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The Visible and Invisible Church
The following comments were written by Baptist Board member "The Biblicist" concerning the idea, or lack thereof, of the universal church in the London Baptist confessions of 1644/46 and 1689, pointing out that the "only universal church these Baptists believed in was the collective churches of like faith and order. They rejected the universal invisible church theory. They rejected the Roman Catholic or universal visible church theory. They did believe in a FUTURE glory church that consists of all the elect in all ages. The post follows, by permission.

Thomas Bakewell, a Presbyterian entered into a public written debate with the Baptists who framed the 1644 Confession. He understood the article on the church to be a complete repudiation of the universal invisible church. The Baptist article reads:

The London Baptist Confession - 1646:

XXXIII. Jesus Christ hath here on earth a [manifestation of His] spiritual kingdom, which is His Church, whom He hath purchased and redeemed to Himself as a peculiar inheritance; which Church is a company of visible saints, called and separated from the world by the word and Spirit of God, to the visible profession of faith of the gospel, being baptized into that faith, and joined to the Lord, and each other, by mutual agreement in the practical enjoyment of the ordinances commanded by Christ their head and king. [Emphasis mine, Biblicist]
In response Bakewell said,
"you believe that this purchased redeemed Church of Christ is visible, and a company of Saints called and separated from the world by the Word and Spirit of God to the visible profession of faith, and the Gospel, and baptized in the faith, and joined to the Lord, and to each other by mutual agreement in practical enjoyment of the Ordinances commanded by Christ as their Head and King...but how dare you publish to the world that those whom Christ has purchased and redeemed, are visible, making profession of faith and the Gospel, and baptized and joined to the Lord, and to each other in practical enjoyment of the Ordinances...then you say you are ignorant of any invisible church or house of God." - Thomas Bakewell, An Answer of Confutation of Divers Errors Broached and Maintained By the Seven Churches of Anabaptists contained in those Articles of their Confession of Faith Presented to Parliament, and other gross Opinions held by them against the clear light of the gospel, (Imprinter John Downham, 1646).

In the associational minutes of these same Baptists they often speak about the church but there is absolutely no mention of any kind of church consisting of all the elect in all denominations presently existing on earth and these minutes cover the whole period of the first Confession up to 1660.

Between 1660 and 1688 Baptists living in this period called it "The Great Tribulation period." Both Presbyterians and Baptists suffered during this period. In 1688 William and Mary (Presbyterians) took control of England. Baptists intentionally took the Westminster Confession as a pattern for their 1689 confession hoping the Presbyterians would not continue the state church persecuting of dissenters from the church state religion. Their hope was realized.

In order to understand correctly the 1689 Baptist Confession and its article on the church, one must take in account of every word that is not found in the Westminster as the Baptists very carefully chose their words when differing it. (A Tabular Comparison of the 1646 WCF and the 1689 LBCF)

For example in Chapter XXVI, article 2 the Baptists refused to use the word "church" found in the Westminster to describe all the elect in all denominations living presently upon the earth at any given time. Instead, the Baptists said such "may be called saints" and then went on to say that such saints should be baptized members of congregations. This is an outright repudiation of the now popular universal invisible church theory which says all elect living on earth in all denominations may be called "the church." I understand that article II of the Westminster was speaking of the universal "visible" church when they described the "church" consisting of all elect but they equated with the "house" and "family" of God on earth or the totality of elect and the Baptists refused to call all the elect on earth "the church."

My point is that this repudiation of elect presently on earth proves that Chapter XXVI, article one by the Baptists does not refer to any present universal invisible church theory, but it refers to the FUTURE glory church consisting of all the elect in all generations.

Articles 3-15 [of Chapter XXVI] expand the Westminster articles III-V and especially the statement "Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will." Sections 5-15 define the nature of that church on earth which worships according to the will of God according to Baptists, and it is a visible congregation.

All the following Anabaptist confessions mention only a local visible congregation:

1. The Moravian Confession - 1527
2. The Swiss Brethren Confession - 1527
3. The Hutterite Confession - 1540
4. The Moravian Anabaptist Confession - 1547
5. The Dutch Amsterdam Anabaptist Confession - 1611
6. The Dordrecht Dutch Anabaptist Confession - 1632
The General Baptist Confession of 1651 makes no other mention than the local visible church. Neither does the particular Baptist Midland Confession of Faith in 1655 nor the Somerset Confession of 1657 mention any kind of universal invisible church. Neither does the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1832.

[In 1742 the Philadelphia Baptist Association adopted as their own the 1689 London Confession of Faith, with two chapters added (Of "Singing of Psalms etc." and "Of the Laying On of Hands"), rlv.] Up until about 1800 one cannot find any mention in the Philadelphia Association minutes of any other church but the local visible and the "Mount Zion" collective use of churches of like faith and order. This same "mount Zion" is defined in detail by both the Philadelphia Association and the Particular English Baptist associational minutes up to 1660. They commonly used this term "Mount Zion" or "Sion" to refer only to the collective body of congregations who were like faith and order with each other.


[Used by permission of "The Biblicist" with minor corrections, 12 June 2016. Posted by R. L. Vaughn, 6/20/2016. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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