The Evangelical Universalist Forum

“The Church” -- What is the correct definition?

I guess the essence of my question is along the lines of “does the reality of UR (or at least ones belief in that truth) alter our definition of “the Church”??

We may say that church is the ”People of God” 1 Peter 2:9 and the ”Body of Christ” Romans 12:5. And of course the church is called the “Bride of Christ” and so on.

My sense (and hence my question) is that the definition is larger, more inclusive, more expansive, than we’ve previously thought. Which of course goes along with the idea of Universal Reconciliation.

There’s probably wide agreement that Church is more than the buildings, or the corporate/organizational structures, but is rather the compiled whole (Whom God alone knows for certain) of some Set of people. Well, who is included in that Set??

Consider these texts for example:

The idea being that perhaps this “Set” of people is defined not so much by claimed creeds or beliefs, but more by those who follow their inner conscience; those who love; those who care for the distressed and less fortunate; those who pursue justice (righteousness) and so on.

Now perhaps the distinctive of who deserves to to be included in “the church” is more of a temporal thing; Yes, some day ALL will have freely chosen God, but right now, in our age, some have consciously joined this earthly group while others clearly remain to be convinced, or won, or converted in the future. These can’t now be considered to be part of the church.

So I’m quite curious to know how you (especially directed to fellow Universalists) define “the church”??


I would define the church (ekklesia) as all those who are actively involved in the kingdom of God on the earth in this life – the bride of Christ. It is those who run for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus – the first fruits – as in the first fruits offering of Pentecost. Jesus was raised on the (first) feast of first fruits, and the Pentecost feast (or holy day) was a sort of second installment of that same first harvest. It was the giving of the law (in many ways, the birth of the nation of Israel) and also the birth of the church. Very interesting study, the Jewish feasts.

Yep; Ekklesia, “called out” or “called up” ones. Those who are called out of the system of this world into the kingdom of God.

Yes… perhaps I’m making more, seeing more, than is really here…

It’s just that, as a UR believer, I envision that day when the vision of the church, the dreams of the church, are filled full… All those objects of our evangelism have been won (not by us of course, but by the Holy Spirit) to forever communion with the family of God! Joyous day for sure. But doesn’t it seem odd that when that happens, we somehow become something other than the church… we are no longer “the church”. Church then somehow takes it meaning from it’s context in the fallen world, full of all the various stages of return to the creator that we see now.
Back then, might we say, we were “the church”. But now, we are… …what?

Maybe what I’m talking about is the conflict between my current identities: I see myself as part of those called apart, called out, called up yes… BUT I also see myself as part of the entirety of the creation of God that shall be saved. To be part of the church, means I’m different – but if simply part of the process of God’s ongoing redemptive workings that eventuate in UR, all I am is just an earlier entrant into His kingdom.

Must be missing something here…


There are many different takes on this, Bob. Mine is that the church consists of the, well basically the older brothers and sisters, who are at some point tasked with the honor and privilege of helping the younger ones also find their way home.

But yeah; what WILL we be once we’re no longer the called-out ones (because everyone’s now called out!) I thought for a long time that God’s ultimate purpose was to save sinners, and so on, but really that doesn’t make sense. That looks more like a contingency plan – damage control (although I think it’s fair to say God knew it would come to that and it was part of His original plan). Still, it can’t have been the original , ultimate intent. I think God the Father wanted children (to be brothers and sisters to His beloved Son and children to Himself) (Romans 8). He wanted a temple for the Holy Spirit and a bride for His Son. Of course those are all metaphors, but ultimately He wanted to share Himself and we are the blessed sharees. We get to join in the divine dance of love. And that isn’t just the church – that includes ALL of us. So ultimately I think you’re absolutely right. :smiley: And I’m very glad you are.

It’s an interesting question TV and something I’ve thought about a bit lately - not with any great revelations I might add.

One of the questions that arises after coming to believe in UR is this very question - then what function now does the church as an organised body have for us as individuals?

Aside from the spiritual benefits of encouragement for one another, praying and worshipping together and the benefits in all sorts of ways of the social network that a church provides ,traditionally the existence of 'the church was I think seen as mainly in terms of evangelism (obviously more so amongst evangelical groups)- spreading the gospel "to save the Lost ".The added benefits of being in the body of Christ perhaps almost an aside (though extremely important - I don’t mean to minimise these, indeed if these were the only purpose then I think the ‘church’ is worthy just by virtue of these benefits alone. However, they are a function of church as a group small or large and I don’t think require an organised institution. Neither do I want to appear to be viewing it only from a perspective of what I/we can get out of it but you will come to see the point I’m getting at I hope).

The point is that (again, I speak for myself) the reality is that often it has become little more than a pleasurable (or not)‘club’; accompanied perhaps by a background sense (guilt) that one wasn’t quite fulfilling the gospel commission but the hope that on a daily basis you displayed some sort of pious example. Usually of course realising that that too was a dismal failure!

Cindy’s definition:

I would agree with you Cindy.
Of course, the day to day expression of this is often I think, for the average christian, displayed through there own small circle and being part of that wider christian community is expressed through their own small band of believers usually within their own denomination.

Typically, this might also involve very little interaction with other christians of another pursuasion who are even deemed in many cases to be, at best, misguided and worst, heretical or “of the devil”. So much for the unity of the body of Christ.
( I do think this is something that is changing)

Now for me at least and my church background, I may be cynical but I realise that my personal efforts at classical evangelism were poor in the extreme and largely non-existent if I’m truthful, and without passing any dispersions I suspect this is/was true of many.

