Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Ambiguity, Confusion, Contradiction, and License of Universal Church Practice

Catholic means universal.  The Catholic church came out of an allegorical, neo-platonic interpretation of scripture, convenient to amillennialism.  The Reformers protested a chunk of Catholicism, not all of it.  Among some other doctrines, they kept catholicism itself.  They kept a state church mentality too.

Protestants almost exclusively believe that the true church is a universal, invisible entity made up of all believers.  Not surprisingly, of those rejecting the state church, of those remaining separate, Baptists, believe that the only church, so the true church, is local only.  It's an assembly.  Some Baptists consider themselves Protestant, and they're usually also the professing Baptists who believe that the true church is universal and invisible with a local church being a mere visible manifestation of the true one.

It's easy to understand how that local only ecclesiology works itself out in the real world.  God is one.  Nothing in the Bible denies anything else in the Bible because it's God's Word --- when the doctrine is true, that's how it works.  This is not how universal church doctrine works.  You will die by a hundred paper cuts of contradictions.

I come to this subject today because of reading a post entitled, "Should Bible colleges have women serve as chapel speakers?"  "Chapel speakers" is careful wording, because it was reported (I didn't listen or watch) that she preached, it seemed like.  I'm not really attempting to make a point about women preachers at this point.  Setting aside whether she was preaching or not, a big question or discussion about this was "is it OK for the woman to preach in chapel, since that's an educational institution and not church, and such?"

She could preach because it isn't a church and those restrictions about preaching relate to the church.  But what is the church?  Well, in this case the church is local.  That allows women preachers in the educational context.  On the other hand, training preachers in the educational institution can come because the true church is all believers.  Preachers are being trained in the universal church, of which the Bible college or university is a part, unless a woman is preaching, at which point it's an educational institution.

You actually get the same kind of discussion about separation.  You can bring in speakers you otherwise wouldn't have in your church, because of separation, to your college or seminary, because that isn't a church, being that at that point it is an educational institution.   I bring you the universal church, which makes this all possible.  You train preachers there because of the universal church and you don't separate because it is an educational institution.

If you like music and you're really good at it -- maybe not good enough to earn a living playing it in the world -- you could play it in the universal church in a Christian concert.  Christians will pay you to come and worship in the church, the universal church.  It might not be something the pastor of the church approves of, but it's hard to question whether it is worshiping God in the universal church.  You might even feel more unity there than you do in your own church with the breakdown of denominational lines and such.

The universal church justifies a lot out there.  It also causes a lot.   There are so many holes in the universal church that it can easily allow unsaved people -- ironically -- almost requires it.  Many overlook doctrine because keeping unity in the church, the catholic one, is necessary.   The universal church has room for continuationism, amillennialism, rock music or sacred, long skirts or short ones, infant sprinkling or adult immersion, etc.  Don't get me wrong, there are certain things that the local church and the universal church sometimes can't put up with, like King James Version only.  Both "churches" can get picky about that.  Maybe not women preachers or chapel speakers though.


Steve Rogers said...

Excellent pointing out of the inconsistency of universal church advocates! When we substitute something for what God ordained we should not be surprised it's a spiritual danger!

Bobby said...

I have been thinking the exact thing. They want it both ways. NIU declares they are all about the Great Commission, which is the church's responsibility. They claim they are doing it. They usurp that as a UC institution. But, now, with the woman preacher, they are not doing church work. Technicalities! Reminds me of Bill Clinton. I did watch and it was preaching, though very poorly done. You are exactly right at the UC position allows for a multitude of errors.

Jon Gleason said...

Perhaps I'm just not seeing it, but I think you've missed the target, Kent. If there is no universal church, and a school is not a church, then why do restrictions on the church apply?

Seems like the LC-only guys tend to be inconsistent here, too.

The UC guys say, "The church is universal," and thus to be consistent they would say that any meeting which is used for corporate worship should abide by the guidelines for churches. A consistent UC guy would say that chapel is for worship, so I Timothy 2 applies. Some of them are saying that.

