I want to evaluate the linked article for two main reasons. First, Huffstutler presents a defense of the universal church and I want to investigate the scriptural premises provided, whether they prove his assertion. Second, I want to diagnose the effect of the content or theology of the post on the religious affections of professing believers.
My experience with those who write about a universal church is that they assume what they don't and can't prove. A first assumption comes in the first paragraph, last line, "Ekklesia. . ., as applied to believers in the present age, . . . refers to people who have been called out of this dying world to be part of the church, the body of Christ." Not one verse in the Bible makes that point. I wouldn't even call it speculation, because it's made up. I would be happy to admit it if it were true, but it reads something into the Bible that isn't there. One should not assume ekklesia, which means "assembly" and is used in that way exclusively, is an unassembled thing and never in time will be an assembled thing.
Hufstutler says that ekklesia is used four ways in the New Testament, two of which are never assembled and belie the meaning of the word. The first is its usage as an assembly other than the institution Christ founded, four times in the New Testament. The nature of ekklesia is still an assembly, a point Hufstutler should have mentioned in a post about the meaning of church. These referenced usages key an understanding of the word, a group of people assembled for a particular purpose, how people would have understood it in that day.
The second usage for ekklesia Huffstutler says is "the universal church," terminology absent from the Bible even in descriptors. You can't locate that universal idea anywhere, which should be tell-tale. He lists three references to prove that usage. His fourth usage is closely related, what he calls "the entire church on earth at a given point in time." He uses four New Testament references to buttress that point. He briefly cites a second usage, "local church," not mentioning that of the 115 and more usages of ekklesia, the majority speak of particular churches. Obviously, when ekklesia is used in the plural, those are assemblies and then when it is connected to a locale, it is again, an assembly there.
What some might call the more ambiguous usages of ekklesia are nothing more than generic singular nouns, referring to the church as an institution. If you are not talking about a particular church, that doesn't change the meaning of the word "church." A church is local only, because it is an assembly, and assemblies are always local. There can't be a universal church.
Huffstutler's first proof text is "Ephesians 1:22-32." There is no Ephesians 1:24-32, but guessing he meant Ephesians 1:22-23, you don't have a basis for believing that "church" in Ephesians 1 means "all believers." There are only two grammatical usages of the singular noun in language, a particular or a generic. It is true that there is only one church, the church, and it is local only. Jesus is the Head of the church. If I answer the phone, it doesn't mean that I'm answering a universal, mystical phone. That doctrine would need to be established somewhere in order to assume it some place. If it hasn't, then we should assume that it is a generic use of the singular noun, what it would always be unless otherwise communicated, which it isn't.
Next Hufstuttler uses 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 to say “all the members of the body… baptized into one body,” proving a universal church. What is "the body?" If it is all believers, then Paul excludes himself later in the chapter, when he writes in verse 27, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." Paul says the church at Corinth is "the body of Christ," excluding himself from what he calls "the body of Christ." That alone clinches the argument that the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 is local only -- or else Paul wasn't a Christian.
The point of "one body" in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is not that there is numerically one in the entire universe, but that the body is unified where it is. 1 Corinthians teaches the unity and then diversity of a church. Plural diversity becomes part of singular unity. One body, many body parts. One is not numeric one, but the oneness of each body. That is clear through the teaching in the chapter and similar references are found all through the New Testament, like Philippians 1:27, "ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." "One body" in 1 Corinthians 12:13 doesn't mean numeric one any more than "one spirit" and "one mind" are numeric one in Philippians 1:27.
Then Hufstuttler references Ephesians 5:25 as a usage of the "universal church": "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." Two verses earlier, Paul writes, "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church." To be consistent, if "the church" is universal and invisible, then "the husband" and "the wife" both need to be universal and invisible too. "The husband" is a generic singular noun. "The church" is a generic singular noun. It is not talking about a particular husband or a particular church, but in both cases, the meaning of the word doesn't change.
