“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...