The Universal Church - An Enemy of Soul Winning
by Pastor Jack Hyles
(Chapter 8 from Dr. Hyles book, Enemies of Soul-Winning)
(For a detailed study on the doctrine of the church, consult the author's book on this subject.)
I could not believe my ears! I was listening to a preacher on the radio. He announced that it was time to take communion. He suggested that each listener get a cracker or a piece of bread and some juice and sit beside the radio and take communion with his other listeners. He then said, "If you do not have any bread, a banana would be all right. If you don't have any juice, any kind of liquid, even a glass of water, will do as long as you do it in memory of the broken body and shed blood of Christ." What a tragedy! What a travesty! What a total lack of knowledge concerning the Lord's Supper being an ordinance of the New Testament church!
I was reading a national publication. It told of an international youth organization having communion at its annual convention. What a shame to miss totally the purpose of the Lord's Supper and bypass the institution to whom it was given!
Over and over again I hear and read the term, "electronic church." Of course, there is no such thing as the electronic church, but it is just as scriptural as the term "invisible church" or "universal church."
The word "church" in the New Testament is a "called out assembly," and it is to have pastors, deacons and members. This called-out assembly has been given a commission found in Matthew 28:19, 20, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
Mark 16:15, "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to even creature."
The local church has been given two ordinances: baptism and the Lord's Supper. The church is the unit by which the work of God is carried on.
The following sentences are certainly an oversimplification and at best are a summary. The New Testament knows nothing about "a church" or "the church," except as it is given a location. All believers cannot and do not form a church because all believers have not yet become a called-out assembly. This chapter is being dictated on an airplane. I am flying from Chicago to Charlotte, North Carolina. It is Monday afternoon. Yesterday, a called-out assembly met in an auditorium on the corner of Oakley Street and Sibley Street in Hammond, Indiana. This called-out assembly is named the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. This is all that Jesus had in mind when He started the New Testament church, and it seems that for some time the Christian world used the term "church" only as it relates to a local, called-out assembly.
Shortly after the beginning of the fourth century, Emperor Constantine supposedly was converted. He had a desire for all to do likewise, and it has been recorded by some that he commanded baptism. From this endeavor came the Catholic denomination. It was named the "universal church," the name "Catholic" meaning "universal."
Here the battle started. We then had New Testament Baptist people (though often called by other names such as Anabaptists, etc.) believing in the Scriptural doctrine of the local, New Testament church, and we had the Catholic denomination advocating a universal church. Hence, the battle started concerning this doctrine, and it wages until this day. Historically, the Anabaptists and Catholics strongly differed on the doctrine of the church.
With the passing of the centuries came the Protestant Reformation from which came our Protestant denominations of today. Of course, the Reformation began as a battle between Martin Luther and the Catholic denomination over justification by faith; and though Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and other reformers are to be greatly admired, they, nevertheless, continued the Catholic originated doctrine of the universal church; that is, that all believers form the church. The term "invisible church" is often associated with this doctrine.
As far as this doctrine is concerned, the battle that once was Catholics versus Baptists now becomes Catholics plus Protestants versus Baptists.
With the passing of the centuries something happened that I often call the "second reformation." As the Protestant denominations became more liberal, especially on the doctrine of salvation, many churches and pastors and members became disenchanted with the mainline Protestant denominations. From this group came what we call "inter-denominationalists." Basically, they are fundamental Protestants, and much of their discontent with the mainline Protestant denominations was caused by the same thing that caused the first reformation - the doctrine of justification by faith. However, just as their forefathers protested on that doctrine, they did not protest on the doctrine of the church and continued teaching the doctrine of the universal or invisible church.
So the first battle concerning this doctrine was waged between the Catholics and the Baptists. Upon the first reformation, the Protestants joined in this malay, and at the second reformation the interdenominationalists were added to those advocating the universal or invisible church, making it now a battle between the Catholics, Protestants and interdenominationalists versus Baptists. Sad to say, because so many Baptist preachers have been trained in inter-denominational institutions, the doctrine of the universal or invisible church has infiltrated even Baptist movements and Baptist churches. The usually reliable Scofield Bible has added fuel to the flame until it has now become in many Baptist circles unpopular for one to advocate and believe the historic Baptist doctrine that Jesus started only the called-out assembly, or the local New Testament church, and that that is the only church in existence and will be until the rapture.
As we investigate this doctrine of the church, it must be remembered that we are always talking about a called-out assembly.
1. There are now New Testament churches. Much has been said about when New Testament churches started. The Scofield Bible erroneously teaches that the "church" was started at Pentecost. Of course, we can not accept the fact that there is such a thing as "the church." There are churches, and the first New Testament church was started during the personal ministry of Jesus Christ. Since it is a "called-out assembly," it appears that the first church was started in Matthew 10:1, "And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease." The word "called" here comes from the same root word from which the word "church" comes. Here Jesus called out the apostles. Matthew 10:2-4, "Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alpheus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him."
Now turn to I Corinthians 12:28, "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." Notice that in the church were first apostles. It was in Matthew 10 when Jesus called out the apostles. Though I would not make an issue of this, it seems plain to me that this was the beginning of the first called-out assembly or the first church. I would make an issue, however, that the church was not started on Pentecost, and that it was started sometime during the public ministry of Jesus.
Notice please Matthew 18:17, "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." Here we have a mention of a local called-out assembly. Mr. Scofield in his Bible says that this is "discipline in the future church," but there is nothing that says, "tell it to the future church"; it simply says, "tell it to the church." The church was certainly in existence by Matthew 18:17.
