Posted on Leave a comment

The Church – Part 11


I will deal with these next verses as a unit because the response to all of them is essentially the same. The phrase “the church of God” is used eight times in the New Testament.

I Corinthians 10:32

Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:

I Corinthians 15:9

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Galatians 1:13

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:

Acts 20:28

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

I Corinthians 1:2

Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

I Corinthians 11:22

What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

II Corinthians 1:1

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:

I Timothy 3:5

(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

All of these verses are speaking of a local church. Acts 20:28 and I Timothy 3:5 are talking to or about pastors and their responsibilities to their particular local church. There is no way to apply these two usages of the phrase “church of God” to a universal church since the supposed universal church has no pastor.

I Corinthians 1:2 and II Corinthians 1:1 both tell us these epistles were written to the “church of God which is at Corinth.” This is pretty good proof the phrase “church of God” refers to a local church.

I Corinthians 11:22 speaks of events that happened in the church of Corinth. The church of God here is a local church, the church at Corinth. Again, the phrase as used here cannot be speaking of a universal church.

Out of the eight times this phrase is used, five of them definitely refer to the local church. Just like the use of the word ecclesia, the majority evidence points to a local church.

Now let’s look at the three verses where it is not so evident that they are talking about a local church.

I Corinthians 10:32 says not to offend the Jews, the Gentiles, or “the church of God.” This is written to a church that is called the church of God in the first chapter. This is talking about not offending the Jews or the Gentiles in the church of Corinth. Again, this verse is not talking about the universal church, it is talking about the church at Corinth.

I Corinthians 15:9 and Galatians 1:13 both talk about Paul’s persecution of “the church of God.” There is no evidence that Paul ever persecuted a church other than the church at Jerusalem. When he left Jerusalem to persecute the church at Damascus, he had his saving encounter with Christ.

Paul knew that when you have several groups of people organized into assemblies for the purpose of carrying out God’s work, they are not a single church, but churches. Here is what Galatians 1:2 says:

“And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:”

How different is this from statements like “the church in America” or “the persecuted church” meaning Christians in a given area or situation. If Paul spoke of the churches in a region in the plural, shouldn’t we do the same thing? Do we know something he didn’t know? Paul also spoke of the “churches of God” in I Corinthians 11:16, I Thessalonians 2:14, and II Thessalonians 1:4. The church of God is a local church and there are many of them.

Just as there is no universal church, there is no regional or national church. To use the word church to mean anything other than a local church is a misuse of the word.

Some people would take exception with what I have just said. They would use Acts 9:31

Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.

Of course, when we read this verse in the King James Version we don’t see any support for the universal church idea, but if we look at some other versions, like the American Standard Version, the NIV, the New Living Translation, the Contemporary English Version, the Message, etc., we will see something different. These versions translate the word ecclesia as church in the singular. All the translations based on the Received Text translate church in the plural and those Bible translations based on the Westcott/Hort text translate church in the singular.

The debate on the underlying text for the Bible translations is better left for another time but I will say this much: The received text is supported by more than 95% of the existing Greek manuscripts. The Westcott/Hort text is based on manuscripts that do not even agree with themselves. I’ll take the 95% over the 5%.

Ephesians 1:10 is also used to support the universal church idea. It says:

That in the dispensation of the fulness 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:

It is difficult to answer those who use this verse because I can’t see any reason why this verse would be considered support for the universal church. This verse says that all things will be gathered together in Christ. It includes all things in Heaven and in the earth. Does the universal church include all things in Heaven? I know of no one who believes that angels are part of the universal church.

This passage does not say anything about the church or the body of Christ. There is no mention of either the church or the body until twelve verses later. Ephesians 1:22 and 23 speak of Christ being the head over all things to the church. I have already shown that these two verses fit well with the doctrine of a local church.

In these last two chapters, I have looked at all the passages used to support the supposed universal church. You may not agree with my interpretations on all of these passages, but you cannot argue that these interpretations do not follow proper rules of interpretation. Just because some passages may allow for a universal church does not make the doctrine true.

When the meaning of the word “ecclesia” at the time of the writing of the New Testament meant a local assembly of some kind, and when every passage where the word is used can be interpreted in the light of a local church, the burden of proof is on those who believe that there is a universal church.

There is not one passage that I have found, or that anyone else has been able to show me that clearly teaches a universal church or body. We must stick with the clear teaching of the Word of God and not change things just because someone thinks there is a universal church.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Church – Part 10


We have looked at Scofield’s proof texts without finding a universal church doctrine explicitly or even implied within the Bible. We have seen that the passages used by Scofield to support his “true church” do not support this doctrine. It must be admitted that some of the passages he used can, if taken in isolation, be used to support the universal church doctrine. When considered in the whole of the teaching in the New Testament on the church, using proper rules of interpretation, and with the proper use of the institutional sense of words, none of the passages of Scripture cited above require the word ecclesia to mean anything other than a local assembly.

The vast majority of the passages where the word “ecclesia” is used refer without question to local churches. Those few that are not clearly speaking of a local church do fit well with the idea of a local church. There must be a contextual reason to change the meaning of a word. One cannot change the meaning of words simply to support a preconceived doctrinal system. The doctrine of the universal church should be rejected because there is no scriptural support.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Church – Part 9


I Thessalonians 4:16-17

For the Lord Himself shall descend from
heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the
trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which
are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the
clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the

first question I must ask is where do we find the word church
mentioned in this passage? A person must view this passage with a
preconceived idea of a universal church to which all saved people are
added upon their salvation if they find a universal church here. If
one doesn’t come with this presumption, one cannot find the church in
these two verses.

catching up here is often wrongly called the “Rapture of the
Church.” What we see here is the Rapture of the saints which
includes the dead in Christ, and those who are in Christ yet still
alive at His coming.

the Rapture there will be a calling out of all who are in Christ,
both dead and alive. This will form an ecclesia. This church still
will not be universal because it will not include the Old Testament
saints, nor will it include the Tribulation saints or the Millennium
saints. Another thing about this ecclesia that differs from the
universal church theory is that it will be both visible and local.
That is, you will be able to see it with your eyes and all of its
members will be gathered together in one place.

reads this universal church proof-text with astonishment since there
is no mention of the word church here at all. Of course, those who
are already convinced of the existence of the universal church would
assume that it is the “Rapture of the Church” because they
believe that all the saved make up the universal church. Paul gives
no basis for such an assumption, not in this passage or anywhere else
in Scripture.

the Bible supported the doctrine of a universal church, then the
Rapture could be called the “Rapture of the Church”. Since
the Bible does not support a universal church doctrine, a more
accurate term would be “Rapture of the saints”.

from preconceptions, there is no universal church found in these
verses. Again, we must take what the Bible says over what theology
books say.