Christ gave Himself for "the church," but Paul also writes in Galatians 2:20 that He "gave himself for me." Did Christ give Himself only for Paul? We can't assume that Christ's giving Himself for the church means that the church is all believers. And if "the church" is universal in verse 25, then "the husband" and "the wife" must be in verse 23.
Regarding the usage of 1 Corinthians 15:9 and Galatians 1:13, identical usage, at the time Paul persecuted the church, there was only one church that we know of. Believers had been scattered, but there was only the church of Jerusalem. Even if there were another church besides at Jerusalem, Paul was persecuting Christ's assembly, His institution. It is either particular or generic.
1 Corinthians 7:17 doesn't prove a universal church, when Paul writes, "And so ordain I in all churches," and in 1 Corinthians 14:33, "in all churches of the saints." Why would Paul write "churches of the saints" if "the church" means "the saints"? That proves the opposite of what Huffstutler is writing. According to his proposed belief, Paul would be saying, "churches of the church," but he doesn't. "Churches" and "the saints" are not identical like Hufstuttler himself is asserting, and this is seen in the text he references. He's seeing something there that isn't there because of his predispositions. He's not getting his teaching from the text, but reading into it.
Huffstutler asserts the universal church teaching to get to a particular point of application in the last two paragraphs:
Theoretically, if all the true, local churches indeed belong together as the one church and body of Christ, we should be able to perfectly get along. Unfortunately, there is great divide in understanding many important passages in Scripture, which has led to scores of denominations today. The choice one is left with is to limit one’s message and increase their connections or to decrease their connections but have a high level of commonality with others by means of a confession. For the sake of practicality in relating to others and in accord with my own doctrinal convictions, I encourage opting for the latter of the two.
For those who are truly our fellow Christians, we should strive to have what level of fellowship we can. And for those who are sister churches in both cardinal doctrines and distinctives, we should strive for fellowship all the more.
The application of his universal church teaching contradicts his universal church assumption. If the church really is universal, he says that all the churches should get along. He's right. The Bible doesn't teach unity among all believers. When Paul says there should be no schism in the body, he's saying there should be no schism in a particular church. The unity taught in scripture is in individual churches. Each church can have it. It isn't "theoretical," but real. Huffstutler treats the very unity of scripture as theoretical, as though it is no more than an ideal.
As a result of Huffstutler's wrong understanding of the nature of the church, he is obviously struggling with an application. It's impossible, so he resorts to calling the unity required in the New Testament as theoretical (if you want a non-theoretical teaching, showing what the Bible says, buy and read A Pure Church), like most of the rest of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. The Bible is not like this in any doctrine and practice. It doesn't offer a theoretical, impossible teaching. Evangelicals and fundamentalists are constantly looking for the sweet spot between separation and unity in article after article after article. They assume that you have to give a little on both unity and separation and never have biblical unity or biblical separation, but settle for a compromise between the two. The debate and argument and articles are about where the proper line or balance is.
The idea of a "level of fellowship" isn't taught in the Bible. The idea of "cardinal doctrines and distinctives" isn't taught. Fellowship is like what occurs between the Father and the Son (John 17). This isn't theoretical. It's real. Much of the New Testament tells us how to have that fellowship. The assumption of the New Testament isn't that you can't have it. Huffstutler thinks it's theoretical, because what he's teaching about the church is wrong. The New Testament works. If it isn't working, you aren't getting it right. This is foundational to the only view of truth and a Christian worldview, which brings me to the application to religious affections themselves.
Religiousaffections.org can never and will never protect religious affections with the wrong ecclesiology. Scott Aniol and his fellows there don't separate from an apostasy of religious affections. They just talk about religious affections. They exhort. They warn. They do not separate. God separated the culture outside the ark from the inside. He didn't leave it muddled. God expected Israel to separate from outside culture. The only way to preserve the right way is to separate from the wrong way. This theoretical unity and separation will never get it done.