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Ekklesia 06: Purpose of the Universal Church

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The Purpose of the universal church
We are continuing our series of lessons titled “Understanding Ekklesia;” Ekklesia, once again, being the Greek word that is often translated as “church” in our New Testaments.
We have seen in our studies that “church” is not a literal translation of the Greek word ‘ekklesia,’ and that this Greek word is not inherently a religious word itself. The word was used in the Greek speaking world to describe any group of people, whether they are religious or not.
Literal translations of ekklesia would be “assembly, congregation, a group or bunch of people.” We have seen in both the Septuagint and in the New Testament that this word is used to talk about secular groups, such as armies, political/judicial assemblies, riotous mobs, and groups of sinful people. And the word is also used to describe God’s covenant people under both covenants.
It is important to see the use of ekklesia throughout the Bible and in the Greek speaking world because this helps us to understand what is being spoken of when we see the word “church” in our New Testaments.
We should not think of buildings or clergy or church leaders or organizations or institutions or business enterprises. We need to learn to think and talk about the church understanding that what the Bible teaches about Jesus’ church is that it is a group of people when we see the word “church” in our New Testaments. Whether the word is talking about the universal church (all of the saved of all time) or whether it it is talking about a local church — a local group of Christians, the word is talking about a group of people.
We have been looking at differences between the universal church and local congregations of God’s people. If you have a bulletin, the comparisons that we made last week are on the front of it. Hopefully the lessons over the past few weeks have been as helpful to you as they have been to me in clearing up some of the misconceptions or misunderstandings that you may have had about the church. It is important to see these things so we can think and speak rightly about what the church is.
Today, and Lord willing, in our first lesson next Lord’s day, we are going to focus on one more difference between the universal church and local churches — the difference they have in purpose — in the primary reasons for their existence.
I will begin by trying to sum up what the difference in purpose is between the universal church and local congregations. The difference is all about where the emphasis is placed in fellowship.
The purpose of universal church is primarily vertical in nature. It’s “members” are concerned primarily with fellowship with God and it’s effects on their lives. The purpose of a local church is primarily horizontal in nature. The primary concern of it’s “members” is fellowship with other Christians.
Those who are baptized into Christ and become part of His universal church are described in many ways in the New Testament as we will see today. The universal church — whether they serve the Lord on earth or in Heaven, have work to do — ministry to perform for the Lord.
And, as we will see next week, Lord willing, local groups of Christians, among many things we will talk about, have the purpose of equipping God’s people to perform the duties that they have as members of the universal church while on earth.
So with this introduction, let’s ask the question: What is the purpose of the universal assembly of the Lord. Why did He create it? And what are the things that the Lord desires of those who are members of the body of Christ? What roles/responsibilities do the individual members of the universal assembly have?
And remember, we are not just talking about those who are on earth, but those who are in Heaven also.
Most of our points today will come from the book of Ephesians. So if you would like to follow along in your Bibles, I would encourage you to turn there. There are so many great things we learn about God’s eternal purpose for His universal church in this epistle of Paul. Every use of the greek work ekklesia in this book is used in talking about God’s universal assembly.
1. The church is a conduit for God’s praise
The church is a group of people who God designed with the purpose of glorifying Him and praising Him in every generation. They praise Him and glorify him on earth and in Heaven.
“21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (, ESV).
This is an idea that is repeated many times in . Paul throughout this chapter is telling the Ephesians about the eternal purpose of God for His people. He talks about the redemption He gives them. He talks about how he made them his family (which will be our next point). He makes us holy and blameless before him in Christ. So many spiritual blessings he gives His church. But the question is, “Why?” For what purpose? Look at verse 6.
Why did he redeem us? For this reason: “to the praise of his glorious grace” (,,) Then in verse 12, after talking about other blessings, he says why they were given: “to the praise of his glory.” And why does He give his saved, redeemed people His Holy Spirit as a seal and as a guarantee of the inheritance He will give His people? Well at the end of verse 14: Here is the purpose: “to the praise of his glory." He blesses HIs church with every spiritual blessing in Christ so that He can be praised for how glorious and good He is.
2. The church is God’s household
The universal church is also described as God’s household. They are the sons and daughters of God — His children. Those who are Christians here - those who are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ — are family. We are family as Christians. Remember, Jesus says that His brother, sister, and mother are those who do the will of God (). They are His true family. They are the ones whom He is not ashamed to call His brethren.
We may tend to call those who come to this building each week our “church family,” but it is the case that only those here who have been saved by the blood of Christ are our church family — “only those who are members of the body of Christ — the universal church are our “church family.”
