BIBLICAL ARGUMENT AGAINST

THE  "UNIVERSAL CHURCH"

 

 By Wm. Troy Sheppard

 

Some believe in "two" kinds of churches (universal and local). Whereas, the Bible teaches that there is only "one" kind of church - an assembly (Matt. 16:18 - "my church"). I did not say "local assembly" though I sometimes us that term out of necessity - to me saying "local assembly" is like saying "wet water", "hot fire" or "cold ice" - I only use it when folks question the nature of an assembly. Be that as it may, I believe that both the Greek word for church and its English usage in the Scriptures prove that the church is an assembly - nothing more and nothing less.

 

The Greek word for "church" is "ekklesia" which is the compound word "ek" which means "out of" or "from" and "kaleo" which means "to call" (note that ekklesia is not "the called" but "to call"). The idea of this word is "to call out" for the purpose of coming together - and that is an assembly - one that really assembles. Such can NEVER be said of that which is "universal". That which is universal never assembles! The idea of an “universal church" is Catholic in origin. After all, "universal" means "catholic".

 

But, we need not go on about the Greek language. Scriptural usage speaks for its self. As we "rightly divide" God's Holy Word (II Tim.2:15) we find that Jesus Himself used the word no less that 21 times (see Matt. 16:18; 18:17; Rev. 1:4, 11, 20: 2:1, 7, 8, 11, 12, 17, 18, 23, 29; 3:1, 6, 7, 13, 14, 16). Of the times that our Saviour used the word "church", 20 times unquestionable speaking about an "assembly". Never in those 20 times does he speak about any thing larger that an assembly. Some say that in Matt 16:18 Jesus was referring to some "universal church (assembly)" that never assemblies. I believe that Biblical usage forbids such a conclusion. Whenever a scripture seems to be in doubt, the one in question should always be weighted-out by the ones that are not in question. 20 to 1 odds should be enough from any honest mind!

 

I believe for one to get a "universal church" out of Matthew 16:18, he must come to the scripture with preconceived ideas.

 

There are other scriptures besides Matthew 16:18 that are used by the universal church crowd to promote their error. I believe that if theses scriptures are considered in their context and taken in view of the other scriptures that discuss the subject matter, it will be clearly see that they too speak of a church that is local in nature and not a universal one.

 

Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18 and the "universal church".

 

Some will argue that if the church of Jesus Christ is only local then how can it be the "body" of Christ as taught in Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:18 since such is used in the "singular"? They argue, “Would not the "body of Christ" have to be universal, seeing that the scripture refers to the "body" of Christ and not the "bodies" of Christ?” To which I reply: I believe that the word "church" and "body" in its "singular" usage in the texts mentioned are used in the abstract, generic or distributive sense.

 

We use singular nouns in this way every day. The words "church and "body" are used much like we use the singular noun "home" when we use it in a generic sense. If I say, "The home is the first place a child should be educated about Christ", I use the word in a "generic" or "institutional" sense. No one would think I meant any thing larger than a place where there was a set of parents and some children. No one would ever dream that I believed in a "universal" home that every one was a part of.

 

There are MANY ways we use the generic usage for words in our day-to-day language. Take the word "lodge", in the following: "A Christian should not be a lodge member". We do not refer to any particular lodge. We do not refer to some "universal lodge" or "mystical lodge". We do not mean there is an exemplar (model) lodge. We simply use the word "lodge" in a GENERIC sense.

 

Paul uses this generic sense throughout the book of Ephesians and Colossians. One example (at least 15 could be given) is in Eph. 5:23 where he says, "the husband is the head of the wife" not that there is some universal husband or universal wife. But Paul is simply using the "singular" in a generic sense. The same way he uses "church" and "body" in that same text.

 

The Lord's body is a literal body of saved and baptized believers. They are spiritual by virtue of the new birth. But, the "body" is not anything that is "mystical" or "invisible", and in that sense it is not "spiritual" it is a literal body, with literal members, in a literal location that literally meets, literally communes, literally prays together, literally helps each other and etc.

