Although “church” has come to mean a building or organization, the original Greek ekklesia meant “a gathering, assembly” and is the basis for our word “congregation.” And that is what God designed the church to be—a group of people. The definition of a “church” as a separate building specifically for worship would have been foreign to the early believers, as they met in homes. When a building was mentioned in the New Testament, it was always in relation to the church that met there (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). The church was the people, not the building. With the legitimization and affluence of Christianity in later years, the “church” came to mean the building where people met. Now, it often is used to mean a particular denomination. But the truest meaning of the word “church” is the group of believers.
Christ is the head of the church, and the church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23). The members of the body are all Christians. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). The universal church is defined as all who have received the Holy Spirit, no matter their location, denomination, or era. To ensure order and to provide fellowship, the universal church is also divided into local churches.
The universal church is the body of Christ, composed of everyone who has received Christ as their LORD & Savior. It is comprised of every believer from every country and every time from Pentecost (Acts 2) until Christ’s return. Although a specific denomination may teach a more accurate view of God and His Word than another, the universal church recognizes no denominations, just individual believers joined together in one body. No matter the denomination or the size of a local church, the purpose is to do corporately (John 17) what all who name the name of Jesus are to do individually—glorify God in worship, obey and honor Him in all we do, and encourage one another to do the same.
The church is not a building; it is a group of people. It is not a denomination; it is everyone who has received the Holy Spirit. And it doesn’t grant salvation; it is people, loving and glorifying God and teaching others about a saving knowledge of Christ. As believers, we are joined with all Christians from Peter to the smallest child in the body of Christ. The local church is where the members of the universal church can apply 1 Corinthians 12 & 14: encouraging, teaching, and building one another up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.