The New Testament Church
The Universal Invisible Church Theory
(The U.I.C. Program)
The Universal Invisible Church "theory" is undoubtedly, one of the biggest blunders of Church doctrine today. The exposure of this theory is of particular interest to me, because I used to both believe and teach a large part of it as church doctrine.
There are five aims the author (me) wishes to accomplish within this report. They are as follows:
1. To clearly state this theoretical doctrine.
2. To establish the particulars surrounding the inception of this theory.
3. To test this theory against the scriptures.
4. To display the fruits of this theory.
5. To establish the true New Testament churches.
It is believed by Universal Invisible church theorists, that the church which Jesus started, was and is a universal, invisible church. It is further believed that all believers gain entry into this body, or membership into it, through a mystical Holy Spirit baptism (1).
Most false doctrines have a specific man or men as a founder, ex.: Calvin is the founder of the false doctrine of "Pre-destination," Campbell was the main founder of "Baptismal Regeneration."
The Universal Invisible church theory, as near as I can determine, can't be traced back to one man, but rather to a specific point in time by a number on men. This period of time was certainly not back to the time of Christ. There is no evidence to suggest that this theory was even heard of until the Reformation of the sixteenth century, never mind the acceptance of such a teaching. To understand this theory's inception, we need to identify two things: who were the initiators of this theory, and what conditions existed, leading up to the declaration of this theory?
To answer the last question first, many heresies along with corruption had crept into the New Testament churches over several centuries (2). These heresies and conditions, eventually produced the Roman Catholic church. There was a very damaging heresy promoted by Rome, which is, in like fashion, promoted today. This was the defining of "ekklesia" (church) and Basileia (kingdom) to mean the same. These two Greek words are not even close to the same definition. The Roman Catholics needed to push their alignment of these two words, in order to give merit to their Universal Visible false doctrine.
This false doctrine gave justification to the Roman Catholics, for their horrendously wicked pursuit of world domination. As far back as the records go, the Roman Catholic hierarchy has vehemently discouraged the laymen from studying the scriptures. Ignorance ran ramped because of this fact. Hosea 4:6 states that, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," while Jesus warns clearly in Matthew 22:29, "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God."
So now the world had two types of church doctrine; the, few in number, true New Testament local visible churches, and the apostate Universal Visible Roman Catholic Choooorch. The conditions in the apostate, were so wicked and oppressive, that it produced the reformation. The reformation was the birthing of protesting church babies. Who is the mother? Rome is. Who were they protesting against? Rome. So, who are they? They were Protesting Roman Catholics. When we examine Protestant church doctrines, we see they are still very much still a part of Mommy.
However, they had to replace the Roman Catholic doctrine of Universal Visible. Hence, out of necessity, the protestants birthed the Universal Invisible church theory. They did this so as to justify breaking from Catholicism, and to justify the adversities of "Pet doctrines" throughout Protestantism. At this time, the world now had three stated church doctrines. These were: the local visible New Testament churches, The Universal Visible Roman Catholic church, and Rome's babies the Universal Invisible church theory. Upon looking at the Reformation, one might think that Satan would be upset at the reformers for giving his bride (Rome) a black eye.
However, on closer examination, he is probably just as happy, with the increase of confusion. Satan is a master counterfeiter and deceiver. 2 Corinthians 11:14 shows this. For every doctrine our Lord has, Satan has his perversion and promoters (2 Corinthians 11:15). Pertinent to this topic, Christ has his Church that he started, "...a chaste virgin," (2 Cor. 11:2). Satan has the church he started and her babies. She is the whore of Babylon and Mother of Harlots, as recorded in Revelation 17.
In the study of any topic, one of the first things we must do, is to make sure our reference material is both qualified to instruct and pertinent to our field of study. My primary reference book is the Holy Bible (KJV 1611). All secondary books must meet with the authority of the primary. The Bible is the only truly qualified text of which to base any doctrinal research upon. 2 Timothy 3:16 reads, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness..."
This passage states it very clearly. "Inspired by God." That statement seals its qualification. The first pertinent topic it lists is doctrine. It is the only book to use to establish true God ordained doctrine. This is why God, through Paul, commissioned Timothy, as well as all other Baptist preachers, to "Preach the word... exhort with all...doctrine." (2 Timothy 4:2).
The prophesying of the rise of false doctrines, such as the Universal Invisible church theory, are spoken of and explained very clearly in 2 Timothy 4:3, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears."
In order to establish what a true New Testament church is, we must look at what the scriptures teach and qualify as such. We will do this at some length, as we proceed.
In the last decade, there has been a vigorous pursuant question of "what does the original Hebrew and Greek say?" This question by primarily ecumenicals, in my opinion, is a pursuit of challenging biblical authority, rather than acquiring clearer doctrinal understanding. However, a proper study in these fields, accepting definitions and renderings, without pre-conceived assumptions, can prove profitable.
The Greek word for church, which is used some 115 times in the New Testament is "ekklesia." This word was derived from two other words in the Greek. The one word was "ek" which rendered meant "out of." The other (4) word was "Kakew," which rendered meant "I call." From these two words "Ekklesia" defines as "called out." Also, from the Greek study, we can establish the understood common usage of the word, or the philological definition.
