The Nature of the Universal Church -- By: Charles T. Grant

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 07:1 (Summer 1998)
Article: The Nature of the Universal Church
Author: Charles T. Grant


The Nature of the Universal Church1

Charles T. Grant2

The Importance of the Church

The doctrine of the church (ecclesiology) is one of the great subjects of systematic theology. It is primarily a New Testament doctrine; the word church does not occur in the Old Testament. The historical development of ecclesiology can be traced back to ancient writers such as Irenaeus, Cyprian, and Augustine.3 These men stressed the external unity of the church. However, much of our understanding of the universal church was developed much later during the time of the Reformation.

In his introduction to the subject, Charles Ryrie observes4

The importance of the church can scarcely be overstated. It is that which God purchased with the blood of His own Son (Acts 20:28). It is that which Christ loves, nourishes, and cherishes (Eph. 5:25, 29), and which He shall present to Himself blameless in all her glory one day (v. 27). Building His church constitutes Christ’s principal work in the world today (Matt. 16:18) through His giving of spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:12). Thus the exercise of those gifts by believers aligns us with what Christ is doing today.

The Meaning of the Word Church

The English Word

The English word church, like the German Kirche and the Scottish kirk, is derived not from the Greek word for church, but from the Greek word kyriakon which means “belonging to the Lord.” The English dictionary gives a variety of meanings of the word church. It may refer to a building (e.g., “the Baptist church at the corner of Fifth and Main”), or to the congregation which meets regularly in such a building. It may describe congregations in a particular locality (e.g., the church in St. Louis); or a national entity, such as the Church of England, or the Church of Scotland. It may denote a particular confession such as the Lutheran Church or the Roman Catholic Church. The word church may also be used to designate the clerical in contrast to the secular (e.g., “the separation of church and state”). None of these meanings, however, encompasses the meaning implied by the topic of this paper, the universal church. In order to fully appreciate the significance of th...

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