Debunking of Nine Marks Dual Church View: Both Universal and Local Churches
By Kent Brandenburg
Nowhere does scripture make a connection between an earthly church and then a final heavenly church. Neoplatonic Christianity or professing Christianity invented this idea, one borrowed by Jonathan Leeman in his article, The Church: Universal and Local, for the 9 Marks parachurch organization. A believer in a salvific way has a citizenship in heaven and has a seat in heaven in the sense that God reserved it for him, which is like someone seated in Congress without physically being there. Because He saved me and keeps saving me, Jesus anchors me in the heavenly holy of holies. The seating of me and the anchoring of me there does not mean I am there in the present. It is a blessed guarantee of my salvation.
Universal church ecclesiology uses neoplatonic language. It says the true church is all believers, the apparent “universal church,” which manifests itself in a visible church, the local one. It finds reality in the ideal or the mystical. Leeman says the universal church becomes local by gathering. A church is a gathering. A gathering doesn’t become a gathering by gathering. The not-gathered thing is not a gathering. This is also how all of the New Testament reads. It’s not called a gathering or an assembly when it doesn’t assemble. It isn’t an assembly then. The only reason why Leeman talks about the church as universal comes from neoplatonism.
Jonathan Leeman writes a unique ecclesiology. The dual church view isn’t unique, but his attempt to keep an attachment to the literal meaning of ekklesia, “assembly.” 9 Marks and he see the damage of the typical universal church teaching, that becomes easily untethered from the biblical practice of the church, which is only local. The typical universal church teaching creates free agents without accountability, living how they want yet continuing to call themselves Christians.
The attempt to keep congruity between assembly and universal church keeps Leeman in the mainstream of evangelicalism, which loves its universal church. It keeps alive a multitude of boards, conventions, associations, colleges, universities, and other parachurch organizations. Someone can live and work in that parachurch world as if it is Christian ministry without anything like it in the Bible. It is unhelpful, but mainly untrue. Whatever kingdom-like quality Leeman wants to attribute to the church, the mixture of the universal undermines the authority that the kingdom of Jesus Christ possesses.
As one might expect, Leeman’s system of interpretation effects his outcome. He fails to mention, however, his system — amillennialism. That system must see a universal church, which is a synonym with the kingdom. It erases a line between soteriology and ecclesiology. It results in reading his conclusions into scripture.
A Kingdom Argument
Leeman uses a doctrine of the kingdom to argue for a universal church. Some truth exists within the framework of his argument. As a representative of His church, Jesus gives Peter the keys to the kingdom in Matthew 16:18-19. That does not mean the church is the kingdom, which emerges from amillennialism, an eschatology of Roman Catholicism and Capital Hill Baptist Church, Mark Dever, and 9 Marks. The church and the kingdom interrelate like the church and the family of God do.
Leeman says the church provides the way to say who citizens of the kingdom are. He compares church membership to the means of possessing the passport into the kingdom. To know who they are, Leeman postulates baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the means. He says these are covenant signs of the new covenant, so they express the entrance requirements into the kingdom. Nothing in the Bible says this. It is nifty inventiveness to attempt to prove a point, while having nothing to do so. It’s another way of my saying that it’s a stretch by Leeman.
The article further argues the kingdom/church concept with the language of “binding” and “loosing” in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18. Churches are doing kingdom work. They are not the kingdom. They represent the kingdom on earth. God gives the church — churches — heavenly authority to judge who is in and who is out. I’m sure that Leeman knows that doesn’t mean that the church kicks people out of heaven or out of the kingdom.
Jesus characterizes the extent of the judgment of the church in Matthew 18:17, “Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” The church regards a person as heathen. He may not be heathen. The man under church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5 proved himself to be a kingdom citizen, even though the church loosed him. The Lord Jesus Christ gives to the church, which is visible and local, the earthly judgment of heavenly or kingdom citizenship.
It’s true that someone, who isn’t baptized, doesn’t take of the Lord’s Table, won’t join a church, doesn’t submit to church leadership, and won’t gather with a church, the church should judge as not saved. Christ gave that judgment to the church. This doesn’t mean the church is the kingdom. It’s been given the authority of the kingdom. The King of the kingdom is Christ and the Head of the church is Christ.
