Baptists have been betrayed into the hands of Protestantism by
their own historians. While Protestantism failed in the 16th and
17th centuries to destroy them by fire and imprisonment, they have
succeeded in the 20th century through compromise and the rewriting
of history in absorbing much of Baptist life.
The issue involved is whether
Jesus made and kept His promise to the church of God that it
would never fail through all ages, from its origin to His return, or
whether that promise was made only to the kingdom of God,
while the true church became hopelessly corrupted prior to the 16th
century Reformation. In more simple terms: do we have a perpetuity
of true New Testament churches from Galilee and the ministry of
Jesus, or do we have it only from the Reformation of the 16th
The answer to this question
depends largely upon the nature of the church and the
commitment Jesus made to it, as set forth in the New Testament
Scriptures. Once this is determined we propose, in this manuscript,
to also support the perpetuity of that church in history.
Nature of the Church
The issue that has separated
Baptists from Protestants through the centuries has been the
nature of the church. Baptists have held that the church is
always local in nature, and a visible body, while
Protestants, not able to completely free themselves from the
influence of their Roman mother, hold that the true church is
universal in nature, and therefore invisible. They are not
able to distinguish between the kingdom of God into which all
believers are born, and the church of God, which Jesus called
out as a distinct body to serve as the executive of the kingdom.
The only place to determine the
true nature of a New Testament church is the New Testament itself.
Just what did Jesus declare that He was going to build, and what did
His apostles and other New Testament writers consider to be the
nature of the churches to whom they ministered and wrote to be? Did
Jesus call it together Himself, or did He leave it to the minds of
theologians to determine for themselves in later centuries? Does it
have distinct teachings set forth in the New Testament, or are men
free to make their own?
Just what kind of church did Jesus
say He was going to build? When Jesus and John the Baptist came
preaching, they declared that the "kingdom of heaven [or kingdom of
God]" was at hand, and when Jesus spoke to the multitude that
believed on Him, He told them about the kingdom of God. He
told them that many would "sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and
Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 8:11). When He spoke to
Nicodemus about being born again, He spoke about entering the
kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). He also told Pilate, "My kingdom is
not of this world" (John 18:36). But when He took His twelve chosen
apostles to upper Galilee for a more intimate discussion, He
introduced them to a totally different word. There in the regions of
Caesarea Philippi He told the twelve that He was going to build His
church - His "ekklesia."
While this was a new word
introduced into Je-sus' discussion with His disciples, it was not
new to the Greek vocabulary in which the record is written, but a
term that was well-known and commonly understood.
The word is actually a compound of
two Greek terms: "ek," meaning "out of," and "kaleo,"
meaning "to call." There can be little question of the intent of its
usage in the New Testament. Even Dr. C. I. Scofield, who is largely
responsible for popularizing the universal, invisible church theory
through his notes in the Scofield Bible, states that an accurate
definition of the word is, "an assembly of called-out ones. The word
is used of any assembly; the word itself implies no more . . ."1
If the word implies no more, then any other concept of a New
Testa-ment church has come from the minds of men and not from the
words of Jesus Christ.
An old standard Bible encyclopedia
published in 1915 makes a very clear statement separating the
kingdom from the church: "The kingdom is quite evidently not the
church, for we could hardly proclaim the Church as the first
apostles proclaimed the kingdom (Acts 8:12). On the other hand, we
certainly cannot say that the Church is an alternative after the
rejection of the kingdom. To the extent that the Church is a
fellowship of those who have accepted the kingdom, submitted to its
rule, and become its heirs, we may rather believe that it is a
creation and instrument and therefore a form and manifestation of
the kingdom prior to its final establisment in glory.
"While the kingdom is still the
theme of apostolic preaching, the word 'church' is regularly used in
Acts to denote the company of believers, more especially in
the local sense."2
A new work just off the press
gives this primary definition of a church: "A group or
assembly of persons called together for a particular purpose,"3
The common use of "ekklesia"
among the Greeks referred not merely to an ambiguous assembly, but
rather to a particular kind of assembly. Dr. Paul Goodwin,
for forty years a professor at the Missionary Baptist Seminary,
Little Rock, Arkansas, has clearly presented its use. He says, "A
close observation of the word 'ekklesia' (church) reveals
three ways in which it is used: namely, (1) Greek; (2) Hebrew; (3)
"The Greek ekklesia was the assembly of free citizens of
a city-state. The meeting was usually called by an individual
who ran through the streets of the city blowing a horn." As he
points out, the only place this usage is found in the New
Testament is in Acts 19:35-41, where the town clerk stops a mob
and reminds them that there is a lawful assembly (ekklesia)
where such matters should be settled. But, as he then states,
"Even this mob 'called out' to stop the work of Paul and his
fellow helpers was called a 'church.' The word used is 'ekklesia'
and is translated 'assembly' only three tunes in all the New
Testament. The rest of the time it is translated 'church.' This
mob was a crowd of people called out for a purpose, and that
means it was a church, but certainly it was not the Lord's
church, a New Testament Church!
