The Universal Church
When asked this question, most people would jump right in and say the name of their local church. Some will envision the “little white church on a hill” where they first came to know the Lord. Others will think of their particular denomination. Then other people will think of all believers of all denominations, as long as they claim the title ‘Christian.’ But what does the Bible say?
“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:13
In the Bible, the Greek word “ekklesia” is used over 100 times. It is the word we translate into “church.” It means “an assembly” or the “called-out ones.” It is describing a particular group of people, not the building. The Church is the body of believers. The universal church consists of every Called Out, or elected, person who has trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. Regardless of social rank, race, or nationality. The church is each and every believer from the time of Pentecost (in Acts 2) until Christ’s return.
The Church in Metaphor
“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:22-23
One metaphor used to illustrate the Church is the Body. The head of this metaphorical body is Christ Himself. You identify people primarily by their face. When you talk to someone, you look them in the eye. The head is the central core of who that person is. So it is with the Church. It’s all about Jesus: people should see Him when they see the Church.
The Bride of Christ
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:25-27
The Church is the Bride of Christ. This is one very important metaphor. It is mirrored in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, we can see in Hosea that God looked upon Israel in her maidenhood and betrothed Himself to her. God chose Israel to be His bride. He entered the marriage covenant with her, though He knew that she would be unfaithful.
In the New Testament, the church is called the Bride of Christ and Jesus is called the Bridegroom. He has given us the Arrabona of the Spirit. This is a pledge, a downpayment that the groom makes for the bridge upon their engagement. Our equivalent of an engagement ring. He has gone to prepare a place for His Bride and we will all gather together for the great Marriage Supper. Christ loves His Bride so much that He was willing to give His own life for her. And He will faithfully love her, for all eternity.
The Building Metaphor
The church is a temple built in Christ Himself. Not only IN Him, but it was built BY Him and FOR Him. Paul uses a building metaphor to teach us about the Church. Each and every believer is a part of this building. We are living and breathing stones used to build this building. God is building His building by chiseling at each and every stone to shape it into just the right shape brick and placing that brick in just the right place at the right time. He is building His building still. COnstruction will not be complete until Christ returns.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-22
Here, Paul focused on the family members of the household within the building. He describes the foundation of the building as being made up of the Old Testament Prophets and Apostles of Christ. These are the people through whom Divine Revelation was spoken. Paul is saying that the very foundation of His Church is not the authority of the people there, but the Word of God.
Sola Scriptura – The Core Foundation of the Church
Because the Word of God is the foundation for the church we must pay very close attention to the doctrine being taught in our churches. The Sufficiency of Scripture is constantly under attack. The Bible is authoritative, totally sufficient, and entirely trustworthy. A church built without the foundation of the Sufficiency of Scripture will crumble. It is through Scripture that we know what we believe and why. All truth necessary for life and godliness is contained in Scripture. Absolutely every truth that is necessary for our spiritual life is taught explicitly or implicitly in the Bible. Scripture is the only standard of truth.
“For this reason, we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” 1 Thessalonians 2:13
Please read here to learn more about the Sufficiency of Scripture (https://strivingforeternity.org/the-inspiration-inerrancy-and-authority-of-scripture/)
We can see that the Church of Thessalonica accepted the Word as the very Word of God. Paul also says that it changed them from the inside out. Their entire lives were transformed by the Word of God. They were being sanctified. The Word is one of God’s primary agencies for transforming us in Christ-likeness.
“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation.” London Baptist Confession of Faith.
“Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.” John 17:17
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” Romans 10:17
Sola Scriptura was the battle cry of the Reformers. It means Scripture Alone. Scripture teaches us that there is only one way to God and that is through faith alone, in Jesus alone, for the glory of God alone. It is not by faith plus works. Nor is it faith plus baptism. The Word of God has been authenticated by God Himself. The Bible is our foundation for all of life – including church.
The Purpose of the Church
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-20
Paul is explaining, in a nutshell, the doctrine of the church so that we can understand what we are called to be and do. Paul is explaining that we are God’s people, and our entire being needs to be focused on Christ and the Gospel. God has chosen us before the foundation of the world to be His people. He has decided to set His love on us, and love us when we were unlovable when we deserved nothing but the wrath of God. We were born sinners, guilty of treason against the Creator of the Universe. God the Just and Righteous Judge declared that we were guilty and the payment for our treason is an eternity in Hell. But because He loved us, He sent His Son, Christ, to take on Himself our guilt on the cross. Then, God, Himself poured out His Wrath on Jesus on our behalf. Jesus paid our debt. Because of Him, we are Redeemed.
