Thursday, January 10, 2013

Universal vs. Local Church

As I started a series on the church last Sunday, the first thing I felt I had to do was to give definition to the term, "church." In order to do this, I needed to distinguish between two very important aspects of the church: the universal church and the local church.

Universal Church
This is the true people of God. It is comprised only of believers and is all true Christians across all denominations, race, color, gender, and time. This is the church that only God sees. Because of that, it is often referred to as the invisible church. There are no false believers in this group of people, only the true people of God. If you have come to a place of believing in Jesus alone for your salvation and making Him Lord of your life, then you are part of the universal church.

Local Church
While it is true to refer to the church universally, the emphases that we find in the New Testament is that of the universal church gathered locally. This is the local church. It is the regular gathering of those who profess faith and allegiance to Jesus. In fact, the term that is translated "church" in the NT actually means "gathering" or "assembly." Because we can actually see the local church, it has often been referred to as the visible church. This visible church would be comprised of true Christians and false Christians. There will always be tares among the wheat.

While the assembling together constitutes the local church, it has nothing to do with the location of the gathering. This means it is not a building. Our church is an example. Over the past 19 years, our church has met in many different locations, but the location didn't define the church. It was the local, formal gathering that defined it. Because of that, it would not be proper to say that you "go to church." I would challenge you to think that it is more proper to say that you go "to be the church."

Why Is This Important?
I fear and grieve over an entire generation of people that are emphasizing the universal church as more important than the local church. I understand the angst that many of them feel, because some local churches are simply stupid. They do stupid, non-Christ like things. But it is still the church. And this is where I fear for them. From the time the church began in Acts 2, we never see any Christian that is part of the universal church that is not part of the local church.
"This invisible membership is very visible in the reality of life. As for membership in an invisible church without fellowship with any local assembly, this concept is never contemplated in the New Testament. The universal church was the universal fellowship of believers who met visibly in local assemblies" (Robert Saucy, The Church in God's Program, 17).
I fear for those that try to live their entire Christian life apart from the local church. I fear that they will continue to live in a state of spiritual immaturity, for the gathering together of the local church is the process God has designed for people to grow to spiritual maturity. I know the local church is filled with sinners. I know it is filled with hypocrites. It always will be. And there is plenty room for one more.

What Good Reasons Can You Think Of That Keep People Away From The Local Church?

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