church starting another church of like faith, order, and authority. The Bible never mentions any form of universal church but instead that each church is a body unto the Lord. It also teaches that each church is self-governed.
What is the Lord’s Church?
The word church is the Greek word Ecclesia: “a calling out i.e. popular meeting, especially religious congregation, assembly, church.” Not just any “assembly” by the assembly or congregation that belongs to Christ and has divine purpose.
The church is the institution Jesus Christ started Himself while on Earth and left to carry out His ministry with His divine authority. When He called out His church there was one congregation called “the church”, which was at Jerusalem, but as that local church started other churches of like faith and order then they start to be referred to as the churches:
Acts 9:31 the churches had rest and multiplied
Acts 15:41 Paul and Silas went through confirming the churches
Acts 16:5 churches established in the faith and increased
2 Corinthians 11:28 Paul had a care for all the churches
Matthew 16:18-19 “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
1. Is the church import to Jesus Christ? Absolutely, He said He would build/start it.
2. Jesus Christ is the Rock of the church: 1 Corinthians 10:4, Isaiah 28:16, 1 Corinthians 3:9-11. 3. Who does is belong too? Jesus Christ according to the passage; “my church”.
4. Has is ever been destroyed? No chance! Jesus cannot lie: Hebrews 6:18.
Hebrews 8:1-5 “A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.”
1. The man Moses was allowed of God to build the Tabernacle of the Old Testament. God didn’t leave the church to be stated a man but Jesus Christ started it Himself during His personal ministry.
2. Jesus started it according to the pattern of God and this is the true/perfect tabernacle.
3. Jesus is in the midst of His churches ministering; Matthew 18:20.
1 Corinthians 12:18 “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.” 1 Corinthians 12:24 “For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked”
1. According to these passages God adds to the church as it “pleases” Him. If this is a local church God would leads and brings people to be added to the body that He see fit. If this is a universal church the Lord is saving people as it pleases Him instead of Romans 10:13 “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
2. The Lord adds each person for a reason, special purpose and use in that body; 1 Corinthians 12:12-23.
1 Corinthians 12:25-27 “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
1. If all the saved equals the invisible body of Christ, how does all the saved suffer or rejoice when one member suffers or rejoices? Impossible. If the church is a local visible assembly the members would know each other and be involved in one another’s lives to suffer and rejoice.
2. Paul by divine inspiration does not say “we are the body of Christ”, he particularly says “ye” address the “you all” of the local church at Corinth as a body of Christ: 1 Corinthians 11:18, 20, 33.
Most of the New Testament books are written and address directly to local churches (epistles). For instance the 7 churches of Asia in Revelation are all addressed as individual churches not one conglomerate church. Several of those churches had doctrinal issues at that time and the Lord didn’t hold one mother church responsible but they were independently responsible for their self.
In the Old Testament God had a people, a sanctuary, doctrines, and a place of worship through Israel. Just being saved didn’t make you an Israelite. Anyone could be an Israelite if the men were circumcised and covenanted to keep God’s law: Exodus 25:8-9, Exodus 19:4-8, Acts 7:37-38.
Act 2:41 “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”
1. God has an order: received the preaching (salvation), baptized, and added unto the local church. Just attending to church doesn’t make one a member of that local church. These people presented themselves before this Jerusalem church. They declared they were saved and desired to be baptized and added to the membership.
2. Anyone can become a member of one of the Lord’s local visible New Testament churches if they follow God’s way and want to commit to service.
1 Corinthians 5:3-7 “For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us”
1. One member was labeled/known to be committing fornication; reproachful and causing sin to abound in this local church.
2. The church was discipline this member by putting them out for the destruction of the flesh. If the church is a local visible assembly, one can be added or removed from the membership. If the church is universal then this would be taking away there salvation, which is not possible to loose: John 5:24, John 10:28-30.
2 Corinthians 2:6-8 “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.
So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.”
1. The man that committed fornication had sorrowed to repentance and the church inflicted the
Biblical punishment for him because of his repentance he was to be allowed back and love be
confirmed to him.
2. One can be added or removed and reinstated upon repentance of the disciplined action
Matthew 18:15-20 “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
1. There is an order to deal with personal trespasses with the church
2. If it cannot be resolved the situation is to be brought to the church. A local visible church body of Christ would be able to listen and make a decision. How does all the saved gather to hear such a matter? Impossible. 1 Corinthians 6:4
3. If the individual was to refuse to hear the church the person was to be as a heathen or publican, which the Jews had little to no dealings with. They are excluded from the local church just as the one who committed fornication in Corinth.
4. The church gathered in Christ’s name/authority is where Jesus is in the midst.
2 Thessalonians 1:10 “When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.”
The scripture makes a difference between the saints (local church members he was addressing) AND a believer is any saved individual.
The church belongs to Christ. Jesus started the church at the sea shores of Galilee. He called out saved and baptized individuals with purpose to follow and evangelize: Matthew 4:17-22. We must believe and worship His ways, and not man’s ideas of worship or by popularity. The scriptures conclude a church to be a local, visible assembly of born again, scripturally baptized believers that have been called out by Jesus Christ for the purpose of carrying out the great commission.