Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 25, 1961

The Church: Universal And Local

Jerry C. Ray, Irving, Texas

Much of the confusion over church cooperation is the results of a faulty understanding of the church universal and the church local. The church universal is composed of all the saved in the world. The local church is composed of the saved in a particular locality who have united to do the work God has laid upon His only functional unit — the local church.

But the universal church is not composed of "church of Christ congregations," as some mistakenly think. From this misconception has come the idea of a collective action of God's "collective" — the combining of local churches and the execution of the general work of evangelism or benevolence through a local church: the sponsoring church. Some have even argued that local churches are the members of the universal church (body) and one church is the hand that gives and another the mouth that speaks! But this type of cooperation is foreign to the New Testament.

The only unit of collective action in the Bible is the local church. This is evident in that we find only (1) local oversight, Acts 20:28, 1 Pet. 5:2, (2) local treasury, 1 Cor. 16:1-2, and (3) local action, i. e., there is no combining of funds or efforts in a work of general benevolence or evangelism. (In 1 Cor. 16, 2 Cor. 8, 9 and Rom. 15 we have a group of messengers, not an organization with the authority nor a combine of churches)

In the New Testament the only pooling of funds or efforts for collective action was the local church. Christians contribute into a common treasury and under the oversight of its own elders spent those funds in doing its own work.

The joint action of local churches advocated by brethren today is the Roman Catholic concept (for which there is no authority) whereby local churches send funds to a sponsoring church (Rome, in the case of Catholicism) through which sponsoring church this combine of churches carries on a general work, i.e., a work too large for the functional unit ordained of God — the local church.

And much of the trouble has come from a misunderstanding of the church local and the church universal. Joint action in the church is between the members of each local church. The only kind of cooperation between churches found in the Bible is concurrent action. Each local church carries on its own program of work under its own elders financed from its own treasury, and as each local church thus does the work of the Lord, they are cooperating.

The case of the Ethiopian Eunuch should clarify the matter. According to the theory unless one is a member of some local church, he is not a member of the kingdom of God (the church universal) for which Christ died. But what local church was the Eunuch a member of when baptized by Philip? (1) He was not by himself a church. A church is a fellowship of believers working and worshipping together: joint action. (2) He was not a member of the church in Jerusalem, Samaria or in his own country. The only conclusion is that he was not at that time a member of any local church. This is not to encourage "floating membership" for God desires that Christians band together in the joint participation (fellowship) of working and worshipping in the ordained collective — the local church.

In conclusion, we point out that the church universal is composed of all the saved. The local church is composed of the saved in a given locality who have banded together for work and worship. There is no Scripture for any kind of "banding together" (collective action, involving oversight, funds and/or work) other than the local church.