Church Universal

At salvation the Holy Spirit places each of us into the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). This is a great promise and is a part of the results of our belief in salvation by faith alone in Christ. God administrates his people in this current age through the church.

The form of the church into which we are placed by the Spirit can be called, in theological terms, the church universal. This form of the church roughly can be described as the following:

  • It is the union of all believers worldwide who form the complete body of Christ.
  • Its head is Christ who sits at the right hand of God the Father and currently leads His church (Colossians 1:17-18; Hebrews 8:1; Ephesians 1:20-23).
  • Scripture does not indicate that our membership can be revoked from the church universal.

The local church

  • The practical outworking of the church universal is multiple organized bodies of believers often called the local church.
    • However, in our current age, church might be virtual (online) as well. Further, para-church organizations (e.g. independent missions or college ministries) function within the church universal but also perform some functions similarly as the local church. Scripture gives broad definition to how churches are organized which allows great flexibility to serve Christ in various times and cultures.
    • The concept of the universal church, noted above, is controversial. For example, some Baptist churches may not accept the concept of a ‘universal church’ and recognize only the local church (1).
  • Being members of one another and needing to complete all the tasks of a healthy functioning body of Christ, we each have different functions within the church (1 Corinthians 12:13-27; Romans 12:4-5).
    • However, our different functions in the church should not limit our spiritual growth and function (please see Christian walk section of the Resource Center) as we are each instructed to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16).

Definition

The word ‘church’ is used specifically by the writers of the epistles to signify either the local assembly or universal body of believers of Christ. Also, the word is used twice in Matthew (chapters 16 and 18). Here it does not necessarily mean the church since the concept had not yet been introduced.

The word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) which means generally in secular Greek “an assembly, usually political” (2). We have no information that the church existed in the Old Testament.

Beginning of the church

When the church begins in the Bible is controversial as some believe it is present mysteriously in the Old Testament (3). The church most clearly is described as beginning in Acts Chapter 2. Regardless, the church began to be visible and function in Acts 2, when:

Church Function

The fundamental work of the church is to serve under its head Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18). In performing this service, church activities can be divided generally into two general types, those that promote maturity of the believer and the sacraments.

  • Maturing the believer
    • Methods – Activities that promote the believer’s growth in Christ is a vital role of the church. These activities, like about everything in the church, can be controversial. I use a 5-step approach to mature our relationship with God which helps us access additional benefits to our wellbeing. I call this method the ‘5 tools to maturity’ and they are taken from Acts 2:42 and 47. They are as follows:
      • Prayer
      • Praise
      • Fellowship
      • Biblical learning
      • Outreach to others with Bible truth

      These five tools describe the activities in the very first church in Jerusalem and provide a model to us today for what actions individuals and the church should perform routinely. Importantly, these five activities are confirmed in later verses in the epistles (Ephesians 6:18; Romans 15:11; 1 John 1:3; Colossians 3:16; Romans 10:14-17).    

      • Church participation and wellbeing

      Why are the 5 tools important? When implemented consistently, and in balance with each other, these activities develop godliness in our character and manner of living.

      Further, Teleios also has found that Christians who are more adherent to their faith, using what we describe as the five tools of maturity (Acts 2:42,47; praise, prayer, fellowship, spiritual service and biblical learning) have better wellbeing than less adherent believers (6,10). This was shown again in this survey, specifically for biblical fellowship, prayer and praise.

      Other studies in peered reviewed medical journals have demonstrated that Christian belief generally is associated with good wellbeing more than in those who do not believe (6,10). The better wellbeing among Christians is most often linked to church attendance, postulated to be from socialization and studying the Bible (8,9,13,14). Additionally, in prior studies a number of other wellbeing markers have been noted including: forgiveness, gratitude, hope and kindness (15-17).

      • The church and wellbeing; survey of young Christians

      The church is important to the Christian walk as well as to society. Teleios recently performed a study evaluating wellbeing. There were 1186 responses. The majority of responses were: female (68%), <30 years (76%), and primarily from the United States (40%) and Europe (16%). The respondents identified themselves as: evangelical Christians (33%), social Christians (29%), Christian seekers (5%) and non-Christians (33%).

