Part One, Part Two
Kevin Bauder addresses the presupposition for church successionism by dealing with Matthew 16:18, treating it as the proof text for the position. I don't mind calling it Baptist successionism, because Baptists can trace their lineage to Jerusalem. Succession implies an unbroken line of continuity and perpetuity suggests the permanence of the institution. If the institution is permanent, then some kind of succession had to occur. Folks like myself believe that true churches always existed through every generation of every century, succeeding one upon another. Why? Like Bauder says about us, because we believe the Bible says that would happen. When God says something will occur, we believe it will occur, because it always does when He says it will.
To start, since I'm someone who believes successionism, I can say that Matthew 16:18 isn't the sole passage from which I take this position. I see it elsewhere in scripture. A case is built in the New Testament by more than Matthew 16:18. For instance, Paul in 1 Timothy 4:1 writes "that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith." How is "the faith" or "the truth" kept? The latter times are this entire age since the completion of the New Testament through the coming of the Lord, and only "some shall depart from the faith," not all. The faith or the truth is kept by the church, "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). The some will be in the church, which has pastors and deacons (1 Tim 3). They that gladly receive His Word are added to the church (Acts 2:41, 1 Thess 2:13).
Jesus is with His church through His Spirit, and He does walk in the midst of His churches during the church age (Revelation 1:19-2:1). He promised not to leave His church in this age (Matthew 28:18-20). Not being in His church is not being with Him (1 John 2:19).
As you read the book of Revelation unfold, taking it literally or conversationally, plain meaning, you see Revelation 2 and 3 as representative of the church age. True churches will continue through the church age up until the coming of the Lord. For them not to do so or not to be so would require a total apostasy by sheer definition. The Holy Spirit is restraining, so as not to result in a total apostasy (1 Thess 2:1-10). A church, like the church at Corinth, is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-17). Paul says that the church through the Lord's Table would show the Lord's death until He comes (1 Cor 11:26), the Lord's Table an ordinance of the church. A church would show the Lord's death through His Table until the Lord comes.
The Gates of Hell
Bauder is stretching in order not to have Matthew 16:18 teach perpetuity and succession. It's a promise. "The gates of hell shall not prevail against" His ("my church") church. Here's how Bauder gets there. He says (p. 205), "Jesus' promise means that death will not have the last word." He concludes that the "gates of Hell" is death, so "not prevail" means the church will bodily resurrect. That's a very narrow understanding of a verse that doesn't sound like what Jesus says in the context. It's forcing a particular understanding on the text. The text doesn't say that. You've got to read that in to get it out.
Jesus says He will build His church. The gates of Hell shall not prevail. Not prevailing reads like it relates to Jesus continuing to edify (oikodomeo) His church. I'm fine with "Hell," hades, meaning "death." Bauder turns this into teaching on a "universal church," because the way that death would prevail over the church has to be over the possibility of someone getting to heaven when he dies. People would still make it to heaven, despite death, he's saying. That doesn't read like a plain meaning of Matthew 16:18.
I believe that the "gates of Hell" can and should be "death." However, I see it as that there isn't any gate that can hold back the church, even death. Not even death, as a chief tool of Satan (Heb 2:14) can stop the church. As people die, His church will continue existing. If Satan wants to kill people even, that won't stop the church. It will keep going. It will prevail. The devil uses death as a tool in numerous ways, but it won't work. That's a promise. We've seen it born out in history, even as the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church. Death seems to result in propagation of the church, not its demise.
To isolate the prevailing of the church merely to be arriving in Heaven through bodily resurrection does not follow naturally in the text. Again, it reads as forced. A church is built on the earth. If that is not prevailed upon by death, held back by death, then that is to say that death will not stop the church from being built.
The word translated "shall prevail" (used with the negative) is found twice in the New Testament, also in Luke 23:23. In the Luke passage, the people crying for Jesus' crucifixion, including the chief priests, prevailed. That means that their plans worked. Jesus was crucified. In the same fashion, Jesus' building of His church would not be stopped by death. That reads like perpetuity and succession to me, especially in light of other thoughts expressed.
