The Evils Of The Universal Church Theory
Throughout all Christendom people speak of the blessings of belief in the universal, invisible church theory. Most of these are imaginary. Really there is neither a need nor a place for such a church. Belief in this theory has resulted in great disobedience to Christ and untold harm to true New Testament Baptist churches. I shall point out a few of these evils.
1. This theory teaches an imaginary church. This is not something affirmed by some lone Landmarker. Our opponents freely concede such is the case in their own writings. Edward T. Hiscox defines the universal, invisible church he believed in as "a conception of the mind, having no real existence in time or place, and is not a historical fact, being only an ideal multitude without organization, without action, and without corporate being" (The New Directory Of Baptist Churches, p. 24). This is a most noble confession. It admits the big church exists only in people's minds, and that it is not capable of literal manifestation at the present time.
2. This false teaching discredits the local church of the New Testament. Universal church men apply such terms as the body, the house, the building, and the bride of Christ to the big church. Hence they miss the great lessons being taught concerning the local, visible body of baptized believers. These metaphors of the church are perverted and abused until they lose their practical teaching. Great stress is laid upon "the true church" (universal, invisible mythical church) as being Divine while a local church is "man's church."
Some of these universal church theorists look upon the local church as a "necessary evil." Others see no need of attending or being a member of a local church. They watch TV or go to the golf club while the "unimportant" local church meets on the Lord's Day. Their tithes and offerings are sent to some evangelistic association, mission board, Christian foundation, or Christian college. The universal church teaching has robbed local churches of active members. If people took the invisible church teaching to its logical conclusion, they would close the doors of all local churches and leave God's preachers without a church in which to preach.
On page 1299 of the Scofield Reference Bible there is found this note: "Church (visible) Summary: The passages which speak of the Church of God (here and I Cor. 10:32) refer to that visible body of professed believers, called collectively 'the church,' though it exists under many names and divisions based upon differences in doctrine or in government. For the most part, within this historical church has existed the true Church, 'which is his body'. It is plain from this note that Mr. Scofield does not look upon the local church as "the true church." This implies each local church is a false church and not a true church of Jesus Christ. This is an awful slam upon every local church which is a true, authentic, and genuine church.
3. The universal, invisible church robs God of His glory. The Bible teaches that God receives glory in this age through the church (Eph. 3:21). But the local church has little or no place in the majority of modern schools, radio programs, or missionary endeavors. Men are appropriating to themselves the glory which belongs to God in and through His church. They glory in their little Babels, while turning up their noses at the church which Jesus actually built. All these extra scriptural organizations, void of church authority and without Heaven's sanction, are nothing but parasites upon the backs of local churches. They contribute nothing to the true churches but take much from them. By doing this they rob God of His glory.
4. This theory is responsible for much of the disobedience with regard to the ordinances. Why are there so many professed Christians not church members? Why so many nominal believers living without New Testament baptism? Why is there little or no desire to remember the Lord's death? It is because vast multitudes have been convinced they are already members of the big imaginary church which is the real important thing. These unbaptized, disobedient, misguided souls pride themselves as being a part of "the true church." To many of them the ordinances are "non-essentials" which greatly divide the body of Christ. It would be below their dignity to concern themselves with such "minor details." They feel they have the baptism of the Holy Spirit and that is all that really matters. Any system of teaching which causes men to fail to be baptized as Christ was does not honor the Head of the church.
5. This theory is responsible for much of the inter-denominationalism and non-denominationalism of this generation. According to modern thinking, to be "unsectarian" is to become an angel among devils! Heretical preachers and union revivalists have founded their whole movements upon the premise that all Christians are in "the true church." They say Christians should drop their "petty differences" and work together to advance the "cause of Christ." Down with the little local church which stands in the way of "church unity." Invite all to the "Lord's table" regardless of their faith or lack of saving faith. Take anyone's immersion regardless of what they teach. Doctrine is not important. We have no creed but Christ. This is the cry heard from universal, invisible church men in this generation even in so-called Baptists ranks.
Baptist churches have nothing to gain from a union meeting and everything to lose. By such meetings Baptists declare that man-made churches are equally churches of Jesus Christ, although many of them teach just the opposite of what Christ taught! With the pleasing pretense that there is "no difference," Baptist churches are affectionately requested to surrender the doctrine of God's sovereignty, salvation by grace, and believer's baptism. The reason they must do this we are told is because we are all members of the big church, the mystical body of Christ made up of all believers. For Baptists to unite with heretics is to say that error is as good as truth, disobedience is as good as obedience, unrighteousness is as good as righteousness. All know that this is not so. The truth is a sacred truth that we Baptists have no right to betray for any cause or under any circumstance.
6. This theory promotes the Ecumenical Movement which is destined to become the Great Whore (the apostate church) in the Book of Revelation. Those familiar with the writings of ecumenical leaders know these liberals plead a visible union of all churches on the basis of the fact that all believers are in the universal, invisible church. These super church men know that so long as a Christian makes the true church the local church which is sound doctrinally, he will never become a part of the Ecumenical Movement.
Liberals in the Southern Baptist Convention have been laboring for years to get rid of Landmarkism, or the belief in a local, visible church to the exclusion of a universal, invisible church. They know that Landmarkism must go before the Southern Baptist churches will be willing to enter the National and World Councils of Churches.
W. 0. Carver (1868-1954) taught for years that the word church is used in the New Testament primarily to refer to "the universal, invisible spiritual church, regenerate believers, constituting the body of Christ." This teaching can be found in an article on "Baptist Churches" written by Carver for the book, edited by R. Newton Flew, entitled: The Nature Of The Church. Mr. Carver's paper on "Baptist Churches" was a part of a "group of papers, prepared as material for discussion at the Third World Conference on Faith and Order At Lund, Sweden, (which) gets down to specifics in hope for church unity in Christendom" (inside front jacket).