Hebrews 12:22-23

But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto
the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an
innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of
the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of
all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.

is obvious that what is referred to here is future even though this
passage speaks in the present tense (ye are come). We are not yet
come to the heavenly Jerusalem, that event is yet future.

thing that is obvious is that there are two groups of people
mentioned here, the general assembly, and the church of the
firstborn. Some interpret these as being the same thing, the general
assembly equaling the church of the firstborn. This does not hold up
grammatically. We have two entities here, the general assembly, and
the church of the firstborn. The word “and” indicates that
these are two separate entities. It is true that the word “and”
used here could mean that they are two different names for the same
thing, but that is not what would first come to mind when reading
these phrases. There is further evidence in the passage that shows
they cannot be the same thing. We are told that they “are”
in heaven, not that “it is” in heaven. The plural here
proves that these are two distinct entities.

word ecclesia means a called out assembly, but the Greek word
translated general assembly is not ecclesia. It is πανηγυρις,
which means a mass meeting. Who would be in the general assembly? The
Bible doesn’t tell us so I can only speculate that it would include
the Old Testament saints, the Tribulation saints, and the Millennium

Posted on Leave a comment

The Church – Part 8



For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

This passage is one of the best examples in the Bible of the generic or institutional usage of words. In Verse 23 there are four words used in the institutional sense; husband, wife, church, and body. No one would ever make the words husband or the wife mean universal, why do some insist on doing so with the words church and the body? The answer is simple: doctrinal preconception or prejudice.

When the words husband and wife are used in a concrete form, they always mean a specific husband and wife. Likewise, every time the church is mentioned in a concrete sense, it is always spoken of as a local entity. This passage was is written to the local church at Ephesus, which was a local entity.

The generic usage here is proper because each good church should be submitted to Christ as every good wife should be submitted to her husband. Since the vast majority of usages of the word church require a local church interpretation, there is no reason for it to mean anything different here. There is nothing in the context which forces a different meaning.

Many use Verse 27 to prove that the church is universal because it says He wants to present it “a church, not having spot or wrinkle.” As we have seen, the preceding verses refer to a local church in an institutional sense. What is there in the context that changes the meaning here? The fact that it says a church? No! This means that He desires that each church be presented as a glorious church.

Some say that this verse is speaking about the future universal church in prospect. By this they mean all the saints gathered in heaven after the Rapture. If that is what it means it will be a local church, not a universal church. It will not include all the saved because there will be at least two groups in heaven. Hebrews 12:23 speaks of the general assembly and the church of the firstborn.

To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

Like most other passages used to support the universal church, if you read Ephesians 5:23-33 without prejudice, there is no reason to believe this passage is speaking of a universal church. Although it may be possible to interpret a given passage as speaking of a universal church, this is not sufficient reason to change the meaning of the word “ecclesia.” To change its meaning, there must be something that obligates, not permits this change.


And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:

All I should have to say on this passage is “ditto”, but at the risk of being redundant, I will offer similar answers here. Consistent interpretation requires the word church to be local here as elsewhere unless the context requires another interpretation.

Consistency of thought is necessary in our interpretation of Scripture. This passage ends by Paul speaking of his sufferings for you, the church at Colosse, and then he talks of the afflictions (sufferings) of Christ in his flesh for Christ’s body’s sake. Then Paul states that His body is the church. Which church did Paul say he suffered for in the same verse? It was the church at Colosse, not a universal church. There is no reason to differentiate between the sufferings for “you”, the church at Colosse, and the sufferings for the church unless one brings his preconceptions to the passage.

How can a body or an assembly that is disconnected, dispersed throughout space and time, and never brought together still be called a body or an assembly? To use body and assembly to refer to something that is not an assembly and does not assemble is to use the words liberally, as the liberals do. It is to twist the Scriptures beyond sensible meaning. If we take this liberty, we can make the Scriptures say anything we want them to say.

It is a mistake to assume the verses that refer to the body of Christ must be speaking of something different and broader than a local church. This is especially true since Paul refers to the local church at Corinth as “the body of Christ” in I Corinthians 12:27.


Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee

This verse refers back to the prophecy of Psalm 22:22 which says:

I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.

Since Psalm 22 is looking forward to real events in Christ’s earthly life, His crucifixion and His resurrection, it is reasonable to think that His praising God in the midst of the congregation refers to some real event in His earthly life as well.

Do we find a time when He did sing praises in the midst of the congregation (the church)? Yes, we do:

And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” (Mark 14:26)

The context of this verse is in a called out group of believers meeting together to worship God. This was every bit an ecclesia or church.

Even C.I. Scofield applies Psalm 22:22 to an event before Pentecost, the supposed birthday of the church. He says this verse refers to John 20:17:

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

I don’t see how Scofield could tie these two verses together, because Christ tells Mary Magdalene to tell the brethren, instead of telling them Himself. Nevertheless, since Psalm 22:22 uses the word “congregation” and since this fits well with the definition of ecclesia, Scofield linking the verses places the church in existence before Pentecost.

Whether the prophecy was fulfilled in Mark 14:26 or in John 20:17, it was fulfilled before the supposed birth of the church. This is just one of the many inconsistencies of those who teach there is a universal church to which all are added upon their salvation.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Church – Part 7



Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

Just a simple look at the pronouns used should show us that Paul is talking about a local church here. He is writing to a local church and he repeatedly says “ye” not “we.” Ye is a plural pronoun which indicates a group of people and excludes others. As such Paul includes the church at Ephesus and excludes himself and those who are members of other churches.

The things Paul talks about in these verses refer to the church at Ephesus. They are also true of all other scriptural churches, but only because the other churches are also a group for which these things are also true. These things do not apply because there is a universal church, but because they are true of any church in the same way certain things are true of any bicycle. All bicycles have two wheels and a frame to hold them together. All scriptural churches have a saved membership who are fellow citizens with all the saints in the Kingdom of God. All saved members of scriptural churches are part of the household of God (the family of God). All scriptural churches are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets and Christ is the chief cornerstone. Each church is fitly framed together and grows as “an holy temple in the Lord.”

Look closely at the last sentence of this passage which says that, like all other churches, they are “also” built together into a habitation of God. Each local church is an habitation where God meets with that part of His people who meet there.

