Universal = Generic

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


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