      Interestingly, personal wellbeing was better among evangelical Christians (4.6, on a scale of 0-6 with 6 being highest) compared to social Christians (4.1), Christian seekers (4.0) or non-Christians (4.3, P=0.001). The findings for wellbeing were also supported by further results that evangelicals were more content (P=0.001), at peace (P>0.001), and joyful (P=0.002) than the other groups. No differences between groups were observed in feelings of guilt (P=0.426).

      This is the first survey, to our knowledge, evaluating wellbeing in young Christians versus non-Christians. These findings make sense based on prior research.

      In summary, Christianity may help wellbeing by giving confidence in both day-to-day living and hope for eternity.

      • Church leadership and congregant wellbeing

      Teleios also has evaluated links between a believer’s wellbeing and their perception of their church and its leadership on the Instagram account, Instapray. We had 884 mostly all evangelical and adolescent or millennial participants. Of the total, 43% were ex-US. Church leadership best helped participants’ wellbeing by:

      • Bible-based teaching and preaching (75%)
      • Encouraging Bible based speech (51%)
      • Powerful biblical vision for the church (44%)
      • Supporting church programs (31%)
      • Effective pastoral care (30%)

      Interestingly, the effect of church leadership on wellbeing did not differ among the international regions represented in our survey: the USA, Canada, Asia and commonwealth countries (P>0.05).

      Summary – The church is God’s chosen administrative tool to manage people during this age to carry out His will, specifically as related to nurturing believers The church can have a profound impact on believers not only in spiritual growth but in wellbeing as well. In a subsequent section we will cover the sacraments.

      1. Ryrie CC (1981). Basic theology: A popular systematic guide to understanding biblical truth. Colorado Springs: Victor Books; 277.
      2. https://www.gotquestions.org/definition-ekklesia.html
      3. https://www.gotquestions.org/amillennialism.html
      4. Parsons S, Cruise P, Davenport W, Jones V: Religious beliefs, practices and treatment adherence among individuals with HIV in the southern United States. AIDS Subject Care STDS 2006;20:97-111.
      5. Reed P: Spirituality and well-being in terminally ill hospitalized adults. Res Nurs Health 1987;10:335-44.
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      7. Cotton S, Levine E, Fitzpatrick C, Dold K, Targ E: Exploring the relationships among spiritual well-being, quality of life, and psychological adjustment in women with breast cancer. Psychooncology 1999;8:429-38.
      8. MacIlvaine WR, Nelson LA, Stewart JA, Stewart WC. Association of strength of community service to personal wellbeing. Community Ment Health J 2014;50:577-82.
      9. MacIlvaine WR, Nelson LA, Stewart JA, Stewart WC. Association of strength of religious adherence to quality of life measures. Complement Ther Clin Pract 2013;19:251-5.
      10. Cotton S, Levine E, Fitzpatrick C, Dold K, Targ E: Exploring the relationships among spiritual well-being, quality of life, and psychological adjustment in women with breast cancer. Psychooncology 1999;8:429-38.
      11. Parsons S, Cruise P, Davenport W, Jones V: Religious beliefs, practices and treatment adherence among individuals with HIV in the southern United States. AIDS Subject Care STDS 2006;20:97-111.
      12. Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003;84:377-89.
      13. Froh JJ, Sefick WJ, Emmons RA. Counting blessings in early adolescents: an experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. J Sch Psychol. 2008;46:213-33.
      14. Datu JAD. Forgiveness, gratitude and subjective well-being among Filipino adolescents. Int J Adv Counsel. 2014;36:262-73.
      15. Krause N, Ellison CG. Forgiveness by God, forgiveness of others, and psychological well-being in late life. J Sci Study Relig. 2003; 42:77–94.
      16. Otake K, Shimai S, Tanaka-Matsumi J, Otsui K, Fredrickson BL. Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. J Happiness Stud. 2006;7:361-75.
      17. Lu FJ, Hsu Y. Injured athletes’ rehabilitation beliefs and subjective well-being: The contribution of hope and social support. J Athl Train. 2013;48:92–8.