It is difficult to see how this passage can be used to support the universal church doctrine. Since Paul is speaking to a local church, the phrase “all the building” must refer to that building. To interpret this passage to mean anything other than a local church is not required by the text. In my opinion, to make it mean a universal church does great violence to the passage.

As I read the commentaries on this passage, it amazes me how educated men can arrive at the conclusions they do. For example, John Gill, a Baptist pastor who lived from 1697 to 1771 wrote the following concerning this passage:

“This building is to be understood of all the saints, and people of God; of the whole universal church, which is God’s building; and is a building of a spiritual nature and will abide for ever: and this is fitly framed together; it consists of various parts, as a building does; some saints are comparable to beams, some to rafters, others to pillars, etc. and these are joined and united to one another and are set in an exact symmetry and proportion, and in a proper subserviency to each other; and so as to make for the good, the strength, and beauty of the whole. And it all centers in Christ; he has a great concern in this building; he is the master builder, and the foundation and cornerstone; and it being knit together in him,”

Note that he said that the building is to be understood of all the saints. He makes the statement without offering any proof, at least in this part of his commentary. A little research shows where he got this idea. He received his education from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. This university was formed in 1495 by William Elphingstone, the Bishop of Aberdeen under the authority of King James IV and Pope Alexander VI. You will note that this was before the Protestant Reformation and that it was originally a Catholic university. When the Reformation came to Scotland, it became a Presbyterian university which kept the doctrine of a universal church. Of course, the Protestant universal church became invisible instead of visible as the Catholic Church had taught.

There are some things I find interesting in John Gill’s commentary, as well as in the commentaries of many others. He describes a building as the sum of its parts but he forgets that it is not a building until those parts are brought together in one place and assembled. A building is not made while the components are still in the lumber yard or on the truck on the way to the building site. It is not a building until the parts are assembled.

The text says that the building is “fitly framed together” and that they, the church at Ephesus, are “builded together” to form an habitation for God. These metaphors only work if the building is local.

Since universities of that day required government approval, and since the government only approved those universities that were approved by the state church, to receive a university education it was necessary to sit at the feet of the Protestants. As a result, many of the pastors of those days were “protestantized” by their Protestant professors.

This is just one reason that it is necessary to study the Scriptures for yourself. This is also why this work is not filled with quotes from “experts and theologians.” I do not expect you, as readers of this work, to assume that I am correct, I expect you to study these things for yourselves. Your conclusions should come from a study of the Scriptures, not from a study of what other men think. What others have written can be helpful, but it must always be compared with the Scriptures.

Let me conclude this section by saying that Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus about the fact that they were a building fitly framed together. This is true for all local churches, but not for a universal church. Remember, those who invented the idea of a universal church did not work together with others who were part of the supposed universal body of Christ. They persecuted and killed those who disagreed with them. Does that sound like a “building fitly framed together?”


For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,

There are two phrases that cause some to apply this passage to the universal church. The first is “of the same body,” and the second is “known by the church.” If you keep in mind what we have learned so far, you will understand that these phrases apply just as easily to the idea of a local church as they do to a universal church.

Most, if not all, of the first-century churches had both Jews and Gentiles in their membership. If you remember how Paul started churches by first going to the synagogue of the Jews, you will understand why this was almost always the case.

The mystery Paul is talking about here is that Jews and Gentiles would be joined together in one body. The very thought of this in the first century would shock either Jew or Gentile. The mystery that is spoken of in this passage is that in Christ all are one. It is not the mystery of some new kind of “ecclesia” that is never explained in Scripture.

In the Old Testament God worked through the nation of Israel which formed an assembly which moved as a unit and often met together as a unit. It is called “the church in the wilderness” in Acts 7:38. Although it had God as its ultimate head, as a church has Christ, it had an earthly leader, Moses, just as a church has an earthly leader, the pastor. It had requirements for membership. It was exclusionary: you had to be a Jew or a convert to Judaism. The only members were those who were alive at any given time. It did not include dead or yet unborn Jews.

It was through this local group that God worked in the Old Testament. In the New Testament God works through the local church. The supposed universal church cannot carry out the work of God on earth because it has no substance. The purpose (intent) of the church is to make known “the manifold wisdom of God.” How does it do this if it cannot be seen because it is invisible? How does it do this if it has many branches that disagree with one another? Would not this confusion show a lack of wisdom on the part of God?

For the true church to make known the wisdom of God it must, first of all, be in agreement concerning God’s precepts. In the supposed universal church we have Catholics that teach that we are saved by grace, through faith, plus sacraments, plus works. We also have the various reformed churches teach man has no choice in his salvation, but that God has predetermined who will be saved. Then there are the denominations which teach you are saved by grace, through faith, but that you are kept by works, making your ultimate salvation based on your works. There are also churches which teach that one is saved by grace, through faith, without any kind of works for salvation or for keeping their salvation. This leads to confusion, not unity. How could this be the “true church?”

You will only learn of God’s manifold wisdom in local churches where there is agreement in doctrine and practice. To have the unity needed to make known God’s manifold wisdom there must be a faithfulness to the teaching of Scripture.

God’s work has always been done through something local. During the patriarchal period, it was the family. During the time of Israel, it was a nation. During the church age, it is the local New Testament church.

I realize that I have digressed a bit in this section, but the bottom line is that Paul can only be talking about a local church in this passage. He is specifically speaking of the church at Ephesus, but the truths spoken of here apply to any local church of any age. They cannot apply to a supposed universal church.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Church – Part 6



For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

It is really difficult to understand how anyone could see any reference to the universal church in this passage. Paul is still talking to a local church. Again, he excludes himself by using the word “you” instead of “us.”

Paul’s talking about having “espoused you to one husband” and that he desires to present them as a “chaste virgin” implies that he is talking about the Bride of Christ. The use of the word “you” instead of “us” would eliminate Paul from the bride unless he was talking about the members of the church at Corinth making up part of the bride. It would be Paul’s desire also that the members of his home church, the church at Antioch, also be espoused to one husband and be a chaste virgin and make up another part of the bride.

In Verse 1, Paul asks the church at Corinth to bear with his folly. He is saying that his concern (jealousy) for them may seem foolish, but he asks them to bear him out, or listen to what he has to say. Paul had probably won many of the members of this church to the Lord and he was certainly responsible for the existence of this church. He had a purpose in starting this church. It was to be a pure church and that, at Christ’s return, its members would be prepared to make up part of His bride.

