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Debunking of Nine Marks Dual Church View: Both Universal and Local Churches
By Kent Brandenburg
Part One

      On 8/25/2022, the organization Nine Marks, started by Pastor Mark Dever of Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, published on its website an article written by Jonathan Leeman, the editorial director of Nine Marks, entitled, “The Church: Universal and Local” (Click on the article to compare this analysis with the post). Nine Marks, I believe, wants to defend “local” because that is the main emphasis of Nine Marks. In the articles I have read by Nine Marks, they want to emphasize the meaning of “assembly” for ekklesia. That is enough to get major push back from the rest of evangelicalism.

      Despite its doctrine of the church, local, Nine Marks teaches a universal church in the above article also as its position on the church, so a dual church view. Is there both a universal church and a local church? This post will begin an assessment of Leeman’s article as to its ecclesiological veracity.

      In his first paragraph, the introduction, Leeman provides his definition for a universal church, a contradiction in terms, and for a local church. He calls the “universal church” “a heavenly and eschatological assembly.” You have to admire the point of consistency from Leeman with the meaning of ekklesia in his definition. He sticks with “assembly” through the essay. However, if it is an assembly, how could it be “universal”? Something universal does not and can not assemble. Leeman forces the definition to fit a catholic presupposition.

      In Leeman’s summary, the second paragraph, he says the “New Testament envisions two kinds of assemblies.” I can’t argue against an assembly in heaven. Saints will assemble in heaven (cf. Hebrew 12:23). The church is not just any assembly though. The New Testament uses ekklesia to refer to something other than the church, and the King James translates it “assembly,” referring to a group of people gathered together, not a church (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). An assembly in heaven, the King James also calls “an assembly,” because it isn’t a church.

      I’ve heard the heavenly assembly called a “church in prospect.” Leeman doesn’t use that terminology, but he takes the essence of that and stretches it into something mystical and for today. He calls salvation the membership for the universal church. All the saints will not be in “heaven,” actually the new heaven and the new earth, until the eternal state. The Bible has terminology for all saved people: the family of God and the kingdom of God. What occurs in heaven is not an ecclesiological gathering. The heavenly assembly does not function as a New Testament assembly.

      The practical ramification of a “universal church,” Leeman explains, is “a local church that partners with other churches.” Leeman knows that nowhere does an English translation call the church a “local church.” Every church is local. Assemblies are always local. Churches should partner with other churches, but that isn’t a universal church. Those are still assemblies partnering with other assemblies of like faith and practice.

      In his section, “Two Uses of the Word ‘Church’,” Leeman utilizes Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18:17, the only two usages of ekklesia in the Gospels and both by Jesus. He says the first is universal and the second is local. Since no assembly is universal, he’s wrong on Matthew 16:18. An analysis of every usage of ekklesia by Jesus, most in Revelation 2 and 3, and over twenty times, every one is obviously local. Good hermeneutics or exegesis understands Matthew 16:18 like all the other times Jesus used ekklesia, where Jesus said, “my church.”

      Jesus’ ekklesia is still an ekklesia, not something scattered all over the world, but still an assembly. When He calls it “my ekklesia,” Jesus distinguishes it from other governing assemblies. People in that day already understood the concept of a town meeting, a governing assembly. Jesus rules through His assembly and gives it His authority. Ekklesia was also the Greek word translated for the Hebrew congregation of Israel, the assembly in the Old Testament.

      Leeman attempts to illustrate his dual church doctrine with two examples from the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:18 and 1 Corinthians 12:28.

For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. (11:18)

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. (12:28)

      Leeman says that 11:18 must be local and 12:28 must be universal. Leeman fails to mention a syntactical structure in Greek and English, either the particular or generical singular noun. Singular nouns have either a particular or generic usage. Singular nouns must be one or the other. 11:18 is an example of a particular singular noun. 12:28 is an example of a generic singular noun. The latter speaks of the church as an institution, representing all churches. Ephesians 5:25 is a good example of the generic use of the singular noun.
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
      If there is a universal church, then there must be a universal husband and a universal wife. All of these singular nouns are examples of the generic singular noun. “The husband” is still a husband in one particular place or location. There is no mystical or platonic husband. This is how Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12:28. If the church in 12:28 is universal, then Paul excluded himself from salvation in 1 Corinthians 12:27, the previous verse, when he writes:
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
      He says concerning the church at Corinth, “ye are the body of Christ,” excluding himself. When Paul uses the body analogy, he means something local. All bodies are local. All body parts belong to one particular body, not spread out all over the planet.

      Leeman assumes without proving. He does not prove a universal church. He assumes it and then he sees it places in the New Testament where it isn’t. His conclusions do not follow from his premises. In his section on “Universal Church,” being “God’s people” in 1 Peter 2:10 and adopted into God’s family in Romans 8:15 are not allusions to a church or “the” church.” These are salvation terms, not ecclesiological ones.

      All 118 usages of ekklesia in the New Testament are an assembly either used as a particular singular noun or a generic singular noun. An ekklesia is always local. In a few instances, the assembly is something other than a church, but when it is used for the church, it is always local. That’s what ekklesia means.


[From WHAT IS TRUTH, September 4, 2022. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall. H/T to R.L. Vaughn, Used with permission.]

Debunking of Nine Marks Dual Church View, Part 2
Debunking of Nine Marks Dual Church View, Part 3
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