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The Church Universal, Local, Or Both? #1

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SIH STSTA ICONNow unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,  Unto him [be] glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”  (Ephesians 3:20-21)

(Please note: I apologize for the length and detail of this sereis, and to be honest, I realize it will not be easily consumed by some of its readers.  I normally do not post articles of this length or depth, but I feel obligated to write this posting based upon feedback I have received from the Importance Of The Local Assembly series that was recently published.  So for the many who have shown interest and/or curiosity on this subject, here is the information you have requested.  My apology to those who lack interest or the time to read this study.  It is understandable.)

Facts about the word “church” as used in the King James Version of the Bible….

1.  The word “church” is not used in the Old Testament.

2.  The word “church”  is used in 111 verses in the New Testament.

3.  Every occurrence of the word “church” is translated from the Greek word “ekklesia”  in the NT.

In this study, I would like to study the definition and contextual usage of this Greek word “ekklesia”, with the intent of answering the following questions…

“When the Bible speaks of a “church” is it referring to an invisible, universal assembly made up of all believers in Christ;…. or, is it referring to visible, local assembly whose membership is limited to baptized believers;…. or, does the Bible speak of both types of “churches” that are differentiated by the context in which they are used?”

Let us all ask the Lord for grace, a spirit open to truth, clarity of thought, and accuracy as we work our way through the Holy Scriptures…


A.   (Matthew 16:16-20);

B.   (Act 2:42-47); (Act 7:37-41); (Act 12:1-4); (Act 15:1-4); (Act 19:29-34); (Act 19:35-41); (Act 20:17-28)

C.   (Romans 16:21-24)

D.   (1 Corinth 6:1-5); (1 Corinth 10:24-33); (1 Corinth 11:19-24); (1 Corinth 12:27-31); (1 Corinth 15:1-11)

E.   (Galatians 1:11-13)

F.   (Ephesians 1:16-23); (Ephesians 3:8-12); (Ephesians 3:14-21); (Ephesians 5:22-33)

G.   (Philippians 3:4-6)

H.   (Colossians 1:14-29)

I.   (1 Timothy 3:14-16); (1 Timothy 5:9-16)

J.   (Hebrews 2:10-13)

K.   (James 5:12-18)

L.   (3 John 1:5-10)



A basic principle used in this study:

You must take the normal, usual usage and meaning of a word unless the context CLEARLY DICTATES ANOTHER MEANING is ABSOLUTELY necessary.

Let me use an example of the word “ball”.  We all have a basic understanding of the definition and usage of the word “ball”…. It is a round or oblong object that is many times used in sports and children’s play (something like that).

My point is this…. Every language on earth is based upon this basic principle.  If we don’t use the common usage and definition for words, then language becomes unintelligible. For example, when we hear the word “ball” we automatically assume we are talking about the round object described above.  Let’s pretend that this rule should not be followed….

If we did not keep to this rule… a “ball” can mean a watermelon, a boy, a target, a tree, a fox, a girl, a planet, a star…. etc etc etc . We could never come to an understanding of the word if every time it is used it can hold a varied, different meaning. If this is the case, think about this sentence…

“He saw the ball”.

This sentence then becomes absolutely meaningless.  The context reveals nothing about the definition of the “ball”, therefore the word “ball” could stand for ANYTHING.   The sentence holds no meaning for us.  For language to hold meaning, we must take the common usage and definition of a word and apply it to the sentence.

The only time that this rule does not apply is when the THE CONTEXT FORCES US to find another meaning. Only if the context absolutely forbids the common meaning of a word do we seek another definition.  Let me give us two sentences where the word “ball” is used:

1.  “He lost the ball in the weeds.” – in this example, we can see that our definition of the word  “ball” easily fits the context.  Therefore, we automatically know its definition.  THERE IS NO REASON TO find another definition for “ball”.

