The Universal Church: Fact Or Fiction?

Dr Pierre Coovert

I have started writing a new book on the church. It may be some time before I finish it but I wanted to share the introduction with you in this post. As I finish each chapter I will post it hear so you can read it. Some of you will agree and some will disagree. Look at these things with an open mind and search the Scriptures to see if they are so.


Baptists exist because they refused to be associated with those who changed the meaning and purpose of baptism. From that time in the second century until sometime after the Reformation they 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 can we maintain this separation? If we are all part of one great Universal Church shouldn’t we all join together in the work of Christ?

The basis of the ecumenical movement is the doctrine of the universal church. It 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. Listen to I Timothy 6:3-5 “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.”

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 surly include churches that are based on false doctrine. Many denominations teach error in such basic things as how one is saved. We are not to join with them, we are to withdraw ourselves from them.

The universal church doctrine has an effect on church discipline. How can you put someone out of your 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 the local church 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 then 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 it is relatively simple, using the structure we find in Scripture, to keep unity in the 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 instead of from theology books. If we do the “true” church will be found to be the local church and the “universal church” will be found to be a fraud foisted upon us by the Protestants. They formed this new doctrine because they needed to justify their leaving the Catholic Church which had taught them that there was not salvation outside the church.

C. I. Scofield probably had more to do with Baptists accepting this false theory 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 online search shows that he 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 Baptist, and for the most part it 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 of the rest of us who write on biblical subjects, was not infallible. For example, he taught the gap theory of creation.

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.

Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved

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