Summary: When the word “church” or concept of the church is presented in the Bible, what does it mean?
The Body of Christ – Part I
What does the Bible teach concerning the church? When the word “church” or concept of the church is presented in the Bible, what does it mean?
Many people really don’t know what the word “church” means. Just like the word family means different things to different people, so does the word, “church.”
The Bible teaches the church has two aspects: the universal aspect and the local aspect. Universally, the church is uniquely one. Locally, however, the church is expressed in many localities. So the one universal church becomes the many local churches.
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." The church here refers to the universal church which includes all the redeemed believers who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and have been born again by the Spirit, without limit of time or space.
The other aspect of the church is found in Matthew 18:17, which says, "If he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church." The church here is limited in time and space and is local, because Jesus says in this verse that you can tell your situation to the church.
The local church is not only related spiritually to Christ but also has a physical and geographical identity. The seven churches John wrote to in Revelation 2 and 3 were local churches. He wrote to the churches at Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, and so on.
These churches, though all related to each other in a common faith, were each distinct entities. In the same way, churches today, consisting of true believers, are local churches. If one wants to know what the universal church of Jesus Christ is like, they can visit a local body of believers like GraceWay Church.
A New Testament church consists of people who meet together for worship, discipleship, evangelism, fellowship and ministry. Whenever we attend a local church made up of individuals who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we are seeing the Body of Christ.
There is no other place to go to see the church as it is presented in the New Testament. The only physical representation of the universal church is the local church.
The word “church” is only used four times in the Bible in a general universal sense (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 10:32; Eph 1:22). Almost every time you see the word "church" in the Bible it's used to refer to a specific group of believers like we are here today.
Once you became a believer you are automatically a part of the universal church of God -- automatically, the moment you gave your life to Christ. But you don't become a part of a local church until you make that choice.
It's like when you were born physically, you were automatically entered into the human race. You didn't have a choice. But you didn't become a part of any local family in the human race until somebody chooses to take you home from the hospital.
A woman said to her pastor once, "I don't need to be a part of any local church. I'm a part of the invisible church." He said, “That's great but when you get sick, in the hospital, who visits you? The invisible church member or pastor?”
Today in our media-driven, technology-based society, it is easy for someone who professes to be a Christian to skip out of the local church and to plug into “cable-church” or the church of the radio airwaves. Many have begun to organize “virtual” churches or “internet churches” where you can “go to church” in the privacy of your home. One website said that their virtual church was for “people who are sick and those who are sick and tired of the traditional church.”
But the Bible is letting us know that you and I need somebody in the flesh. There are over thirty commands in the Bible you cannot obey, you cannot follow, unless you're part of a local church and say, "That's going to be my church family.”
What's the difference between being a member of the universal church and being a member of a local church? The difference is the word "commitment".
• I become a member of the universal church by committing my life to Christ.
• I become a member of a local church by committing myself to other Christians. I say, "That's going to be my church home where I'm going to give and be given to, where I'm going to serve and be served, where I'll love and be loved."
Today we are going to look at a passage of Scripture that helps us to understand what the universal church is. We turn to the New Testament letter of 1st Peter.