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Universal Church: Fact or Fiction – Introduction

Baptists exist because they refused to be associated with those who changed the meaning and purpose of baptism. From the time in the second century when baptismal regeneration became prominent, until sometime after the Reformation, Baptists stood separate from the apostasy of those churches which later became the Catholic or Universal Church. Sometime after the Reformation, they became protestantized (allow me to invent a new word) and over time accepted the false doctrine of the “universal church.” If the “true church” is the “universal body of Christ” how could Baptists maintain this separation? If we all are part of one great universal church, shouldn’t we all join together in the work of Christ under the authority of the Catholic (universal) Church?

The doctrine of the universal church is the basis of the ecumenical movement. This doctrine teaches that since we are all part of the “true church” we should all join together in Christ’s service. This is not what the Scriptures teach.

I Timothy 6:3-5 tells us:

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing

nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. (Emphasis mine.)

It is not my purpose in this book to deal in depth with the issue of separation, but this passage does tell us to withdraw ourselves from those who teach other than what the Scriptures teach. That would surely include churches that are based on false doctrine. Many denominations teach false doctrine on such important things as how one is saved. Baptists are not to join with them, but withdraw ourselves from them.

The universal church doctrine has an effect on church discipline. How can someone be put out of a local church for immorality or false doctrine if they are still part of the “universal or true church?”

There are two other important doctrines that Baptists have stood for from the beginning. These are the authority of, and the autonomy of, the local church. If the “true church” is universal, is it not a bit prideful to stand for these doctrines? The Scriptures clearly teach that the church is to be unified, but if every church has the right to be self-governed, how can this unity exist? If the true church is universal, then what the Catholic (universal) Church teaches about no salvation outside the church and having a “vicar of Christ”, the Pope, to keep unity makes perfect sense. If, on the other hand, the true church is a local assembly, shouldn’t we follow the simple structure we find in Scripture to keep unity in a church?

Even though there is nothing in the New Testament to support the idea of a universal church, unless you bring the idea in from outside and try to find support, many Baptists continue to believe in and teach its existence. This doctrine undermines everything Baptists have stood for since the time of the apostles. It also flies in the face of biblical ecclesiology.

Baptists have sat at the feet of Protestants too long. We have been protestantized by using Protestant systematic theology books in our schools. It is time we cease to follow the error of the Protestants on this issue and examine the doctrine of the church from the Scriptures. Getting doctrine from theology books is always dangerous because such books are written by fallible men. If we get our doctrine of the true church from Scripture, we will find that it is the local church. The Scriptures will show the universal church to be a fraud foisted upon Baptists by the Catholics and Protestants. The Catholics developed the universal visible church and the Protestants invented a new doctrine of the universal invisible church because they needed to justify their leaving the Catholic Church. It had taught them that there was no salvation outside the church, and they found themselves outside of the Catholic Church.

C. I. Scofield probably had more to do with Baptists accepting this false universal church doctrine than any other individual. Many of us older Baptists were raised on the Scofield Bible. It was well loved by Baptists because its study notes taught dispensationalism and the pre-tribulation rapture. An on line search shows that Scofield has many detractors. Most of them are trying to destroy his reputation only because they disagree with his doctrine. This is not my purpose here.

His study notes have had great influence among Bible-believing Baptists, and for the most part, this influence has been good. What I want to point out is that he was not a Baptist and some of his doctrine did not line up with Scripture. He, like all the rest of us who write on biblical subjects, was not infallible. One example of his doctrinal errors can be seen in his notes on Genesis 1:1-2 where he taught the gap theory of creation. Here is what his notes say.

Without form and void

Jer. 4:23-27; Isa. 24:1; Isa. 45:18 clearly indicate that the earth had undergone a cataclysmic change as a result of divine judgment. The face of the earth bears everywhere the marks of such a catastrophe. There are not wanting imitations which connect it with a previous testing and fall of angles.

Relative to the discussion on the church, it must be remembered that he was born into a nominal Episcopalian family. After his conversion he was the pastor (even though he was divorced) of Congregational churches, and in his latter years became a Presbyterian. He was a Protestant and held Protestant doctrine concerning the church.

The purpose of this work is to bring us back to a scriptural view of the church. I ask you to prayerfully examine this material and study it with an open mind.

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