A Local and Universal Church – an Excerpt from The Church According to Paul

Cover ArtThe following is an excerpt from The Church According to Paul, by James Thompson.

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The dialectic between the local and universal church provides a significant model for today. The local congregation remains the locus of Christian participation in the body of Christ. In the local congregation, believers are being transformed together into the image of Christ. They rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (cf. Rom. 12:15), put love into practice through acts of mercy, and encourage each other. The local church provides a place to belong in a society in which individuals are commonly uprooted from their primary relationships.

The local congregation is also a place for the care of the most vulnerable in the society—the aged, the lonely, those with special needs. The local congregation is small enough to recognize the special needs of its members but large enough to do for individuals what they cannot do for themselves. It is not a corporation interested only in numbers but a family in which siblings care for each other. Nor is it a theater for entertaining attendees; rather, it is a body in which all participate. Although churches often fall short of their essential task, many communities continue to provide this place to belong.

This dialectic between the local and the universal church precludes the insular focus of the local congregation that is concerned only for its own welfare. Paul’s model of cooperation among churches in the region and in distant places is a reminder that the competition between the churches and the struggle for market share in metropolitan areas undermines the united witness of the churches. The competition among churches that results in appealing to consumer tastes is consistent with the spirit of capitalism, but not with the ecclesial vision that Paul offers. Paul’s ecclesiology involves the cooperative work of churches in the city, the region, and the world.

©2014 by James W. Thompson. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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