Universal church brethren often use this passage to support
their concept that the church is made up of all believers in both
the Old and New Testaments, but this passage proves more than they
can swallow. These brethren want a universal and invisible church,
yet no such word is found here. Ekklesia in Acts 7:38
describes a very local and visible assembly. Such a concept would
also make national Israel the church in the Old Testament, a concept
that Jesus Himself would not recognize in His personal ministry.
This group certainly did not become a part of the church simply
adapted to the New Testament period. Instead, John the Baptist
upbraided them without mercy, refused to accept them, and made new
converts to form a new organization, as is clearly stated in Acts
1:21, 22. If the church of the New Testament can be an invisible
body, is it not reasonable to believe that an assembly described in
the Old Testament by the same word would also be invisible? Yet
there is no evidence whatever that the congregation of Israel,
referred to as "the church in the wilderness," was ever conceived as
being invisible. Thus Acts 7:38 sets forth more clearly than ever
that the use of "ekklesia" in the New Testament refers to a
congregation of people both local and visible, and it
is so used consistently throughout the New Testament.
"In Acts 7:38 the assembly of the children of Israel before
the tabernacle is called a church. 'This is he, that was in the
church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in
the mount Sinai, and with our fathers who received the lively
oracles to give unto us.' There were about two million members
in the ekklesia (church) in the wilderness. Now no one
would say it was a New Testament Church, for that was centuries
before Christ, but it was a church, nevertheless, and a big
Continuing with his definition of
this word, Dr. Goodwin says, "Let us note the Christian aspect of
the word 'ekklesia.' When Jesus said, 'Upon this rock I will
build my church,' He meant the church as an institution. He used the
pronoun 'my' to distinguish His church from the Hebrew and Greek
assemblies. Paul referred to the church as an institution when he
wrote: 'But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest
to behave thyself in die house of God, which is the church of the
living God, the pillar and ground of the truth' (1 Timothy 3:15).
"No reference is made here to any
particular church. Timothy was to behave himself in whatever church
he happened to be working."5
Jesus did not introduce a new word
to His disciples when He announced to them He was going to build His
church, but rather He used a word that was commonly used and well
understood by them. The difference only being that He was telling
them He was going to build His church (ekklesia), and
consequently He would establish the laws by which she would be
governed. The laws of the New Testament are the laws of that church.
They are God-given by its only head and founder, and no man on earth
can presume to change its nature or the laws by which it is
A Play on Words
Protestants and Baptists who have
fallen into its trap usually turn to the use of the word "body" to
try to establish their theory of an invisible and universal church,
in addition to the obvious local congregation so clearly set forth
by our Lord in His use of the word "ekklesia." This is simply
a play on words. The term "body" is used as a figure of speech. If
the term Jesus used in speaking of His church was so commonly
understood to refer to a local and visible assembly called out for a
specific purpose, is it not reasonable to believe He chose that
particular word because of this clear fact? There were two other
words He could have used which would have also referred to an
assembly. "Synagoga," obviously the word from which the word
synagogue comes, could have been used to refer simply to an
assembly, or He could have used the word "paneguris," which
also refers to any kind of an assembly, usually on a festive
occasion. However, instead He used the most definitive word in the
Greek language to describe a particular kind of assembly, and it is
used consistently throughout the New Testament.
It therefore follows that any
figure used to speak of the church must speak of the only clearly
defined church in the New Testament Scriptures. A figure is not used
to change the nature of what it illustrates, but rather to further
set forth the original. There is simply no Scripture or logic to
support a conclusion that the use of the term "body" speaks of a
different kind of church, or, to use the term of Protestant
theologians, the "church universal." W. E. Vine, in defining the
term "body" states that "in its figurative uses the essential idea
is preserved." Then in an effort to join the Protestant theologians
and save his reputation with them he states, "It is also used
metaphorically, of the mystic Body of Christ, with reference to the
whole Church." But he also then adds in the same paragraph that it
is used "also of a local church."6 Pray tell me
how a figure can speak of a "mystic" body and a real body also if
there is no other warrant in discussing the nature of the church to
permit it. Obviously the idea of a mystical body referring to the
"whole church," commonly accepted by Protestant thinking, is an
improvision created during the Reformation to accomodate Rome's
There can really be no question
about the "body" being a figurative reference to the "ekklesia"
when Paul states plainly hi Ephesians 1:22, 23 of "the church [ekklesia],
which is his body." To further close the issue he states in
Ephesians 4:4 that "there is one [kind of] body." There is not a
local body and an invisible body. It is either one or the other. He
adds further in verse 5 that this one kind of body has only "one
faith," one belief. That is, it cannot be composed of many different
lands of beliefs. That "faith" is "the faith which was once
delivered unto the saints," which Jude writes about with reference
to the teachings of the New Testament in Jude 3.
