Is there such a thing as the “universal church”. And if so, does it matter which church you attend?
I will start out with copying a portion of the Bible Course dealing with the church.
BEGIN BIBLE COURSE
“… and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
- What Is A Church?
- In a positional sense, every person in this “age” or “time” who has trusted Jesus Christ as his/her personal Savior, is a “part” or “member” of the church.
Note: The church is not a building – it is people. People who have trusted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.
- I Corinthians 3:9 says, “ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s ________________.”
- Verse 16 of that same chapter says, “Know ye not that ye are the ____________ of God?”
- Acts 7:48 tells us that, “the most High dwelleth not in temples made with __________.”
Note: So in the truest sense, the church is made up of people – not bricks and mortar.
- We become a “part” or “member” of the church the moment we are saved, according to I Corinthians 12:13. This verse tells us that, “by one Spirit are we all baptized into ______ body.”
- In Colossians 1:24, this body, Christ’s body, is said to be the ___________.
- According to verse 18 of that same chapter, Jesus is said to be the ________ of that body, the church.
- Ephesians 2:19 says, “ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but ____________________________ with the saints, and of the household of God.”
Illustration: If you were born in the United States of America, you did not need to apply for “citizenship” or “membership” in this country – you were granted that the moment you were born.
Even so, the moment you were “born again,” you became a “citizen” of heaven, and a “member” of Christ’s body, the church.
- There is no racial discrimination with God as is seen in I Corinthians 12:13. He will save all who will accept Him, and will bring them into the church, whether they be “Jew or ______________.”
Note: “Gentiles” are all people other than “Jews” – God’s chosen people, the descendants of Jacob.
Illustration: While it is true that a baby becomes a citizen of this country the moment that he is born here, he really does not appreciate that fact until he gets old enough to communicate with other citizens.
Even so it is with the Christian. It is true that the moment he gets saved he is a member of the body of Christ, the church, but he will never fully appreciate that fact until he communicates with other Christians locally.
- In a practical sense, the church is made up of local congregations of baptized believers.
Note: For practical purposes, the body of Christ, the church, must meet together to benefit each other.
- Hebrews 10:25 says that we are not to forsake the ____________________ of ourselves together.
Note: The word church means, “a called out assembly.” It comes from the Greek word, ekklesia.
Please notice in that verse that there was a problem – some were not assembling together.
Note: Some people feel that it is acceptable to just stay home and watch church on television on Sunday morning. Is that acceptable to God?
- No it is not, because it is disobeying His command to “assemble together.”
- No it is not acceptable, because, as we shall see later on, it is impossible to observe the church ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper through the television set.
- No, it is not acceptable, because it makes spiritual gifts unable to be of any use or benefit to the church.
Note: It may be that you feel you have nothing special to contribute to a local church in your area, but that is not true. Please read I Corinthians 12:12-27, and fill in the following blanks.
- Verse 12 says that the body is one, but it has ________ members.
- Verse 21 states that no member can say to another, “I have no ________ of you.”
- In fact, verse 22 says that those members which seem to be more feeble are __________________.
- Verse 26 says that if one member suffers, then ______ the members suffer with it.
- On the other hand, that same verse goes on to say that if one member is honored, then all the members ______________ with it.
Illustration: The church is likened unto our bodies, which happen to have many different parts. But all of those parts are important.
Yes, people see your face more than they see your toes, but the body would have no balance with the toes.
Is there any part of the body more important that the other? Maybe the brain? But what good would a brain be if there were no parts of the body to direct and get into motion?
The heart plays an important role, but it is never normally seen by a person.
You may feel that you are of no value to a local church because you cannot teach a Sunday School class or sing in the choir, but what if everyone was a Sunday School teacher? Who would there be in the class to listen? If everyone sang in the choir, who would there be in the pews to listen?
There is a church somewhere that needs you!
- Romans 16:5 shows that the early church did not always have a building in which to meet, so they met in ____________.
Note: Seeming the early church sometimes met in homes, is it okay to just hold a Bible study in your home every Sunday morning and call that “church?”
- No, because Acts 14:23 instructs that ____________ (pastors) should be ordained (and present) in every church. b. Philippians 1:1 also shows that there is another position of leadership in the church besides that of bishops (pastors), and that is ______________.