You want more proof that the universal, invisible church teaching is preparing Southern Baptist for entrance into the Ecumenical Movement? E. Glen Hinson, Professor of Church History, Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, KY, has written a book called The Integrity Of The Church. It is filled with the invisible church doctrine and ecumenicalism. Hinson believes Baptists should engage in "dialogue, cooperation, and communion" with other denominations (p. 87). The reason for this is all Christians are in "the one body." He also says, "Christians can learn much from other faiths and thus should welcome the current trend toward dialogue" (p. 95). On page 141 he mentions "a Christian Marxist dialogue going on in Europe."
Mr. Hinson declares on page 33 that if we consider the Bible infallible and inerrant in all its parts, "we will apostatize from what it teaches by letting bigotry create an excuse of zeal to make everyone believe what we believe." On pages 110-111 he justifies the ordination of women to the ministry and pleads with churches to push for ERA. On page 140 he says, "To affirm evolution is not to deny God ..." On page 145 he says the job of the church is not "winning the lost to Christ" but to make "a wholesome, well integrated person within the context of the society in which he or she lives."
Please consider that this liberal has no problem with belief in a universal, invisible church. All liberals hold to the big church idea. Ye not one single person who believes in the local church only can be found who is a liberal theologian. This fact alone should open some people's eyes. If liberals and the leaders of the Ecumenical Movement were deprived of their invisible church, they would lose their chief argument for the super church they seek to build. This also should open some people's eyes. Furthermore, I would ask can a system of teaching which fits perfectly with liberal theology and fosters the Ecumenical Movement be of God?
7. This erroneous view greatly confuses Christians. It would have them to believe there are two different kinds of churches in the world today, one local and visible while the other is invisible and universal. When they read the Bible and come across the word church, they must pause and ask themselves, "Which church is this?" To ascertain the answer they must not consult the Holy Spirit but books written by universal church men to know the answer. To teach that Christ has two different kinds of churches in the world today is contradictory to the Bible. Ephesians 4:5 says: "There is one (as to kind) body." Universal, invisible church people have two bodies!
According to I Corinthians 4:5, a church must be assembled to carry out its business. Paul said it must "gather together." This can only be so of a local church. The universal, invisible church has never yet assembled as some of its members are not yet born. Nevertheless, invisible church theorists insist a person must believe this never assembled church is the "true church" of Jesus Christ. This is most confusing to any intelligent person who can see from I Corinthians 5:4 that what can't gather together cannot properly be considered a church in the New Testament sense.
The Bible teaches disorderly church members are to be disciplined (Matt. 18:15-20; I Cor. 5:9-13; II Thess. 3:6; Titus 3:10). This is to prevent the church from being blamed with their sin. This is the command of God for the local church. But if the big church idea is true God allows people in "the true church" which He commanded us to exclude from the local church! This would make God inconsistent and foolish, a thing which we know cannot be. Yet if the Lord has only one kind of church, a local church, then there is no problem.
8. This theory is utterly impractical in preaching the gospel to a lost world. If such a thing as the universal, invisible church exists, its membership is known only to God. It has never met or assembled in all the history of the world. Hence it furnishes no place for believers to engage in public worship (Heb. 10:25). It has no church covenant as a covenant can only exist between members of a local church. It has no ordinances or officers, for these are for real churches. It has no church building, no song books, no musical instruments, no pews, no pulpit, and no offering box. It has and exercises no earthly authority. It has no mission in the world or message for the lost world. It has never been persecuted by the world as the world has never seen it. It cannot receive members, nor exclude members. It has never sent out one missionary and never will. It has no Sunday School, no vacation Bible schools, no music schools, and no evangelistic meetings. Its fellowship is imaginary. It is only a mere concept of the mind, a spooky thing and not a true New Testament church.
Since the organization of the Jerusalem Church by Jesus Christ, the emphasis in Christianity has been upon the "churches of God" (I Cor. 11:16). This is the only way the congregational life of the Christian faith can be expressed.
Even the most pronounced advocates of the invisible church are forced by stark realities to organize multitudes of congregations to meet the need of their religious programs. From the practical stand point, none of them want to preach in an invisible church to invisible members who sit in invisible pews. No universal, invisible church preacher wants to pastor an invisible church nor draw an invisible salary. Isn't it strange that they make so much over the supposed invisible church!
9. This theory ruins young preachers. Often some young Landmark preacher will begin to read the Puritans who were universal church men. He will become so engrossed with their writings that he embraces their ecclesiology, never knowing that the Puritans were bitter persecutors of their Baptist forefathers. At other times some young Land mark preachers will hear some silver-tongued, Reformed Baptist preacher bring a great message on justification. He becomes so carried away with such a person that he jumps on the Reformed (I prefer the term "Deformed") Baptist bandwagon. I personally know of some who did this and became scarcely less than immersed Presbyterians.
In my lifetime I have seen this theory ruin the ministry of young preachers in our ranks. Some very promising young ministers were widely used in revival meetings and Bible conferences. Others were successful pastors. Then they jumped on the universal, invisible church bandwagon. Some lost their churches, had their revival work terminated, and ceased to be used on Bible conference programs. At least two ended up having to go to work in a store to support their families. It grieves me to see our young men fulfill the prophetic Scripture (II Tim. 4:3-4). I, for one, long to see them be recovered from their errors. The universal, invisible church took much away from them and gave them nothing in return.