It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.I never have been in favor of ecumenism, in the sense of the World Council of Churches, or dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. I firmly believe that the Reformation principles of sola scriptura, solus Christus, sola gratia and sola fide (“only Scripture”, “only Christ”, “only grace”, and “only faith”) are watershed issues that necessarily divide between those who preach the gospel of Christ, and those who preach “a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1.6-7). If I did not believe that, I probably would not be dedicating my life and missionary ministry to a place with such a strong Roman Catholic tradition as the country of
Universal Invisible/Local Visible A widely held view of the meaning of “church” in the New Testament is that it refers both to a universal invisible spiritual body, and also to a local visible assembly of believers. This view is similar to the above view, except it limits the visible church to a local body with a distinct identity. Unlike the above view, the visible church does not include all professing believers. One automatically becomes a part of the universal church through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, and personal faith in Christ. However, one must personally unite with a local assembly of believers to be a part of the visible church. In other words, a person may be a part of the universal church and never join a local visible church. Likewise, a person may be a member of a local visible church and not be a part of the universal invisible church. This view of the church is held by many Southern Baptists and other Baptist groups. The Baptist Faith and Message, the official statement of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention, included an acknowledgment of the universal use of “church” in the 1963 revision. It basically defines church as a local visible autonomous assembly, but added this statement: “The New Testament speaks also of the church as the body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages.” The 2000 revision kept the universal statement with a slight expansion: “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.” Although acknowledging the universal use of church in the New Testament, both versions support the view that the primary meaning of church in the New Testament is that of a local visible autonomous assembly of baptized believers in Jesus Christ. The statement of a universal church amounts to simply an addendum that seeks to accommodate those within the Baptist fold who sees (sic) some sort of a universal church, but it is not an essential factor in defining the New Testament church.Consider as well the following interchange at the recent Baptist Identity Conference between Dr. Malcolm Yarnell and Dr. Paige Patterson, at the end of Dr. Patterson’s presentation on “What Contemporary Baptists can Learn from Anabaptists” (as reported by Marty Duren)…
First question from Malcolm Yarnell–”I’ve been looking in the Bible for the invisible church and it’s just not visible.” Would the anabaptists have held to the doctrine of the invisible church? Answer- Ekklesia is overwhelmingly used to refer to the visible, local church.Consider also the following quote from Dr. Yarnell’s article on The Baptist Renaissance at Southwestern:
Yet Baptist identity has fallen on hard times… It has become common to hear people refer to “the church,” not in its primary biblical sense of a local body, but in the secondary and eschatological sense of a universal body.I have no problem at all with recognizing and taking seriously what the Bible has to say about the local church. The only problem I have is when this emphasis, at the same time, demands downplaying the importance of our unity and cooperation with other born-again believers who were bought with the same blood as us, and will spend eternity in heaven together with us. It would appear, from what I am able to observe, that this belief on the relative unimportance of the Universal Church underlies the inference that our only real “partners” in the gospel and the fulfillment of the Great Commission are those who share not only our beliefs in the fundamentals of the gospel, but also our specifically “Baptist distinctives” as well… and, if we can’t cooperate with them on the mission field, we most certainly are not going to allow those who may have come to Christ and been baptized in their “churches” to join with us, and benefit from our Baptist Cooperative Program funds. I realize that for many all of this may seem like theological quibbling. You may prefer, just like I did before I got wind of what was at stake, to just “get on with ministry, tell people about Jesus, make disciples, and love one another.” However, if this line of thinking is not going to eventually affect how we as Southern Baptists do ministry in a very practical way on a day-to-day basis, I believe that some of us are going to have to do our “homework.” If you think God may be leading you to be one of these, I invite you to investigate further the important words that Gene Bridges has to say about Landmarkism in the Southern Baptist Convention here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, and especially, what classic Baptist theologian John Dagg has to say about the Church Universal here.