The qualifications for these two positions are given in I Timothy 3:1-13.
An informal Bible study in your home cannot be called a “local church.” A church may meet in your home, but there would need to be ordained leaders in charge.
END BIBLE COURSE
As we have seen above, every believer is baptized into the Body of Christ at the moment of salvation (I Corinthians 12:13). The Body of Christ is called the “church” in Colossians 1:24. So every true believer is a member of the Body of Christ, the Church.
There seems to be a resurgence today of the “Baptist Bride” movement. Their doctrine does not include the teaching that every true believer is a member of the Body of Christ, the Church. And they go so far as to say that unless you are a member of a local Baptist Bride church, then you will not be taken at the Rapture, but will be left behind to suffer through the Tribulation Period.
The Baptist Bride position makes several errors. First, they are over-reacting to the false teaching of the Catholic universal church idea, and thus they are also building their own false doctrine in the opposite direction of the Catholic Church. To be consistent with their theology, Christ would not be coming back for His “Bride,” but for His “Brides.” Christ would not be coming back for His “wife,” but for His “wives.” The Lord Jesus Christ is not a polygamist (a man with many wives). He has ONE BODY, and ONE BRIDE for which He is returning.
Second, they are MAKING THE RAPTURE A REWARD for faithful service and obedience, INSTEAD OF A PROMISE FOR ALL BELIEVERS. Thus, they are ignoring the whole purpose of the Judgment Seat of Christ. The Rapture is a promise to every true believer. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day that our bodies are redeemed. Ephesians 4:30 says, “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby YE ARE SEALED UNTO THE DAY OF REDEMPTION.” If a person does not have the Holy Spirit, then that person is not even saved. Romans 8:9 says, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. NOW IF ANY MAN HAVE NOT THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST, HE IS NONE OF HIS.”
The antichrist cannot be revealed until the Holy Spirit leaves His present ministry (John 14:26, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, WHOM THE FATHER WILL SEND in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”) II Thessalonians 2:3-8 says, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: ONLY HE WHO NOW LETTETH WILL LET, UNTIL HE BE TAKEN OUT OF THE WAY. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.”
The Tribulation Period starts out with only lost people upon earth (the saved have all been taken), and God sends His two witnesses to begin preaching and calling down plagues upon this earth (We do not know how those two get saved. They may find a Bible and read it and get saved, or a gospel tract, etc. We are not told how they come to Christ.) 144,000 Jews end up getting saved, and begin witnessing. A great host end up getting saved during the Tribulation Period (all of which did not hear the gospel before the Tribulation Period began, II Thessalonians 2:10-12, “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Revelation 7:9-14 says, “After this I beheld, and, lo, A GREAT MULTITUDE, WHICH NO MAN COULD NUMBER, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, THESE ARE THEY WHICH CAME OUT OF GREAT TRIBULATION, AND HAVE WASHED THEIR ROBES, AND MADE THEM WHITE IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB.”
So, first of all, the Baptist Bride position overreacts to the false Catholic universal church theory. Secondly, they are in error in making the Rapture a “reward” for obedience, instead of a “promise” for all believers; thus they are ignoring the purpose of the Judgment Seat of Christ, where rewards will be handed out for faithful service and obedience to Christ.
Thirdly, the Baptist Bride position goes to unscriptural lengths to try and get people to obey the Bible (that is, they use unscriptural doctrines to try and get people to be members and faithful to the local church). Some of them teach that if a person moves from one location to another, and if that person does not presently have membership in a local Baptist Bride church, then that person would not go up in the Rapture if it took place at that time. Although Baptist-Briders are over-reacting to Catholic false doctrine, they are very similar to Catholics! It is almost like they are teaching a Christian needs the “last rites” of local church Baptist Bride membership, or else they will spend time in purgatory (the Tribulation Period) before they can go on to heaven! That teaching is more Catholic than it is Baptist or Bible.
As we have seen in the Bible Course on the Church, the Church is NOT A BUILDING OF WOOD OR BRICK — IT IS PEOPLE who are truly saved. I Corinthians 3:9 says, “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, YE ARE GOD’S BUILDING.” Wherever Christians are during the day or night — that is where the Church is. We are the building. We are the Church, His Body. Baptist-Briders do not like that teaching, because they say that people will then see no need to attend a local church, let alone be a member of it, if they are already members of the Body of Christ, the Church.
