"Local not Universal" Church Series #6
The "ecclesia" of the New Testament has to do with local churches visibly and tangibly. These local churches, however; have a generic, institutional or collective characteristic and function so that the word ''ecclesia'' of Christ or "assembly" of Christ can rightly be spoken of as a collective singular "the church" meaning all local New Testament churches. I Cor. 12:28 and Matt. 16:18. This designation then aptly fits in reference to a single church, a number of churches or collectively of all local New Testament churches.
Likewise the church as a body can be thought of as a single local church or as a number of N.T. churches or as all N.T. churches collectively visualized. The difference of this concept with that of the invisible or universal church idea is that:
1. It puts the emphasis upon the strategic purpose of God in this age, to get His work done through the instrumentality of local churches.
2. It does not permit Christians to take false cover from responsibility to Christ through a local church by claiming to belong to a so called invisible universal body.
3. In an absolute de facto way it rules out the possibility of any ecumenical "church" by asserting that the only true church of the N.T. is a local independent, autonomous church. Thus it would declare ecumenicity a false concept and a false goal in that there can be no church other than the local church. The ecumenical problem would be settled before it started.
Most individuals who hold tenaciously to a universal, invisible church concept have always associated being in the "church" (universal and invisible) with regeneration and salvation. In other words, they have been taught that salvation and regeneration are synonomous with being in the universal, invisible church. Thus to negate the idea of a universal, invisible church is instinctively to them an attack upon the doctrine of salvation and regeneration. They have never stopped to think that the Scriptures do not equate these. To be born again according to Jesus is to enter the kingdom of God but He says nothing to the effect that it makes one a member of a church universal and invisible. John 3:3-5. To receive Christ as Saviour is not stated to result in one becoming a member of a universal invisible church but to become a son of God (family of God). John 1:12. Nowhere does Scripture equate the experience of regeneration and salvation with becoming a member of a church universal, invisible. This false equation is a result of reasoning apriori or in other words assuming this to be a truth, so that when someone questions the universal church concept as valid immediately it is assumed they are attacking salvation.
To put it another way, to assert that if one is not a member of a local New Testament church he is not in the body of Christ sounds like absolute heresy to the holder of the universal, invisible church concept because he has always assumed that to be born again is to become a member of the body of Christ, equating the body of Christ with salvation rather than a local church. He has not stopped to consider that I Cor. 12:13 is not teaching salvation and that is the only place in Scriptures where one could possibly advocate the equation between those two.
The truth asserted of identifying the church as a local body of Christ or collectively as the body of Christ does not deny the truth of the oneness of all believers as members of the family of God, as "believers" as "saints" nor the fact that God will present the fruit of all the church age unto Himself as a glorious assembly and that it will comprise a large part of Ephesians 1:10.
"That in the dispensation of the fullness 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:"
Those who reject identifying the oneness concept of all born again believers as "the church" are zealous and thrilled as anyone to assert that there is a glorious oneness of all truly born again believers regardless of local church affiliation. However, they do not want that concept confused with the true New Testament Church (ecclesia - assembly) which Jesus has ordained to be the vessel in this dispensation to do His work.