these are dangers?

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:

  1. It is unbiblical
  2. It damages the doctrine of separation
  3. It allows for parachurch organizations/activities
  4. 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.



  1. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003). []
  2. Ibid. []


  1. Hi Don,

    I didn’t detect snark or bad stuff you may have been referring to. Maybe I have a high threshold for it or it’s just not in there. I’m not going to deal with what you said above right now, except four points, one being, to make the kind of connections you’re asking for, I think, would take a book, which I wouldn’t mind writing, but it would. They are historical connections, which would take very careful dealings with a ton of reading. . I think that there is some scriptural parallels that can be used. I wasn’t trying to prove these were dangers, just list the dangers. I have twice taught historical theology class. I have read a lot of Baptist history. There is a lot available today because of technology.

    I actually did more to prove it than was being asked, which wasn’t at all. I just answered the question with a little more than what was asked. The fact that I overlapped, repeated myself, etc. — not surprising. Could we call that nuance? I would guess that most local only guys, totally disconnected from me, would agree perhaps 100% on the list I gave, without us even comparing notes. I didn’t read anything to write that post. I think the answer to that question should already be in someone’s head. If I’ve got to look something up to list the dangers, they’re probably not dangers.

    Two, obviously those raptured won’t be there to be a part of the final one world church, but unsaved people will think they’re in one. It’s an apostate church, people fooled by a false doctrine. It works. If possible, he could deceive the very elect. This is already being set up nicely IMO with the Charismatic movement part of “the church,” the big one.

    Three, I don’t know how I haven’t answered your ekklesia. It seems it’s still your, ‘they’re still a church when they’re not assembled’ point. You were making, it seems again, a point about the usages being different from the pre-NT historical to the biblical. The meaning of ekklesia is one argument. I think it should be talked about. I don’t see it helping universal church people, because we’ve got an assembly that assembles for a particular purpose (government, edification for the Great Commission, etc.) — same usage pre-NT history and in the Bible — and a heavenly assembly for other than assembly purposes. An unassembled assembly is not the point of ekklesia and it isn’t how it’s then used in the NT. I’m up for discussing any NT usages, but I think you know already, there are none that will prove a universal church. They can only be universal if that is read into the text. So you’ve got a very important doctrine of yours, based upon silence.

    Four, allegory is spiritualizing. I just use them interchangeably, and your definitions didn’t seem to be a problem there. An allegorical church in the OT must be seen in the NT to justify an earthly kingdom (amillennialism). You are saying that this does not relate at all to Origen and Roman Catholicism? Circumcision is allegorized too as an entrance requirement. I would have been sure you see this.

    • Ok, quick reply, you managed to be up late also!

      On the one world church of the antichrist, let’s suppose that no one pre rapture held to a universal church. No one in all of church history. (Humongous hypothetical, I know.) but if that were the case, would it prevent the one world church of the antichrist? Of course not!

      So I don’t see the doctrine contributing to that danger.

      In the end, however, the question boils down to one point. Does the Bible teach it or not? If not, we shouldn’t hold it. If yes, it doesn’t matter how dangerous it is, if it’s there, we have to hold it.

      More later

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. d4v34x says:

    Regarding a repurposing (yes, there’s a term for it!) of ekklesia, I have to think John’s usage of logos (by necessity much different from the previous philisophical usages) should help your (Don’s) case. I brought it up at Kent’s blog, but got no feedback.

    Maybe I’m missing some glaring point that no one wants to tell me? :)

    • D4,

      I didn’t know you were serious about logos–I thought it was an offhand comment. I wasn’t attempting to skip it. Almost all of the Greek words in the NT were around before they were used in the NT. In a good lexicon (BDAG) and word study book (Kittel, Colin Brown), you get secular and LXX usage. Almost every week, I bring out something from the Greek usage — it is especially good in the epistles, where you have these Gentile cities and Paul using words that Corinth would relate with, etc.

      There is a big difference between logos in John 1, which is what I would think you’re referring to, and the use of ekklesia. In a few instances in John 1, John was using logos with relations to its philosophical understanding. It’s obvious it is happening and why John does it. Logos was actually used that way in secular literature. Ekklesia is not used in a platonic or spiritualized sense in secular usage, so the logos example hurts the universal church argument, more than helps.

      • Hi Kent,

        Are you saying that the New Testament doesn’t develop the meaning of words in any specialized Christian sense? I’m first of all speaking generically here, just as a concept. I would be shocked if you would say yes.

        But what I hear you arguing for is somehow hemming in ekklesia to a wooden mold from secular usage and insisting that it holds that content of meaning throughout the NT. I don’t see any justification for that. I hope to put something out soon that will show a development of meaning, possibly even in the NT itself.

        To use another example: diakonos – certainly has a specialized Christian meaning regardless of the secular usage, no?

        Don Johnson
        Jer 33.3

        • Hi Don,

          As you would know, words have a meaning, which is why they’re used, we learn more by how they’re used. The previous usage does have the base meaning, the fundamental understanding, and they don’t stray from that. They aren’t taffy to be jerked around to our liking. I’m not claiming you want to do that, but it is just true, that we don’t do that. Even with logos, we get what John’s doing because the word comes into scripture with that understanding. It’s really just being honest with the words, what we all want to be, should want to be, to know what God said.

