An assembly is an assembly. People who don't assemble are not an assembly. A church is an assembly. That's the meaning of the word, "church" (ekklesia). If you take the plain or normal meaning of "church," you read it as an assembly. A church is a group of people, not all over the world, but in a particular locale, that assemble regularly for a specific business. What I just wrote is it.
All believers in the world don't function as an assembly and will never function as an assembly. At some point, all believers will assemble in heaven, but that doesn't mean they are an assembly now. They're not. They never assemble now. And that is why you will never see in the Bible a universal church. There is nowhere in Scripture that a church on earth in this age in which we live, which includes right now and in the last 2000 years, is defined as all believers. There is not a single text in the Bible that explains or describes the church as a "universal church." That idea is foreign to God's Word. It actually contradicts what the Bible does say.
Those, like Fred Moritz, who say and teach that the true church is all believers, are not getting that from the Bible. And then, to add insult to injury, Moritz attacks those who do teach what the Bible says about the church and treats them like they are coming with a novelty. His view of the church is an old view, it's Catholic and then Protestant, but it doesn't go all the way back to the Bible. He reads into Scripture his presupposition.
Then Moritz in his online journal article for Maranatha talks like two local only advocates or teachers (B. H. Carroll and S. E. Anderson) really did believe that a church was the unassembled all believers on earth, even though they said that they didn't. Personally, I'm not so concerned what they said they believed, because I know what Scripture teaches, but I think it is important to consider what they were talking about and whether it is what Moritz says they were saying. His quotes of Carroll and Anderson don't present any problem for a local only position. They are saying that all believers at the most are a church in prospect, that is, all believers will assemble in heaven. This is also the way that Richard Weeks taught it at Maranatha. That doesn't do anything to back a present assembly of all believers. All believers will never assemble until heaven, so they are not a church in this age. That means there is no universal church. There is none. There never will be one. Universal and assembly are mutually exclusive.
The singular noun "church" is always an assembly. However, normal grammar says that the singular "church" could be a particular church or a generic one. If it is generic, it is still an assembly. However, it is talking about an assembly or the assembly in a representative way. There are no other usages of the singular noun, besides a particular or a generic. In the few (about 10) passages "church" is used in a generic fashion, it is still talking about something local and visible.
So where did the idea of a universal or catholic church come from? This is where a bit of irony comes in. Moritz makes a big deal about the influence of covenant theology on James Graves. He probably was influenced some by covenant theology in some of his understanding of the kingdom of God, but this is not where he got his local only ecclesiology, as Moritz seems to assert. However, at that time, many were influenced at least a little by covenant theology, because of the pervasive influence of Protestantism.
In the New Testament, a church is only an assembly that meets. That's how the New Testament authors used "church." It's how they understood "church." It's easy to see, however, that Greek philosophy was already beginning to influence the early churches. The Corinthians were denying bodily resurrection because of the Greek philosophy of the immortality of the soul alone. You read local only ecclesiology in the earliest patristic, Clement of Rome in his first century letter, 1 Clement. However, as you keep reading patristic ecclesiology, you find influences in hermeneutics related to a response to persecution. Origen developed an allegorical approach to Scripture. And then much changed with the advent of Constantine and the state, catholic church. Patristics and then later Catholic theologians mixed Platonism, a kind of Greek philosophy, with Scripture to come to a new position on the church, one not found in the Bible. This same view continues to influence today and it has done so to Fred Moritz.
Scripture teaches premillennialism. Every New Testament believer took that hermeneutic. We should assume early Christians believed the same. However, with Roman Catholicism's faulty view of the kingdom, seeing the church as the kingdom of God on earth, came the amillennial view. The presupposition of amillennialism affected the approach to Scripture. Allegorization or spiritualization of many Bible passages became the norm. Augustine essentially codified this in Catholic thought with his response to the Dontatists. The politics meant little to no challenge to a Catholic hermeneutic for centuries. With the reformation came an in depth justification of amillennialism by a system of covenant theology. The reformation stopped at ecclesiology. Roman Catholicism and the the reformers spiritualized the church with the covenant theology. This is where Moritz gets his view of the church and this is the irony.
The Baptists or Separatists, the non-Catholic churches, saw things differently. Richard Baxter, a reformed pastor, recognized the ecclesiology of the Donatists, when he wrote in 1707 in his Practical Works: "[T]he Donatists arose from their not sufficiently distinguishing the Cburch Universal from the Associated Churches of their Country nor well considering that baptism as such is but our entrance into the Universal Church and not into this or that particular Church." If you read the Schleitheim Confession of the Swiss Anabaptists in 1527, led by Michael Sattler, you will read a local only ecclesiology outside of the position of covenant theology. William Tyndale grew up in a Baptist home and "he always translated the word by the word congregation and held to a local conception of a church" (Tyndale, Works, London, 1831, II, p. 13).
I'm in no agreement with the theology of Swiss theologian Emil Brunner, but he writes as an observer and historian in his The Misunderstanding of the Church (p. 60):
Both in classical Greek and in the usage of the Greek Old Testament, Ecclesia means congregation, the assembled people. So then the New Testament Ecclesia in its original form, is the fellowship of Christ or the people of God assembled for purposes of divine worship.
On p. 90, he continues:
So far our thesis has proved sound: the Ecclesia of the New Testament is a communion of persons and nothing else. It is the Body of Christ, but not an institution. Therefore, it is not yet what it later became as a result of a slow, steady, hence unnoticed process of transformation. . . . Then the neo-catholic Roman church ---is distinguished from the Ecclesia above all in this---that is no longer primarily a communion of persons, but rather an institution.
Brunner saw this as acceptable, but in telling it as it is about the history of the meaning of church. Scripture doesn't teach a catholic church---that was a development of thought from the original understanding.
More to Come