Sunday, February 26, 2017 am                                                    Church 2017 Index


How are The Universal and Local Church Related?


With this lesson we will conclude our introduction to what is the church.  In this portion of our study we have identified what the church is, both by definition and description.  We noted that the term church is used in 2 senses – universal and local.  We have also addressed when the church began and noted how the church/kingdom are the same.  Today, we want to talk a little more about the difference between the universal and local church.

Why is this important?  1) Because there is misunderstanding of their distinction in much of the religious world.  The concept of denominationalism is that the universal church is a) a body of all the different denominations with Christ being its head.  As long as there is agreement on minimal doctrines, then that denomination is a part of the universal church; b) Within a denomination, the various congregations comprise the body of Christ. I.e. The Catholic (a term meaning universal) church. 
2) Because of misunderstanding even among brethren who see the Lord’s church universal as a body of congregations (similar to 1b above) but without the denominational headquarters;
3) Because we sometimes use terminology that shows a failure to understand the distinction (for example: We talk about the beginning of universal church [AD 33] and then we describe the work and organization of a local church; OR we say something like, “You can’t join the church, you are added to it” – a true statement concerning the universal church, but the opposite of becoming part of a local congregation, etc.) 

Understanding what the universal and local church are, and how they are different, helps us to be clear in our conversation AND our function. 

 I.                     How are the universal and local church related?

a.       As we have noted – the universal church is a relationship, a fellowship with God.  IF we are saved, we are part of that universal body.  It has not earthly organization or function.

b.       A local church ought to be related to the universal church in that it attempts to base its membership upon an understanding of who is saved.

c.        What do the universal church and local congregations have in common?

                                                   i.      Christ is the head – Ephesians 1:22-23

                                                 ii.      Both glorify Him – Eph. 3:21

                                                iii.      Both were designed by God (Eph. 3:10-11).

                                                iv.      Both are governed by His same word – we learn about their distinction and similarities through studying the Bible.

d.       Thought, each local church exists as if it were the only one on earth.  The point is each LC is independent and autonomous (which we will address later this year) and not dependent on other congregations for its survival, etc. 

 II.                   How are the universal and local church different?

a.       Its beginning

                                                   i.      UC – had its beginning on Pentecost, AD 33 in Jerusalem, etc.

                                                 ii.      LC – has its beginning whenever a group of saints join together to do the work of a local church.  It can be said that on Pentecost, AD 33 a local church began in Jerusalem, but every other congregation, even in Bible times had its beginning at a later time. 

b.       Number

                                                   i.      There is one UC – Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:4, etc.

                                                 ii.      There are many LC – Romans 16:16, Galatians 1:2, Revelation 1:4, etc.

c.        Membership

                                                   i.      UC is all who are saved in heaven and on earth. 
Ultimately about fellowship with God -

No mistakes are in it.
Added by the Lord – Acts 2:41, 47
By definition, if you are saved you are part of it.

                                                 ii.      LC is a group of the saved in a locality.  It only includes the living (cf. Phil. 1:1). 
It is about fellowship with one another. 
While we seek to ensure that members are also part of the UC, as humans we can be mistaken.  We can allow into fellowship those who are out of fellowship with God, or we can deny admission to those God considers a part of the UC.
We JOIN a local church – Acts 9:26 – Paul sought to join the church at Jerusalem.
You can be saved and not part of a local church – 3 John 9-11, Acts 8:4 – they left Jerusalem and went everywhere preaching the word.  Acts 8:37-39 – the Eunuch baptized in the wilderness, Acts 9:26 – as Paul sought to join the saints in Jerusalem (was he a member during this time), etc.   NOTE: Let it be clear, every instance of this in the NT demonstrates a temporary circumstance!  God wants us to find a sound, faithful congregation and join with these brethren.  You may be moving, be involuntarily or voluntarily removed from a congregation, etc.  But such should not be your goal.

d.       Removal

                                                   i.      UC – The Lord adds and removes according to His will.  He NEVER makes mistakes.

                                                 ii.      LC – first, when one passes, they are no longer part of that local church.
Again, being human, we can err in this – by NOT removing those who ought to be disfellowshipped (1 Cor. 5, Rev. 2)
Or possibly removing membership of one who God still recognizes (often apostate churches do this – 3 John 9-11)

e.       It’s organization

                                                   i.      UC – no earthly organization.  John 18:36 (My kingdom is not of this world…)
With Christ as its head (Ephesians 1:22-23, 1 Peter 5:4).  As we have noted, no working on earth (except as Christians live faithfully – Ephesians 5:3 – are glorifying Christ and His body – 1 Peter 4:11)

                                                 ii.      LC – local organization – elders, deacons and saints (Philippians 1:1, Acts 20:28, 14:23, etc.).  A local church has a location to meet (Acts 20:7), a work to do, a treasury (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), worship God following His pattern.

f.        Its purity

                                                   i.      UC – because of who it consists of, it is pure.  Anything defiled will by no means enter therein – Revelation 21:27. Hebrews 12:14 calls for us to pursue peace and holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  Ephesians 5:25-27 – Christ died for the purity of the church.

                                                 ii.      LC – is commissioned to keep itself pure – 1 Corinthians 5:4-6 – a little leaven;
Revelation 2:14-16 – Pergamos false teaching in her midst.  Revelation 2:20-21 – Thyatira had corruption being tolerated and taught.  Etc. 
Ephesians 5:25-27 – if Christ died to purify the church, certainly we should strive to keep her pure. 
At times, congregations can become impure and corrupt.  The call is for such to repent and return. 

g.        It’s duration

                                                   i.      UC – since this is what was established on Pentecost (Acts 2) – i.e. the church/kingdom – it will endure forever.  Romans 8:38-39, Matthew 16:18, Hebrews 12:28
It cannot be destroyed or divided!  When man seeks to discredit or destroy it, when he rebels against her – he is simply removed!  Fellowship with God is broken!

                                                 ii.      LC – come and go.  Revelation 2:5 -  Sadly, they die, or tragically they fall out of fellowship with God and Christ (Rev. 2:5).  To my knowledge there is no local church that began in the first century that has consistently endured through today! 
Equally sad – local congregations can be destroyed and divided.  We see it far too often when error rears its head, or worse, when ungodly attitudes prevail and are not repented of.  When we fail to grow as we ought to.  Churches are divided, and even die.  That was Paul’s concern as he wrote 1 Corinthians 1:10, 3:3-4, etc.


And thus we contrast the church local and universal.  Clearly, they are related to one another, as both originate from the same source.  But we need to know the difference as it affects our worship and work as we strive to be the church Jesus did for and built.  Are you part the church we read about in the Bible – both universally AND locally?    Think about it.