Verses 3 and 4 express the fear that Paul had. He feared that this church might turn from the simplicity of Christ and the Gospel to another Jesus, another spirit, or another gospel. Remember that he wrote his first epistle to this church to deal with serious problems within this church which, if not corrected, would have led to just such things.

We must also understand that it is not Paul who espouses the Bride to Christ. Whatever may be meant by the phrases “espoused you to one husband” and “chaste virgin”, one thing is sure. They refer to a local church, the church of God which is at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:2 and II Corinthians 1:1), not to a universal church.

Again, there is no reason to make this passage refer to anything but a local church unless it is read with prejudice. Remember, there must be something in the context that obligates the word church meaning other than local before universal definition can be ascribed.


And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.

It may seem redundant to keep saying that the word church is sometimes used in the institutional sense, but most of the passages used to support the universal church doctrine fit well with the doctrine of the local church if this is kept in mind. To continue in my redundancy, there must be something in the context that requires changing the word ecclesia from local to universal. It is not enough to simply permit this change in meaning.

We have already seen that an ecclesia and a body both mean a local group of individual parts joined together in a manner to function together as a unit. All the descriptions of both in Scripture clearly show this. The church meets together (Matthew 18, Acts 1 and 2, etc.); it functions as a unit (I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, etc.). They are bound together as a functioning unit (Ephesians 2, I Peter 2, etc.). A body doesn’t have an arm in Kansas, and a leg in New York and a house or building does not have a wall in Montana and a roof in Florida.

This passage, like others we have looked at, is written to a local church and must be interpreted in that context. While the church epistles are for all of us, we must look at them as written to a church and not to individuals.

Notice that this passage says that all things are under Christ’s feet and that He is given to be head over all things to the church. If all things are under His feet and He is head of all things to the church, is He a contortionist? As the head of each church, all things are under His authority (under His feet) and He is to be consulted in all things as the head of each church.

I have already dealt with the phrase “body of Christ” but for the sake of clarity let us look at it again. The “body of Christ” is not His physical body in the same sense as your body is you. Each church is His body in the sense that it belongs to Him as His possession. As the owner of each church, He has the right to deal with each church as He sees fit. Read Revelation Chapters Two and Three to see this principle in action.

If we keep proper principles of interpretation in mind, we have no problem understanding this passage in the light of local church doctrine. The scriptural principles describing a particular church are true of all churches. If Jesus was the head of the body He owned in Ephesus in the first century, He is also the head of the church where I am presently a member in the twenty-first century.

People only see the universal church in these verses because this is what they have been taught. It is found in the notes of most study Bibles so people assume this concept is true without further investigation. Surely Scofield, Ryrie, John MacArthur, and many others couldn’t be wrong, could they? Remember, the Christians of Berea were more noble because they compared what they were taught by the Apostle Paul with the Scriptures to ensure that what he taught was true to the Word of God.

Since the Bible is its own best interpreter, why don’t we let the Bible tell us what is meant by the word “body”?

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. Ephesians 4:12-16

The body is something that is “fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part.” its purpose is that “we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”

The universal church is not fitly joined together and it does not effectually work together. It is certain that there is now no universal agreement in doctrine, or in the understanding of Christ. The supposed universal church is “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”

Everything the Scriptures command the church to do can only be done by a local church. Every description in Scripture of a church or a body describes a local church or body. This is the kind of church over which Christ has designated Himself to be the Head.

The final phrase of this passage says, “the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” Many use this phrase to force the universal church doctrine into this passage. Again, let the Bible tells us what it means. In Ephesians 3:19 we have the explanation, which says:

And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

This is part of Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus, a local church. The prayer is that the members of this church (ye) be filled with “all the fulness of God.”

There is nothing in Ephesians 1:22-23 that obligates the teaching of a universal church. There is nothing in this passage that does not fit the doctrine of a local church. We still have no reason to believe that the word church is anything but what the Greek word ecclesia means it to be, a local assembly.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Church – Part 5


ACTS 2:47

Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

First I would like to point out that this church did not begin in Acts Chapter 2. It met together on the day of Pentecost and already had at least 120 members before Pentecost (Acts 1:15).

This verse says that God added to a church that already existed. This church that He added to was local and began that day meeting together in one place. They were together in one accord.

Verse 41 of Acts Chapter 2 tells us how people were added to the church. First, they believed the Word of God, then they were baptized, then they were added to the church. The baptism here is obviously water baptism.

This is totally different from what those who believe in a universal church teach about how one becomes a member of a universal church. They teach that the Holy Spirit baptizes one into the universal body at the instant of salvation. We will deal in more depth with this concept later.

It is obvious that the church in Acts Chapter 2 was local because of the things they did. They had fellowship together around the apostle’s doctrine. They prayed and they broke bread together. How does a universal church do these things?

This passage of Scripture clearly teaches that one doesn’t become a church member instantly upon salvation, but only after water baptism. The universal church doctrine teaches that one becomes a member of the “true” church upon salvation.

No thinking student could see a universal church in this passage. In order to see the universal church in Verse 47, one must come to the verse with prejudice. Attempting to force universal church doctrine into this verse cannot be done because the context will not support the idea of anything but a local church.


For as the body in one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also in Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentile, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? if the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

Verse 13 is used by the supporters of the universal church as a proof text. It says:

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

They understand this to be the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” They say the Holy Spirit baptizes a person into the “universal body of Christ” at the instant of salvation.

This idea of “Holy Spirit baptism” would be difficult to reconcile with other passages of Scripture. For example, Ephesians 4:5 tells us that there is only “one baptism”. If “Holy Spirit baptism” is true baptism, then water baptism is not. On the other hand, if water baptism is true baptism then “Holy Spirit baptism” is not. It is certain that water baptism is taught in the Scriptures. Jesus was baptized in water. The apostles were baptized in water. It is part of the Great Commission. Yes, water baptism is true Christian baptism. So, where does this idea of “Holy Spirit baptism” come from? It comes from the misinterpretation of two passages, Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16. These two passages say that John baptized WITH water, and Jesus will baptize WITH the Holy Ghost and WITH fire.

You will notice that I put the word WITH in all capitals. Proper interpretation requires that this word should have the same meaning each time it is used in the passage. Notice that John baptized with water. Water was the element into which those baptized were immersed. Using the same meaning for the word, with the Holy Ghost, and with fire are the elements in which Jesus baptizes. The Holy Ghost does not do any baptizing in this passage.

Another issue is that Ephesians 4 also says there is only one body, and Colossians 1:24 says that the body is the church. A body is always local and the body described in I Corinthians 12 is a local body. The body here and the body mentioned in Ephesians 4 is the local New Testament church. This will be evident by the end of this book.

