I have been following the discussion with regard to the Church Universal and local in the last few numbers in the Forum section. I would like to answer J. C.’s question in July issue (p. 17) (to which he evidently expects a negative reply), “Is there any Scripture that links elders and deacons with the Church Universal?” Were not the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20:28) linked with the Church Universal? Could “all the flock” and “the Church which He hath purchased with the blood of His own (Son)” be anything less than universal? A certain writer has well said, “Did He purchase many churches or just one Church?” As to the flock or flocks, we have the Lord’s words in John’s Gospel, “There shall be one flock.” As the Forum in September (p. 17) takes Acts 20:28 as referring to a local church, I hope you will take notice to this and also draw the attention of your contributors to it. Some notice has also been given to the significance of the definite article in the Greek, so I also draw attention to the fact that both “flock” and “church” in this verse have the definite article.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
E. A. H.
Dear Brother H,
Many thanks for your letter. I regret that through pressure of circumstances it has not been answered earlier. In order that it receive the attention of which it is worthy I submitted it to one of the other brethren on the Committee, and he has returned to me the following splendid memorandum:
Elders are usually found associated with local assemblies, as in Acts 14:23, “Elders in every church;” Titus 1:5, “Ordain elders in every city;” James 5:14, “Let him send for the elders of the church;” and in 1 Peter 5:1, “Elders who are among you.” The term “elder” can be used in a broader sense, as when Peter and John (apostles) refer to themselves in this way, but this use of the term seems to fall into another category.
The local colouring in the context in Acts 20 would point to a local functioning of the elders, “Asia”, “ye all”, “among you”, “from among your own selves”, “wolves… among you”, “not sparing the flock.”
Elsewhere we read of “one universal flock”, but that does not militate against its use here in a local sense. Peter speaks of “the flock of God… among you” in a local sense, and both in that phrase of Peter’s and the one here in Acts 20, Newberry and Rotherham give “little flock”. This change may not be very significant, but it is interesting.
The term “the church of God” does not necessarily refer to the “Church Universal”, for the expression is used elsewhere with a local connotation, (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1). In 1 Cor. 15:9, only a part (at most) of the entire body can be meant, yet the definite article is used.
If some maintain that “the church of God” here is the Church Universal, others take it to refer to the local church. W. E. Vine went so far as to say, “The phrase is not anywhere used of the entire Church, the body of Christ.” It is well to compare the term, “the churches of God” as found in other passages of Scripture (1 Cor. 11:16), for it is the same as that of Acts 20 only pluralized. Other occurrences of the plural form with the definite article are found in 1 Cor. 14:33; 1 Cor. 16:1 ; these may be compared with the expression in the singular, referring to a local church, as found in Gal. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Rev. 2 and 3.
In Acts 20:30 the definite article appears before the word “disciples”, “the disciples.” Whatever significance may be attached to this, it is still a local condition that is in view. Those who would aim to “draw away the disciples” would arise of your own selves.”
Assuming that the statement, “Purchased with His own blood,” marks the reference as being to the Church Universal, is it necessary to think of the elders’ sphere as other than local? Certainly they could not reach all parts of the Universal Church from Ephesus, though whenever contact was made with a child of God they would be ready to help that one.
There are two other points that ought to be noted; first, according to verse 17, Paul called “the elders of the church.” Now, if we are to understand the reference to embrace the whole elderhood, in what manner could he include all the elders of the entire Universal Church? In second place, in the letters to the seven churches of Asia there is absolutely no hint of interchurch responsibility.
Our brother has spent considerable thought on this subject, and his remarks should be weighed, for it is only as we compare one Scripture with another that we learn the mind of the Lord.
Sincerely yours in Christ,