It is striking that Matthew is the only one of the four gospels to use the word “church”, and he uses it only twice. All four gospel narratives help to inform our ecclesiology (make no mistake about that!), but there are a few things we can glean from Matthew’s two usages of ekklesia:
- You should have a better handle on what the word “church” in Matthew 16 meant, by the way it is it used here. The two texts are inarguably linked verbally, by the word “church” and the binding and loosing reference, and conceptually, by the authority Jesus has handed over to his disciples.
- It is conceivable that Matthew 16 is the generic use of “church.” Both chapters make perfect sense if you swap the phrase “people of God as seen in the local assembly” in place of the word “church”. The burden of proof would seem to lie with those who say Matthew 16 is a reference to an abstract, invisible, universal entity.
- Jesus is not allowing you to just say “church” = “where two or three are gathered in my name”. He distinguishes between the two or three that confront the sinner from the church itself.
The point is that Jesus’ church is a concrete, visible people. The gospel is ONLY meant to advance through these people who confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and who confront those who profess the name but do not live like it. The way to be a part of the Church is to be a part of the church.
A recent response of mine to a beloved fellow pastor on the issue of universal vs. local:
What I have come to see are unconvincing exegetical arguments for the distinction between universal and local (church). For instance, I obviously agree that there is a single new humanity in Christ, and that we are really all brothers and sisters, a new family in Christ, and that one day we will all together be the perfected bride as one people, but I am unconvinced that Paul in Ephesians is necessarily mixing those metaphors with the ekklesia. I think he is talking about the church as a Christ-appointed institution on earth. I think all the references to the “universal” church are actually just references to the “generic” church (the people of God as seen in the local assembly). Practically, it doesn’t seem to affect what you’re saying at all because even you admit that “We can’t apply the truth of our oneness in Christ apart from our participation in a local church assembly”. Again, I think the Bible is absolutely clear on the oneness of the people of God so I disagree that this automatically
leads to “our local church just becomes a little club in our minds and we don’t see our wonderful connection or the commitment we should have
to others in the body of Christ beyond our local church and our denomination” (obviously I am thinking one way about the local church yet I see the need for [a partnership of churches] in Hawaii). I am simply arguing on exegetical grounds. “Church” means assembly. As Jonathan Leeman explains in [The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love], the church is not just like a DMV, where all drivers are connected by the fact that they have a license (which is how most people conceive of the Church)*. I think you have all the oneness you need when Jesus says something like “those who do the will of my Father are my mother and sister and brother.” I think there is more intention behind the word “church” in the NT. The main implication of what I am saying is I do not think you can say you are a part of Jesus’ church, unless you’re a part of one of Jesus’ churches. The other implication is that there is one, and only one, vehicle for gospel advancement, namely, the church.
*Leeman is not exactly trying to argue the same thing with that illustration