The church, or ekklesia, is
spoken of in an institutional sense, just as we speak of the home,
or the family, as an institution. We do not speak of a large
universal, invisible family, but an institution that is always
recognized as referring to any local household anywhere. Thus we do
not have to change the nature of the church to speak of it as an
institution. In fact Paul speaks of the husband being the head of
the wife "even as Christ is the head of the church [ekklesia]."
No one has any question about what Paul meant when he said "the
husband is the head of the wife," so why should there be any
question as to what he meant when he said "Christ is the head of the
church?" This doesn't change the nature of the local assembly, and
Paul declares that this is what the body is also. He further adds
that this ekklesia, which is His body, also has only one
baptism. This forever eliminates the attempt to have all believers
baptized into the universal, invisible church by the Holy Spirit, as
is so frequently attempted in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Otherwise, this
would invalidate baptism in water, a practice commonly accepted as
biblically standard by Baptist churches.
It is noteworthy also that many of
the epistles are addressed to a particular ekklesia. Never
are they addressed to the body, or to an invisible something that
cannot be identified. When Paul writes to "all that be in Rome." He
does not declare that he is writing to a church there, but to all
the believers there, "beloved of God, called to be saints." He gives
no indication that he is writing to either an ekklesia or the
"body." He makes it rather clear that this particular epistle is
written to all the believers in Rome.
However, it is quite different
when he writes to "the church of God which is at Corinth."
Here he addresses an ekklesia, the one that is located in the
city of Corinth. Likewise when he writes to "the churches
[plural] of Galatia." He does not address the epistle to the
church of Galatia as one body in that Roman province, but to a
number of local congregations located there, each one an ekklesia.
When he writes to "the saints which are at Ephesus," he
restricts this letter to a particular city, with instructions that
are applicable to all saints, but addressed to Ephesus - a very
visible location in Asia. Likewise when he writes to Philippi and
Colosse. When he writes to the Thessalonians, he addresses the
epistle to "the church [ekklesia]" in that city.
If the so-called "true church" was
a universal body when John wrote "the revelation of Jesus Christ"
which was to be delivered to the churches of Asia, why didn't the
Holy Spirit have him address the letter to "the church of Asia?"
Instead, He had him address it to "the seven churches" which
are in Asia. Each of these was a particular ekklesia, and a
particular message is addressed to each of them. If some would
presume to say, "But he is addressing each of these messages to the
local body," that is just the point. You can't have it both ways.
Either the church is an ekklesia, a local congregation that
can receive a particular message, or it is a universal conglomerate
of believers that has no particular faith and therefore no need of a
particular rebuke for what it believes.
Furthermore, Jesus purchased an
institution with His own blood. Paul, speaking to the elders
from the church at Ephesus, admonishes them to "feed the church [ekklesia]
of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts
20:28). Individual believers are purchased with the blood of Christ,
as is clearly stated throughout the New Testament. Examples are
Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:17. These believers make up the
kingdom of God. Jesus did not have to purchase His kingdom, it
was already His. But when He paid the price for our redemption, He
also purchased the church of God which He had established
while on earth. After His resurrection He commissioned her to
evangelize the world. That institution, made up entirely of local
congregations, is identified by the New Testament doctrines it
holds, and not by an invisible something that compromises the true
teachings of the New Testament. To misappropriate a figure, such as
the body, and make it represent something other than the true New
Testament ekklesia is a tragic error that should not be
Enter the Counterfeit
All historians are aware that the
universal, visible church came into being as a result of the merger
of the state with the church under the Roman empire. The church
became, in the mind of Rome, a universal body over which the pope
became, and continues to be, head, with all Roman Catholic churches
subject to his authority. This brought on the terrible persecutions
of what is commonly known as the Dark Ages. When the Reformers
separated from this system in the 16th century, they were determined
never to come under the pope's control again, but they had no other
concept of the church. This is made clear in a number of histories,
but an example of the record is found in one edited by Hans J.
Hillerbrand: "Like all medieval criticism, Zwingli's preaching was
directed not against the system from which the abuses flowed,
but only against the abuses themselves."7
Consequently, they conceived the idea of the church being universal,
but invisible, thus eliminating the visible earthly head. That this
was the goal is clearly indicated in a statement made by John Knox
in a discussion with Vicar-general Winham of Scotland: "I will be of
no other church but that which has Jesus Christ for pastor."8
This could only be a universal church, and of necessity invisible.