Now let us take a closer look at what I Corinthians 12:12-28 really means. First of all, do you really think that the body described in this passage describes a disembodied universal church? Do the members of the supposed universal body of Christ function together as described in this passage? Does one member of the supposed universal body of Christ in France suffer or rejoice with another member in China when he suffers or rejoices? No, the only interpretation that makes sense is this body is a local body, a local church.

We saw in Acts 2 that one becomes the member of a church by water baptism. Verse 13 says that one enters this body by baptism. This body is a local church. The body described in the subsequent verses is local. What makes it so difficult to understand that this is speaking of a local church and not speaking of a universal church?

There are two ways that this verse can be understood in the light of a local church. The understanding hinges on two words, “Spirit,” and “by.”

One interpretation removes the capital “S” from the word spirit. Words referring to deity were not capitalized in the Greek so the capital “S” simply means that the translators, who believed in a universal church, thought the verse was talking about the Holy Spirit. The capitalization is purely the opinion of the translators.

The Greek word pneuma, translated Spirit, has a number of meanings including wind, spirit in the sense of a spiritual being, and spirit in the sense of a spirit of agreement. Since, among other things, baptism implies a spirit of agreement with the church that baptizes them, a reasonable interpretation could be that those who had a spirit of agreement with the church would join with that church through water baptism as they did in Acts Chapter 2.

The second way this verse 13 can refer to a local church and the word “Spirit” still refer to the Holy Spirit is as follows. When a person is saved the Holy Spirit leads them to be baptized in water and to unite with the local church that baptizes them.

We have to deal with the fact that that this passage says by one Spirit, not in one spirit. The first meaning listed for the Greek word translated “by” in Strong’s Greek Dictionary is “in” and the second is “by.” Both words are correct translations of this word.

The King James translators chose the word by. Like most words in English, the word by: has a number of meanings. Webster’s 1828 dictionary says that “by” can mean through or according to. The second of these definitions fits well with the idea that according to a spirit of agreement we are, upon our baptism, placed into the membership of that one body, the local New Testament church which baptizes us. This is what the first interpretation says.

It also fits with the idea that through the influence of the Holy Spirit the new convert is led to unite with a local church through water baptism.

The point isn’t which of the two interpretations is correct, it is that there is no need to change the body in this passage from local, which the context supports, to universal, which the context does not support. The verse can, and I believe should be, interpreted as the new Christian is united with the local church through water baptism.

Both of these interpret I Corinthians 12:13 in ways that fit perfectly with what we see in Acts Chapter Two. There we see people saved, baptized in obedience to the Scriptures, and then added to the church.

The common belief is that the body of Christ is a synonym for the universal church. There is no basis for this belief. As a matter of fact, Paul, in this very passage, shows that the local church is the body of Christ.

I Corinthians 12:27 says:

Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular.

Note that Paul says “ye are the body of Christ”, not “we are the body of Christ.” This choice of words excludes Paul from this body. It makes the church of Corinth the body of Christ. It is reasonable to believe that if the church in Corinth is a body of Christ, then all other scriptural churches are also bodies of Christ.

We must also deal with the fact that it says “the” body of Christ, not “a” body of Christ. First of all, my knowledge of Greek is nowhere near that of the translators of the King James Bible. I can’t tell you why “the” is used instead of “a” in this passage. However, I do know enough Greek to know that there is no definite article in the Greek text. At the very least this means that translating this as “a body of Christ” would seem to be a correct translation, but not necessarily the only correct translation.

I do know that Paul called this church “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2). We also find the church at Ephesus called “the church of God” (Acts 50:28). There are also numerous times when the phrase “churches of God” is used. The fact that in one place it says “the church of God” does not mean that it is the only church of God. The fact that here it says “the body of Christ” does not mean there are no other bodies of Christ.

We are told very clearly in Scripture that the church is His (Christ’s) body. The problem is one of concept. Those who hold the doctrine of a universal church view the church as Christ’s physical body in the same sense as your or my physical body. The concept of His body is not this at all. Each church is His body in the sense that He is the owner of and the head of all scriptural churches. This is the same principle as my owning several Bibles. Each Bible is Pierre’s Bible. Each body is Christ’s body, that is it is owned by Him.

What we find in this passage is the teaching of how one becomes a member of a local church and how a local church should function as the body or unit it is meant to be. This is written to a local church which receives members through scriptural baptism and a spirit of doctrinal agreement.

Again, to interpret the universal church into this passage, one must come to it with prejudice. One must be looking to justify the belief in a universal church instead of testing one’s belief by the Scriptures.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Church – Part 4


We don’t have to look at all the passages that use the word ecclesia because all will agree that most of them refer to local assemblies. Since C.I. Scofield’s Bible notes have done more than any other study Bibles to spread universal church doctrine among Baptists, we will start by looking at the twelve passages of Scripture which, taken together, supposedly teach the doctrine of the universal or “true” church. It is doubtful that, if these passages do not support a universal church, we will find other passages that do.


This is the first verse in Scofield’s chain of proof-texts that supposedly prove the existence of a universal church, or what he calls “the true church.” It reads:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Before we look at this verse, let us look at Scofield’s conclusion concerning the “true church.” In his comment on Hebrews 12:23, he says:

“Church (true), Summary: The true church, composed of the whole number of regenerate persons from Pentecost to the first resurrection 1Co 15:52 united together and to Christ by the baptism with the Holy Spirit 1Co 12:12-13 is the body of Christ of which He is the Head Eph 1:22-23. As such, it is a holy temple for the habitation of God through the Spirit Eph 2:21-22, is ‘one flesh’ with Christ Eph 5:30-31 and espoused to Him as a chaste virgin to one husband 2Co 11:2-4.”

Now that we understand what he believed, let us examine this verse. In his notes on this verse, he admits that the word ecclesia does not naturally contain the concept of universality. Here is what he said in his notes:

“Church – Gr. ecclesia (ek = ‘out of,’ kaleo = ‘to call’), an assembly of called-out ones. The word is used of any assembly; the word itself implies no more, as, e.g., the town-meeting at Ephesus (Act. 19:39), and Israel, called out of Egypt and assembled in the wilderness (Acts 7:38).”

