A church is a gathering of believers, the assembly of Christians in one place under Biblical authority for Biblical purposes. Millions of churches gather together all across the world. Most communities in America are home to many different churches. Though there are millions of local churches in the world, all true churches are part of one single church. Every Christian is a member of the body of Christ and a part of the universal church. Often this idea is expressed in a statement like, “We are all part of the church.”
Hebrews 12:22-23 is the clearest text about the universal church, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” The universal church is the assembly of all those whose names are written in heaven in the Lamb’s book of life.
Other Bible passages point to a universal church. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promised to build His church. His promise is can not be the promise of building a single church in Jerusalem or Palestine. The promise of Jesus is of a universal that cannot be overthrown. His church consists of many local churches scattered across the world and stretching through history. In Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:22 Paul says that Jesus is the head of the body, the church. Colossians and Ephesians are clearly referring to the authority of Jesus over the entire church everywhere at all times. The church universal is under the governance of Jesus.
No church or denomination can claim to be the universal church. The universal church is not the conglomeration of all churches and denominations, or is it made up of all people who belong to a church. Many who are members of churches on earth are not part of the universal church. Instead, the universal church is the entire population of all genuine believers who have lived, are living and will live. All the redeemed make up the universal church and only the redeemed are members of the universal church.
The universal church will not be gathered in one place until eternity when all the saved will be assembled together in the presence of God. The universal church is a reality which can not yet be experienced. In the meantime, Christians recognize that they have a connection in Christ with all believers past, present and future. All genuine Christians alive today share a great fellowship together as brothers and sisters in Christ and as members together of the body of Christ.
The universal church includes all believers now living. The universal church is the future assembly of all Christians who ever lived. The universal church is the entire body of Christ, seen now only in part but one day will be seen in full.