Why is the idea of the universal church dangerous?
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A few weeks ago now, I was asked, "Why is the idea of local church only so important? Or, to put it another way, why is the idea of the universal church dangerous?" This post will answer that question.
ONE, the universal church as a teaching or belief eisegetes scripture or distorts the plain meaning of the text. The more I hear universal church people talk and write, the more I think this. I am sorry, but I read and listen to inane statements attempting to defend universal church from the Bible. No verse teaches it. Men will say that some verse "obviously" teaches it, and then they give no grammatical or syntactical evidence. When I expect it, they turn pretty quickly to, first, quote of a well-known theologian (speaking as one having no authority), and, second, to mockery.
There is plenty of grammatical proof for a local church. There is none for the universal. If this was such an important concept, then why is there no unequivocal, just plain, mention of it in the Bible? Don't get me wrong, I don't think there is even anything fuzzy, but if the "true church" really is all believers, where is the statement of that? So if someone can just make the Bible mean whatever he wants it to mean, that's going to mess everything else up too. We see this happening all the time.
So I don't see universal church in the Bible. I actually see "universal" and "church" as mutually exclusive, absolutely contradictory to each other. I do believe scripture teaches some paradoxes, but universal and church are not a paradox. They're a contradiction.
The generic, singular usages of "church" seem to give people the most trouble. None of those prove a universal church. Since they don't prove anything, they should be interpreted in the light of what is proven, what is plain. But no, universal church people take the non-existent, at best fuzzy, and conform the plain to that. It's horrible.
So when people read this in, I ask, why? It's not in there, so where did it come from? I look back at history and I see Roman Catholicism. I see Platonic philosophy. It's easy to see how it got read in. It got read in by amillennialism, by allegorizing, by spiritualizing, by philosophizing, and by covenant theology. It explains and backs up and buttresses a state church. When you want a state church and it isn't in the Bible, you've got to find it somehow. This is how it gets "found." It does distort the simplicity that I see in scripture. The gospel, the worship, and the church are all simple.
Universal church people are, for the first time I've read, asking how that we read a local only position into scripture. We don't, but they act like we have to do that, when it's already clear that the local church is in the Bible. I'm reading two things, it seems, now. One is that it came from a reaction to Campbellism. I just wag my head on that one. It doesn't make sense. Nothing can even prove it. It's shoddy work. It starts by assuming that local only ecclesiology started with Graves and that Graves lived when Campbellism started. There's your deep work. Sheer speculation. Two is that it came to defend a particular view of history, separate from Roman Catholicism. I can't even find that spider web. Both of these are just desperate.
So TWO, a universal church brings in Platonic philosophy and allegorical interpretation into the Bible. When allegorization becomes the norm, then infant sprinkling becomes a way to join the church, which is the equivalent of salvation. That has perverted the gospel. Now you can read in apostolic succession, a human priesthood, and transubstantiation.
THREE, the universal church belief will cause men to see all sorts of other interpretations and doctrines and practices a different way, the wrong way. It will necessarily twist other doctrines. Instead of the gifts being used in a church, now they are used outside of a church, and someone feels justified having done so, because their gift is being used in the "true church." The justification of a "church council" comes from seeing something other than and more than two churches settling their differences in Acts 15. There are many, many more here.
FOUR, the universal church belief destroys all other true beliefs. The fastest way for the truth to be destroyed is to get it outside of what God built to protect it. A universal church cannot protect the truth. It doesn't have a pastor, doesn't practice the ordinances, and doesn't practice church discipline, all ways that the truth is protected and preserved. The universal church as a container for truth has holes all over it and it results in exponentially fast distortion of the truth. The truth can only be protected at a local level. Other of the reasons related directly to this one.
I believe the biggest reason for postmodern Christianity, emergents or emerging, and loosey-goosey dealing with the truth comes directly out of the wrong view of the church. When a universal church guy wants to protect the truth, generally he writes a book on it or has a conference or a council or a coalition. None of those are biblical ways, because the only biblical ways are done by an actual church and none of what the Bible says about a church protecting or preserving the truth is those things.