Martin Luther expressed his
concept clearly when he said, "We are all one body."9
Philip Schaff implies the same when he says, "The Reformed church is
a church of the Christian people," implying that it recognizes no
distinct doctrinal identity. He then states rather clearly the
transfer of the visible church for the spiritual, or
invisible one: "The Reformation came out of the bosom of the
Latin Church and broke up the visible unity of Western
Christendom, but prepared the way for a higher spiritual
unity."10 He then tells how the Reformers
developed a national church, holding to the old Roman system of the
church using the state to enforce its beliefs, and thus became
persecutor of the Baptists as had Rome. While Protestant
denominations in America can no longer have a state church, they do
continue to carry the universal denominational concept.
R. K. Maiden, Kansas City,
Missouri, has put the origin of this counterfeit very clearly in
this summary: "The conception and adoption of the 'Universal church'
theory is the parent heresy in ecclesiology. How, when and where did
this theory originate? The change from the idea of the individual,
self-governing church to the universal church had its origin in one
of the most colossal blunders of all Christian history - that of
making ecclesia and basileia identical. So far from
being identical, the difference between 'Church' and 'Kingdom' is so
great as to require that they be contrasted rather than compared.
Jesus and the writers of the New Testament never confused the two
terms; never used one where the other can be substituted without
doing violence to both terms. With two or three exceptions,
ecclesia is used in the New Testament in the local, particular,
multiple sense, while, without a single exception, basileia
is used in the singular and universal sense. The taproot of the
universal church theory is the identification of the Church and the
Kingdom, making these two coincident, coextensive and coterminous.
The theory of the identy of the Church and Kingdom and of the
universality of the church were twin-born. The New Testament writers
knew nothing of a world church. As nearly as can be determined, the
first formal, official identification of Church and Kingdom was
projected when the Roman Empire became nominally Christianized,
about the tune of the consummation of the great ecclesiastical
apostasy. It was the Eucumenical Council of Nice, called by
Constantine, Emperor of Rome, that affirmed and projected as its
creed the idea of a 'Catholic' World Church. From then down to the
Lutheran Reformation of the 16th century, the universal, visible
theory of the church held the field, except for the scattered,
comparatively obscure, hunted and persecuted little churches, known
by various names at different times and places - churches of the New
Testament type in doctrine and polity. Following the Reformation
movement, there emerged a new theory of the church - the universal,
invisible spiritual theory."11
A Protestant minister debating a
Baptist minister on this particular issue should be able to clearly
define his concept of the church, and that is exactly what a
Methodist minister did. Jacob Ditzler, D. D., a Methodist minister,
in a debate with Dr. J. R. Graves in Carrollton, Missouri, clearly
defines the Protestant version of the church: "God has a people whom
we call 'The Universal Church' - all in heaven and earth who are in
a saved relation to God, through Christ - who, were they to die as
they are, would be saved. . . . The invisible church on earth - all
who are in a saved relation to him - whose names are in the book of
life."12 While there are many versions of the
so-called universal, invisible church, this pretty well defines the
general view commonly accepted by Protestantism in America today.
Prior to the 20th century,
Baptists generally accepted the New Testament church as being a
local assembly, rejecting the universal, invisible concept as the
babe born of Protestantism. Even the "Short Confession of Faith"
prepared by John Smyth in 1609 defines the church in Article 12 as
follows: "That the church of Christ is a company of the faithful;
baptized after confession of sin and of faith, endowed with the
power of Christ."13 While John Smyth is hardly the
most dependable Baptist that ever came down the road, he is
recognized by Southern Baptists and others as being the founder of
Baptist churches from which they have come. If they are willing to
accept this man as their founder then it is presumed that they also
accept his definition of a church.