Because there is a problem, or potential problem, is no reason to teach false doctrine to try and correct the problem. Unfaithful church attendance is not a new problem. Look at Hebrews 10:25 again. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, AS THE MANNER OF SOME IS; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” The reason that Hebrews 10:25 was written, was because “the manner of some” was to NOT attend church. So the command was given to faithfully assemble together as a church, and even more frequently as “the day” approaches (the day of the Lord was in view, including the Rapture and coming judgment).
The Baptist Bride position on this point reminds me a lot of those who do not believe in “eternal security.” (Baptist-Briders do believe in eternal security, but the similarity between the two groups will be shown). Their excuse for teaching that the Christian can lose his salvation is that, “If you teach a Christian that he can never lose his salvation, then he will live as he pleases. He will then sin as much as he wants, because he can never lose his salvation.” So to try and prevent wayward Christians, that crowd teaches the false doctrine that salvation can be lost. They are ignoring the clear Scriptures. John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and HIM THAT COMETH TO ME I WILL IN NO WISE CAST OUT.” To that verse they reply, “True, He will not cast you out, but you can fall out on your own because of sin.” They should have read on in that passage in John 6, down to verse 39. “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that OF ALL WHICH HE HATH GIVEN ME I SHOULD LOSE NOTHING, but should raise it up again at the last day.” Not only does the Lord promise that He will never cast anyone out who comes to Him, He also states that He never loses one that comes to Him for salvation (if someone could fall out on their own, then He would lose many people). But because there is a problem with Christians sinning, they made up a false doctrine to try and correct the problem. Making up false doctrine to try and correct problems, only adds to the problems.
The Baptist-Briders and the people who believe that salvation can be lost have one of the same basic problems — THEY FAIL TO LEAVE SINNING SAINTS TO THE CHASTENING OF THE LORD (certain sins must be dealt with by the local church, according to Matthew 18:15-17, but the punishment is not missing the Rapture, but being put out of that local assembly). It is like this, you do not have to make up a false doctrine that Christians will lose their salvation if they sin — God will chasten them if they sin. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”
Even so, you do not have to make up a false doctrine that if a Christian sins by not faithfully attending and being a member of the right kind of a local church, that he/she will not go up at the Rapture, but will have to go through the Tribulation Period. If a Christian is not being obedient in that area, then that Christian will face the chastening of the Lord. The problem is that man is not too patient with people. We have a hard time giving God time to work in people’s hearts.
Yes, it does matter what church a Christian attends. Acts 17:11 tells what a noble Christian is, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Of course if a local church is not teaching and preaching what the Bible says, then that Christian should find another church to attend.
The Bible does teach local church membership. After Ananias and Sapphira lied to the church and died, the Bible says, “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. And OF THE REST DURST NO MAN JOIN HIMSELF TO THEM: but the people magnified them. And BELIEVERS WERE THE MORE ADDED TO THE LORD, MULTITUDES both of men and women.)” (Acts 5:11-4). Multitudes of people were still getting saved, but they were afraid to join themselves to that church, lest they sin and also would be struck down dead.
Also, Matthew 18:15-17 clearly teaches local church membership, because you cannot be put out of something of which you are not even a member. “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 a heathen man and a publican.”
The Bible clearly teaches local church membership, but it does not teach the false doctrine that if you are not a member of a certain local church, then you will be left behind in the Rapture. Remember what will take place after the Rapture, the Judgment Seat of Christ. If the Baptist-Briders are correct that only faithful members of certain local churches, who are in good standing there, will be taken up in the Rapture, then at the Judgment Seat of Christ, you would expect that everyone there would get at least a “crown of righteousness” for their faithfulness serving the Lord in that local church. But such is not the case. While the Tribulation Period is taking place upon earth, the Judgment Seat of Christ will be taking place in heaven. It is very clear that not everyone is guaranteed a crown or reward there. 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.”
Rather than create a false doctrine to try and get Christians to obey the Bible and be faithful members of a local church, we need to just preach the truth and let the Lord deal with those who refuse to obey. He will chasten those who are truly saved, and at the Judgment Seat of Christ, there will be the loss of rewards for those who do not obey the Lord, or those who do obey outwardly, but with the wrong motive.