2.  “The ball of his foot gave him great pain.” – In this context, “ball” cannot have the normal usage and definition we are using.  Therefore, we look for another definition.  In this case, it would be a round area found on the bottom of our foot.   How did we know to find another definition for “ball”?  There is no possible way that our definition of “ball” could fit the context, therefore, we were FORCED to look for another.

This is the core principle upon which this study is based.  Both the details, and conclusion, of this study rest heavily upon this principle. We will be finding the common, basic usage and definition of “ekklesia” as found in the Scriptures, and then attempt to consistently apply that meaning to each text.

The common definition of the word “ekklesia”:

1)    The Greek word from which the word “church” is translated is ALWAYS the word “ekklesia”.  “Ekklesia” is made up of two parts…. “ek” and “kaleo”.

a)    “ek” holds the idea of “out of” or “from” (implies separation)

b)    “kaleo” holds the idea of “to be called”, or “to be summoned”

c)     Therefore the basic meaning of “ekklesia” is “called out from”, or “to separate by summons”.

If we simply use this definition for “ekklesia” we can see how it could refer to either a universal invisible assembly of believers, or a local visible assembly of baptized believers ….

1.  When the lost are saved, they are called to salvation by the Spirit, and separated from the sinful world to the service of Christ.  (1 Peter 2:9)  In this sense “ekklesia” could be referring to an invisible, universal body that contains all believers

2.   When a believer is baptized and enters the Lord’s local church, they are summoned (led) by the Spirit and are separated from the sinful world and other believers.  They become members of a particular, unified, local assembly that brings honor to God. (Acts 2:41-47)  In this sense, “ekklesia” could be referring to a visible, local assembly of baptized believers.

Therefore, based upon the definition of “ekklesia”, we find no indication of which type of assembly we are speaking of whenever we find the word being used.

However, this is only half of our “equation”.  Next we have to look at the USAGE of the word “ekklesia” in the Holy Bible.

The common usage of the word “ekklesia”:

1)    If we study the Biblical usage of “ekklesia” we find something very interesting that will be a great benefit to our study…

a)    The word “ekklesia” is used in 112 verses in the Bible.  To the best of my ability, as I looked at every reference using ekklesia…

b)    I found that in 80 verses or more, the word clearly, in its context, MUST mean “a local visible assembly”.

c)     There were at the most, 32 verses when it could POSSIBLY mean “an invisible universal assembly” (you can see a list of these questionable verses under the above heading “THE SCRIPTURES” found earlier in this posting.)

So based on the above, I am forced to conclude that the common usage of the term in the NT is “local visible assembly”.  This definition clearly applies in at least 80 verses (that’s over 70 percent of the time) the word is used.  There was only, at the most, 32 verses that it could mean a invisible, universal assembly (that’s less than 30%).

(Please note: In the 32 texts I have included several, I believe, that strongly lean towards the local visible definition. But for the completeness of this study, I included them in the “questionable” category.

If we remove those texts, the actual number of questionable texts would have been 21 (less than 20%).  Therefore, I believe, the word “ekklesia” means a local assembly more than 80% of the time, compared to “ekklesia” possibly referring to a universal invisible assembly less that 20% of the time.

Therefore, for this study, we will be using THE COMMON DEFINITION OF “EKKLESIA” WILL BE “A LOCAL VISIBLE ASSEMBLY”.

Based upon our earlier discussion under the heading “A basic principle used in this study”   This will be our process…

1.  We will look at the context of each of the 32 Scriptures where “ekklesia” could mean an “invisible universal assembly”.

2.  We will see if each one could allow us to use our common definition a “local visible assembly” .

3.  If the context allows “ekklesia” to hold to its common definition, that will be the definition we assign to that text.

4.  If the context forbids that the common definition of ekklesia can be used, we will then attempt to determine the definition of “ekklesia” for that text.

In our next study we will begin looking at the “questionable verses”…

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May the Lord bless your study of His Word.  Like God’s Word… may your soul’s salvation and your life’s faithfulness be “Settled in Heaven.”

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