This is the focus of the Church: Christ and His Gospel. The purpose of the Church is to 1) worship God 2) Encourage each other into spiritual maturity 2) to equip believers to spread the Gospel to unbelievers.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
Since the foundation of the Church is the Bible, the primary task of the Church is to teach sound doctrine. God has entrusted His Word to His church. The Word has to be the primary focus because it is what brings about our sanctification. God is continually working on building His church.
One purpose of the church is to do life together. Fellowship. It is by being with one another that we can encourage each other to live each moment for Christ. The church is a family of believers and we are called to act as a family to one another. This means learning not only how to encourage one another, but also how to lovingly rebuke, and how to reconcile with one another and forgive each other. We may disagree over minor issues, but we can live unified together for the cause of Christ. This is why the local church is so vitally important in the life of the believer.
One way that the local church bonds together is in taking the Lord’s Supper. Together, as a family, we remember Christ’s atoning sacrifice on our behalf. As a family, we should take care of one another. We do this by praying for one another and helping one another with physical and practical needs. We also seek to show compassion and empathy. God has equipped each member of this family with unique gifts and personalities. We work together to care for one another and to take God’s message of redemption to the lost and dying world.
“Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
We can rest assured that God knows each and every one of His children. He has individually called out some people for salvation. We just do not know at what point in time they will repent and believe in Christ, nor do we know what earthly tools He will use to draw them to Himself. So we take on the noble task of spreading the Gospel to everyone. We must start initially in our own communities, then the neighboring towns and all the way to the far side of the world.
How the Church Functions
The Bible clearly dictates how the church is to function. We all submit to the authority and headship of Christ. We do this by submitting to the sole authority of Scripture, and not what is deemed “politically correct” or “popular.”
The Bible expounds further on how individual churches are to function. In the New Testament we see three clear offices: Pastor, Elders, and Deacons. These are roles of authority whose responsibilities are specified. The Bible also has distinct, and clear character qualities for these offices.
As we can see in these passages the positions are to be held by men. The Greek words are clearly male pronouns. We also see throughout the Old Testament that the priests were male. And then historically, we can see that there is a pattern of the early church understanding this role to be for men only. This is not a slight on women by any means. God has gifted many women with the ability to teach – He just has set aside this authoritative position for men.
These men should be men of integrity, marital faithfulness, self-control, clear thinking, hospitable, respectfulness. They should also be men who are able to teach the Word of God clearly. These passages also tell us that men who are greedy, violent, abuse alcohol, or are argumentative are disqualified. The Bible also says that he is to lead his family well and that he can not be a recent convert.
“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” 1 Timothy 3:1-7
“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Titus 1:5-9
These church leaders have one goal: to equip believers and to hold on to sound doctrine. Church leaders teach the congregation and help them live out their faith. Our faith is not just something we put on to dress in our Sunday Best – it’s how we live our life. Our faith should completely transform the way we think, the way we dress, the way we spend our money, the way we rest our mind, the way we talk to one another – every aspect of our lives needs to be transformed by our faith. The church leader is to help us live out our faith. The church leader needs to be close to the members of his family in order for this to happen.
“… to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up .” Ephesians 4:12
“Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge.” 1 Timothy 6:20
Importance of the Local Church
The local church is a local assembly of like-minded believers who meet together physically for worship, and fellowship. This congregation gathers together for teaching, prayer, and to encourage one another in the faith. The local church is a gathering of the sheep to learn more about their Shepherd. The centerpiece to the local church has to be the word of God. It is through the proclamation of the Word that we can learn how to glorify God rightly.
“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25
“Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches in Galatia.” Galatians 1:1-2
Paul was writing to the local churches in each province in Galatia. He was writing to individual local churches. This is where the believers gathered to learn more about their savior and to encourage one another in the faith. Your local church should walk with you through your life, helping you to keep Jesus as your focus. It isn’t a place to pretend that everything is ok – it’s a place to pour your heart out to other people who can help you know how to handle life’s difficulties with a correct and biblical worldview. They are equipped to help you because they have been taught the Word of God, which is able to speak to every aspect of our life and every situation we may find ourselves in.
The only way a local church will be a healthy church is if they are solidly built upon the Word of God. A gathering of people is not a church if they are primarily focused on emotionalism to pacify the masses, or lead by unqualified individuals, or turn a blind eye to sin. A local church is a family. A family binds together to carry one another through hard times. A family loves unconditionally. A family may disagree about minor details but works together to promote unity and harmony in spite of their differences. The local church is a family working together for one unified cause: to bring Glory to Christ.
Can a church disagree on tertiary doctrinal issues: read more here!