Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Universal Church and SBC Theology--Introduction

“There is no universal church.”

Thus says “Theo” aka the Baptisttheologue in the comments section at Founders.org.

So there, we have it, ladies and gentlemen. He even stated that the church mentioned in the Baptist Faith and Message is B.H. Carroll’s eschatological “glory” church that would not come into existence until the end of the age.

How far we have missed the mark. Apparently, “Theo,” wishes to attribute B.H. Carroll’s theology to the 1963 BFM and the 2000 BFM. This is obviously anachronisitic. The 1963 version of the BFM was written by Dr. Herschel Hobbs, who himself affirmed the existence of a universal church of the kind taught by Dr. John L. Dagg, who is likely the greatest theologian Southern Baptists have ever produced.

So, it seems that those within the Southern Baptist Convention need to be reminded that the ecclesiology of Carroll, Hayden, Graves, and Pendleton has been consistently rejected by the Convention for over a century, but it is still with us. Perhaps they also need to read what Dr. John L. Dagg had to say about these matters and produce a convincing argument that the majority of Southern Baptists are in error.

Dr. Dagg writes specifically against this pernicious rejection of the universal church by Graves, Pendleton, and Carroll in his Manual on Theology. Some of you all may be wondering, “What does it mean to reject the universal church? I thought Baptists believed this." Indeed! The Second LCBF and the Philadelphia Confession both affirm this doctrine.

Simply put, the Landmark Baptists have devised a high church ecclesiology that indexes baptism to virtually everything. For these folks, there is no invisible church. There is only a succession of visible churches (all Baptist of course) that have run through the ages.

Leon McBeth in The Baptist Heritage writes of them that their key tenets are:

1. Baptist Churches are the only true churches in the world.

2. The true church is a local, visible institution. Graves emphasized the New Testament church was a single congregation, complete in itself, independen of other bodies civil or religious, amenable only to Christ (Graves, Old Landmarkism: What is It? p.38). Graves believed the word “ecclesia” is used primarily for the local church and, referencing the Landmark allegory Theodosia Ernest, a Landmark book written in the vein of Paul Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, he expounds his doctrines.

3. The churches and the kingdom of God were conterminous. This logically inferred only Baptists are Christians, though Graves denied this.

4. There must be no “pulpit affiliation” with non-Baptists.

5. Only a church can do churchly acts (baptism, Lord's Supper, etc.)
.
6. Baptist churches have existed in ever age by an unbroken historical succession.

The purpose of this series I will be posting over the course of the next few days is not to examine the full range of Landmark Baptist ecclesiology or comment on it. That will have to wait for another day. The purpose is to post John L. Dagg’s Chapter 3 on the Universal Church found in his Manual of Theology. A few days ago, I posted lengthy portions from his Treatise on Church Order (Chapter 12 of the Manual). Astute readers will see in that earlier post that Dagg writes to contradict paedobaptists of his day, but he has stronger words for the Landmarks of his day.
That section referred to Chapter 3 several times. What does Chapter 3 say? Good question, and that's what we're going to find out.

In Chapter 3, Dr. Dagg shows that regeneration, not baptism is the door of membership in the church universal, and the church universal does exist. Choosing Theodosia Ernest’s content as his foil, he contradicts the Landmarks on many things. While he agrees that visible churches are composed of baptized persons, he, I believe rightly reminds his readers that visible churches are composed of regenerated and baptized members, but not all visible churches are composed of regenerate members, including those in Baptist churches. Implicit in the previous entry on Dr. Dagg from Chapter 12 on Church Order we saw that a credible profession (not a saving profession) is what is required for local church membership and participation in baptism, as we cannot know with absolute certainty who is saved and who is not.

The Baptist ideal of a regenerate church membership is just that, an ideal. Believer’s baptism is a control, but not an infallible control that is intended to keep the unregenerate out. I posted an article by Jim Eliff last week that reminds the SBC that they are an unregenerate denomination. Even if we could say that 90 percent of the SBC was regenerate (oh that they were), we would not be a "regenerate" denomination. We would be "mostly regenerate." The church will not be one regenerate organized visible group until the last day. This is Carroll's glory church. I (and Dagg) agree such a church will exist, but we also affirm that there is a universal church today that is visible, but not organized, and that has an invisible component, the church triumphant.