The well-known Baptist Confession
of 1611 likewise affirms the local church view. Written by Thomas
Helwys and his congregation, it was printed in 1611 as "A
Declaration of Faith of English People," who were at that time still
in Holland. Article 10 states, "That the church of Christ is a
company of faithful people. . . separated from the world by the word
and Spirit of God, . . . being knit unto the Lord, and one unto
another, ... by baptism, . . . upon their own confession of faith
and sins." Article 13 further states, "That every church is to
receive in all their members by baptism upon the confession of their
faith and sins wrought by the preaching of the Gospel, according to
the primitive Institution . . . and practice. And therefore Churches
constituted after any other manner, or of any other persons are not
according to Christ's Testament."14 (Modern
English by I. K. Cross)
It is interesting to note also
that The Baptist Encyclopedia, edited by William Cathcart in
1883, accepts this definition from the 1611 declaration as the true
definition of "A True Gospel Church."15
The famous "London Confession" of
1644 continues the visible church concept in these words: "That
Christ hath here on earth a spiritual Kingdom, . . . which is the
Church, which he hath purchased and redeemed to himself, as a
peculiar inheritance: which Church, as it is visible to us, is a
company of visible Saints, called and separated from the world, by
the word and Spirit of God, to the visible profession of the faith
of the Gospel, being baptized into that faith, and joined to the
Lord, and each other, by mutual agreement, in the practical
enjoyment of the Ordinances, commanded by Christ their head and
King."16 The confession of 1646 states
specifically that "The church is a company of visible saints."17
However, by the time of the
"Second London Confession" of 1677, Protestantism and the
Reformation in England had taken its toll, and the influence of John
Calvin's Presbyterianism, along with the influence of the
Congregationalists made their inroads into the Particular Baptist
camp. They determined to make the Westminster Confession the basis
for their own new confession of faith,18 and
Baptists were betrayed to the universal and invisible concept. This
comes through loud and clear in Article 26, "The Catholic . . .
Church, which (with respect to internal work of the Spirit, and
truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole
number of the Elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into
one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the
fulness of him mat filleth all in all."19 From
this point on, the protestant idea of a universal, invisible church
begins to pollute Baptist life to this day, and has become a
battleground among Baptists.
The Old and the New
Baptists of the 20th century who
are accepting the Protestant concept of the church are putting new
wine in old bottles, and the bottles are bursting and spilling much
Baptist truth never to be recovered.
The nature of the church was what
separated Baptist churches from the state church which developed as
a result of the Council of Nice in A.D. 325. It was the Donatists
who refused to go along with the merging of the church with the
power of the Roman empire, and it was the nature of the
church that was so important to them. The Donatist movement was
basically a rebellion against Constantine's change in the church
structure. Leonard Verduin states that "it was the question of the
nature of the church as a society and its relationship to the world,
. . . that formed the heart of the controversy between the Catholics
and the Donatists. . . . The Donatists continued to think of the
Church of Christ as a 'small body of the saved surrounded by the
unregenerate mass.' . . . This then was Donatism - an attempt to
conserve the concept of the Church 'based on personal faith' and to
obstruct the drift toward a Church 'including all in a given
locality.' "20 At this point Baptists have to make
a decision to go with the Donatists or the Catholics, and it is too
obvious to miss that it was the Catholics under the influence
of Constantine who made the change in the nature of the church, not
This concept of the church simply
as a local congregation has not been confined to the Donatists prior
to the Reformation, but was consistently held by those Baptists,
called heretics by those who held the catholic (universal) concept.
Verduin quotes Adolf von Harnack as saying, "In the twelve centuries
that went before the Reformation it has never lacked for attempts
to get away from the State-Church Priests' Church and to
reinstate the apostolic congregational structurization."21
Luther and the other Reformers could not break free of the catholic,
or universal concept, and, as has been pointed out, it continues to
plague us. "Luther stopped short of a full reformation, . . . (and)
bogged down half-way between Catholicism and the New Testament
Church organization."22 The result of this failure
to break free of the universal church concept, and its infiltration
into Baptist ranks brought also a compromise in doctrinal errors
such as open communion, alien baptism, and other Protestant
The Battle Arrives in America
The initiation of the universal
concept into Baptist confessions brought about the dual concept that
is so popular today, that is the claim that Christ has two kinds of
churches - both the local and the universal. Dr. John Gill, in his "A
Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity," could not break free
of this Protestant concept that had now fastened itself upon Baptist
Confessions. He makes it very clear that the use of the word
ekklesia "always used for church, signifies an assembly
called and met together." And again he says, "The church may be
considered as a particular assembly of saints meeting together in
one place for religious worship." But he also goes to some length to
point out that "there is another sense in which the church may be
said to be catholic, or general, as it may consist of
such in any age, and in several parts of the world, who have true
faith in Christ, and hold him to be head, and are baptized by one
Spirit into one body; ... all such who are truely partakers of his
grace; though they have not made an open profession of him in a
formal manner."23 Thus this dual concept was
planted in the Baptist theology of England following the
Reformation, and came to these shores with many of the Baptists
migrating from the British Isles.
This is how the universal church
concept got into the Declaration of Faith of the Philadelphia
Association, founded in 1707, the first Baptist Association in
America. They voted to reprint the London Confession of 1689, "with
a short treatise of church discipline, to be annexed."24
This association was formed originally of sound churches from Wales,
but confessions of faith were new to them, and they borrowed from
the Protestants as guidelines, and H. G. Jones' preface to this bit
of history states that it was printed by Benjamin Franklin and "it
differs but slightly from the Westminster Confession," the one that
infiltrated the Second London Confession. Since it was taken as the
standard for many years because of the immense influence of the
association through its mission endeavors, Baptists were not aware
of this problem until the New Hampshire Confession was finally
published in 1833.
