Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Specific Responses contra Landmark Statements


After I wrote my initial post last Saturday in response to David Miller’s Landmark teachings at the G3 Conference, one dearly beloved brother questioned whether I had understood Miller correctly. The question is certainly appropriate: I am FAR from infallible, and Miller’s evangelistic preaching is normally beyond reproach, being a winsome and accurate reflection and exposition of God’s Word. After I gave a couple of reasons that I am sure that Miller was indeed teaching Landmarkism, my friend said that he would have to listen to the sermon again when G3 makes the recordings available in a couple of weeks.

But we don’t have to wait until G3 makes the sermons available. David Miller preached the exact same sermon on September 20, 2007 at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel service. (I happened to be in attendance that day.) The audio is available HERE.

In his sermon(s), Miller ridiculed the idea of the universal church as follows:
Did any of you ever know of a universal, invisible body? Did you ever know of a universal, invisible building? Did you ever know– and may the Lord have mercy upon the poor fellow who marries a universal, invisible bride. I don’t know about you, brethren, but I like something more tangible in a bride. Sophisticated academic credentials just are not required at this point, to conclude that when the Bible talks about the church, it’s not talking about some universal, invisible entity; it’s talking about a local, visible congregation. I like to ask my friends who believe in the universal church: where does your church meet? And who is its pastor? Benny Hinn? And who receives its tithes and offerings? And what are its missionary, educational, and evangelistic enterprises? Oh, no: the church is local and visible.
Concerning his statements ridiculing a “universal, invisible body” and “universal, invisible bride,” I would simple like to point out that– from our current perspective– the Head and Husband of the church is Himself invisible, and– according to His divine nature– He is omnipresent. Why would a universal and invisible Head and Husband NOT have a universal and invisible bride?

When Miller spoke of “sophisticated academic credentials”– coupled with a statement earlier in his sermon about Baptist thinking concerning the church “now days”– he sought to give the impression that the idea of a universal, invisible church is a modern invention of academics, heretofore unknown in Baptist life. But consider again our historic confessions of faith. For example, the 1689 London Baptist Confession– “the confessional statement of the church or association of every one of the 293 delegates who gathered in Augusta, Georgia, to organize the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845”– begins Chapter 26 (“Of the Church”) with the statement: "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.”

Likewise, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 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."

Miller was quite correct to ask concerning the universal, invisible church: “where does your church meet? And who is its pastor? … And who receives its tithes and offerings?” These questions help indicate why it is so important for Christians (as the 1858 Abstract of Principles states) to “associate themselves into particular societies or churches.”

But Miller betrayed the point that he was trying to establish when he sarcastically asked, “What are its [that is, the universal church’s] missionary, educational, and evangelistic enterprises?” Miller said these words (at least on one occasion) at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, an institution of which he was previously a trustee. SBTS is not a local church, but it is an entity engaging in educational enterprises. The International Mission Board and North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention are not local churches, but they are entities engaged in missionary and evangelistic enterprises. These enterprises are certainly organically related to the local churches that are in association with the Southern Baptist Convention, but the SBC is not a local church. The SBC is one denomination of the universal and invisible body of Christ.

In his sermon(s), Miller went on to assert that in Matthew 16, “church” is used in the abstract as a generic term (he admitted that Jesus “was not referencing any particular congregation”), but he denied that Jesus is speaking of a universal, invisible body. Miller likened Christ’s use of “church” in Matthew 16 to the way that we use the word “family.” He said:
I believe in the family, don’t you? When I make that statement, I am not referring to some universal, invisible family made up of all of the parents and all of the children of all of the ages. Did any of you in this room suppose that’s what I had in mind? No, you understood that I was using the word ‘family’ in the abstract, as an institution, which only finds expression and manifestation of its existence in a local, visible home where there are parents or children or others related by blood or adoption.
This illustration was ill-chosen since the universal, invisible church is also a family: a family with one Father, made up of brothers and sisters who regularly associate themselves into particular societies or churches. But when these brothers and sisters are scattered, they do not cease to be a part of the one family of believers.

Miller’s second choice for an example illustrating his assertion that “church” in Matthew 16 indicates an abstract entity rather than a universal, invisible body is that of a jury. Miller said:
I believe in the jury as a form of jurisprudence. When I say ‘jury’ in that statement, I am not referring to any particular jury. I’m using the word in the abstract as an institution. Did any of you suppose that I was referring to a universal, invisible jury made up of all of the jurors of all of the ages? Of course not! 
The great Southern Baptist theologian J.L. Dagg in his Manual of Church Order dealt with arguments from a Landmark teacher who similarly used “jury” in the abstract to argue that “church” in Matthew 16 is simply used in the abstract. But Dagg pointed out that there were great differences in the way that “jury” may be used in the abstract and the concrete signification that Christ gives to His church: an institution that stands against the gates of Hell and cannot fail.

Miller finally asserted (on this subject) that the Bible speaks of a “glory church” that “does not yet exist,” but will exist in Heaven. It is this church, he says, that we should understand Ephesians 5:25-27 indicates in speaking of the church as Christ’s bride. Miller states: “Even that glory church is going to be local and is going to be visible.”

To this, I would simply assert that the “glory church” already exists, though it is not yet fully revealed (1 John 3:2). The “glory church” in Heaven is not some different body of Christ, for there is “one body” (Eph 4:4), and all believers are already counted as being seated with Christ in the heavens (Eph 2:6).

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