“19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,” (, ESV)
We are members of God’s household and we are the children of light the group of people who Paul says in imitate their Father. Being children of God — being part of His household — means that they are seeking to live a certain way.
In , Paul tells Timothy that he wrote the Epistle to Timothy so that he could know how to conduct Himself in the household of God which he further describes as “the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
3. The church is God’s Holy Priesthood
Unlike in the Old testament, where it was only a select few who were the ones who served God as priests, under the New covenant, the universal church fulfills this role.
“9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (, ESV)
Every Christian on earth today and in Heaven, serves the Lord as part of His holy nation of priests - not just the elders and the evangelists — everyone ministers as God’s priests. God’s royal priesthood has certain duties to fulfill as priests. First, they are those who have the responsibilities of proclaiming the excellencies of the God who saved them. This certainly happens in heaven as God’s people along with all the heavenly hosts proclaim how holy and awesome God is in His presence. But it also happens here on earth also! If we are a Christian, then we have the responsibility to remind one another of the great God who we serve, and we have the responsibility even of telling the lost about the great God we serve. The universal church — every Christian who has ever lived on this earth, has had the great responsibility of teaching people about the glory of God. We tend to think of evangelism as “the work of the local church.” Definitely local churches do support men who work in preaching the Gospel here and elsewhere, BUT each of us has an individual responsibility as a priest of God to do this work also. We just don’t support others to do this work for us. All of God’s saved people are priests who proclaim His excellencies to all.
Also, in , Peter says that we have another duty: “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (, ESV)
What is Peter talking about here? He is bringing to mind the work of priests in the Old Covenant, but there is a difference in the sacrifices we offer as priests of God. They are spiritual in nature, and because they are done through Christ, they are acceptable to God. They offer him worship that is spiritual in nature. It is from the heart of one who is right with the Lord, and it is pleasing to Him. This type of sacrificial language is used in the New Testament regarding our worship as individual priests. In , Paul talks about presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to God that are holy and acceptable to Him, and he shows what this looks like practically throughout chapters 12-15 of Romans.
In , our praise and thanksgiving as priests is referred to a sacrifice that we offer to God - our singing is the fruit of our lips that we offer to Him.
4. The church is God’s building project
God is in the process of building something great — a great structure that He dwells in… His temple.
In , Paul describes the church — God’s saved people as
“21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (, ESV)
I love the picture that is given in regarding God’s people being built up as a house — a spiritual temple. Jesus is the stone that was cast aside by the Jews, but God chose Him as a precious stone — the cornerstone for His temple. Then, built upon this cornerstone are the people of God. Each person upon becoming a child of God is added to this structure. They are pictured as being like a living stone of this great spiritual house. And God dwells in His spiritual house - His temple in the Spirit.
All saved individuals are dwelling places for God’s Spirit, and as a group they make up the temple of God which is the dwelling place of His Spirit.
In these last few points, we see that the universal assembly/congregation of the LORD is His nation of priests who offer spiritual sacrifices/worship. They are His temple. We see here that the church is the fulfillment of the Old Testament system.
5. The church is God’s bride (5:23-32)
This idea sums up well the relationship that God has with His universal church. HIs saved people are His companion — His bride. A great passage that talks about marriage is , but this passage is not primarily talking about husbands and wives.
“32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (, ESV)
It is showing how the marriage relationship is a reflection of the church’s relationship with Jesus. The church is the bride that submits to her loving husband: Jesus. The church is the companion of Jesus — All saved individuals are part of the bride — they are in a one-spirit relationship with Him and are to be faithful to Him.
A question I would like us to ask before we close is this: Is the local church these things? Are these ways that the local church is described in scripture? Is the local church:
The conduit for God’s praise? The household of God? The priesthood of God? The temple of God? The bride of Jesus Christ?
My answer to all of these would be “no.” This is because, as we have seen in last week’s lessons, local churches can consist of those who are saved and those who are lost because people are “enrolled” in local churches by human judgment, and men make mistakes. Only those who are saved are those who glorify God as His people on earth and in Heaven. Only those who are saved are God’s children — His family. Only those who have been forgiven by God and are faithful to Him are His holy priests who, in the Spirit, offer to God worship that is acceptable to Him. Only those who are saved are His holy temple and companion. These are not descriptions given of local churches in the New Testament.
But if you want to be one of these things, you must become a Christian. You must become one of the children of God. So to bring our lesson to a close, if there is anything we can do for you today to help you become a member of the body of Christ — His universal church, or if there is anything we can do for you to fulfill your responsibilities as a member of His household, why don’t you make your needs known as together we stand and sing?
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