A response to Kent Brandenburg’s post, “Why is the idea of the universal church dangerous?” Kent was responding to my question quoted below.
A few weeks ago now, I was asked, "Why is the idea of local church only so important? Or, to put it another way, why is the idea of the universal church dangerous?" This post will answer that question.
ONE, the universal church as a teaching or belief eisegetes scripture or distorts the plain meaning of the text.
Eisegesis is truly a problem if it exists. I would agree that point number one would be a danger if it were true. In my earlier posts, however, (ek•kle•si•a and ek•kle•si•a (part 2)), In the first, I offered exegesis to support the view that the body of Christ constitutes the church and is comprised of all believers of all ages, commonly called the universal church. In the second, I wrote on the view that there are uses of the term church in the New Testament that mean more than the local church but less than the total body of Christ. I offered a term for this from Ryrie, the “visible” church.
The problem I have with comments on this point is simply that in this discussion no one has dealt with any of my points to any satisfactory degree. The only attempt that was made was to debunk my notion that the term ekklesia changed when Paul adopted it from secular usage. I don’t think that my notion has been proved wrong, but even if it were, and the term means essentially the same in both secular and New Testament usage, my point still stands: the church need not be assembled in order to continue to exist as a church.
We may end up agreeing to disagree on this point, but if you want to succeed in stating this as a danger of the universal church, you’ll have to actually deal with the exegesis I’ve offered. So far you haven’t done that.
So TWO, a universal church brings in Platonic philosophy and allegorical interpretation into the Bible. When allegorization becomes the norm, then infant sprinkling becomes a way to join the church, which is the equivalent of salvation. That has perverted the gospel. Now you can read in apostolic succession, a human priesthood, and transubstantiation.
Interesting. I have no idea how you see the idea of a universal church being related to Platonic philosophy. And it certainly isn’t the result of allegorical interpretation. An allegory is “the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence also : an instance (as in a story or painting) of such expression”1 and allegorical is “having hidden spiritual meaning that transcends the literal sense of a sacred text”2.
You’ll have to prove both those assertions, by the way. By prove, I would mean that you have to show that indeed the idea of the universal church is an idea of Platonic philosophy and is indeed something that has been inserted into the interpretation. For the charge of allegorical, you would also have to show that the universal church interpretation depends on hidden spiritual meaning. I think you’ll have a hard time with that, but if you want the charge to stick, that is what you will have to do.
THREE, the universal church belief will cause men to see all sorts of other interpretations and doctrines and practices a different way, the wrong way. It will necessarily twist other doctrines. Instead of the gifts being used in a church, now they are used outside of a church, and someone feels justified having done so, because their gift is being used in the "true church."
I’ll leave off the church council bit (not quoted here), not relevant to me.
It isn’t entirely clear what you are suggesting as a danger here. What are you talking about? My best guess is that you are attaching parachurch organizations here. But what do you mean by gifts? And how do you see the use of spiritual gifts (assuming again that is what you mean) outside a local church as dangerous?
FOUR, the universal church belief destroys all other true beliefs. The fastest way for the truth to be destroyed is to get it outside of what God built to protect it. A universal church cannot protect the truth. It doesn’t have a pastor, doesn’t practice the ordinances, and doesn’t practice church discipline, all ways that the truth is protected and preserved. The universal church as a container for truth has holes all over it and it results in exponentially fast distortion of the truth. The truth can only be protected at a local level. Other of the reasons related directly to this one.
I believe the biggest reason for postmodern Christianity, emergents or emerging, and loosey-goosey dealing with the truth comes directly out of the wrong view of the church. When a universal church guy wants to protect the truth, generally he writes a book on it or has a conference or a council or a coalition. None of those are biblical ways, because the only biblical ways are done by an actual church and none of what the Bible says about a church protecting or preserving the truth is those things.
I quote this one in its entirety because it is a little difficult for readers to get my response if they don’t see the whole thing.
Wow! Incredible. Those who teach there is such a thing as a universal church also teach that there is such a thing as a local church and that these local churches are led by pastors, etc. As such, these Christians function in exactly the same role you claim the local church only advocates do. They practice the ordinances as well, and church discipline. So let’s ask this question: If we were to abandon the universal church idea and embrace local only, what would change about our practice of the Christian faith? Answer: nothing.