Since there is nothing in the immediate context to modify the normal meaning of the word ecclesia, Christ’s meaning of the word in this verse must be found in the context of all of Christ’s other uses of the word ecclesia. The next time Jesus used the word was in Matthew 18:15-18 which says:

Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Is there any doubt that Jesus is referring to a local church here? There is no way any grievance among church brethren could be taken before a universal church. In this passage we also see that what the church binds on earth is bound in Heaven. The binding and loosing here have to do with church discipline, which cannot be done in a universal church.

All of Christ’s other usages of the word ecclesia are found in Revelation Chapters Two and Three. Since these usages are in the letters sent to local churches in Asia, we must conclude that the word is used to mean local churches, not a mystical universal church.

The reason so many think Matthew 16:18 refers to a universal church is because the word church is singular. Their conclusion is that this must be something other than a local church because Jesus did not say which specific local church He was referring to.

This shows a lack of understanding of the meaning of words in what is called the institutional usage. Words are often used in the singular to represent all of a type. Some people seem to have difficulty understanding this usage of words even though they use words this way all the time. The following examples should help clarify what is meant by the institutional usage of words.

The word man is often used to mean all of mankind. The Scriptures tell us that God made man (singular) in His own image. Does this mean that only Adam was made in the image of God? I doubt that anyone would seriously try to hold that position.

Genesis 9:6 says:

Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

Here it is obvious that by using the word man, all of mankind is meant.

Most people have no problem understanding that Henry Ford made the automobile available to the common man, do they? They don’t think that he only made one car and that only one common man had access to it, do they? No! they understand from this statement that automobiles, plural, were made available to common men, plural. Because of Henry Ford, ordinary people, not just those who were rich, could afford to have automobiles.

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus is saying that there will be an institution called a church, which He will build. This institution will be concrete local assemblies (ecclesia), with Him as the head of each local body.

As we have seen, just two chapters later Jesus gives instructions concerning church discipline. Jesus does not explain to His disciples that He is referring to a different kind of church in Matthew 18. Since He doesn’t, we must conclude that He is talking about the same thing. Since the church in Matthew 18 is local, the one in Matthew 16 must also be local. Any other interpretation violates the principles of sound interpretation, especially since every other time Jesus used the word ecclesia, He was speaking of a local church.

If the church of Mathew 16:18 was universal, why didn’t Jesus ever mention a universal church again? Doing so would have avoided any confusion about the existence of a universal church. Those who believe in a universal church do not all agree on who makes up this universal body. Some say it is all the saved of all ages. Some say it is all of those saved from Pentecost until the Rapture. Jesus could have eliminated a lot of confusion by telling us He was talking about something different in this verse if He meant something other than the normal meaning of the word ecclesia.

Another reason some object to Matthew 16:18 referring to a local church is that we are told “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Since local churches come and go, since the churches mentioned in the New Testament no longer exist, it is assumed that it must be the universal church which the gates of hell will not prevail agaist. Again, Jesus is talking about the church as an institution, not a specific individual church. He does not say that the gates of hell shall not prevail against a specific local church. What he does say is that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church as an institution.

The promise here is not that a particular church will not fail, but that institution, which is a local church, will not fail. Many churches have come and gone over the centuries, yet we still find institutions, local churches, of the type instituted by Christ. It is not my purpose in this work to prove that there have always been local churches after the biblical model, but there are many books which you can read that give ample evidence in great detail proving this point. I would recommend the following: “The History of the Baptists” by Thomas Armitage, “Baptist Church Perpetuity” by W.A. Jarrel, and “A History of the Baptists” by John Christian.

If you were one of Christ’s disciples who heard Jesus say “I will build my church” you probably would have seen yourself as part of what He would build. Six chapters earlier, in Matthew 10, Jesus formed His disciples into a called out group of believers united into an ecclesia, a called out assembly, complete with a membership role, a pastor (Jesus), and a mission to reach the world for His kingdom. You would have understood that the church, as an institution, would stand against the gates of hell. It has done just that until this day and it will until the Rapture of the saints.

Since I used the term “Rapture of the saints,” let me digress a little. The Scriptures say nothing of a “rapture of the church,” they speak only of a catching away of those who are in Christ. In those passages which deal with the rapture, there is no specific mention of a church. Granted these statements are in letters written to churches, but we know that these were churches in a given locality, They were not one “universal” church including all Christians from Pentecost to the Rapture.

Again, if Matthew 16:18 is speaking of a universal church, why didn’t Jesus ever mention it again? If we are true to the rules of interpretation, we cannot force a universal church into this passage.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Church – Part 3

There are many different opinions on what defines the universal church. To most dispensationalists, it is a body of believers from Pentecost to the Rapture of the church. To them, the universal church includes all the saved who are alive, the dead in Christ, and those who will be saved who are not yet born. They believe that it includes believers from all denominations.
To those who follow covenant theology, it is an invisible body/church which consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head.
These groups both believe there is some kind of mystical union that unites the members together even though they never assemble. They believe that this vast multitude is the “Body of Christ” which Paul writes about in his epistles.
To find out if this “universal body” really exists, we cannot rely on the teaching of theology books, we must go to the Scriptures. As students of the Scriptures, we must understand the meanings of the words used at the time of their use. Since we are studying the church, we must start by understanding what the Greek word “ecclesia”, which is translated “church” in our Bibles, meant to those who heard it in Bible times. We need to do an in-depth word study of this word to see how it is used in the New Testament.
The natural starting point is to check the lexicons and dictionaries of New Testament Greek. Since the most popular of these is Strong’s Greek Dictionary, part of his concordance, let us start with it. In it we find the following definition:
Strong’s Greek Dictionary