FIVE, the universal church disables biblical unity and biblical separation. This, of course, is related to the truth, as I said that other reasons directly relate the destruction of all other beliefs, including the gospel. The unity of the Bible and the separation of the Bible will never be practiced consistently by a universal church person. The reason there are about 20-30 interpretations of John 17 is because of the universal church. There is little agreement on what the unity is that Jesus is praying for. There is non-stop discussion on what are the correct doctrines to separate over. The fundamental or essential doctrines gets increasingly dumbed down to make it still not possible, but to give it a better try with no hope of succeeding. Ultimately the truth is what is discarded.
So, SIX, the universal church belief causes scripture to contradict itself. Scripture won't contradict itself, even as God won't deny Himself, but unity and separation contradict with a universal church belief. It becomes impossible not to contradict. That doctrine cannot be true.
And, therefore, SEVEN, the universal church destroys church purity. Here's how it happens. I want to use music and worship as an example. A church doesn't break fellowship with a church that plays rock music, because "all believers are the true church." The rock music church claims to believe in salvation by grace through faith. The people in the church that doesn't use rock music are influenced by the rock music church. More in the non-rock music church begin accepting it. The non-rock music church starts using rock music. I've seen this again and again in my lifetime.
EIGHT, the universal church belief results in people wasting their lives with wood, hay, and stubble. Gold, silver, and precious stone are about the temple of God, which is local only. Paul said, "Ye are the temple of God." There are thousands that work in "ministries" that are not in fact worship of God, but another ox-cart of their own invention. They are wasting their time and their life.
NINE, the universal church belief brings the following mess-ups that could each be their own separate explanation of the dangers of the universal church: parachurch organizations, church hoppers, inclusion of all sorts of heinous groups into the broad umbrella of "the church," apostate denominations like Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Methodism, justification of a state church, ecumenism, disrespect of the church (which is local only), unfaithfulness to church (they're attending the big one), validates hierarchical leadership that is everywhere today -- various sacral societies applying unscriptural authority all over, giving to whatever charity and counting this as the Lord's giving, discipleship is destroyed because men think they are making disciples outside of the actual Great Commission (when they're not), Christian publishers affected by whatever it is that will be popular enough to help them meet payroll for their staff and employees, missionaries giving an account to boards ahead of churches, and more. If I spent more time thinking, I'm sure I could list a few dozen more. These were easy and they all come out of a universal church belief.
TEN, the universal church belief will be the final belief of the anti-christ, who will lead a universal church. That church will feel justified, I believe, by the same arguments as the universal church. Jesus will destroy the universal church. A universal church contradicts replenish the earth. It is a modern tower of Babel. Babylon is the final religion, the universal church, that will be destroyed.
People ask me why church doctrine is so serious. Why would we separate over it? If you give in on the church, you now give in on every single doctrine. If you say there is a universal church, now someone can and will practice universal church, and then all other doctrines will be perverted. Could there be a true doctrine that is true that would cause all of that? No way.
*************Just as a little aside, to be read later, the universal church teaching and belief creates guys like we have had a few of in our comment section, who free float, and can go off in any "ministry" they want, essentially creating havoc, without accountability. They don't like strong pastoral authority, really almost any pastoral authority, if any authority at all. They like to be their own man out there free-floating. They can just say, "God led me," and take off. God speaks to them individually without the work of a church. Their word is as good as anyone else's. They can be a big shot in their own little pond. They are their own expert. A lot of pastors are the same way. They just go when they want, start their own ministry when they want, with little regard to the inter-relations of a church. "The body is all believers," and as far as they're concerned they're then fitting into the body. Someone might disagree, but they could never have the authority of the big one, so no one has to listen. This is all the product of a belief in a universal church and it has created more wackos and cuckoos than anything. The universal church belief is perfect for the men who see computer chips in their corn flakes.