Evidence of the influence of the
Philadelphia Association is seen in the fact that the Kehukee
Association, which was originally formed largely of General Baptist
persuasion, was virtually re-organized by missionaries from the
Philadelphia Association, and accepted the Confession of Faith
published in London in 1689. These same missionaries also went into
North Carolina with the same results.25 The Sandy
Creek Association of North Carolina, influenced by the mission work
of the same association, leaves in its statement of faith the clear
impression that they also had accepted this dual concept, since they
introduced their definition of the church in article six with the
statement: "That the visible Church of Christ is a
congregation of faithful persons, . . . " This implies that they may
well have had an invisible concept as well.26
The New Hampshire Confession and the Landmark Cop-out
On June 24, 1830, the Baptist
Convention of New Hampshire appointed a committee to prepare a
declaration of faith, which was finally approved on January 15,
1833. It came to the attention of the general public when J. Newton
Brown, editorial secretary of the American Baptist Publication
Society, published it in his Baptist Church Manual in 1853,
with a couple of revisions, and it has been the basis for Baptists
generally ever since, with revisions as each group chose to
accomodate their own concepts. This declaration was silent on the
universal church.27 Baptists had finally thrown
off the influence of the Reformation and returned to their own
original belief concerning the nature of the church. However, those
in the 20th century who want to come again under the Protestant
canopy have chosen to lay this return to the biblical concept at the
feet of those they choose to call "Landmarkers," a term taken from
the writings of Dr. J. R. Graves. They would like to make it appear
that this was the concept of a small radical group, and never really
accepted by Baptists generally.28
However, this is a cop-out, and
will not hold up under the searchlight of history. Baptists today
known as Landmark Baptists gladly identify with this position, but
it was not they who produced the New Hampshire Confession of Faith,
and they are not necessarily responsible for its wide acceptance. W.
L. Lumpkin says that it "became the most widely disseminated creedal
declaration of American Baptists." J. Newton Brown certainly was not
a part of the so-called Landmark movement, and J. M. Pendleton, who
adapted the confession to his church manual, while having worked
with Dr. Graves some years earlier, was in Pennsylvania when he
wrote this work. [Edward] Hiscox also used it in his church manual.
If Landmark Baptists are responsible for the wide acceptance of this
New Testament concept of the nature of the church, it is interesting
to note that there was no organized Landmark movement until 1902
when a General Association of Baptist Churches was formed.
The Southern Baptist Convention
was organized nearly 50 years before this, 1845, and this concept
was accepted by them until well past the middle of the 20th century.
Why does everyone now want to "blame" Landmarkers for this
widespread concept? Simple! Because the larger movements have lapsed
back into the old Protestant concept of the universal, invisible
church, or a dual concept of both a local and a universal concept.
That Southern Baptists accepted
the local church concept is not difficult to prove. It was evident
everywhere until Protestant professors began to infiltrate their
seminary classrooms. In a book, Re-Thinking Baptist Doctrines,
edited by Victor I. Masters, and published by the Western Recorder
Publishers of Louisville, Kentucky, a very clear definition of a
church is given: "A church is properly defined as 'a congregation of
Christ's baptized disciples, acknowledging Him as their Head,
relying on His atoning sacrifice for justification before God,
depending on the Holy Spirit for sanctification, united in the
belief of the Gospel, agreeing to maintain its ordinances and obey
its precepts, meeting together for worship, and cooperating for the
extension of Christ' kingdom in the world.'"29 It
should not be overlooked that the Western Recorder is the
Southern Baptist state paper in Kentucky. In fact, the same book has
a chapter headed, "Universal Church Heresy," which makes it
very clear that at that time Southern Baptists wanted in no way to
be identified with the Protestant concept.30
In 1925 the Southern Baptist
Convention adopted their own confession of faith which continues to
be published under the title of "The Baptist Faith and Message." In
it a very clear definition of "A Gospel Church" is given as Article
12: "A church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers,
associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel;
observing the ordinances of Christ, governed by his law, and
exercising the gifts, rights and privileges invested in them by His
word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Its
scriptural officers are bishops or elders and deacons."31
This was accepted as the standard concept of a New Testament church
until the "Baptist Faith and Message" was revised in 1963. At this
time the article on the church, which became article VI, contained
the definition of the local church, but also added a section which
reads as follows: "The New Testament speaks also of the church as
the body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the
ages."32 Here they reverted to the Protestant
position which has become so popular today, to recognize both a
local and a universal concept of the church - but the Scriptures
will not let you have it both ways.
