Universal Church

(part one of two)

"I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,"
Colossians 1:24

Mere months after I accepted Christ into my life, I moved to Buenos Aires from the USA. The reasons for this range wide and I still struggle to clearly explain them all. Yet without a doubt the move was part of my walk of faith – my journey to get closer to God. He continually provides evidence to this fact and none more clearly than moving my family literally across the street from an Independent Baptist missionary from Iowa. In God's world coincidence also resides within His plans.

Argentina, like most of Latin America, remains largely Catholic. Raised in the Catholic faith I practice wholeheartedly. Here I was, fresh in my transformation (although raised Catholic, I grew quite far from the Lord until my mid 30's), now neighbors with a strong fundamentalist. Perhaps only the ultra-strict Bible Baptists maintain a more biblically conservative point of view than those of my pastor neighbor. He holds beliefs so strong that he dedicates his life to serving the Lord by performing missionary work in a city where there seems to be a church every few blocks. From the get-go our relationship challenged me, but as many challenges in life it has been a tremendous blessing. I've been humbled more than once regarding my openness from this so-called close-minded separatist. Although in doctrine he often stands in direct opposition to the Catholic Church, he has embraced me as a fellow believer in Christ. I can confidently say the Baptist minister and the lay Catholic are great friends.

Which brings me to the universal church – or as some call it, the ‘true church.' This is not a call for ecumenism, which in some ways I believe is potentially harmful. Rather I speak about the unorganized, unseen as a whole, body of believers that make up the body of Christ. These are the ones that truly believe in the risen Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit. No church, organized by any human, can lay claim that their organization alone houses all these believers. All churches contain both believers and non-believers. Nobody can definitively discern the difference as only God knows for sure. Nevertheless, this true church exists, and has existed from the beginnings of Christianity:

"For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.
"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
"For in fact the body is not one member but many."
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 

The attempt to bring about worldwide Christian unity, or ecumenism, goes against all odds. Compromises in doctrine are seldom possible and could potentially undermine more important missions. A structure remains the sum of its parts and to build one using the parts of others leads to frustration. You cannot complete a jigsaw puzzle by using the pieces from two different sets. The energy expended in ecumenical efforts might be better used for purposes like spreading the Gospel message and humanitarian works. The futility of it all confounds me the most. The disagreement within churches challenges us enough, and the attempt to form some worldwide singular denomination approaches the impossible. While I am not against interdenominational communication and community, the attempt to combine such into a single entity I fear will never come to pass. However, I submit to those who are better qualified to decide on this topic (let the legions step forth!).

My main purpose here is not to bring down ecumenism, but rather to extol the virtues of the one true church – the universal church. The Lord loves variety. Possibly that is why He allows so many different denominations to exist. Whether debating the sanctity of sacraments, the assurance of salvation, or the authority of Rome or the Bible, everything ends up just words in the mouths of men. The exact same words to one believer might mean something dramatically different to another – even within the same church. The Lord reads the hearts where He has written His message in Christ's blood. Only He who has written these messages can read them. Those who claim otherwise claim equality with God. In the end Christ alone remains the head of this church:

"And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."
Ephesians 1:22-23

So where does this lead us?

(go to part two)