Jesus ties authority to this prevailing and the continuation of the building of His church in Matthew 16:19 with giving Peter ("thee," singular) the keys of the kingdom. People will keep being bound to the church, which does occur through salvation and baptism (immersion) [Acts 2:41]. The church has authority to bind, the means by which the church will continue to be built, despite people dying. Death won't stop His church, which is that it won't stop His churches.
The One Body and a System of Interpretation
What you will see as you read Bauder's chapter is that his problem with landmarkism is mainly its denial of a universal church. To prove the universal church, Bauder relies on 1 Corinthians 12:13. His heading for this is "The One Body." He is saying that when 1 Corinthians 12:13 says "one body," it means numeric one. He assumes numeric one without proof. Bauder also then sets apart "a majority of Baptists" from "Landmark Baptists" in the belief in a universal, invisible church. Bauder might be right that a majority of Baptists today believe in a universal, invisible church. I don't know -- maybe right now, they do. He doesn't prove that they always have or even that they do. There are a lot of Southern, independent, and unaffiliated Baptists who are local only in their ecclesiology.
A major flaw through history in the interpretation of scripture has been the error of spiritualizing or allegorizing scripture. It is a highly subjective kind of interpretation that was embraced by Roman Catholicism. The universal, invisible church doctrine started with Roman Catholicism, proceeding from its system of intepretation. The "universal, invisible church" arose from an allegorization of scripture. The doctrine perpetuated itself in other denominations through the Protestant Reformation. A lot of Roman Catholic doctrine was retained in Protestantism, including the same allegorization of scripture in many instances. Allegorization tends toward liberalism, because someone can easily make scripture to mean whatever he wants it to mean -- in other words, it is highly subjective.
There are many reasons to reject a "universal church," including the meaning of the word ekklesia, and then its usage. There is no grammatical basis for a universal, invisible church in the New Testament. Every singular use of the word ekklesia ("church") should be understood as a particular or a generic. Those are the two grammatical, objective choices for a singular noun. A sort of platonic use of the singular noun is an invention that entered into church dogma long after the completion of the New Testament, emerging from neoplatonism. I understand that Baptists have picked up this false teaching, just like they have acquired other false teachings, including false gospels.
My take on what has been called landmarkism is that it is a stand against a false view of the church, perpetuated by Roman Catholicism and continued in Protestantism. Men just put their foot down and said, it's not going to continue. We're stopping it right here if we can.
Through its system of interpretation, intended to justify a Catholic church, Roman Catholicism embraced a wrong soteriology, eschatology, and ecclesiology. When the Protestant Reformation came along, because men could read the Bible on their own, they made some necessary corrections in soteriology, but they continued to embrace a very subjective eschatology and ecclesiology. It's why the Reformers maintained their own version of the state church.
Bauder and others continue to embrace a corruption of biblical ecclesiology, except in a spiritualized form, which takes away from the authority of New Testament churches. It is one of the most dangerous and damaging doctrines existent today. Bauder continues to push and promote it in this chapter, repudiating a scriptural position on the church.
Based on my own observation, I see the universal church as a practical necessity for the multitude of parachurch organizations in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. It also allows men to be free agents, functioning without the authority of churches. This exponentially grows false doctrine and spreads error. It feeds off of pride. Men like being bigger than the church, taking almost apostolic like authority in a larger way. This was already occurring, it seems, in the first century, perhaps the doctrine of Nicolaitanism (people conquerors). Church authority became hierarchical. Individual churches lost their autonomy. This "greater authority" manipulates and influences pastors and churches in their attempts to fit into the larger sphere or domain.
Bauder sees most Baptists as "universal church." I said it might be true today. However, he especially sees the popularity of this in academia and in published materials. Those two have functioned outside of the parameters of the church. They justify their own existence with the doctrine of the universal church. This doctrine is very attractive to those who want to be included in that realm.
In the end, religion will be controlled by a universal church with the Antichrist at its head. To get there, individual and local autonomy must be broken down. The universal church idea is what feeds that and will lead to that one world church.
I'll be writing more as this series continues.