The universal church is a heavenly and eschatological assembly of everyone—past, present, and future—who belongs to Christ’s new covenant and kingdom. A local church is a mutually-affirming group of new covenant members and kingdom citizens, identified by regularly gathering together in Jesus’ name through preaching the gospel and celebrating the ordinances.


The New Testament word translated into English as “church” (ekklesia) means assembly, and the New Testament envisions two kinds of assemblies: one in heaven and many on earth. These two kinds are the universal and local church, respectively. To become a Christian is to become a member of the universal church, whereby God raises us up with Christ and seats us in the heavenly place. Yet membership in the heavenly assembly must “show up” on earth, which Christians do by gathering together in the name of Christ through the preaching of the gospel and mutually affirming one another as belonging to him through the ordinances. The heavenly universal church, in other words, creates earthly local churches, which in turn display the universal church. Christians throughout history have sometimes emphasized the local or the universal church to the neglect of the other, but a biblical posture emphasizes both. Such a posture entails pursuing one’s individual discipleship in a local church, but a local church that partners with other churches.




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