 

Ephesian 4:4-6 and the "universal church".

 

Some who teach the error of an universal church find comfort in the word "one" as used in Ephesians 4:4-6. They reason that since there is only "one Lord" and "one God" in number" that there must be only "one body" in number. Many of these same men also teach the error that the "one baptism" mentioned in the text is Holy Spirit baptism in to a universal church.

 

Such error is refuted by the fact that "one" in Ephesians 4:4-6 is not referring to one in "number" but one in "kind".

 

Some contend that if Ephesians 4:4 meant one "kind" of body we would have to be consistent with the other "ones" in the series". In other words, if we say that "one body" and "one baptism" means "one [kind of] body" and "one [kind of] Baptism" that to be consistent we must say "one [kind of] spirit" and "one [kind of] God" and so on.

 

To which I reply, it is possible for each of the "ones" in the text to be "one" in "kind" without violating the truth of the Holy Scriptures. Notice how this truth can be demonstrated: Ephesians 4:4 says, "One [kind of] Spirit" - Are there different kinds of spirits? See Eph. 2:2 and I Jn 4:2-3, which proves that there are different kinds of spirits. Ephesians 4:4 says, "One [kind of] hope" - Are there different kinds of hope? See Prov. 10:28 and Prov. 11:7, which proves that there are different kinds of hopes. Ephesians 4:5 says,  "One [kind of] Lord" - Are there different kinds of Lords? See Rev. 19:16; Matt. 10:24; Lk 16:13; and Rom 6:16, which proves that there are different kinds of lords. Ephesians 4:5 says, "One [kind of] faith" - Are there different kinds of faith? See James 2:18-20, which proves that there are different kinds of faiths. Ephesians 4:5 says, "One [kind of] baptism" - See Matthew 3:11; Acts 1:5 which proves that there are different kinds of baptisms. Ephesians 4:6 says, "One [kind of] God and Father" - See Ex. 23:24; Joshua 24:15; Jn 8:44 which proves that there are different kinds of gods and fathers. So, "one" in kind can be a proper usage of the "one body" mentioned in Ephesians 4.

 

The purpose of the expression "one body" in Ephesians 4:4 is not given to teach that the body of Christ is one in number, but to teach that unity should prevail in His kind of body. Each New Testament church is the body f Christ. As the late Elder Berlin Hisel well said, "Each local Church is the body of Christ in a particular community to do what Christ would do if he were there." Each church is to be "Christ in their community". Each member is to so live (denying self and self-interest) and work together that they cease living and Christ is lived through them as "one body". That is the unity that each church of Jesus Christ should "endeavour" to "keep" (Ephesians 4:3).

 

The context of Ephesians 4 is unity! Ephesians 4:1-16 is an exhortation for the local church (that is the only kind of church that there is) to walk in unity. It is only through this UNIFIED walk that a church can walk WORTHY (justly, suitable, balanced). The walk of a church should correspond with their calling (From death to life - from sin to grace). Each member is to die to self and put on Christ in their walk and thereby they are TOGETHER enabled to WALK the SAME WAY - as one man - one body - the body of Christ.

 

How is a church to walk together? They are to walk as "one man". They are to grow into "one new man", "a perfect man" - "Even Christ" (Ephesians 4:12-15). As church members cease to live for self, and self will, and self motive and start submitting to Christ, and his will they will be enabled to be what the were created to be - the body of Christ!

 

When a church "walks together" in unity, as one man, something wonderful will happen. They will be SEEN TO BE a well functioning body. They will be seen to be as "Christ" in the community that they are in. This "unity" can not be achieved in a "universal church". But, it can be achieved in a local church setting.

 

I Corinthians 12:27 and the "universal church".

 

In I Corinthians 12:27, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul casts great light on the truth concerning the local nature of the church. He says "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular". Note he did not say ye are an "expression" of the body of Christ", as if the Corinthians were just a manifestation of a larger body. Nor did he say ye are "part of" the body of Christ, as if they were part of a larger body. But, speaking to the church at Corinth (I Cor. 1:2) Paul says, "YE are the body of Christ". The church at Corinth was the body of Christ and Christ was her head. What Christ is to one church he is to each of His churches.

