OTHER SCRIPTURES USED TO SUPPORT THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
I will deal with these next verses as a unit because the response to all of them is essentially the same. The phrase “the church of God” is used eight times in the New Testament.
I Corinthians 10:32
Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:
I Corinthians 15:9
For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
I Corinthians 1:2
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:
I Corinthians 11:22
What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
II Corinthians 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:
I Timothy 3:5
(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
All of these verses are speaking of a local church. Acts 20:28 and I Timothy 3:5 are talking to or about pastors and their responsibilities to their particular local church. There is no way to apply these two usages of the phrase “church of God” to a universal church since the supposed universal church has no pastor.
I Corinthians 1:2 and II Corinthians 1:1 both tell us these epistles were written to the “church of God which is at Corinth.” This is pretty good proof the phrase “church of God” refers to a local church.
I Corinthians 11:22 speaks of events that happened in the church of Corinth. The church of God here is a local church, the church at Corinth. Again, the phrase as used here cannot be speaking of a universal church.
Out of the eight times this phrase is used, five of them definitely refer to the local church. Just like the use of the word ecclesia, the majority evidence points to a local church.
Now let’s look at the three verses where it is not so evident that they are talking about a local church.
I Corinthians 10:32 says not to offend the Jews, the Gentiles, or “the church of God.” This is written to a church that is called the church of God in the first chapter. This is talking about not offending the Jews or the Gentiles in the church of Corinth. Again, this verse is not talking about the universal church, it is talking about the church at Corinth.
I Corinthians 15:9 and Galatians 1:13 both talk about Paul’s persecution of “the church of God.” There is no evidence that Paul ever persecuted a church other than the church at Jerusalem. When he left Jerusalem to persecute the church at Damascus, he had his saving encounter with Christ.
Paul knew that when you have several groups of people organized into assemblies for the purpose of carrying out God’s work, they are not a single church, but churches. Here is what Galatians 1:2 says:
“And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:”
How different is this from statements like “the church in America” or “the persecuted church” meaning Christians in a given area or situation. If Paul spoke of the churches in a region in the plural, shouldn’t we do the same thing? Do we know something he didn’t know? Paul also spoke of the “churches of God” in I Corinthians 11:16, I Thessalonians 2:14, and II Thessalonians 1:4. The church of God is a local church and there are many of them.
Just as there is no universal church, there is no regional or national church. To use the word church to mean anything other than a local church is a misuse of the word.
Some people would take exception with what I have just said. They would use Acts 9:31
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
Of course, when we read this verse in the King James Version we don’t see any support for the universal church idea, but if we look at some other versions, like the American Standard Version, the NIV, the New Living Translation, the Contemporary English Version, the Message, etc., we will see something different. These versions translate the word ecclesia as church in the singular. All the translations based on the Received Text translate church in the plural and those Bible translations based on the Westcott/Hort text translate church in the singular.
The debate on the underlying text for the Bible translations is better left for another time but I will say this much: The received text is supported by more than 95% of the existing Greek manuscripts. The Westcott/Hort text is based on manuscripts that do not even agree with themselves. I’ll take the 95% over the 5%.
Ephesians 1:10 is also used to support the universal church idea. It says:
That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
It is difficult to answer those who use this verse because I can’t see any reason why this verse would be considered support for the universal church. This verse says that all things will be gathered together in Christ. It includes all things in Heaven and in the earth. Does the universal church include all things in Heaven? I know of no one who believes that angels are part of the universal church.
This passage does not say anything about the church or the body of Christ. There is no mention of either the church or the body until twelve verses later. Ephesians 1:22 and 23 speak of Christ being the head over all things to the church. I have already shown that these two verses fit well with the doctrine of a local church.
In these last two chapters, I have looked at all the passages used to support the supposed universal church. You may not agree with my interpretations on all of these passages, but you cannot argue that these interpretations do not follow proper rules of interpretation. Just because some passages may allow for a universal church does not make the doctrine true.
When the meaning of the word “ecclesia” at the time of the writing of the New Testament meant a local assembly of some kind, and when every passage where the word is used can be interpreted in the light of a local church, the burden of proof is on those who believe that there is a universal church.
There is not one passage that I have found, or that anyone else has been able to show me that clearly teaches a universal church or body. We must stick with the clear teaching of the Word of God and not change things just because someone thinks there is a universal church.