In selling out to Protestantism,
Baptists have turned their backs on the plain teachings of the
Scripture, and also a position defended with great honor by some of
the greatest Baptist names on the pages of Baptist history. Their
own historian, Dr. John T. Christian, wrote a two volume history of
Baptists which was taught in their seminaries from its publication
in 1922 until they finally let it go out of print because
Protestantism had invaded their campuses. In their own
Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, published by Broadman Press
in 1958, in Volume 1 he is described as "pastor, professor,
historian." They also state that he was "Professor of Christian
history and librarian at Baptist Bible Institute, New Orleans, from
1919-25. Christian traveled repeatedly in Europe and the Near East
for study and collection of books. He donated his personal library
of over 15,000 volumes to Baptist Bible Institute."33
He held membership in such prestigous organizations as the Society
of Christian Archaeology of Greece, the Academy of History of
France, the Academy of Science, the American Society of History,
etc. He defines a church as follows: "A New Testament Church is a
company of baptized believers voluntarily associated together for
the maintenance of the ordinances and the spread of the gospel of
Jesus Christ."34 Are the studies and learning of
such men simply to be set aside because it has become popular to
think and write today with the Protestants?
Yet this is what historians in
most denominations have done. It should be pointed out that today's
Protestant-thinking Baptist historians have discarded Dr. Christian
as not having been "scientifically trained" as a historian.
No less a personage than Dr. J. B.
Moody, who hosted the Southern Baptist Convention in Hot Springs,
Arkansas, in 1900, states in lectures delivered to the Theological
Class at Hall-Moody Institute, Martin, Tennessee: "A Baptist church
is composed of volunteers associated in congregational effort, each
member in equal authority, and each church complete in itself and
independent of all other churches and of all outside authorities."35
We have established that the New
Testament Scriptures speak only of the church as local
congregations, or in an institutional sense. That the Reformers did
not break completely free of Rome and come back to the New Testament
order, but held to the universal church concept mothered by Rome,
and simply made it an invisible body. That during the 16th and 17th
centuries this was gradually adapted to much of Baptist life. That
in the 18th and 19th centuries a large number of Baptists were
brought back to the scriptural concept again, but in the 20th
century we have again been betrayed into the hands of Protestantism
by large numbers of Baptists drifting into the universal, invisible
It is common among those who speak
of a dual nature of the church to refer to the ekklesia as
local congregations, and in turn speak of the universal church as
the "true" church. If this were true, the so-called "true"
church would not be as pure as the visible churches, because it
would be made up of believers with every kind of theology
imaginable, or none at all. It would include the careless and
undisciplined, which was never allowed in the congregations that
held the faith during the centuries prior to the Reformation. Paul,
in writing to the Ephesians, said that Christ gave Himself for the
ekklesia, and that He cleanses it and sanctifies it "with the
washing of water by the word." He will present it without spot,
wrinkle or blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27). This certainly cannot be
done if it is filled with all kinds of corrupt doctrine and
permissive living. Local congregations are not perfect, but only
there can discipline be administered to attempt to keep them pure,
and there the Word of God is used to cleanse them that Christ may
present that institution to the Father without blemish.
Tragically the universal,
invisible concept has been woven into the thinking today of most
major "Baptist" denominations as though it were an unchallenged
Baptist teaching. Checking only a few examples soon makes this
clear. We have already pointed out that it has been accepted by the
Southern Baptist Convention, that calls itself the "largest
Protestant denomination" in the world. The same definition is found
in their Southern Baptist Encyclopedia. They first define
ekklesia very accurately, then they add these definitions which
completely violate the meaning of the word: "In the New Testament
the church (ecclesia) appears as the result of God's
redemptive action, as the object of his continuing interest, and as
the organ of his saving purpose for the world. It is continued
through Christ as the 'New People of God,' i.e. as the new
and true Israel. . . . Those who by faith saw this was so, who by
grace were incorporated into his divine life, and upon whom the
Spirit came in regenerating power, were made the church. . . . This
view sees the church wherever the Holy Spirit is present with
regenerating power and finds the distinctiveness of the faith in the
change which is produced in the believer."36
Though this violates every church principle for which Southern
Baptists originally stood, with it being written into their new
declaration of faith, and into their denominational encyclopedia, it
will be accepted by their people, and their young ministers as being
the historic Baptist position without realizing they have been
betrayed by a theology conceived and delivered by Protestantism.