A consistent LC-only guy, asking if women can speak in chapel, would say, "It's not a church. So the guidelines for churches don't apply."

The problem is that it is the wrong question. The real questions:

1) Should these institutions even exist apart from the local church? What is the Biblical basis for them? UC would say yes, of course, while LC-only has a harder hurdle to climb to say yes.

If you say no, you don't have to ask about women speaking at chapel.

If you say yes:
2) Is it right for an institution like this to do things that are "acting like a church" (chapel, etc.)? What is the Biblical basis for doing so? UC has no problem saying yes, LC-only has a harder hurdle to clear to say yes.

If you say no, you don't have chapel, so you don't have to ask about women speaking in chapel.

If you say yes:
3) If you are going to do "church-like" things, should you abide by instructions to the church while doing them?

If you say yes, you don't have to ask about women speaking in chapel. That's true no matter whether you believe the church is universal or local-only.

If you say no, you've just instituted anarchy. You can pretend to be a church but you get to pick and choose whichever guidelines you want for this pretending. That true whether you are universal or local-only.

When I was at Biola years ago, they had a meeting in which they served communion. It is not starting with the right question to ask whether women should serve communion when it is served on a college campus.

The right question to start with is whether the college should even be doing that at all? And if they do, are there no Biblical guidelines for how they should do it, or is it open season? And if there are Biblical guidelines, on what basis would you say they differ from the guidelines for the church?

The problem here is sloppy and inconsistent thinking due to failure to address the bedrock issues. And I don't think you've addressed them, either.

The real question is, should para-church "pretend church services" be happening at all, and if so, are there any boundaries, and where do you find them in Scripture?

Bobby said...

John Gleason,

Of course, their should be no para-church "ministries" at all. The Lord Jesus instituted the NT church for all of His ministry. Anything else is just another man-made heresy. Maybe well-intentioned, maybe trying to please the Lord, etc. but a man-made machine nonetheless. My point, and I think it was Kent's too, is that places like NIU want it both ways-- claiming to be NT ministry, but not wanting to submit to the guidelines for NT ministry as spelled out in the NT. Of course, we know they are not NT ministry to begin with.

Always good to read your thoughts.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Putting aside a woman usurping authority of man, which is based in creation order, so applies everywhere, not just in a church, I don't think there is authority in these parachurch organizations. I was showing the inconsistency that comes from the universal church argument that has most often buttressed the existence of them. They shouldn't have it both ways, and I'm showing that they try to have it both ways.

I think that following the Bible, the New Testament, only works with the church being local only. If not, then you make up new rules, because all the rules are for the assembly. This is why the ambiguity, inconsistency -- everything I said. I didn't answer the question, no. I didn't because I was spurring discussion. I knew that. I was merely wanting people to think about it, but my belief is that the parachurch organizations should close their doors. That's the solution. I don't know of any way that right now we are practicing inconsistent with this, but I'm always open to find out. I do know that I can be consistent, however, because it is what the Bible teaches.

Thanks. I enjoy your writing too.

Jon Gleason said...

Thank you, gentlemen. If your target is to say that parachurch organisations generate inconsistencies, then you are indeed being consistent -- and accurate. :)

And I missed that point. For some reason, missing the point has happened before and will no doubt happen again. It appeared to me you were accepting the premise of the question they asked.

As for me, I admit to being not totally persuaded either way as to the appropriateness of para-church ministries, in principle. I find it hard to reconcile Acts 18:24-26 if it is "in-church" because Priscilla is teaching. It's not an "institution" and it doesn't give any indication it was a long term thing. But it seems to be outwith the church. So in principle, I'm not persuaded that para-church is forbidden.

In practice, they almost always seem to drift fairly quickly, into compromise or harshness or institutional authoritarianism (as opposed to Scriptural and church authority).

Larry said...

Seems to me that, whatever the merits of the LC only argument (and you know my view on that), it still isn't the issue.

The issue is whether or not there is room for any worship or preaching event/ministry/whatever outside the local church. Even a local church only proponent would have to affirm that preaching is legitimate outside the church, right?

If there is room for a preaching event outside the church, then we ask whether or not church rules apply.

