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The Church Universal, Local, Or Both? #4

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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 series, 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.

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”:

The basic meaning of “ekklesia” is “called out from”, or “to separate by summons”.

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”:

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%).

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.

For more detailed information on the above sections, please see part one of our study…

A verse by verse study of the “questionable” texts that use the word “ekklesia”:

Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;  That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:  The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,  And what [is] the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,  Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set [him] at his own right hand in the heavenly [places],  Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:

And hath put all [things] under his feet, and gave him [to be] the head over all [things] to the church,  Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”   (Ephesians 1:16-23)


The exposition:

Paul is describing his prayerful desires for the local church at Ephesus. Some of those desires include understanding: the truth of His Word, their calling, what eternity holds for them, His great attributes, and the exalted position of Christ.  This exalted position includes: being placed above all worldly powers, all creation, and being placed as Head of the local assembly.

Christ’s exaltation over the local assembly is described as being made “head” over the “body”, the church.

(For further details on this phraseology please refer to our prior study of the 1 Corinthians 12 passage.) Paul then continues by explaining that it is within the confines of the local assembly that Jesus will meet with His people in His fullness.

This is supported by Matthew 18:20 –

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” 

This text is speaking about the meeting of God’s people in a local church assembly (Matt 18:15-19).


The usage of “ekklesia”

The local church is clearly described as the Lord’s body as already seen in our study.  The entire context clearly fits the description of a local assembly.  No need to look further.


Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;  And to make all [men] see what [is] the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:  To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly [places] might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,   According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:  In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.  (Ephesians 3:8-12)


The exposition:

The reason that Paul acted as a missionary, being instrumental in the founding and instruction of the first local churches, was so that these churches could present Christ and His Word to both men and angels.

This section of Scripture presents the same truth as the account of the Great Commission found in Mark… And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.   (Mark 16:15-16)

When the gospel is preached by the local assembly, all of creation, including the angels of God learn of the wisdom of God.  Keep in mind, we are told that angels attend the meeting of local churches and learn from the preaching of the Word. (1 Cor 11:10, 1 Pet 1:10-12)

The use of local assemblies to proclaim truth about Christ and His work on our behalf is a part of His eternal plan.


The usage of “ekklesia”

Here, the preaching of the Word by the local church, and the benefits of that preaching extend to both men and angels and is supported by a variety of Scriptures.  The local church can easily be understood in this passage.

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,  Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,  That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;  That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,  May be able to comprehend with all saints what [is] the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;  And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.  Now 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 3:14-21)


The exposition:

Paul’s prayerful desires for the local church at Ephesus is explained in detail… receipt of His eternal riches, His strength through the Spirit, salvation from sins, a foundation of love, an understanding of the love of Christ, filled with the fullness of God.

Paul then explains the obligation of the church to glorify God for granting them these blessings.  God is to be glorified by the local assembly through the work and intervention of Christ in their personal lives and worship services, until the end of the age.


The usage of “ekklesia”

Paul is addressing the local assembly, explaining to them the blessings of God that can be received by them and their obligation to praise Him for those blessings. Clearly, in the context, this is speaking of a local assembly.


Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.  Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so [let] the wives [be] to their own husbands in every thing.  Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;  That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,  That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.  So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.   For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:  For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.  For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.  This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.  Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife [see] that she reverence [her] husband.”   (Ephesians 5:22-33)


The exposition:

Here we find Christ’s relationship with His local assemblies being likened to the relationship between a husband and a wife.  Some of these likenesses include: the church’s need of submission to Christ as their head (1 Cor 12:12-31); the husband’s need to sacrifice himself for the wife, always putting her welfare above his own, motivated by love (Acts 20:28); the very special intimate union that takes place between Christ and the local assembly (Matt 18:20, Rev 1:13-20).

The usage of “ekklesia”

The word “church” is used in the generalized sense. The concept of a local assembly fits very nicely in the context. No need to look further.


“Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:  Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, [of] the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;  Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”   (Philippians 3:4-6)

The exposition:

Paul speaking of the persecution of the local assembly at Jerusalem of which he has spoken earlier. See 1 Cor 15:1-11 and Galatians 1:11-13)

The usage of “ekklesia”

Church refers to the local assembly at Jerusalem.


In whom we have redemption through his blood, [even] the forgiveness of sins:  Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:  For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:  And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.  And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all [things] he might have the preeminence.

For it pleased [the Father] that in him should all fulness dwell;  And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, [I say], whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven.  And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled  In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and [be] not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, [and] which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;  Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:  Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;  [Even] the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:  To whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:  Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:  Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.   (Colossians 1:14-29)

The exposition:

Christ’s (who was God Himself) great work, power and authority being described.  Because of His faithfulness to the calling of His Father to give His life, Jesus is exalted as head of the local assembly.  Christ’s work involved making a sacrifice for our sins.  He did this so that we might serve Him.

Our faithful service to Him is our supreme call to holiness and spirituality.  Because of his desire to keep this calling, Paul is thankful for the privilege of being persecuted, which allows him to have be a living sacrifice for the Lord.  He is making this sacrifice to be of benefit to the local assemblies to whom he is ministering.

The local assemblies benefit from his ministry by receiving his teachings on the mystery of Christ, His person, work, and the eternity He has prepared for us.  Paul’s great desire is that the local church might learn from his teachings, then fulfill their commission to indoctrinate their members so that they might grow in grace and knowledge and win others to Christ.