  1. εκκλησια ekklesia
    εκκλησια ekklesia ek-klay-see’-ah
    From a compound of 1537 and a derivative of 2564; a calling out, i.e. (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both):—assembly, church.
    This seems simple enough. We have, in our first definition, the idea of a universal church. I’ll say more about this later, but if the church didn’t exist until Pentecost, like most who believe in a universal church teach, how could the Greek word have meant “Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both” when Christ used it in Matthew 16:18?
    Berry’s lexicon gives us the following definition:
    “Ecclesia…an Ekklesia, from ekstian believers, a church in one place, Ac. 11:26; often plural, as Ac. 15:41; the whole body of believers on earth, 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians. 1:22; or in heaven, Heb. 12:23.”
    Again, how could the word have meant “the whole body of believers on earth” if the church did not exist until Pentecost?
    Vine’s definition gives us considerably more information on the meaning of the word:
    “Assembly. 1. Ekklesia, from ek, out of, and klesis, a calling (kaleo, to call), was used among the Greeks of a body of citizens gathered to discuss the affairs of State, Acts 19:39. In the Septuagint it is used to designate the gathering of Israel, summoned for any definite purpose, or gathering regarded as representative of the whole nation. In Acts 7:38 it is used of Israel; in 19:32,41, a riotous mob. It has two applications to companies of Christians, (a) to the whole company of the redeemed throughout the present era, the company of which Christ said, ‘I will build my Church,’ Matt. 16:18, and which is further described as ‘the Church which is His Body,’ Ephesians. 1:22, 5:22, (b) in the singular number (e.g., Matt. 18:17, R.V., marg., ‘congregation’), to a company consisting of professed believers, e.g., Acts 20:28; 1Cor.1:2; Gal. 1:13; l Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:5, and in the plural, with reference to churches in a district.”
    We have agreement among these popular lexicographers concerning the word’s supposed double meaning. These definitions make the word ecclesia mean both a local church and a universal church. The difference would depend on the context in which it is used. If we stopped our study here, we might conclude that the concept of universality is inherent in the word “ecclesia.”
    Since these definitions come from sources that have been influenced by the teachings of the Catholic and Protestant churches, and which have the preconceived belief in a universal church, it would be a mistake to draw this conclusion. These lexicographers may have read their preconceptions into their definitions of the Greek word. In their definitions they say one of its meanings is “a Christian church, local or universal.” This could not have been the meaning of the word when Jesus first used it because the church did not exist.
    To get the true meaning we need to look at the usage of the word ecclesia at the time it was used, that is, in New Testament times. When we do that, it will become evident that these lexicographers have not given us the true classical Greek meaning of the word at the time the New Testament was written. Because of this error, many people take these definitions to the New Testament and find a universal church. It is never right to take our theological presuppositions and try to make the Scriptures fit them. We are to seek our doctrine from the Scriptures and test our theology by biblical doctrine.
    In the next chapter we will examine the verses used by many to teach that there is a universal church. Suffice to say here that lexicographers are no more infallible than others who write on biblical subjects.
    Although we can learn much from dictionaries and lexicons, we must remember that they are not always completely reliable. No man can write anything without his preconceptions having an influence on what he writes. The more the lexicographer gets into details, the less accurate he tends to be and the more presuppositions are involved.
    Words evolve in meaning. An example of this is seen in the English word “prevent.” To us it means to stop or hinder something. In the Scriptures it means to go before. As an example of this, look at I Thessalonians 4:15
    For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
    This does not say that those who are alive and remain will not stop those who are asleep from going up in the Rapture. It says those who are alive will not go before those who sleep.
    This brings us to the next step in our understanding of the word ecclesia. Looking at the etymological roots of words can give us insight into the meaning of a word, but the meanings of words evolve over time. If we look at the word prevent mentioned earlier, we see that it comes from “pre”, which means before, and “vent”, which means to go. This agrees with the biblical meaning of the word, but not with our modern understanding when we hear the word.
    Etymologically, ecclesia is made up of the two Greek roots “ek”, meaning out of, and “kaleo”, meaning to call. Etymologically the word means to call out without any regard to who is called, where they are called from, or to where they are called. In modern definitions we are usually told that ecclesia means a group of people who are called out, and nothing more. Therefore, we are told, it can mean a group of people called out of the world and separated unto God. This allows the word to be used in the sense of a universal church.
    This idea is echoed by most, if not all, lexicographers and commentators. Berkhof, Barnes, Gill, Clarke, Matthew Henry, etc. all follow the definitions given above. We could stop here and say we have found the answer. We would certainly be in good company if we did.
    To conclude that what we have seen thus far gives us a clear meaning of the New Testament usage of the word would be premature. A word is not defined at a given time in history by its etymological roots. It is defined by what it means to those to whom it is spoken at a given time in history. Remember the word prevent we discussed earlier.
    Great men of God like B. H. Carroll see things a little differently than those we have looked at so far. He said that the word “ecclesia” in New Testament times meant those called out from their homes to attend a meeting. He wrote the following in his book “Ecclesia – The Church”:
    “What, then, etymologically, is the meaning of this word? Its primary meaning is: An organized assembly whose members have been properly called out from private homes or business to attend to public affairs. This definition necessarily implies prescribed conditions of membership… Locality inheres in ecclesia. There can be no assembly now or hereafter without a place to meet.”
    We cannot settle the issue of the meaning of ecclesia etymologically because the etymology does not tell us whether it means “called out from the world at large, but not to meet”, or “called out from their homes to meet in local assemblies.” In the evolution of a word, there are three time periods that may significantly change the word’s definition. First, there is the time period in which the word was originally used. During this period the etymological evidence is the most accurate. There is also the meaning given the word at any particular time period in history. Finally, there is the period of time when the reader is considering the word. Definitions of the word can be significantly different during each of these time periods.
    We have already seen this evidence with the word prevent. To further show how words evolve, here are two other words that have changed over the centuries. ‘Hussy’ came from ‘huswife’ in Middle English, which meant a housewife but today it means a brazen or immoral woman. ‘Constable’ came from ‘comes stabuli’ which means keeper of the stable; today it means a peace officer.
    Ecclesia did not simply mean “called out” in New Testament times. It meant assembly or called out assembly. Its most common usage at the time Jesus first used it was to signify the assembly of citizens in a self-governed city/state. Citizens were called out from their homes to meet together to deal with affairs of state. The word would have never been used of a group of people called out by God to be separate from the world but who never assembled together. It always meant called out to meet together.
    The etymological support for a universal church rendering of ecclesia is at best inconclusive. Inconclusive is really an understatement because there is no support for the idea that ecclesia meant anything universal in its etymology. Those who claim that the word means those called out through, or at the time of, their salvation are imposing more on the meaning of the word that any evidence will support.
    Like any word, ecclesia must be defined by the common meaning of the word at the time it was used unless something in the context requires a different meaning. For the word to mean anything other than an assembly called out to meet together for some official reason, the context must do more than simply allow another meaning, it must require it.
    Ecclesia was not an obscure word in the first century. If it always meant an assembly in the first century, we cannot impose our 21st-century meaning upon it. As we have seen, the lexicographers have added meanings based upon the understanding of their time, rather than how the word would have been understood at the time the New Testament was written.
    All those who hold to the doctrine of the universal church readily admit that the vast majority of the instances of ecclesia in the New Testament refer to a local church. Imposing another meaning where it is not immediately obvious that it is talking about a local church must only be done if it is the only possible interpretation in the context where it is used. If we can change the meanings of words simply because the new meaning fits our doctrinal prejudices, then the Bible has no meaning at all.
    The word ecclesia was used by the Greeks of the first century exclusively to define local assemblies. The Greek word panegyros was used for more general groups of people. This word was used to describe all the people of all the Greek states. If the church were universal, panegyros is the word that would have been used to describe it.
    An honest search of classical Greek literature for any usage of the word ecclesia which would support a universal group or assembly will come up empty. Some of the greatest Greek scholars have tried and no instance of this meaning has ever been found.
    Professor Royal, of Wake Forest College, was asked if he knew of any instance of the word ecclesia being used of an unassembled or non-assembling group of people. His answer was “I do not know of any such passage in classic Greek.” Many other scholars agree with this statement.
    In the classical Greek used in the New Testament, the word ecclesia was understood by both Greeks and Jews to mean an organized assembly of the people. To the Greeks, this word meant an assembly of the citizens of a free city/state gathered by a herald blowing a horn through the streets of a town. To the Jews it would have meant something like their synagogue.
    Thus, from a survey of classical Greek usage, we see that the word ecclesia meant more than “called out.” It meant a “called out assembly,” with emphasis on the concept of a local assembly. The concept of universality cannot be supported from classical Greek usage. Indeed, the Greek definition appears to rule out the idea of a body of believers scattered through space and time, who never meet together.
    Our study thus far has shown us that the idea of universality is not inherent in the word ecclesia. It is also readily admitted by all that the predominant usage of the word in the New Testament refers to a local church. Based upon these two facts the burden of proof rests upon those who would give ecclesia a different meaning.
    We still have to look at the usage of ecclesia in the New Testament. It is possible that it is used by God to present some new doctrine not previously revealed. However, if we are to find the truth we must use proper methods as we study the New Testament. We cannot read in our theological presuppositions. The context must clearly show there is a new meaning in the passage. Consensus will not be sufficient. Remember, we are dealing with the Word of God. We are seeking what He said and what He meant. We are not to rely upon what some scholar thinks it means.
    Just because a majority declares something as truth doesn’t make it truth. The majority of Christendom believes that works are in, some way or another, involved in salvation. This does not make it so. Only an unbiased study using proper rules of interpretation can give us the correct answer.
Posted on Leave a comment

