I have been tremendously blessed by the G3 Conference
this year. I have enjoyed fellowship with my brothers in Christ from New Georgia Baptist Church
, and I have been challenged by the speakers concerning my love for Christ and for my fellow church members.
The speakers include David Miller, a long-time evangelist who was also one of the trustees for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the midst of the Conservative Resurgence when Dr. Albert Mohler came into office. I do not want the rest of this post to take away from this point: David Miller is an awesome man of God. Each time that I have heard him speak (during his plenary session, during question and answer sessions, and during an interview with Todd Friel) David Miller has displayed godly wisdom and a passion for Christ and His gospel. David Miller deserves respect.
However, I was disappointed and greatly troubled by some remarks that Miller made in the first half of his plenary address at the G3 Conference yesterday morning. Miller devoted a significant portion of his sermon to attacking the doctrine of the universal Church (he argued that the church is only present in local expression). Now, the reason that I am up until 3AM tonight writing about this is that as Miller ridiculed the idea of the universal Church, the sanctuary was filled with "amens," and afterward I heard no-one offer any objection to Millers position.
Some Implications of Denying the Universal Church
And denying the universal Church leads to some serious implications, among which are:
EITHER no-one other than Baptists are saved [Miller and others who deny the universal church- a position known as Landmarkism
- define the local church in a baptistic manner] OR people who remain in other denominations while believing in Christ ARE saved, but they are NOT a part of the Church. Neither of these positions are tenable.
If universal persecution breaks out and all Christians are scattered, then Christ would have no body or bride upon the earth. NOTE: this is not merely a hypothetical situation. In the apostolic age and during the systematic persecutions of the Church in the Roman Empire, the Church was scattered. But Christ says that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. His body and bride remains even if all church doors are closed.
A denial of the universal Church makes Christ a polygamist. If there is not one single Bride composed of the elect of all ages- if the church only exists as local expressions of various churches- then Christ has brides scattered throughout the globe. Again, this position is untenable.
The Universal Church in Baptist Confessions of Faith
Baptists have historically affirmed the universal Church, avoiding the implications above and remaining faithful to New Testament passages that teach of a universal Church (mentioned in the section below). Note the following statements from Baptist confessions of faith:
The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, still used by many Reformed Baptist congregations, begins Chapter 26 ("Of the Church") as follows: "The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the 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 that filleth all in all."
The Abstract of Principles, still used at Southern Seminary and quoted approvingly by Miller in another venue, declares that the Church is composed of all Christ's true disciples, distinguishing between "the Church" [capital "C"] and "particular societies or churches."
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the confession of faith for the Southern Baptist Convention, declares that in addition to local congregations of baptized believers: "The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation."
Scripture Proofs for the Universal Church
The Baptist confessions of faith do not invent the doctrine of the universal Church out of thin air. Instead, they base this doctrine on many Scripture texts. To give three examples:
Hebrews 12:23 speaks of "the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in Heaven."
Colossians 1:18 speaks of Christ being "the Head of the Body, the Church."
Ephesians 5:23 (coming after the Holy Spirit in the previous chapter- 4:4- had declared that there is "one body") again speaks of Christ as the head of the Church calling the Church "His body, of which He is the Savior."
As noted by the great baptist theologian J.L. Dagg in Chapter 3 of his Manual on Church Order
, none of these verses can carry the meaning of a single, local, visible congregation. Christ is the Savior of His Church alone; He is the Savior of all who are in His Church. Baptists, Presbyterians, or the man on the island who gets saved from a Bible washing up on the beach: anyone who trusts in Christ is a part of His body and His bride.
David Miller was right to point out that we do not teach enough about the nature of the Church. But the appropriate correction for this problem is to turn to 9Marks
or some very similar resource. It is NOT appropriate to hyper-correct a lack of ecclesiology by turning to a Landmarkist denial of the universal Church. Landmarkism leads to terrible implications, it is denied by the Baptist confessions of faith, and it is not in line with Scripture.