The usage of “ekklesia”

The “church” is used in the generalized sense. It is referring to any local assembly to whom Paul has ministered.  The local assembly can easily fit this context, therefore no need to look further.

We will continue our study of the questionable texts in our next posting.


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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.”


  1. Truthinator says:

    Thanks, Brother Rob, for these lessons. I try to listen each week! Good stuff. I always learn something and get encouraged to sharpen my focus. God bless.

    • Rob Barkman says:

      Thank you for the kind words Wallace. You certainly are a continual blessing to me! Lord bless you my friend. May you and your family enjoy the Christmas holiday season.

  2. vonhonnauldt says:

    I don’t want to make this comment as long as your post. Having been through this discussion in earlier days, I can only say that, at least in my case, it led me among those who believed that only people who heard the Word in a local proper Baptist assembly could be saved. I am a Baptist. I am not a Baptist Catholic. I do agree that the great majority of uses of “ekklesia” must refer to a local assembly. However, it seems to me that there are some references which cannot be “local”, nor can they be simply generalized. The Scripture never refers to “bodies” of Christ like it does “churches.” I believe the Scripture teaches that there is one “body,” one “organism,” which is not a generic term for the church, but is inclusive of all believers in this age, regardless of location. This “body” is expressed in and operates through the local assembly, the “organization.”. There is no “universal assembly,” or organization. There is no Scriptural authority for the monolithic religious and denominational structures we see all around us. As the length of your post indicates, this is a discussion not covered in just the few words of a comment.

    A blessed Christmas and New Years to you and yours.

    • Rob Barkman says:

      Wow, my friend, those you have spoken to certainly took a wrong turn someplace! I happen to disagree with everything that these other people believed.
      Keep in mind, I am saying that those who are saved are clearly a different group than those who are described by the term “church” in the NT.
      Those who are saved are called “the elect”, “the family of God”, “the kingdom of God”, “the Israel of God” and many others. But the term “church” is dedicated in its usage to local assemblies that were formed for true worship of the Lord.
      Let me be clear people are saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance of sin… plus or minus nothing. Salvation and church membership are to entirely different things.
      Also, no place have I said, nor do I believe that true churches of the Lord are limited to those with the name Baptist in front of them. Over the years, I have seen many churches using the name Baptist that I believe are very far from that which the Bible teaches is a true local assembly of believers. Also for hundreds of years the name Baptist was not in use… certainly we can agree that even in those days true churches existed without the name “Baptist” on them!
      Recognition of churches with Godly authority are not recognized by a name on the door but by their love for Christ, their doctrinal stand and the practices that take place within the assembly. Just as you say the specifics of this require a much longer posting but I trust you can understand what I am saying.
      I totally disagree when you say “However, it seems to me that there are some references which cannot be “local”, nor can they be simply generalized.” And I have demonstrated this in the series of postings, so I will let the series speak for itself.
      Brother there are many Baptist Pastors and teachers that do agree with the basics of what I am teaching here…. It is certainly not an isolated small group of wrong-headed individuals like the ones that you ran across. I do hurt for you being motivated to leave a teaching that has much merit to it, because there are a few people who take it to a very unscriptural extreme.
      As I said…. Please keep in mind what I am teaching draws a clear distinction between those who are saved and the assemblies that the Lord established for His worship on earth…. It certainly sounds to me as if the group you were involved with is equating the two groups.
      If you have come to a conclusion decision on this subject, so be it…. I certainly understand why you were “turned off” by these teachings when they were perverted by others.
      But all I ask is for you to be sure you are rejecting these things based upon the content of God’s Word and not the perversion of others who have no right to call themselves teachers of the Word. I feel very strongly about this. For them to equate salvation with Baptist membership is unscriptural, it is adding to the way of salvation, in my mind is heretical and certainly should be rejected by anyone who understands the true meaning of salvation by grace through faith.
      May the Lord richly bless you, my brother, and your family this Christmas season. Thank you for the comments.

      • vonhonnauldt says:

        Thank you for your reply. I believe I have come to my views on this matter through reading and studying the Scriptures, and not just as a reaction against Landmarkism. Through that study I’ve come to believe that distinction must be made between the church as an organization and as an organism. The “organization” is only seen in the local assembly, “Baptist” or not, It is this organization with which the Lord entrusted the Great Commission and all the works associated with it. I don’t believe in mission boards and other parachurch organizations, “fellowships,” Bible colleges, etc. I’m not opposed to “education,” but I believe the Lord intended that to be taken care of in the local assembly and not off somewhere divorced from local church oversight. Parachurch organizations, etc., siphon money and people from the local church
        At the same time, the “organism” is never confined in Scripture to a single locality.
        Asfor the “the kingdom of God,” “the Israel of God:” that’s a whole different subject. I generally agree with the Reformed view of the doctrines of grace, but differ with them on eschatology and ecclesiogy,

        Once again, thanks for your reply.

        • Rob Barkman says:

          I agree with alot of what you said here. Lord bless you. Thanks for the comments. (just one quick comment – not all “Landmarkism” believes as you described in your previous posting. I personally know and fellowship with several Landmark Pastors and none of them would agree with what you said. You did get involved with a fringe group of Landmarkers.)

  3. SLIMJIM says:

    I haven’t followed this series as consistently as I would like but thank you for doing this

  4. How did I miss this series? On it!

    • Rob Barkman says:

      Hi Sheila,

      Not sure how you missed it… the series was posted right before the holidays… maybe you were mot on the computer as much those weeks? Lord bless!

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