The Church

The Church – Part 5


ACTS 2:47

Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

First I would like to point out that this church did not begin in Acts Chapter 2. It met together on the day of Pentecost and already had at least 120 members before Pentecost (Acts 1:15).

This verse says that God added to a church that already existed. This church that He added to was local and began that day meeting together in one place. They were together in one accord.

Verse 41 of Acts Chapter 2 tells us how people were added to the church. First, they believed the Word of God, then they were baptized, then they were added to the church. The baptism here is obviously water baptism.

This is totally different from what those who believe in a universal church teach about how one becomes a member of a universal church. They teach that the Holy Spirit baptizes one into the universal body at the instant of salvation. We will deal in more depth with this concept later.

It is obvious that the church in Acts Chapter 2 was local because of the things they did. They had fellowship together around the apostle’s doctrine. They prayed and they broke bread together. How does a universal church do these things?

This passage of Scripture clearly teaches that one doesn’t become a church member instantly upon salvation, but only after water baptism. The universal church doctrine teaches that one becomes a member of the “true” church upon salvation.

No thinking student could see a universal church in this passage. In order to see the universal church in Verse 47, one must come to the verse with prejudice. Attempting to force universal church doctrine into this verse cannot be done because the context will not support the idea of anything but a local church.


For as the body in one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also in Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentile, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? if the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: 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. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

Verse 13 is used by the supporters of the universal church as a proof text. It says:

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

They understand this to be the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” They say the Holy Spirit baptizes a person into the “universal body of Christ” at the instant of salvation.

This idea of “Holy Spirit baptism” would be difficult to reconcile with other passages of Scripture. For example, Ephesians 4:5 tells us that there is only “one baptism”. If “Holy Spirit baptism” is true baptism, then water baptism is not. On the other hand, if water baptism is true baptism then “Holy Spirit baptism” is not. It is certain that water baptism is taught in the Scriptures. Jesus was baptized in water. The apostles were baptized in water. It is part of the Great Commission. Yes, water baptism is true Christian baptism. So, where does this idea of “Holy Spirit baptism” come from? It comes from the misinterpretation of two passages, Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16. These two passages say that John baptized WITH water, and Jesus will baptize WITH the Holy Ghost and WITH fire.

You will notice that I put the word WITH in all capitals. Proper interpretation requires that this word should have the same meaning each time it is used in the passage. Notice that John baptized with water. Water was the element into which those baptized were immersed. Using the same meaning for the word, with the Holy Ghost, and with fire are the elements in which Jesus baptizes. The Holy Ghost does not do any baptizing in this passage.

Another issue is that Ephesians 4 also says there is only one body, and Colossians 1:24 says that the body is the church. A body is always local and the body described in I Corinthians 12 is a local body. The body here and the body mentioned in Ephesians 4 is the local New Testament church. This will be evident by the end of this book.

Now let us take a closer look at what I Corinthians 12:12-28 really means. First of all, do you really think that the body described in this passage describes a disembodied universal church? Do the members of the supposed universal body of Christ function together as described in this passage? Does one member of the supposed universal body of Christ in France suffer or rejoice with another member in China when he suffers or rejoices? No, the only interpretation that makes sense is this body is a local body, a local church.

We saw in Acts 2 that one becomes the member of a church by water baptism. Verse 13 says that one enters this body by baptism. This body is a local church. The body described in the subsequent verses is local. What makes it so difficult to understand that this is speaking of a local church and not speaking of a universal church?

There are two ways that this verse can be understood in the light of a local church. The understanding hinges on two words, “Spirit,” and “by.”

One interpretation removes the capital “S” from the word spirit. Words referring to deity were not capitalized in the Greek so the capital “S” simply means that the translators, who believed in a universal church, thought the verse was talking about the Holy Spirit. The capitalization is purely the opinion of the translators.

The Greek word pneuma, translated Spirit, has a number of meanings including wind, spirit in the sense of a spiritual being, and spirit in the sense of a spirit of agreement. Since, among other things, baptism implies a spirit of agreement with the church that baptizes them, a reasonable interpretation could be that those who had a spirit of agreement with the church would join with that church through water baptism as they did in Acts Chapter 2.

The second way this verse 13 can refer to a local church and the word “Spirit” still refer to the Holy Spirit is as follows. When a person is saved the Holy Spirit leads them to be baptized in water and to unite with the local church that baptizes them.

We have to deal with the fact that that this passage says by one Spirit, not in one spirit. The first meaning listed for the Greek word translated “by” in Strong’s Greek Dictionary is “in” and the second is “by.” Both words are correct translations of this word.

The King James translators chose the word by. Like most words in English, the word by: has a number of meanings. Webster’s 1828 dictionary says that “by” can mean through or according to. The second of these definitions fits well with the idea that according to a spirit of agreement we are, upon our baptism, placed into the membership of that one body, the local New Testament church which baptizes us. This is what the first interpretation says.

It also fits with the idea that through the influence of the Holy Spirit the new convert is led to unite with a local church through water baptism.

The point isn’t which of the two interpretations is correct, it is that there is no need to change the body in this passage from local, which the context supports, to universal, which the context does not support. The verse can, and I believe should be, interpreted as the new Christian is united with the local church through water baptism.

Both of these interpret I Corinthians 12:13 in ways that fit perfectly with what we see in Acts Chapter Two. There we see people saved, baptized in obedience to the Scriptures, and then added to the church.

The common belief is that the body of Christ is a synonym for the universal church. There is no basis for this belief. As a matter of fact, Paul, in this very passage, shows that the local church is the body of Christ.

I Corinthians 12:27 says:

Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular.

Note that Paul says “ye are the body of Christ”, not “we are the body of Christ.” This choice of words excludes Paul from this body. It makes the church of Corinth the body of Christ. It is reasonable to believe that if the church in Corinth is a body of Christ, then all other scriptural churches are also bodies of Christ.

We must also deal with the fact that it says “the” body of Christ, not “a” body of Christ. First of all, my knowledge of Greek is nowhere near that of the translators of the King James Bible. I can’t tell you why “the” is used instead of “a” in this passage. However, I do know enough Greek to know that there is no definite article in the Greek text. At the very least this means that translating this as “a body of Christ” would seem to be a correct translation, but not necessarily the only correct translation.

I do know that Paul called this church “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2). We also find the church at Ephesus called “the church of God” (Acts 50:28). There are also numerous times when the phrase “churches of God” is used. The fact that in one place it says “the church of God” does not mean that it is the only church of God. The fact that here it says “the body of Christ” does not mean there are no other bodies of Christ.

We are told very clearly in Scripture that the church is His (Christ’s) body. The problem is one of concept. Those who hold the doctrine of a universal church view the church as Christ’s physical body in the same sense as your or my physical body. The concept of His body is not this at all. Each church is His body in the sense that He is the owner of and the head of all scriptural churches. This is the same principle as my owning several Bibles. Each Bible is Pierre’s Bible. Each body is Christ’s body, that is it is owned by Him.

What we find in this passage is the teaching of how one becomes a member of a local church and how a local church should function as the body or unit it is meant to be. This is written to a local church which receives members through scriptural baptism and a spirit of doctrinal agreement.

Again, to interpret the universal church into this passage, one must come to it with prejudice. One must be looking to justify the belief in a universal church instead of testing one’s belief by the Scriptures.