Several months back at a men’s Bible study the speaker in a video referenced the universal church. Specifically he said people often use the concept of the universal church as a chance to cop out on their responsibility to a local church.
This confused some of the men who were unfamiliar with the term, so today let me define and talk briefly about the local church and the universal church.
The universal church is a term used to describe all the saved of all the ages. The only time and place the universal church will be gathered is in heaven, in eternity. Until then the universal church is a term used to define all of Christiandom, around the world and through all time. While this is not a Biblical term, it is useful to allow us to define the large group of Christianity.
It’s natural to wrestle a little bit with who is in the universal church, but that is actually the soteriological question. The question of who is saved. For now suffice it to say, the concept should keep you aware Christianity is not limited to one church, denomination or tradition. Neither does it extend to anyone who calls themselves Christian. So everyone fitting God’s definition of Christian is a part of the universal church.
The speaker in the aforementioned video was pointing out he knew people who joined no local church because they felt it was unnecessary since they already belonged to the universal church. He encouraged a refocussing on the local church but if it had been me, I would have gone even further.
Remember the term universal church is not in the Bible, but the word defining a local church is very commonly used. Simplifying what could be a very long discussion, the reason why is not because God doesn’t care about the universal church, but because His method of growing the universal church is by growing local churches.
Every purpose God has for his people is expressed through a local congregation. Discipleship, happens in a faithful relationship with a group of other believers. Worship, while it can be a solo event, is Scripturally described as a congregational activity. Missions, happens when a group committed to the same goals all pull together. Evangelism is seeking an individual decision, but evangelism is a failure when the new believer is not linked to a congregation for growth.
I am a strong believer in the local church. I define it as a group of Christians who have thrown in their lives together for the purpose of serving God. This commitment made to one another is in the form of membership, and membership is also a confession by the person they believe as we do, at least on the most important issues. When a church begins to chip away at the membership commitment they will eventually find their people don’t have unity of belief or direction.
I believe once a person makes a commitment to a local church they have responsibilities there. Churches where the members are absent or lax will be weakened. Let me finish today by encouraging anyone who happens to read this, be committed to your local church and see it as your God designed avenue for serving the greater kingdom.