What is your belief about the church; local, or universal, or both?
The Bible speaks both of “churches,” meaning “local churches;” and of the “church” as “a whole.” The word “churches” appears a total of 37 times in the New Testament, and refers to “local churches.”
These passages refer to “local churches,” plural. Acts 9:31 says, “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.” This refers to local churches, because it is plural.
Acts 15:40,41 says, “And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming THE CHURCHES.” This also refers to local churches, because it is plural.
Acts 16:4,5 says, “And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. And so were THE CHURCHES established in the faith, and increased in number daily.” Once again, this is plural, and the context clearly shows that it was “local churches.”
When the word “church” appears in the singular form (it does so 77 times in the New Testament), you have to look at the context to see if it is talking about “local churches,” or the “church as a whole.”
Acts 11:22 says, “Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of THE CHURCH WHICH WAS IN JERUSALEM: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.” This clearly refers to the local church at Jerusalem.
Acts 13:1 says, “Now there were in THE CHURCH THAT WAS AT ANTIOCH certain prophets and teachers.” This also refers to a local church — the church at Antioch.
Acts 14:23 says, “And when they had ordained them elders IN EVERY CHURCH, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” This clearly refers to the local church in many different localities.
I Corinthians 15:9 says, “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted THE CHURCH of God.” This clearly refers to the church as a whole, because Paul did not persecute just one local church, but many.
Galatians 1:13 shows the same thing. “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.”
Ephesians 1:22,23 says, “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 fulness of him that filleth all in all.” Not “churches,” but “the church.” This speaks of the church as a whole. Jesus does not have “bodies,” but He has a “body,” singular.
Ephesians 5:29,30 says, “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.” This, too, refers to the church as a whole — “the church.”
Matthew 16:18 says, “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.” He did not say “churches,” but “church.” Jesus did not say here that He would build His “churches,” but His “church.” This also refers to the church as a whole.
Ephesians 5:23-29 says, “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.” This goes beyond one “local church,” and refers to the “whole church.”
Colossians 1:18 refers to the church as a whole. “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.”
Hebrews 12:22,23 says, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, 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.” This refers to the church as a whole.
Those who believe that the Bible never refers to the church as a whole, but only to local churches, are often of the “Baptist Bride” persuasion. The end of their teaching is that only people who are members of certain Baptist churches are going up in the rapture. They make the rapture a reward for faithful service, but that is error. The Judgment Seat of Christ is where rewards are given to Christians. All Christians must be there, to receive — or to suffer loss of rewards. I Corinthians 3:11-15 says, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” II Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” All Christians must be there. For all Christians to be there, all Christians must be taken at the Rapture.
I Corinthians 12:12,13 says, “For as THE BODY IS ONE, and hath many members, and all the members of that ONE BODY, being many, are ONE BODY: SO ALSO IS CHRIST. 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.” When a person gets saved, he is part of the church as a whole — he is part of Christ’s body. Jesus Christ is not coming back for “His bodies.” Jesus Christ is not coming back for “His wives.” Jesus is coming back for “His body,” and “His wife,” the church as a whole.
Many people who say that the Bible refers only to the “local church,” and not also to “the church as a whole,” are going into error just to fight against the Catholic teaching of the “universal church.” The Catholic teaching of the “universal church” is wrong, because they are not even a true church.
I would encourage you to print off our Bible Course on this Web Site called the “Church.” Look up every Scripture, and fill in every blank, and you will see the importance of the local church, and the fact that the Bible also refers to the true church as a whole.