August 7, 2012
To understand where the doctrine of the universal church leads it is necessary to understand where it came from. We need to understand where it started, why it started, and how it has evolved.
Where did the doctrine start? The doctrine is not seen in the Scriptures unless you come with a prejudice. Every single passage in the New Testament that pertains to the church or the body of Christ makes perfect sense and is completely consistent with the idea of a local church. Two men in the fourth century are the source of this doctrine. The first was Constantine, who was making his form of “Christianity” the religion of the state. The second was Augustine, who confused the kingdom (basileia) and the church (ecclesia) in his book “The City of God.”
Why was this doctrine introduced into Christendom? It was Constantine’s tool to control the people of the Roman Empire. This explains why he chose to unite with the corrupted Christianity that later became the Roman Catholic Church. This branch was willing to unite with the state to gain power over the people.
The universal church of Constantine and Augustine is not the universal church that is taught today. It was a visible church and only included all of the “saved” that were alive at any given time. It had the Pope, as the vicar of Christ, as the head. It taught that there was no salvation outside of the Roman Catholic (universal) church.
There was an evolution at the time of the Reformation. I am using the basic definition of the word “evolution”, which means the formation or growth of something, such as the evolution of the English language.
You can imagine the difficulty of those who were kicked out of the Catholic Church during the Reformation. They were taught that salvation was through the universal visible church. They had been taught that there was no salvation outside of the universal visible church. Now that they were on the outside they had a real problem.
Did the Protestants go to the Scriptures to find the truth? No! Instead they invented a new doctrine, the doctrine of the universal invisible church. The Protestants don’t even agree on who is in this new invisible church. Some think it includes all of the saved of all ages and others think it only includes those saved between Pentecost the Rapture. There are other theories also but these two are the most prominent beliefs.
So, we have no universal church from Christ to Constantine, a universal visible church from Constantine to the Reformation, and an invisible universal church from the Reformation until today. The doctrine is a doctrine of man and it is not found in Scripture. For those of you who think you can find it in Scripture need to read my book “Universal Church: Fact or Fiction.”
Now lets look at the logical conclusion of the universal church doctrine. Looking at the origins of this doctrine we see that the original “universal church” was the visible Roman Catholic Church. The reason for the protest of the Protestants was corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. For the most part the differences were not doctrinal. A lot of the corruption of the middle ages is gone and what little remains is also found in most Protestant churches.
This being the case it, is logical that all should return to the Roman Catholic Church (the mother church) for the sake of unity. This explains why we see the cooperation with the Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church.
While we were missionaries in France we saw this logic in practice. We met another missionary, who was a convert from the Jehovah Witnesses. After his conversion he became a Baptist missionary. He started studying the doctrine of the universal church, not from the Scriptures, but from theological books. He followed what he found to its logical conclusion and joined the Roman Catholic Church.
This is the logical conclusion because if the original church was the Roman Catholic Church, and if the Roman Catholic Church has cleaned up its act, then we should unite with it so Christ’s “body” will be united. It makes sense for Protestants because, except for a few minor things, they believe the same false doctrines as the Catholic Church, and there is nothing to separate them. They both believe in baptismal regeneration, sacraments and works in salvation, the uniting of church and state, and other false doctrines.
Baptists, on the other hand, believe in salvation by grace, through faith, without works. Baptists have no sacraments, they have two ordinances. Baptists believe that the state and church are not to be joined together. They do not believe that the state is separated from God since He ordains all powers, but the state has no power over the churches, and the churches have no power to use the government to force their precepts on the people.
For Protestants the return to their mother church is logical. Were it not for the fact that many Baptists have been protestantized, there would be no logical reason for them to join with the Catholic Church. It is important that we, as Baptists, keep the Bible as our authority and not the teachings of men.
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