 

Each scriptural assembly is the body of Christ and Christ is the head of each true assembly. And, just in case one might object and say that Christ cannot be the head of more then one church in the true sense of an assembly, where one of His assemblies exist, please consider that fact that Christ is the head of EVERY man (I Cor. 11:3).

 

I Corinthians 1:2  tells us to whom the book was written, “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:” Some try to argue that I Corinthians was not written to the church at Corinth "exclusively" and therefore the "ye" in I Corinthians 12:27 was not directed to just the members of the church at Corinth, but to those “in every place". To which I say, that though it was not written to them "exclusively", it was written to them "primarily".

 

One reason I Corinthians was written was to correct errors that existed particularly in the church "at" Corinth (I Cor. 1:2). Many examples of this truth can be given. Two examples are as follows: "For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you." (I Cor 1:11). Where were the contentions that the house of Chloe told Paul about? They were not in "every place" or in Colosse, or over in Philippi, but they were in the church "at" Corinth. "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife." (I Cor. 5:1). Where was the fornication taking place that Paul heard about? It was not in "every place" it was in the church "at" Corinth.

 

Though this book was written to the church at Corinth "primarily" it was also written "saints" (not the universal church) in "every place" (See the salutation in I Cor. 1:2). These saints (the saved in general) then and now could and can benefit from the instructions and guidance given in the book. Also, churches of our Lord in this day can get and still do get guidance from this book on how to observe all things until Christ comes. But, the fact still remains that it was written "unto the church of God which is at Corinth". If Paul wanted to address a "universal" church he had ample opportunity to do so in this passage and in every salutation that he gave. However, NOT ONCE did he ever address the "church everywhere" or the "church scattered abroad" or the "manifestaion of the church where ever part of it may be" etc. Every time the word "church" was used in any given salutation is was addressed to a local assembly. Because that is the ONLY kind of church that there can be.

 

Also let be observe that one of the main thrust of the book of I Corinthians is the need for "unity”. There were "divisions" that existed "in" the church "at" Corinth (1:10-11; 3:3; 4:18; 5:1; 11:17-18). In the context of this setting Paul writes to them, "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ." (I Cor. 12:12). Paul teaches the unity of the body of Christ through the example of the human body (I Cor. 12:13-26). Then He tells the Corinthians that they are the body of Christ - One church (body) with many (divers and needful) members. In other words Paul is teaching the church at Corinth how and why it is important for them to function as a unified body. And of course by extension, to those in "every place" the Holy Spirit teaches that unity and oneness should prevail wherever a body of Christ may be found.

 

It is ONLY in the local setting that the analogy of the human body will work. After all who ever heard of a man (a functioning man - a man unified) with a foot in Tampa, Florida and a Leg in London, England and an eye in Dublin, Ireland? The human body is local - so is Christ's Body (I Cor.12:12). The Family of God may be in spread around that world and the Kingdom of God may be everywhere, but the church - the body - Never!

 

The Human body is a local unit "so also is Christ" (I Cor. 12:12). The human body has interdependent members so also is has Christ's body (I Cor. 12:14). The body of Christ exist wherever a true church (assembly) is found, just like a human is found wherever its many members (eyes, hands, feet) are found (I Cor. 12:14,18-23). It is the analogy of the church of Christ compared to a body (a local body- a local church). We should take the analogy as far as the "scripture" presents it and go no further. I believe that Holy Spirit through Paul was just teaching the idea of unity in the local body. That is the general thrust of the book of I Corinthians in its CONTEXT.

 

The Lord Jesus Christ has His kind of church on this earth today. It is always and only local in nature. It is a called out, authorized, assembly doing the work if its head and law giver. May the Lord Himself deliver us from all error competing against His blessed assembly. May the Lord give us strength to hold to and defend the truth of the local church and oppose the error of the universal church.

 

"Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." (Ephesians 3:21)


Return To Articles

Return To CMBC Home