You will have to prove that the universal church teaching actually leads to postmodern Christianity, etc, in order to make this one stick as well. I don’t see it. Your saying it is so is an opinion. You have offered nothing to back it up.
FIVE, the universal church disables biblical unity and biblical separation. This, of course, is related to the truth, as I said that other reasons directly relate the destruction of all other beliefs, including the gospel. The unity of the Bible and the separation of the Bible will never be practiced consistently by a universal church person.
Just not so, as I argued on your blog. I don’t think anyone would accuse me of failing to practice separation. You responded on your blog that I am an anomaly – but I don’t think that is so at all. I have many cohorts who agree with me on the church yet are at least as separated as I am, some more so. Perhaps some might say I am not consistent, which is probably true, but there are plenty of local only men who are not consistent as well.
So, SIX, the universal church belief causes scripture to contradict itself. Scripture won’t contradict itself, even as God won’t deny Himself, but unity and separation contradict with a universal church belief. It becomes impossible not to contradict. That doctrine cannot be true.
This is really the same as point one. If the Scripture teaches a universal church idea, then it doesn’t contradict the local church idea. It doesn’t contradict anything, the Scriptures never contradict themselves. So the question is, does the Scripture teach it or not. See point one.
And, therefore, SEVEN, the universal church destroys church purity. Here’s how it happens. I want to use music and worship as an example. A church doesn’t break fellowship with a church that plays rock music, because "all believers are the true church." The rock music church claims to believe in salvation by grace through faith. The people in the church that doesn’t use rock music are influenced by the rock music church. More in the non-rock music church begin accepting it. The non-rock music church starts using rock music. I’ve seen this again and again in my lifetime.
Man, you may have seen many use a false view of unity to justify a lack of separation but that is a false view of unity, not a false view of the church. You can’t lay that one at the feet of universal church doctrine.
EIGHT, the universal church belief results in people wasting their lives with wood, hay, and stubble. Gold, silver, and precious stone are about the temple of God, which is local only. Paul said, "Ye are the temple of God." There are thousands that work in "ministries" that are not in fact worship of God, but another ox-cart of their own invention. They are wasting their time and their life.
I think you are repeating yourself here. See point three above.
I get it that you think parachurch organizations are wrong. I get that it flows from your view of local only, but I don’t see parachurch orgs as a danger. BTW, the wood hay and stubble in 1 Cor 3 are accumulated in a local church, not a parachurch organization.
NINE, the universal church belief brings the following mess-ups that could each be their own separate explanation of the dangers of the universal church
Can’t go through all your long list of mess-ups. Suffice to say that you are mostly repeating yourself here. But also that you are not proving a connection between these mess-ups and the universal church doctrine. For these things to really be the dangers of the doctrine their has to be a connection. I don’t see a connection in any of the things you list.
TEN, the universal church belief will be the final belief of the anti-christ, who will lead a universal church. That church will feel justified, I believe, by the same arguments as the universal church. Jesus will destroy the universal church. A universal church contradicts replenish the earth. It is a modern tower of Babel. Babylon is the final religion, the universal church, that will be destroyed.
So the antichrist will think that the souls that have been raptured are a part of his church? For him to believe the same thing that I do about the universal church he would have to. I kind of think that he probably won’t want to be saying that, don’t you?
People ask me why church doctrine is so serious. Why would we separate over it? If you give in on the church, you now give in on every single doctrine. If you say there is a universal church, now someone can and will practice universal church, and then all other doctrines will be perverted. Could there be a true doctrine that is true that would cause all of that? No way.
I don’t see this at all. It’s really preposterous. There have been many stalwart believers who haven’t given in on every single doctrine, or indeed even on on any single doctrine. You are really reaching with this.
To sum up, as I said on your blog, what I get from what you wrote are basically these objections or dangers:
- It is unbiblical
- It damages the doctrine of separation
- It allows for parachurch organizations/activities
- It will foster the one-world church of the antichrist
You responded that I am oversimplifying. Let me add one more category:
- It damages all other orthodox doctrines.
I think all of your dangers can fit under those heads. Fair enough, you have told me what you think. You haven’t proven that any of these problems are necessarily the result of universal church doctrine. My objection to your objections are either:
- Non sequittur – it doesn’t follow (four out of my five categories).
- Not a danger – it doesn’t matter (parachurch).
Likely we will not come to an agreement on this and I am fine with letting it sit, but I wonder if you can prove the connections you think exist between the doctrine of the universal church and these problems.