The majority of Christians believe in a universal church/body of Christ. The vast majority of the passages where the word “church” is used in the Scriptures are speaking of a local church and the few that could be interpreted as a universal church also fit well with local church. This places the burden of proof is upon those who believe there is a universal church. There are no passages that obligate a universal church interpretation.
Some use I Corinthians 10:32 “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:” to prove a universal church. They say this verse gives us three groups, the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God. However, Paul, twice used the phrase “church of God” in reference to the very church he is speaking to in this passage (I Corinthians 1:2 and II Corinthians 1:1).
This phrase, the church of God, is used eight times in the New Testament. Let’s look at them all to see what it means.
Acts 20:28 “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.”
In this verse Paul is speaking to the elders of the church in Ephesus. One of their functions is to feed the church of God over which they have been made overseers. This refers to a local church, not a universal church.
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:”
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:”
These two verses are addressing the church at Corinth, a local church, as the church of God. They do not say that part of the church of God which is at Corinth.
I Corinthians 10:32 “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:”
As I have already said, this is talking to the church of God which is at Corinth. If Paul is talking about the church of God to those who he calls the church of God is it not reasonable to believe he means that local church to which he is speaking?
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.”
In this passage Paul is talking about the church (local) getting together and abusing the Lord’s Supper. Again, it is the same church which he has called 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.”
Galatians 1:13 “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:”
These to verses are talking about Paul’s persecution of the church of God. So far as the Scriptures tell us, Paul only persecuted one church, the church at Jerusalem. Is it unreasonable to think that if the church at Corinth is a church of God, that the church at Jerusalem is also a church of God.
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?)”
This verse is speaking of the qualifications of a bishop or pastor. No pastor is given responsibility for taking care of any church but the local church where he is pastor. Pastors pastor local churches, not a universal church.
All of the usages of the phrase “the church of God” fit well in the context of a local church. Some of them definitely refer to a local church. The burden of proof that any of these passages refer to a universal church is on those who believe in a universal church. It is not on those who believe believe in a local church. There can be no doubt that the Scriptures speak of a local church. There is no passage that can only be interpreted as a universal church. Every passage that refers to the church or the body of Christ, which are the same thing according to Ephesians 1:23, fits within the doctrine of a local church. A few can fit with the doctrine of a universal church. Again, if the majority of the references to the church are definitely local, and all of the references can be properly interpreted in the context of a local church, changing the meaning of church from local to universal is unsound exegeses.
I often hear people talk about the Rapture of the Church. No where in the Scriptures to we see the the church being caught up, we see the saints being caught up. Is there a difference? Yes there is! If there is a rapture of the church then there must be a universal church. If there is a rapture of the saints. and the church is local, it agrees with all of the clear references to the church.
This is not an unimportant issue. All of those who believe in a universal church, at least all of them I know about, believe that the church began at Pentecost. There are some real problems with this. There is one important promise concerning Christ’s return at the rapture. John 14:1-3 says, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
If it is the Rapture of the church, and if the church didn’t begin before Pentecost, what about any saints that died between John 14 and Pentecost. Was this promise for them? Will they be going up in the Rapture?
Who will be caught up in the Rapture is only one of the consequences of the universal church doctrine. Some of the doctrines affected are the doctrine of separation, the doctrines of baptism and the the Lord’s Supper, the doctrine of salvation, and many others. It behooves us to make sure of what we believe on this subject. Is what you believe based upon the Bible or upon what we learned from theology books?
Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved