Is it true that all Christians are the church? With so many differences in denominations, doctrines, and beliefs, how do we distinguish what actually pertains to the Kingdom of God and the universal church? How do we know what to follow and how to live? If you’ve ever had questions like these, you will benefit from this blog. Like you, I have wrestled through these things while seeking the truth and doing significant research.
What are the differences and similarities of the universal church vs the local church? The main difference between the universal church and the local church is that the universal church is all who believe in Jesus Christ. The local church is a community of these individuals who regularly meet in a certain building, town, or group. The main similarity is the purpose. Both types of the church have the responsibility to bring the Kingdom of God to the earth.
There are additional differences and similarities. Continue reading to gain more insight, examples, and scriptural explanations. Refer to the two tables to quickly discover and compare the differences with the similarities.
Defining the Term “Church”
There is a distinction between the universal church and the local church. However, before we can unpack that, we must first have an understanding of what “church” means. There is a popular debate about what church may mean or pertain to. I have decided to unpack scriptural reference to the church. As a result, our conclusion should be grounded in scripture, rather than trends of opinion.
Matthew 16:16-18 describes a pivotal point in the account of the gospels. It portrays when Jesus is fist recognized as the Christ of God. Jesus responds to Peter and tells Him that He will build His church upon this rock. The rock, meaning, the revelation that Jesus is the Christ.
Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”Matthew 16:16-18
What Does ekklēsia mean?
The word “church” is the Greek term ekklēsia. When Jesus used this term, it wasn’t new. It was a term that would have been used consistently in the culture. Before it became known as the church, in our understanding, it was known as an assembly. This assembly was particularly that of a legislative, or political assembly. Essentially, Jesus was stating that His church would bring the reign and rule of the Kingdom of God. It is much more than a fellowship or a gathering on a Sunday morning or Wednesday night.
Furthermore, the term “church”, relates deeper to encompass all individuals who believe in the Jesus of the Bible. The church isn’t a building. Instead, it is the people who fill the building and who fill the earth. Many individuals will state that the church is all the individual people who believe in Christ.
When these individuals gather together, the church is gathered. The church is constant. It doesn’t end or fail to exist once the service is over and the doors are closed. Rather, the church, ie. Christians, live the full-time occupation of the church.
The Role of the Church
How does this understanding of ekklēsia influence and impact how we do church today? To begin, the role of the church is to cultivate and bring the Kingdom of God into this world. The Kingdom is abundant in truth, mercy, grace, love, compassion, goodness, faith, forgiveness, righteousness, and holiness. The overall purpose of both types of churches is to bring these characteristics into the world through their lives, actions, words, thoughts, and interactions with one another.
They are to follow the teachings of Jesus and the scriptures. These influence how they live in every area of life. Through the empowerment of Holy Spirit, and the righteousness that Jesus brought through His death and resurrection, believers are able to do this.
The local church is not a social club. It is not about personal growth, salvation, or fellowship. Rather, it is about the holistic growth, and salvation of other believers and the entire world. Fellowship is the means by which the church is able to bring the Kingdom of God.
These are the main differences between the universal church and the local church. The universal and local church both have the same ultimate goal and purpose. However, the way that they function varies.
|Universal Church:||Local Church:|
|Not constricted by a building or an institution.||Located within a specific building or gathering place in a community.|
|Constructed of all people who believe in the Jesus of the Bible.||Has members and regular attenders.|
|Includes various denominations and beliefs.||Focuses on one denomination and often excludes other doctrines and belief.|
|It is extremely diverse, filled with different cultures, ethnicities, races, backgrounds, ages, and traditions.||It can cater to or function through a specific demographic.|
|No man leads or heads the universal church. Jesus is always the ultimate authority, leader, and Shephard.||Although Jesus should be the ultimate authority in all local churches, many local churches give too much power to a pastor or preacher. They may expect too much from this spiritual leader.|
|All spiritual gifts are recognized and used in the global Body of Christ on various levels.||Local churches don’t always give room for other spiritual giftings, or leadership. Western churches especially neglect the members of the Body because they often focus on a few key people.|
|The universal church is composed of all local churches that are Bible-believing.||Thousands of local churches exist throughout the world. Not all local churches are planted by the same individuals are institutions.|
Since the universal and local church has the same purpose, there are many similarities that can be distinguished. The universal and local churches are not separate entities of one another. They are deeply connected.
|Universal Church:||Local Church:|
|Works to fulfill the call of Christ to make disciples, grow in obedience, and transform individual persons, and the world.||On a local level, the church disciples the community to cultivate the Kingdom of God in that area. Then, the community can go out and bring the Kingdom to other communities.|
|The head of the universal church is always Christ. He is the ultimate leader.||Every local church will have to submit to the headship of Christ, either in their place in this age, or in the time of judgment.|
|It is the means by which the Kingdom of God enters the world.||The local church is the vessel that brings the Kingdom of God into the community. Eventually, local churches equate to the universal church.|
|The universal church is a means to an end. The end goal is God’s Kingdom coming to earth. Further, the universal church is what spreads this Kingdom.||The local church is never the sole focus or sole purpose of the Kingdom of God. The Lord’s desire is not for there to be local churches. The Lord’s desire is that the local churches bring His goodness, rule, and reign to earth.|
Scripture Explaining the Church
Scripture leads us to what our local church settings should and shouldn’t look like. Furthermore, it shows what the universal church should pursue.
Hebrews 10:24-25 states, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Christians are to meet regularly to continue the work of the Kingdom. This can be done in an institution, within a home, or any other location.
Furthermore, the gathering of believers is where is encouraged and strengthened. Colossians 3:16 exhorts, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Moreover, the gathering of believers should be orderly, respectful, and profitable. 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 lays this out. It describes, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret.
But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”