What is the Church?

Dr Pierre Coovert

The church is the pillar and ground of the truth. The only thing Satan has put more emphasis into destroying than the church is the Word of God. Augustine, one of the fathers of the Catholic Church wrote a series of books called “The City of God” in which he confused the church and the Kingdom of God. These books, not the Scriptures, are the origin of the doctrine of the universal church and the universal body of Christ. It led to the Catholic (universal) Church and to the Protestant idea of an invisible universal church. It has set up men, such as the Pope or denominational leaders as judges of God’s Word. It has also led to the unscriptural joining together of those who hold false doctrine under the umbrella of the universal church or universal body of Christ. Most importantly it has led to much false doctrine being accepted is simply and “in house debate” instead of serious doctrinal error.

Can the truth come from something that is, itself, untrue? I don’t think so. Here are just a few of the things that are clouded by the doctrine of the universal church:

1. Baptism: Scriptural baptism is the immersion of one who has received Christ for salvation under the authority of a scriptural church. Baptism by sprinkling and pouring on infants and adults for salvation is the result of the false doctrine of the universal church

2. The Lord’s Supper (communion): The Lord’s Supper was given to help keep the local church pure and is, therefore, a local church ordinance. Open communion is based on the idea of a universal church.

3. Denominations: In the New Testament churches were independent and self-governing. Under the doctrine of the universal church you have a denominational hierarchy which tells the local church what it is to do.

There are many more but I will stop here.

Lets look at the meaning of the word translated church in our Bibles. Strong’s Concordance defines ecclesia as a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation. A popular meeting means that it was a meeting of the populous or the people. It was most commonly used of a town meeting where citizens were called out of their homes to meet to conduct the business of the city/state. His definition has been tainted by the doctrine of the universal church. The phrase “especially a religious congregation” would not have been part of the definition at the time of Christ since the New Testament church had not yet been established.

The word church (ecclesia) is used in two different ways in Scripture. The first is in the institutional sense. This usage is used when the type of the word, not a particular case of the word, is being used. Psalms 8:4 says, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” We don’t interpret this to mean that God is speaking of a universal, man do we? When we say that the automobile is the primary means of transportation in America, do we mean there is a universal automobile that we all use for transportation?

When Jesus said “upon this rock I will build my church”, He was using the word church in the institutional sense. Any time it was used in the particular sense it was obviously a local church.

While the phrase “upon this rock I will build my church” can be interpreted as a universal church, it fits equally well with a local church interpretation. If Jesus meant a universal church, why did He never again mention it? Every other time Jesus used this word it is obviously speaking of a local body.

When Paul used the word in Ephesians 5:25 many say it is a universal church. If we start in verse 23 we will see that Paul is using the word church in the institutional sense. He speaks of the husband and the wife in this sense. The husband is not universal, nor is the wife. We understand that this refers to each individual (local) husband and wife. The church here is institutional and refers to each individual (local) church.

When Paul spoke of the churches of a region he always spoke of them in plural. For example: I Corinthians 16:1 “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.”
When Paul spoke of Christians in general he spoke of churches, not the church (Romans 16:15, I Corinthians 11:16, I Corinthians 14:33, etc.).

The New Testament church is a local assembly of baptized believers united together for the work of the ministry and the worship of God.

I know some think I put to much emphasis on the subject of the church. If Augustine, through the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches, had not distorted the church we would not have all of the problems we have today in Christianity. Calvinism became the major teaching on salvation after the Protestant Reformation and crept into Baptist churches through the theological schools of the day even though John Calvin wrote his institutes to prove he was not a Baptist. Today the doctrines of the universal church and universal body of Christ are creeping into Baptist churches today. The result is a lack of distinction and separation that kept the Gospel pure for two millennium. Do we want our children or grandchildren to loose the pure Gospel? This is not a trivial subject!

Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved

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