Dr. Dagg will, rather than beginning with the idea that an invisible church is, as Graves said, "invisible nonsense," look at what theologians have meant by "invisible" and "visible" and "universal" and "generic." He will agree with Landmarks on a few items, but he will show us how the Landmark doctrine does not deal with what theologians have meant by these terms, showing us how sloppy they really are. He will discuss why these distinctions have been used by theologians and how dogmatic usage and biblical usage can validly differ but still form a coherent theology that does not make the Landmark error.

Dr. Dagg will differentiate between organization and visibility. This is a key point in his argument, and exposes a fundamental level confusion in the Landmark argument, for they assume, without benefit of argument, that organization is part and parcel of visibility, an integral, necessary component. Dr. Dagg will argue that, of those living today, the universal church is visible, but that entrance to it is by regeneration, not baptism, and the visible church is composed not of regenerate and baptized, but both unregenerate and regenerate, both baptized, so Christ is made an adulterer if the Landmark doctrine is correct. In another sense, the universal chuch is invisible as God alone of a certainty knows who is regenerate and who is not.

Especially important is Dagg’s handling of the arguments against the universal church made from Scripture. “Theo,” points to B.H. Carroll’s discussion of the word “ecclesia.” So what? There is more to the argument for the universal church than the use of the word “ecclesia.” There is the argument from the use of the word “body.” What of Paul, he claimed membership in more than one church, including Rome, which he had, at the time, not yet visited, and Phoebe is countenanced as “our sister” the servant of the churches in Cenchrea, to the Roman church? Landmarks often claim that Saul did not persecute an “invisible” church. Dr. Dagg differs and will discuss that argument in detail and look at the interior logic of the Landmark doctrine. He will, indirectly, discuss the concept of this “glory church” in the eschatological age, and, while agreeing such a church exists, will point out that it exists in a progressive fashion this very day, by virtue of the union between the church triumphant in heaven and the church militant on earth, a church of all the regenerate, but not all the baptized (in credo-baptist fashion). Had Dr. Dagg written today, he very likely would have made comments about “semantic inflation,” “semantic anachronism” and other such terms to describe the exegesis of Carroll, Graves, Pendleton, “Theo,” and the like.

Over the course of the next few days, I will post, without commentary, the entire text of Chapter 3 of John L. Dagg’s Manual of Theology. My hope is that Southern Baptist readers will pay attention and consider what Dr. Dagg says very carefully.

The chapter is divided into seven sections. For ease of reading, I will post 2 or 3 sections a day until the series is complete. This introductory post will serve as the first posting. A follow up post will contain Section 1 on Membership, as it is quite lengthy. Pay attention, ladies and gentlemen. Dr. Dagg is a 19th century writer. His style is quite formal, so you have to read him carefully. As this is a series of quotes without commentary on my part, I will post without the use of the quote function. This will make for easier formatting. So, without further adieu...

7 comments:

  1. Gene, let's look at the clear wording of the 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message dealing with this subject:

    "The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages."

    The key phrase is "all the ages." This includes past, present, and future ages. Obviously, the future is not yet here, and thus this church is not yet in existence. The statement is describing the church in glory, not a hypothetical, invisible, universal church of the present era. The redeemed of the future are not yet in existence, and the church described as including all the redeemed of all the ages is not yet in existence.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post! One of my professors was a Landmarkist in his younger days, but came to reject it and was promptly excommunicated. He told us all about it.

    Also, I was wondering exactly how Theo's objection actually contradicts anything you said. No one disagress with the statement "all the ages," and his basic explanation seems correct- but how does it in any way contradict the concept of the universal church? Can I affirm that the universal church existed in 'all the ages?' If anything, these statements tend to reinforce my belief in the universal church.

    ReplyDelete
  3. MB, the following is a common definition for the "invisible, universal church":

    "Definition: The Universal Church derives its definition from the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit. The key verse on this is 1 Cor. l2:l3,'by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.' We see from this passage that the church is like the physical manifestation of Christ, i.e., his body. Other passages which use the same imagery are Rom. l2:4-5; 1 Cor. l2:11,l8,27. The point in all of these passages seems to be that anyone who has experienced this baptism is automatically a member of the body of Christ."

    http://www.zenos.org/CLASSES/um1-1a.htm

    The "invisible, universal church" is usually a reference to all Christians on earth at a particular point in time. This would leave out redeemed infants dying in infancy. The BF&M definition of the church in glory, in contrast, includes "all the redeemed of all the ages." This would include redeemed infants who died in infancy, and they will be able to assemble in glory with all the other redeemed people of all the ages to worship the Lord. The church in glory will include redeemed people from the past who are now physically dead, and it will also include people from the future who are not presently existing. The "invisible, universal church" does not include physically dead people from the past or people from the future who do not yet exist. The church in glory is a different concept from the "invisible, universal church."