          This is a big deal because of what is at stake with the church. It’s not like we’re dealing with the meaning of a preposition here — not that that might not be important — but it relates to so much of what we do, and whether God will be worshiped. The problems that you fight for, I believe, come down to this.

  3. Maybe I meant “fight against” not fight for….but you get the gist.

    • Interesting. But as for words not being taffey… I don’t know. Sometimes they are, it all depends on usage.

      And it is also true that the apostles quite rightly invest words with specialized meaning such that it means something completely new. Usually there is a relationship to the past meaning, but it is informative not prescriptive. Again, diakonos is a good example.

      Ekklesia means more in the New Testament than it does in secular literature. It has to. What we are debating is exactly what it means and how it has changed from its secular usage.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. d4v34x says:

    Bro. B.,
    So Jesus is exactly what the contemporary users of logos meant by that word?

    • D4,

      Logos is being used in John 1 like it had been used in the past by Greek philosophers. It means “word,” but philosophers used it to describe the a divine mind out there that gives people the ability to think and act and it was impersonal. John is saying that the Divine mind is somewhere to found in a Person, in the body of Jesus Christ. He’s refuting their Gnostic error by using their concept and turning it his direction, toward the truth. More could be said about logos, but John was using it with a base meaning that the Greek philosophers used, but enlightening them to what they were missing, like Paul does with the unknown God in Acts 17. The Logos, Jesus, was not platonic, because the reality was in the physical body of Jesus. There was no metaphysical divine guide for the universe, a Gnostic myth, but God was in a body. The church is physical too, not some platonic concept in line with Gnostic thought.

      • Just a small point but Gnosticism is second century, not first. John isn’t refuting Gnosticism.

        Don Johnson
        Jer 33.3

        • Hi,

          So you don’t think that docetism and dualism and a belief that said that flesh is evil and spirit is good, those kinds of thing, weren’t refuted by John? Those would be gnosticism at least in incipient form.

          • Ok, now you are getting closer to accuracy. Most commentators use the incipient word. Personally, I don’t buy it. There may have been some seeds of it, but it wasn’t anywhere near full blown Gnosticism at that point. I actually think John was communicating his own idea more than he was refuting current philosophy.

            Don Johnson
            Jer 33.3

          • Hi,

            This is your blog and your post, so you are welcome to shut down anything I say, but in my reading and in my listening to preaching and in my study for years, I have seen in both the Johanine epistles and the Pauline epistles a dealing with forms of Gnosticism. Just as an example, Paul in Colossians said that in Christ dwells all the fulness of the godhead bodily. So would you say that there was no answer to Gnostic ideas there? They would have said that there was no way Christ could be fully God in the flesh, and Paul says, yes, He was fully God in the body? I have no problem admitting that there is no archaeologial evidence for Gnosticism, but the ideas of the Gnostics — those were prevailing all over the world. They didn’t arise suddenly with Gnostic manuscripts that are only preserved from a later date, I don’t believe. Wasn’t Paul and John answering false teachers?

          • Well, true enough. They were confronting false teachers. I’ve just not been convinced that it was Gnosticism per se. But then, that’s just my uninformed opinion.

            I’d say we should probably wait for d4 to chime in before pursuing this rabbit trail more. And a lot of my resources on John are still packed up.

            Don Johnson
            Jer 33.3

          • d4v34x says:

            No need to wait for me at all.

            It just seems to me that appropriating a term that describes an impersonal divine mind to Jesus is not the correction of error so much as a repurposing of the term. Using it in a way that retains portions of the old meaning but shedding others. Does it correct an error of pagan philosophy, ‘yes. Is that the intent? I don’t think so.

            That’s all I was pointing out. Which, imo, opens up other terms to be examined for repurposed usage.

          • D4, right, I would agree. I like the term “repurposing”. It says so succinctly what I have been saying verbosely.

            Don Johnson

  5. d4v34x says:

    Verbosity certainly has its place. :)

    I should tweak what I said above about the repurposing of logos. John used it in a way that retained portions of the old meaning, shed others, as well as adding new meaning. That last is quite important to this discussion, I think.

  6. D4 and Don,

    I don’t have a problem with every word in the NT being “repurposed.” All of it is sanctified in a way that it wasn’t before it came into scripture. Of course, there is the point of the words being forever settled in heaven, in the mind of God before the foundations of the world—so which actually came first?

    Regarding ekklesia, you say “retain portion of the meaning.” So the part about “assembly,” the actual meaning, leaves? That’s unprecedented. The word means assembly but when it appears in scripture it means unassembly? Jesus could have used a number of different Greek words for His institution and He chose congregation. There were other words available that would have communicated what you’re saying. For instance, oklos could have been used or deemos, and more Ekklesia is very, very specific. You don’t use it and then gut it of its basic meaning — that’s not how it works. Other words aren’t even used to describe ekklesia. There isn’t a usage that gives you pause or reason to think that it doesn’t mean how it was used previous to the NT.

    • Kent, the word ‘assembly’ refers to any group of people anywhere meeting for any purpose. Ekklesia had pretty well that meaning in the secular Greek literature. When Jesus and the apostles began to use it, they used it for a very specific assembly with specific rules and functions.

      I really can’t believe we are actually discussing this point. Surely you know this?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  7. d4v34x says:

    Conversely, the apostles general use of the pronoun “she” was not repurposed (despite Bro. B.’s argument by hyperbolic concession) in any real sense. Standard usage by inspired writers is not repurposing as we have tentatively defined it here.