Jon Gleason said...

Hi, Larry. Question for you. Do you think there is room for a >teaching< event outside the local church? I'm sure you do.

And if so, do you think church rules apply? Why or why not? Scripture, please.

Is preaching different from teaching? Why or why not? Scripture, please.

This gets hard really quickly, which is part of Kent's point. Like I said, I'm not fully persuaded on where he ends up, but if you don't end up where he does it gets really, really hard, unless you are going to say that "church rules apply" to everything. But that's hard, too, once you start to apply it.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Good to see you. I hope your family--you, your wife, your kids--are doing well.

I'm convinced from scripture that service to God is only through a church. Scripture should only be taught and preached under the authority of a church. We can see through the Bible that God's people get in trouble when they innovate on how God said to serve Him. We are regulated, I believe, by what the Bible says, not by what it doesn't say. Silence isn't permission. Scripture gives many examples of God rejecting service done in a different way than he said. We don't have liberty to do church work other than how God said in its biblical elements. Preaching and teaching outside of the assembly, going and making disciples, is still with the authority of the assembly. Besides that this is the only model in Scripture, there is also many types of disobedience, I've noticed, that come when we don't do it that way.

On the other hand, a church doesn't have authority to act in contradiction to scripture, which with reception of the sufficiency of the Bible would be different than how and what God said to do. We don't have authority to make it up as we go along, because we think it will work better. If a church says we're authorizing someone to preach at something unscriptural -- it doesn't have that authority either.

So local only teaching reins in these practices, doesn't give license like catholicism does. Things aren't going to look the same on the ground.

Larry said...

Jon, I hope all is well with you. Sorry to be gone for a while. Let me hit this quickly.

Yes, I think there is room for teaching events outside the church. Otherwise, there is no explanation for passages like Acts 2, 4, 7, 17, etc. One could say that those are under the authority of the church, but that is something that has to be read into the passage; it comes from a presupposition, not from the passage. Furthermore, you have Aquila and Priscilla who taught outside the church. Which leads me to say I think Kent's idea of the regulative principle is overreaching. I don't think that is what it means, and I don't think it is accurate even if it is what it means. The NT is not a catalog of things. It is, in many cases particularly in Acts, descriptions of things that happened, that make sense in that case. I don't think it was intended to be a catalog of everything that is required and everything that is forbidden. The RPW has traditionally been understood to apply to elements, not circumstances. And I am unconvinced that it applies outside of worship.

Overall, I am not a fan of teaching outside the church, or a church function. I don't care for parachurch organizations, or even interchurch ones really. If someone were to ask me, I would recommend against them. I would not, in any case, give them primacy or authority over the church.

I don't think preaching is different from teaching in the Scripture, though there may be a practical difference. I actually wrote on that recently and will probably post some of that at my blog.

Do church rules apply to these outside the church things? If I were to grant their legitimacy, I think the church rules probably apply in principle. But my commitment to exegesis, particularly of 1 Tim 2, means that I cannot be dogmatic. If we exegete the text, that text refers to local church gatherings, not other things, such as government, business, schools, etc. I think this is a place where exegesis and authority of the text gets pretty loose.

I do think it is pretty hard, and like you, I am not fully persuaded where Kent ends up. But I don't think his solution (local church only) actually helps the matter.

Larry said...

Kent, we are all well, and I hope you are as well. We almost came to San Francisco for spring break, but ultimately went to Sandusky instead. Turned out just as well since the days we would have been there were raining. But I read your blog about San Francisco and gave it some thought.

As I said above, I disagree with your use of the regulative principle here. I agree that silence isn't permission, but I am not convinced that silence is prohibition. I would focus more on the elements, and less on the circumstances. The Bible tells us, either by command or example, to do certain things. It does not necessarily prescribe how we do them (the circumstances).

I think your position overlooks the historical and cultural milieu of the NT. Much of what they did, they did because of the time and era in which they were living. I think that matters more than you are allowing for here.

But in the end, even if you are right, I am not convinced your local church only argument has any relevance. I could hold your same position, I think.