A Lesson from History
By I. K. Cross
Some feel that the issue of the universal church is not important. 'Others declare that Baptists have been divided over the issue through the ages, never coming to agreement on the subject.' This depends upon whom you call Baptists. Not everyone that wears the name qualifies with the evidence. On the other hand, prior to the 16th Century Reformation, Baptists were not even known by that name.
“Catholic” in the Generic Sense.
It is true that groups identified with Baptist principles prior to the Reformation occasionally used the term “catholic,” or “universal” when referring to the church.
But what did they mean?
There was nothing else around except the Roman and Greek Orthodox Catholic churches, and groups such as the Paulicians and Donatists certainly did not intend to include them when using the term. All they meant by the term was all true churches considered as one group, much as we use the term church in a generic sense. History reveals, quite clearly what these congregations believed about the purity and independence of local congregations.
It is also true that when the first confession of faith was written for the Philadelphia Association in America, they used the term “universal church.”
But a sense of history will clear up your thinking on what these churches believed about the nature of the church. The association was originally made of of Baptists from Wales, one congregation coming as a body from that country. Their minutes were kept in the Welsh language for a number of years. No one knew better than the Baptist in Wales the price they had paid for the true nature of New Testament churches. They had been hounded by the legions and bishops of Rome and they survived only because they could secure themselves in the mountains of that country during the harsh winters. They had steadfastly refused to bow to the concept of the catholic church of Rome, and who would dare accuse them of compromising with the Protestant Reformers’ catholic substitute!
Danger of the Universal Church Concept.
Is there a real danger in the universal, invisible church concept, or is it merely a side issue? Back in the 19th century Southern Baptists were writing about the “Universal Church Heresy,” (Re-Thinking Baptist Doctrines, Victor I. Masters, editor). But in 1939 Dr. Aldredge couldn’t even get the floor of the convention to introduce a resolution declaring they did not accept the idea.
Southern Baptist Convention Embraces the Universal Church Theory.
In 1963 the SBC wrote the universal church into their declaration of faith (Baptist Faith and Message). Now the denomination declares itself Protestant, claiming its heritage goes no farther back than the 16th century. They meet gladly with Roman Catholic leaders and even greeted the Pope of Rome on his arrival in the U.S. last year. Many of their churches accept baptisms from Protestant denominations and practice open communion, and it is also taught in the classrooms of their schools by a number of their professors.
Shot through with Modernism.
This position was taken by the northern convention, American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., long before it was received in the South, and they have become so shot through with modernism that they receive the National and World Council of Churches as an affiliate. It is the universal church concept that has opened the door for the forward thrust of the ecumenical movement among Protestant churches today.
Read Up on Church History.
Read history before you embrace the universal church concept, or call it a minor issue. Isaiah warned about drawing sin as it were a cart rope (Isaiah 5:18). Shall we gradually lose our identity as Landmark Missionary Baptists by blending gradually with the dull grey of a universal church protestantism, or will we reaffirm the basic principle upon which we have held our ground through the centuries?
[From The Baptist Sentinel, March 1988; via R. L. Vaughn Blog. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More on Baptists: Various Subjects
Baptist History Homepage