The Universal Church
Our discussion about the universal Church — what it is and what it is not, also considers questions such as: What is God’s purpose with the Church? When did Christ start to build His Church; and when will He finish this work?
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The Greek word translated as ‘church’ is ekklesia, meaning a ‘called-out assembly’, a group of people distinct from other people. The ekklesia is not a building, not a denomination, not a national church, not the kingdom of God and not Israel. Rather, the Church is the people who belongs to this called-out assembly. When referring to local churches, the word ekklesia is used in both the singular and plural forms, but when the word is used to describe the universal Church — the one body of believers that Christ is building as his body over a specific period of time — then the singular form of the word is used and denoted as ‘Church’ (with a capital C).
The Church is not just some parenthesis which God was forced to stick between the First and Second Advents of Christ, or between the time when ‘this generation’ in Israel blasphemed the Holy Spirit by rejecting the Messiahship of Christ (Matthew 12:23-32) and the time when a future Jewish generation will call on the Lord to return (Matthew 23:39). While it has a definite historical beginning, the Church was always part of the divine plan of God (cf. Ephesians 3:9).
John the Baptist promised that Christ would baptise with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11-12). In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said that He will (future tense) build his Church. The resurrected Lord repeated the promise that He would baptise with the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:5. That promise came true on the Day of Pentecost when the Church was born in Acts 2 — something that the apostle Peter affirms in Acts 11:15-17 once he had once-and-for-all used the keys of the kingdom of heaven to open the spiritual door of the kingdom of heaven to three groups of believers (Jews in Acts 2; Samaritans in Acts 8; and Gentiles in Acts 10-11). Importantly, the Church could not have been established until Jesus Christ had been resurrected from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). Moreover, the Church could also not have been established until Christ had ascended into heaven, for spiritual gifts could only be given thereafter (Ephesians 4:7-12). The Church began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
The universal Church is comprised of all those who have been born of the Spirit of God and who have by that same Spirit been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Fruchtenbaum (2005:6) says that the “universal Church is that spiritual organism of which Messiah is the Head, and it is composed of all believers from Pentecost until the Rapture.” Believers differ as to when the rapture will take place, but it will indeed take place (1 Corinthians 15:50-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). When it does, the Church will have been completed and be with her Bridegroom.
The Church belongs to Christ, it is His Church (Matthew 16:18); He is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22-23). Christ loves the Church and He sanctifies it (Ephesians 5:25-27). Christ is the One who sent the Holy Spirit to indwell believers that form the body of Christ and to give gifts to the Church (Ephesians 4:8-11). Christ prepares the Church to be His bride (Ephesians 5:25-27).
The Composition of the Church
The Church consists of believing Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-16; cf. Acts 1:8). The mystery that Paul describes in Ephesians 3:1-6 is that it was not known in the Old Testament times that the Church would comprise of believing Jews and Gentiles into one Body of Christ. Moreover, it was also not known in Old Testament times that Christ would indwell these Jewish and Gentile believers (Colossians 1:24-27).
The Foundation of the Church
The foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ. Not only is Christ the Rock, but He is also the chief corner stone (Matthew 7:24-27; Ephesians 2:20-22).
The Purposes of the Universal Church
Five purposes of the universal Church can be noted. First, it is to call out ‘a people for His name’ (Acts 15:14) from among the Gentiles. Second, the Church is to provoke the Jews to jealousy (Romans 11:11-14). Third, to make known the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10). Fourth, to constitute a dwelling-place for God (Ephesians 2:20-22). Fifth, to bring eternal glory for God (Ephesians 3:20-21).
The Future Destiny of the Universal Church
Contrary to the teaching of some, the universal Church is not going to conquer the world with the gospel. The future destiny of the Church involves five things: the Church will be raptured (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), rewarded (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10), married (Revelation 19:6-9), co-reign with Christ in the Messianic kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6) and then eternally abide in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-22:5).
We will take some time in the next group of articles to discuss the various symbolic illustrations of the universal Church in greater detail.
If you would like to read more about the Universal Church, we suggest you read the original article and source of this summary, The Universal Church, written by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum.
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