    ReplyDelete
  4. Correction on web site address:

    http://www.xenos.org/CLASSES/um1-1a.htm

    ReplyDelete
  5. Good Quote by Al Mohler about infants dying in infancy:
    ___________________________________
    Based on these arguments, I believe that we can have confidence that God receives all infants into Heaven.

    Salvation is all of grace, and God remains forever sovereign in the entire process of our salvation. The Bible clearly teaches the doctrine of election, but it nowhere suggests that all those who die in infancy are not among the elect. Even the Westminster Confession, the most authoritative Reformed confession, states the matter only in the positive sense, affirming that all elect infants are received into Heaven. It does not require belief in the existence of any non-elect infants. Those who insist that all we can say is that elect infants are saved while non-elect infants are not, confuse the issue by assuming or presuming the existence of non-elect infants and leaving the matter there.

    We must remember that God is both omnipotent and omniscient. He gave these little ones life, knowing before the creation of the world that they would die before reaching moral maturity and thus the ability to sin by intention and choice. Did He bring these infants--who would never consciously sin--into the world merely as the objects of His wrath?

    The great Princeton theologians Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield certainly did not think so. These defenders of Reformed orthodoxy taught that those who die in infancy die in Christ. Hodge pointed to the example of Jesus: "The conduct and language of our Lord in reference to children are not to be regarded as matters of sentiment, or simply expressive of kindly feeling. He evidently looked upon them as lambs of the flock for which, as the Good Shepherd, He laid down his life, and of whom He said they shall never perish, and no man could pluck them out of his hands. Of such He tells us is the kingdom of Heaven, as though Heaven was, in good measure, composed of the souls of redeemed infants."

    Charles Spurgeon, the great evangelical preacher of Victorian England, and John Newton, the author of "Amazing Grace," added pastoral urgency to this affirmation. Spurgeon was frustrated with preachers who claimed to have no answer to this question, and he hurled judgment on anyone who would claim that infants would populate Hell.
    ___________________________________
    http://www.crosswalk.com/news/weblogs/mohler/1305028.html?view=print

    ReplyDelete
  6. Just pondering on your statement that, ". . . Dr. John L. Dagg, who is likely the greatest theologian Southern Baptists have ever produced. . . . " Would you say that Dagg is greater than James P. Boyce, who was a professor and president of Southern Seminary? Boyce also published a systematic theology, Abstract of Systematic Theology, published in 1887. I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your statement, but wanted to hear your thoughts on Boyce.

    Lewis

    ReplyDelete
  7. "The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages."

    The key phrase is "all the ages." This includes past, present, and future ages. Obviously, the future is not yet here, and thus this church is not yet in existence. The statement is describing the church in glory, not a hypothetical, invisible, universal church of the present era. The redeemed of the future are not yet in existence, and the church described as including all the redeemed of all the ages is not yet in existence.


    To know what this means, look to the one who wrote it, Dr. Hobbs. Hobbs was confronted with this objection from Pendleton, and he simply stated "Pendleton discusses the church in aggregate."

    You are drawing distinctions he did not, himself, make. Nice try though.

    As far as infants dying in infancy, there are five positions on this in Reformed Theology. You would do better to read Warfield.

    The "invisible, universal church" does not include physically dead people from the past or people from the future who do not yet exist. The church in glory is a different concept from the "invisible, universal church."

    This concept refers to God's conception of the church at any given time, sir. Is he aware of any persons that do not exist yet? Is He subject to time? Does he not know who the infants are dying in infancy?

    The "invisible, universal church" is usually a reference to all Christians on earth at a particular point in time.

    Here, sir, is the confessional definition of "universal church":

    The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be, gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that fills all in all. Clearly, according to this defintion, it encompasses both your "glory church" and the composite of all believers on earth at any given time.

    ReplyDelete