The Church

Matthew 18:17 & The Universal Church

by Art Sippo

One Protestant with whom I recently corresponded said the following:

Matthew 18 refers to the local church, a visible body that stewards the ordinances, preaches the Word, evangelizes, ministers, and is led by a plurality of godly elders. Matthew 18 doesn't refer to some "institutional" church like the R.C. church (obviously). Along with Matthew 18 we would put passages such as Rom. 16:5, Col. 4:15. Other passages, such as Eph. 4:4 and Matthew 16:18 refer to the universal (or invisible) church. Universal being all true believers alive at any given time and invisible being all true believers from all times. (T. Bartolucci)

This is what Matthew 18:17 says,

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt 18:16-17)

Mr. Bartolucci's definition of the word "church" in Matthew 18:17 is his own invention. The text says nothing of the sort. Mr. B is projecting his own wishes into the Bible and not reading the truth out of it. Jesus refers to the Church in 2 passages: Matthew 16:18 & 18:17. In both cases the word is singular. While the word "church" sometimes refers to the local church only, it is also used collectively for the whole Church. In fact, St. Paul's usage in 1Cor 1:2 (To the church of God which is at Corinth...) shows the proper understanding of the word in context.

There is only one CHURCH which sojourns in different places. This was Jesus' understanding. In his time there were no "local churches" led by "godly elders." There was he, his apostles and the other disciples and the people who followed him. The local church structures were established by the Apostles after Pentecost in line with the Great Commission. Mr. B is anachronistically retrojecting the later local church structure back into the Gospel period where it doesn't belong. At the time of Jesus there was only one Church. That was the Church that gathered around Christ and his disciples. As the Church expanded its influence, local communities joined the one Church founded by Jesus and all came under Apostolic authority. The discipline in the local Churches differed somewhat but the central message and teaching were the same. The need for doctrinal and disciplinary unity led to the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 Also, St. Paul severely ridiculed all the pundits who wanted to divide the Church into small local cults such as the prots have today.

I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius; 15 lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name. (1 Cor.1:10-15)

I am afraid that such a Church is clearly institutional:

...built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord... (Eph.2:20-21)

The fraudulent attempt to see the Church in Matt 18:17 as a purely local group is ridiculous considering all that the NT teaches about the Church as a whole. The Church that Jesus was referring to in Matt 18:17 was the ONE Church that he founded, not some local group on its own. There is absolutely NO evidence whatsoever for an "invisible church." That is a fantasy of prot apostates who want to ignore the Church they can see in favor of a fictitious Church that nobody has ever seen which tickles their fancy. Our Lord and Savior told us that we are not to be a light under a bushel basket but a city on a hill. That Church cannot be invisible. Once again, we see prots descending into fantasy and wishful thinking instead of clinging to the Scriptures as they want to claim. This is their hypocrisy: Ultimately their allegiance is to Protestant Systematic Theology and not to the Word of God.

Art Sippo
The Catholic Legate