The Bible offers a distinct soteriology and a distinct ecclesiology. They are distinct doctrines. However, they also relate to one another. Church membership requires salvation. However, it also requires baptism. Baptism isn’t salvation. It isn’t a “putting away of the filth of the flesh” (1 Peter 3:21). According to the New Testament, a church can have unbelievers in it, a mixed multitude, and will very often have unsaved church members, who should examine themselves whether they be in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Most reading here know that church membership is not the same as salvation.
Terminology like church, temple, and body relate to the church. Words like kingdom, family, and saint relate to salvation. You can be in the kingdom, family, and a saint without baptism. To be in the church, temple, and body, you must be baptized. Scripture shows some relationship between terms of the church and of salvation. However, Leeman takes this further than what scripture teaches in order to vindicate his false universal church teaching.
Leeman attempts to justify the universal church with a historical argument, using the patristics and the Protestant Reformers. He portrays a pendulum swing between an emphasis on the local church then the universal church and then back to the local church, meanwhile both churches existing with his dual church view. He writes the following:Yet among Baptist groups the risk now would be to shift the weight of the body entirely onto the other foot, where Christians would give all their attention to the local church and little to the universal. Certain strains of Baptist churches, such as the Landmarkists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, would in fact argue that only the local church exists. They would also refuse to share the Lord’s Supper with anyone who was not a member of their own church. Gratefully, such strains were rare.He charges Baptists with overemphasis on the local church, especially those he calls and others label, “Landmarkists.” He attacks closed communion, unwillingness to share the Lord’s Supper with someone not a member of his church. I would contend that the Landmarkists brought ecclesiology back to scripture and communion back to its “communion of the Lord’s body,” which is local only. Christ gave communion to His church, which is local only.
The Landmarkers rose out of the Southern Baptist Convention, when Protestants shared their pulpits and partook in their communion. Baptists distinguish themselves as separatists. They separate from false doctrine such as infant sprinkling. Further, Southern Baptists allowed modernism or liberalism into the churches and rejected church perpetuity in their seminaries, leading to ecumenism. Landmarkers brought the Convention back to scripture and historic Baptist doctrines.
Leeman uses a kind of smear tactic, because his knowing what readers may have heard about Landmarkism. It’s like calling someone “flat earth” or “election denier.” It’s a rhetorical tactic. It doesn’t make a true historical or biblical point. He assumes people will think Landmarkism is bad, so they’ll associate local only ecclesiology then as bad too.
I agree that men through history believed in a local church, a universal church, in only a local church, and in both a local and a universal church. You can find all of those ecclesiological positions through history. However, we know a church is local. Where is the universal church in scripture and did it develop through history? Did it arise from neoplatonism?
Forced Universal with It “Showing Up”
Leeman says the universal church shows up in churches, which are local. He says that happens when churches cooperate with another in common service or labor for the Lord. Yes, churches all have the same Head if they are true churches. That doesn’t make a universal church. It is a generic church. It is an institutional understanding of church. Each true church has Christ as its head. This is not the discovery of or a doctrine of a universal church.
Churches either fellowship based upon the same doctrine and practice or they separate from one another. When they fellowship, that isn’t a universal church concept. That is just fellowship between two churches, like existed between the Jerusalem church and the Antioch church.
The universal concept of church seems to require churches cooperating. It leads to diminishment and corruption of true doctrine. If there is to be “no schism in the body” (1 Corinthians 12:25), and the body is universal, then no church should separate from one another. However, “the body” in 1 Corinthians 12 is defined as local in v. 27, when Paul says, “Ye are the body of Christ,” speaking of the church at Corinth. If it was universal, Paul would have written, “We are the body of Christ.” He doesn’t. Schisms exist between bodies. They are not to exist in the body.
The unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17 (v. 22) is found in separate churches that fellowship one with another based upon the truth (John 17:17). Unity is required in individual churches (Ephesians 4), not between separate churches. Separate churches attempt to have unity like Jerusalem and Antioch tried in Acts 15. True unity requires separation.
Evangelicals like Leeman do not teach biblical separation. They don’t write on it. They talk about church discipline, but they don’t teach on separation from other churches. Their false universal church teaching fuels this, which will mean apostasy for their churches and their movement. Every New Testament epistle teaches the doctrine of separation, which depends on a right view of the nature of the church.
[From WHAT IS TRUTH, September 11, 2022. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
Debunking of Nine Marks Dual Church View, Part 1
Debunking of Nine Marks Dual Church View, Part 2
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