SAUL PERSECUTING THE CHURCH
Such a little article as this is necessary only because of the influence of both the Papists and the Protestants on biblical theology and thought. Historically the Papists have claimed their hierarchy composed the “universal visible church” outside of which there is no salvation. The Protestants, seeking to reform Rome and having no success, found themselves outside that body. Thus, according to their old theology, they were now lost and bound for eternal punishment since there is no salvation outside the “universal visible church.” So the Protestants dug up an old idea of Augustine, dusted it off and twisted it around a bit and claimed that they were still saved because they were in the “universal invisible church.” Just changing “visible” into “invisible” solved their theological dilemma. In this way they continued to teach that salvation is in a church – just a different kind of church.
Historically, Baptists have taught that salvation is not in a church at all. Salvation is in Christ, they said, and we concur noting that acceptable service and worship is in a church – a church that is Christ's. In the 1800's here in the U.S. many Baptists began to drink at the fountain of respectability, going so far as to hold union meetings with Protestants. Pulpit affiliation (allowing baby-baptizing Protestants to preach in Baptist meeting houses) became quite popular in some places. Of course certain truths had to be ignored in order for this to take place. When Baptists unionized with the Methodists, as was often the case, the doctrine of sovereign grace in all its five points could not be mentioned by the Baptists, nor could the requirement that candidates for baptism be believers, nor could the security of the believer even be mentioned. All of this because the Methodists were baby-sprinkling Wesleyan Arminians and of course violently opposed to what they regarded as “Baptist doctrine.” But their ideas of free-will-ism began to influence the Baptists as did the Protestant doctrine of a church that was “universal” and “invisible.”
Never mind that there is not a single verse in the Bible that teaches that the Greek word “ekklesia” means anything other than a (local) gathering or assembly of people. The idea of a universal church of any kind is not a biblical necessity, but a theological one. And that theological necessity is that salvation is in a church. Baptist theology (Bible theology) does not need a universal church!
Now this brings us to Saul of Tarsus and his persecution of “the church.” We often hear that phrase bandied about. We think many who say it and many who hear it think that Saul persecuted some kind of “universal church” - an oxymoron if ever there was one. An oxymoron is a contradiction in terms. It truly is an oxymoron to put the words “universal” and “assembly” together. (Of course the KJV translators admitted to using the old Romish word “church” rather than “congregation” in their introductory material, but nobody reads their introduction any more). Actually is is a misquote to say that Saul “persecuted the church.” Here is what Acts 8:1 & 3 actually says: “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles,” and, “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.” Now the Holy Ghost through Luke made it clear that the church that Saul was involved in persecuting was “the church which was at Jerusalem.” It was this congregation of which “he made havock.”
Why, one may ask, was the Holy Ghost so careful to point out that the congregation which was being persecuted was the one that was located in Jerusalem when there was not another? We think it is because there had once been another: the one that was the first traveling church – the one that Christ called to be with Him and of whom He was the “poimen” - the Shepherd – the Pastor. That was a mobile congregation. (Those acquainted with Baptist history may know of other “traveling churches” - i.e., congregations on the move whether in Europe or the Mediterranean area or from Wales to Pennsylvania or from Virginia to Kentucky). But that first traveling church settled in Jerusalem. Our point is that nobody should ever think that when someone says “Saul persecuted the church” he or she means that Saul persecuted some kind of universal something or other.
The plain fact is that nobody ever persecuted the “universal invisible church” since no such thing exists. It never held a meeting, never heard a sermon, never called a pastor, never sent out a missionary, never took an offering, never prayed together, never carried out either one of the ordinances, and never worshiped together. We often suggest that those pastors who are high admirers of the “universal invisible church” take their salary and expenses from that so-called “body.” It has often been noted that otherwise intelligent people often believe the most foolish and unbiblical things. Some believe that when a priest says hocus pocus over bread and wine he changes them into the body and blood of Christ. Others believe that the obviously sovereign God who created all things cannot save whom He has planned from before the foundation of the world unless they exercise their free will and take the first step toward Him. Still others believe that a “church” - a “congregation” can be both universal and invisible – a logical impossibility without basis in the Bible – and contrary to all the metaphors which picture the Lord's ekklesia.
We would challenge any person to provide us with even a single verse that teaches that such a “universal invisible” creature exists – to date no one have even tried. And we hope that whenever someone says that “Saul persecuted the church,” both the speaker and the hearers will understand that it was a real, biblical, local congregation of Christ's that was being persecuted. The same kind of ekklesia that serves and glorifies Christ today.
Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726