Read Acts 2:41, 47, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." Notice the words "added to." It is impossible to add to something that is not already in existence. It is obvious that these verses are talking about people being added to the local New Testament church assembly. Consequently, there must have been an assembly. You cannot add to something that is not already in existence. (Again, study my book, The Church for a more detailed explanation.)
2. Though the New Testament church was started during the earthly ministry of Jesus, there were such assemblies in the Old Testament. God never changes His philosophies. If Christians in the New Testament age need the fellowship of God's people and compose a unit for that fellowship, for the propagation of the Gospel, and for the edification of believers, then there would certainly be a need in every age for a similar assembly. Again, let it be stated that we are not talking about a New Testament church. However, wouldn't the Old Testament Christians need to get together? Wouldn't there be a need for edification, for Bible study?
Notice Acts 7:3 7, 38, "This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us." The Israelites were called "a church in the wilderness." Now this does not mean they were a New Testament church. It does mean that they were a called-out assembly. They had been in Egypt, through the Passover lamb and the Red Sea miracle; they were called out of Egypt, and they assembled in the wilderness. So, this was a called-out assembly - not a New Testament church, but, nevertheless, God had called out His people and had them assembled. Again let me emphasize that God never changes His philosophies. If His people in one age need to assemble, His people in all ages need to assemble.
3. There will be a church in the air.
Hebrews 12:23, "To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect." In conjunction with this, read I Thessalonians 4:14-1 8, ' 'For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
Here we have what is commonly called the rapture or the calling away or the calling out of God's people. This will take place at the first resurrection when all the saved people are called out of the world to an assembly in the air where we will enjoy the Marriage of the Lamb, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and the Judgment Seat of Christ. Then for the first time, all of God's people will be assembled. Because they will be called out, and because they will be assembled, then and only then will all Christians become a church, for then and only then will all Christians become a called-out assembly!
I make a big issue of this because of the error that many make of bypassing local congregations because they feel they belong to "the church" simply because they are saved. These are they who advocate the doctrine of the invisible church, such as all believers are called in the Scofield Bible.
The very nature of their work, however, contradicts their doctrinal position, for those who advocate the doctrine of the invisible church always go to the visible church when they need money, and, gullible as we are, we in the visible churches support our invisible church friends, as they bypass us but feed off of us!
It is also interesting to note that colleges and Bible institutes that teach the invisible church seem to get most of their students from the visible churches. Often, however, these same invisible church adherents neglect and sometimes ignore the local church. Mr. Scofield even calls the invisible church the "true church," which would imply to me that the local church is not the true church.
In one interdenominational institution that has many Baptist students, the students are not allowed to go to a church on Sunday morning. They have what they call the "campus church." (There are as many Scriptures for the electronic church as there are for the campus church!) It might be interesting to visit that campus on a Sunday evening and a Wednesday evening to see what emphasis it gives to the very institutions who have made it what it is. They are sending out preachers to pastor the very institutions that they neglect and overlook. One of its graduates told me recently that she attended that institution for four years and never one time went to a Baptist church.
4. There will be some kind of an "assembly" in the tribulation and in the millennium.
God will not change His mind about the needs of His people. We are told that there will be multitudes of people saved in the tribulation period. It seems to me that these people would need more than ever a place of refuge, of strength, of edification, of encouragement, of Bible teaching, like a church. Though there will not be "New Testament churches," nevertheless, there will be assemblies of Christian people who will need such an institution.
Preachers often erroneously call this "the church age." It should be called the "New Testament church age." There is no doubt that the New Testament assembly (church) is a unique one, and there has never been nor ever will be one exactly like it. Bearing in mind that God does not change His philosophies, nor will the needs of Christian people change, there must be some unit of assembly for the Christians in the tribulation and in the millennium.
The Great Commission will likewise be given to these assemblies or, better still, it will apply to them. Matthew 28:19, 20, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." Notice the words, "even unto the end of the world." When will the world end? Read Revelation 20:11, "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them." Revelation 21:1, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea." This is at the end of the millennium, after which we will abide in the New Jerusalem. Until that time, there will always be saved people who will live on earth, and an unchanging God will have some form of assembly for them, so it is interesting that the Great Commission is until the end of the world, which means that there will be soul winning in the tribulation and in the millennium, and there will be baptisms in the tribulation and in the millennium. These are church ordinances or assembly ordinances.
Now turn to Matthew 26:29, "But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." You will notice here that our Saviour promised us that He will one day take communion with us. So we see that communion will be given and taken during the millennium. Since this supper is a church ordinance (or an assembly ordinance), it leads us to believe that there will be some kind of an assembly of Christians until the end of the millennium.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that these assemblies will not be New Testament churches. New Testament churches were started by Jesus Himself probably in Matthew 10:1, and certainly during the public ministry of Jesus, and will end when all believers of this New Testament church age are raptured, thereby forming the church in the air.
During this New Testament church age, we are to be faithful in attending our churches just as a soldier is faithful and supportive of his own unit of battle. Suppose I meet a soldier on the street, and I ask him, "What battalion are you in?" and he replies, "Oh, I don't belong to a local battalion; I belong to the invisible army or the universal army. Occasionally I visit a local squad or platoon or company or battalion, and I think they are all right, but I belong to the great battalion composed of all soldiers everywhere." My dear reader, such soldiers would build an army that would never win a battle. There must be the individual fighting unit, and there must be leaders in that unit. So God has given us the individual fighting unit called the local church. Without it we will be as ineffective as an army would be without squads or companies or battalions; and the invisible, universal church is as unscriptural as the universal, invisible army is unlawful!
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