The Church universal is a spiritual concept and denotes the age-long aspect, comprising all believers from Pentecost to the Rapture. This is to be distinguished from the local churches of God's people. It is not a human organisation but a divine organism. The word in Scripture for church (ekklesia) means "called out" and refers to people called out from the world by the gospel to become "a people for his name" (i.e. the Church: Acts 15.14). The following is a simple Scriptural outline of this important topic.
The Church was rooted in the eternal counsels and forethought of God who has "chosen us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1.4). It was a cherished secret in the heart of God, a "mystery" not made known in the Old Testament. It was first foretold by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16.15-18 when Peter confessed the deity of Christ and the Lord said, "…upon this rock (i.e. Christ, the Son of God) I will build my church". The Church, therefore, is founded on Christ, the Son of God, certainly not on Peter, for "other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 3.11; cp 1 Pet 2.4-8). The person and work of the Lord Jesus is that foundation. Then the Church was formed (born) at the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (1 Cor 12.13). It has been growing ever since as new believers are incorporated by the Spirit. The Church universal is an invisible, invincible, and indivisible living organism, through which God pursues His gracious purposes of redemption.
From Pentecost onwards all "in Christ" (through faith and grace alone), irrespective of racial, cultural, or religious affiliations, are included in the universal Church. Beware then of negative attitudes to such believers. The old dispensation of law closed with the death of the Lord Jesus, and a new dispensation of grace dawned. The wall of partition between Jew and Gentile was removed, and the sacrificial system was abolished. Now Jew and Gentile are equal before God, who has made "in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body (the Church) by the cross" (Eph 2.14-16). This was the "mystery of Christ" (hid in God), now revealed (Eph 3.4), "That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs (with Israel), and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph 3.6).
When the Lord introduced the Church in Matthew 16 He began to speak about His sufferings, death and resurrection (v.21). This is significant, for the Church was purchased with His precious blood: "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph 5.25-26); "Which he has purchased with the blood of his own (Son)" (Acts 20.28, JND); "He…found one pearl of great price…sold all that he had, and bought it (Mt 13.46). On the cross the Son was consciously fulfilling the divine purpose of the ages, to secure for His Church the boundless blessing of salvation with eternal glory, promised before time began. Praise His name!
Different figures are used to describe the Church, its functions and features, such as a building, a body, and a bride. The Lord referred to it as a building - "I will build my church" (Mt 16.18). Paul says later that "all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord…for a habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph 2.21-22). God always desired to dwell with men; the tabernacle and the temple were divine dwelling places. They were temporary expedients, but now, in the ever growing Church, He is pleased to dwell, and that forever, among the saved of the Church age. Paul speaks of it as a body - "the church which is his body" (Eph 1.22-23) of which Christ is the Head sustaining His members and expressing His will. Then the bride suggests "affection" - He "loved the church…That he might present it to himself a glorious church (Eph 5.25,27), Christ's beautiful bride and eternal consort (see Rev 21.9).
The Church universal will be consummated at the Rapture. Then every stone will be in place in the Building, every member will be present, the Body and the Bride will have made herself ready. We are a heavenly people (Heb 3.1; 1 Pet 5.10). The Church was destined from eternity to "inherit the riches of the glory of this mystery" (Col 1.27), to have "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled and that fadeth not away (1 Pet 1.4), "That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2.7). The Church will be unveiled as the masterpiece of God's wisdom, the centrepiece of God's glory, and the showpiece of God's power "When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe…in that day (2 Thess 1.10).
View the vast building, see it rise;
The work, how great! the plan, how wise!
O wondrous fabric! power unknown,
That rests it on the "Living Stone".