As for Baptists in the north,
Robert G. Torbet is accepted as their historian and he puts it in a
very few words: "The faith and life of Baptists cannot be separated
from that of other reform groups of the sixteenth century. "37
In a book written by Samuel Hill and Robert Torbet they make no
attempt to separate themselves from the Protestant church concept in
these statements: "Baptists in the North began early as one
Protestant group among several major ones. They existed as part of a
pluralistic Protestant society." And again: "Baptists belong to the
Puritan movement within the English Reformation of die sixteen and
The General Association of Regular
Baptists (GARB), which came out of the Northern Baptist Convention
in 1933, apparently kept their Protestant concept of the church, in
a book, Confidently Committed, Virgil Bopp states: "Of the
approximately 120 times the word (ekklesia) appears, roughly ten
percent refers to a vast Universal Church made up of all true
believers. . . . Actually the word "universal" is not a New
Testament term. Rather, the New Testament refers to the Universal
Church as the "body" of Christ. . . . One becomes a part of the
Universal Church by being 'born again' and baptized into the Body by
the Holy Spirit."39 Since the book was published
by Regular Baptist Press, and is highly commended by one of their
outstanding pastors, Jack W. Jacobs, Th.D., Senior Pastor, Grace
Baptist Church, Westlake, Ohio, I think we could clearly assume that
this pretty well sets forth the position most generally held by the
GARB. However that position is challenged by another one of their
writers, Kenneth Good, who states that "regardless of the emphasis
placed upon the 'invisible church' by some other systems of
ecclesiology, the simple arithmetic related to the evidences in the
Scriptures show beyond the shadow of a doubt that the priority usage
of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is upon the visible and
organized local church."40 However even this
brother's strong stand for a local church does not rule out a claim
that there is also an invisible church.
But why go on? It is clearly
evident that the majority of those who fly the Baptist flag these
days have placed themselves under the Protestant umbrella where the
nature of the church is concerned. This makes church growth easier,
and opens many doors to them that would otherwise be closed. The
very serious question we are left to answer is this: "Will we sell
our Baptist heritage for a mess of Protestant pottage?" The nature
of the church determines many other important issues that have
identified Baptists through the ages, and if we compromise here,
there is no limit to further compromise once the gate has been
1 The Scofield Reference Bible, 1917
edition. Note on Matthew 16:18.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915 (1979 edition),
Vol. 1, pg. 693.
3 Baker Encyclopedia of
the Bible, 1988, Vol. 1, pg. 458.
Credenda, Seminary Press, 1950, pgs. 79, 80.
6 Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old
and New Testament Words, 1971.
Reformation, Hans. J. Hillerbrand, 1981, pg. 104.
Calvinistic Family Library, 1838, pg. 33.
History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff, 1910, Vol. 7,
10 Ibid, pgs. 26, 43.
Re-Thinking Baptist Doctrines, edited by V. I. Masters, 1937,
pgs. 160, 161.
12 The Great Carrollton Debate,
1876, pg. 910.
13 Baptist Confessions of
Faith, W. L. Lumpkin, 1959, pg. 101.
Ibid, pgs. 119, 120.
15 The Baptist
Encyclopedia, William Cathcart, 1883, Vol. 1, pgs. 222, 223.
16 Baptist Confessions of Faith, Lumpkin,
17 The Baptist Encyclopedia,
Cathcart, pg 223.
18 The First London
Confession, 1646, Publisher's Introduction, 1981, pg 5.
19 Baptist Confessions of Faith, Lumpkin, pg. 285.
20 The Reformers and their Stepchildren,
Leonard Verduin, 1964, pgs. 32, 33.
22 Ibid, pg. 38.
A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, John Gill,
1969-70, from 1984 reprint, pgs. 853, 854.
Minutes of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, 1707-1807,
from 1976 reprint, pg. 46.
25 A Concise
History of the Kehukee Baptist Association, Burkitt and Read,
1850, pgs. 31-33.
26 Baptist Confessions of
Faith, Lumpkin, pg. 358.
27 Ibid, pg. 361.
28 Ibid, pg. 361.
Re-Thinking Baptist Doctrines, V. I. Masters, 1937, pg. 140.
30 Ibid, pg. 157.
32 Southern Baptist Convention
1963 Annual, pg. 275.
of Southern Baptists, Vol. 1, pg. 258.
A History of the Baptists, John T. Christian, 1922, pg 13.
35 My Church, J. B. Moody, Reprint
1974, pg. 13.
36 Encyclopedia of Southern
Baptists, 1958, Vol. 1, pgs. 273, 274.
A History of the Baptists, Robert G. Torbet, 1950, pg 22.
38 Baptists North and South, Samuel S.
Hill, Jr. and Robert G. Torbet, 1964, pgs. 83, 24.
Confidently Committed, Virgil W. Bopp, 1987, pg. 14.
40 Are Baptist Reformed?, Kenneth H. Good,
1986, pg. 285.
[From a booklet by I. K. Cross, 1989.]