The Church – Part 2

Baptists exist because they refused to be associated with those who changed the meaning and purpose of baptism. From the time in the second century when baptismal regeneration became prominent, until sometime after the Reformation, Baptists stood separate from the apostasy of those churches which later became the Catholic or Universal Church. Sometime after the Reformation, they became protestantized (allow me to invent a new word) and over time accepted the false doctrine of the “universal church.” If the “true church” is the “universal body of Christ” how could Baptists maintain this separation? If we all are part of one great universal church, shouldn’t we all join together in the work of Christ under the authority of the Catholic (universal) Church?

The doctrine of the universal church is the basis of the ecumenical movement. This doctrine teaches that since we are all part of the “true church” we should all join together in Christ’s service. This is not what the Scriptures teach.

I Timothy 6:3-5 tells us:

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. (Emphasis mine.)

It is not my purpose in this book to deal in depth with the issue of separation, but this passage does tell us to withdraw ourselves from those who teach other than what the Scriptures teach. That would surely include churches that are based on false doctrine. Many denominations teach false doctrine on such important things as how one is saved. Because Baptists follow the teachings of the Scriptures, we are not to join with them, but withdraw ourselves from them.

The universal church doctrine has an effect on church discipline. How can someone be put out of a local church for immorality or false doctrine if he or she is still part of the “universal or true church?”

There are two other important doctrines that Baptists have stood for from the beginning. These are the authority of, and the autonomy of, the local church. If the “true church” is universal, is it not a bit prideful to stand for these doctrines? The Scriptures clearly teach that the church is to be unified, but if every church has the right to be self-governed, how can this unity exist? If the true church is universal, then what the Catholic (universal) Church teaches about no salvation outside the church and having a “vicar of Christ”, the Pope, to keep unity makes perfect sense. If, on the other hand, the true church is a local assembly, shouldn’t we follow the simple structure we find in Scripture to keep unity in a church?

Even though there is nothing in the New Testament to support the idea of a universal church, unless you bring the idea in from outside and try to find support, many Baptists continue to believe in and teach its existence. This doctrine undermines everything Baptists have stood for since the time of the apostles. It also flies in the face of biblical ecclesiology.

Baptists have sat at the feet of Protestants too long. We have been protestantized by using Protestant systematic theology books in our schools. It is time we cease to follow the error of the Protestants on this issue and examine the doctrine of the church from the Scriptures. Getting doctrine from theology books is always dangerous because such books are written by fallible men. If we get our doctrine of the true church from Scripture, we will find that it is the local church. The Scriptures will show the universal church to be a fraud foisted upon Baptists by the Catholics and Protestants. The Catholics developed the universal visible church and the Protestants invented a new doctrine of the universal invisible church because they needed to justify their leaving the Catholic Church. It had taught them that there was no salvation outside the church, and they found themselves outside of the Catholic Church.

C. I. Scofield probably had more to do with Baptists accepting this false universal church doctrine than any other individual. Many of us older Baptists were raised on the Scofield Bible. It was well loved by Baptists because its study notes taught dispensationalism and the pre-tribulation rapture. An online search shows that Scofield has many detractors. Most of them are trying to destroy his reputation only because they disagree with his doctrine. This is not my purpose here.

His study notes have had great influence among Bible-believing Baptists, and for the most part, this influence has been good. What I want to point out is that he was not a Baptist and some of his doctrine did not line up with Scripture. He, like all the rest of us who write on biblical subjects, was not infallible. One example of his doctrinal errors can be seen in his notes on Genesis 1:1-2 where he taught the gap theory of creation. Here is what his notes say.

Without form and void

Jer. 4:23-27; Isa. 24:1; Isa. 45:18 clearly indicate that the earth had undergone a cataclysmic change as a result of divine judgment. The face of the earth bears everywhere the marks of such a catastrophe. There are not wanting imitations which connect it with a previous testing and fall of angles.

Relative to the discussion on the church, it must be remembered that he was born into a nominal Episcopalian family. After his conversion, he was the pastor (even though he was divorced) of Congregational churches, and in his later years became a Presbyterian. He was a Protestant and held Protestant doctrine concerning the church.

The purpose of this work is to bring us back to a scriptural view of the church. I ask you to prayerfully examine this material and study it with an open mind.

To be continued…