At the coal face the immediate church (group) would from time to time enthusiastically present evangelistic campaigns and efforts to win the Lost or poach from other misguided ‘christians’ groups.These efforts typically met with mixed results, at least from a quantifiable perspective ( interest in bible studies ,baptism etc. One would hope of course some seed had been planted.

I apologise if I sound too cynical because obviously I do and often I am! The world according to Sturmy may be a totally different view to other worthies!

Even prior to becoming a CU from as long as I can remember I have felt quite cynical about much of the organised churches function. This is compounded now that it’s difficult to get behind anything from an organised level given that I would be pedalling a gospel that I now see as “not the gospel”.

TV said:

I’m inclined to agree with you here TV.
This of course may include christian’s in the sense of those that have a knowledge and some kind of relationship with Christ ( I hate the term relationship but it will do here) and others perhaps in the absence of any working knowledge of christianity who nevertheless are ‘doers of the law’, if you like.

I’ve asked myself increasingly of late that if I were to die tomorrow would the world have been a better place for me having been in it? Have I been the fragrance of Christ in the world rather than the stench of self interest? How much effort has been spent wrestling my own demons and fighting the rearguard without much forward progress.

Now as a Universalist Christian if I am part of the “advanced guard” what am I really meant to be doing in the world? Declaring to the world the truly good news that Christ has done it all?
Setting people straight to protect them from some future purgatorial correction ?(Not sure at present to what degree I believe in this and seeing myself as ‘having responsibility for saving’ people from the wrath of God, albeit for their eventual reconciliation ,in practice doesn’t seem far removed from the previous concept of our responsibility for preventing their annihilation or eternity in hell; even if we do give a nod to the Holy Spirit and say we are only the vehicle through which the Holy Sp. works).

When it’s all boiled down I’m really more inclined to believe the truth lies with what you’ve quoted above TV.; perhaps that’s good if that really is where it’s at. In some ways a relief and yet some how disconcerting (it’s even harder to tick the boxes!)

It still poses the question though doesn’t it - what of the institutional church? Is it a vehicle to work through or is it defunct?
If your above definition is closer to the real eklesia what role does institutional church play?
The Institutional church has many worthwhile entities that are arguably of great benefit in the world eg. medical, educational etc and would fulfill many of the criteria cited…

Yet behind all this there is often a gospel that we as CU’s would consider false or at least misguided.
Are we perpetuating a false gospel by supporting institutions that have this as their raison d’etre, so to speak?
Yet only to enjoy their facilities and a place to meet other christians seems hypocritical; however to disassociate cuts off not only an avenue of interaction with others but one of the areas where it is possible present UR… But I digress.

Perhaps one can ask too many questions and spend too much time analysing and navel gazing and should just get on with it - trusting in Christ to look after his own bride (however she is composed) and just get on with life where one finds themselves trusting that somehow ‘all’s well that ends well’.

Just the musings of a humble scribe really. lol. Cheers S

What definition of “the church” do we find in this passage from Acts 19?

Yes, folks. The Greek word in verses 39 and 41 is none other than “ekklesia”. Only NOBODY translates it as “church” in these verses. It should NEVER be translated as “church.” I understand that the word was usually translated as “church” in order to justify the existence of the churches of the big religious systems of the middle ages.

ALL translations render the word as “assembly” in these verses. That’s the way it should be translated in all passages. Some will tell you that the Greek word literally means “the called out ones.” That is true. The people of any assembly are in some sense “called out” or separate from the people outside of the assembly.

If the word “ekklesia” embraces EVERYONE, then it has lost its meaning.

First off, thanks for the great comments all.
And sturmy, my mind has been traveling much the same path as you’ve related here - thanks!

Yes, of course you are correct Paidion…
It’s just that, as I’ve been pondering this concept of “church” so many seemingly conflicting ideas pop up.
For example, is this a definition/category for our education and benefit? or only one for God to use. That subset of humans who make up the church; are we capable of knowing who they are?

On the one hand, I suspect the group might be smaller than what we might imagine it is… How many are “in church” merely as social habit – never having actually heard – let alone responded to – the call. Church isn’t a label you earn just for showing up in other words… Calling oneself “church” doesn’t necessarily make it so…

On the other hand, I suspect that the group God considers His people, is rather larger than we’ve imagined. And has far less to do with showing up in the pew and far more to do with living the life of selfless service that God’s kingdom is about. Other sheep have I not of this fold – and My sheep Hear My voice! kind of idea. That hints to me that the defined group is rather bigger than I’ve previously imagined.

So, keep heading in the direction of enlarging the group and eventually one includes everyone…
Except then the word church - ekklesia comes to mean little to nothing…
Where then is the line to be drawn…

…Or is it not OUR line to draw in the first place?? …

I’m developing a sense that what God has in mind is a body of people for whom the church is less about
GETTING (salvation, encouragement, fellowship, comfort, guidance, service, love… etc etc) than it is about
GIVING (love, service, nurture, discipleship, comfort, hope, worship, etc etc)

It’s God’s call to LIVE in His kingdom now – and in so doing, to be a light. Less about the worry of salvation than about the celebration of salvation already won and already here. A group called to live victoriously and not in the fret of their failings and sin.

I grew up, as did sturmy, in the SDA tradition. And still worship there. And have often been troubled by the constricting nature of “our” definitions of “church”. A thousand times I’ve wanted to protest No No!! God’s people are far more vast than we’ve allowed! It’s not about “gettin’ it right” (doctrine) or about “gettin’ salvation” but about joining in hope and celebration and worship in a kingdom already won!

Anyway, it’s humbling and sobering to ponder all this.


Great observations, Bob

I’m not sure there’s anything I could add to that – thanks!