The common usage of "ekklesia," was an "assembly." From its root definition we get A "called out," From its common usage we get B "assembly." A+B= "Called out assembly." This is a pretty easy definition to understand if people want to see it. An observation to consider, is the following, if either of these components, A or B, are deleted, you have nothing of value. A non-called out bunch of people assembling is confusion, and a called out people not assembling is useless.
I believe these two descriptions depict a Universal Invisible church, "confused and useless" to the work of God. We know that God would not be the author of such a doctrine because the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 14:33, "for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints."
As we have mentioned previously, it is profitable to note the understood definition, or contextual usage of the word "ekklesia' at the time of Christ and the early church. It has been defined as, "an assembly of the citizens summoned by the crier; the legislative assembly." (5)
Another definition read, " the assembly of the people, which in Greek cities had the power of final decision in public affairs." (6)
Within these two definitions we see a couple of points, that bring clearer understanding to the definition of "church." Not only were the people of the assembly "citizens;" they also were a "select group," with the "power" to carry out a specific commission. This is truly a beautiful picture of Jesus' church.
Jesus distinguished his "ekklesia" from other "ekklesias" of the day by calling it "My church" (Matthew 16:18). It wasn't that He gave it any different meaning. This "ekklesia" however, was to be His assembly, constituted according to His legislated criteria, to carry out His commission. To coin a phrase from one of our provinces, you might say true churches are "a distinct society."
It is clear that this called out people must be assembled. We will examine four inherent implications of the word "assembly," so as to grasp a firmer understanding of what Christ's church is called out to be.
An assembly must be local. There is no place within the understanding of the word "assembly," that anyone can derive a concept of universal or plural location. You may have an assembly here, and another over there, but never the same assembly here and there. In roughly one hundred passages of scripture, the Greek word for church which is "ekklesia," is referring to specific geographical locations. Paul persecuted "The church which was at Jerusalem," in Acts 8:1. Paul mentions in romans 16:4, that not only he, "...but also all the churches of the Gentiles," in their various locations, gave thanks for Priscilla and Aquilla's work in the Gospel. In Galatians 1:2, Paul sent a letter of grace and peace, specifically to the churches of Galatia.
There are approximately fifteen verses that do not refer to any one church specifically, but rather any church generally (7). The Universalists, like to jump on these scriptures to frame up a doctrine. A good number of such scriptures are found in Ephesians. However, in looking at them, they do not give any support to any Universal Church theory. Ephesians 5:23, which is a much used scripture by Universalists, merely refers to husband and wife relationships. It states that our marital relationships are to mirror that of Christ and any church which is His.
1 Corinthians 11:3, is a profitable cross reference for this study, as it states, "...that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of every woman is the man..." One Christ over many men, the same as one Christ over many churches. The children of Israel, when they were in the wilderness, also support the assertion that an assembly must be local. We might almost apply the law of first mention, which states that the first mention of a topic gives the key to subsequent teachings on the topic. Acts 7:38, refers to them as "the church in the wilderness." Romans 15:4 states, "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning..."
God gave us a picture of His church in the Old Testament. This picture we would later see built upon. The Bible is both clear and concise on the doctrine of the church being local. When roughly 90% of the occurrences of church in the New Testament refer to specific localities, it would be inconsistent and confusing to try and contort the other 10% of references into a doctrine of total opposite interpretation. According to the law of progressive mention, revelation of any given doctrine is made increasingly clear as the Bible unfolds. However, it will never contradict or oppose the first mentioned occurrence or example which has been given. There again, most Universalists do not know what the Bible sets forth as solid doctrine, because they have not studied the scriptures. The Bible exhorts us in 2 Timothy 2:15, to "study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed."
It states the reason next, "rightly dividing the word of truth." We have an example of a people who did this in the formative years of the early church. The "Bereans" in Acts 17, were said to have "searched the scriptures daily, to see if those things were so." They are quite a contrasting example to the Athenians on Mars' hill, further along in Acts 17, who had every kind of confusion in their midst. I think that this is also an accurate comparison between a grounded New Testament church, and a Universal Invisible church promoting assembly.
The second inferred implication of the word "assembly" is visible. An assembly must be visible. The Bible commands us in Hebrews 10:25 to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. How members of a church can assemble invisibly is beyond comprehension. The word "assemble" does not entertain any invisible concept. An invisible assembly scenario might be as follows:
An invisible preacher
Preaching to invisible members
Taking up invisible tithes.
Obviously ludicrous isn't it? If we again look at the first picture of a church, what do we see? That's exactly my point. We "see" the members. It was a very visible assembly. God performed many miracles for the children of Israel in the wilderness to deliver them from their enemies. Making them invisible was not one of them. Numbers 22:41 speaks of when Balak took Balaam up into the heathen high places, so as to "see" the utmost part of the people. A few questions to ponder: in an invisible assembly how would we "let men see our good works" according to Matthew 5:16?
How would people see that we have "love one to another" John 13:35? How also, would we execute church discipline according to Matthew 18:17, if we are all invisible? I would not even know if any body was there, never mind to establish those in agreement or opposed. This example may appear silly, and it is in actuality, but it shows the impossibilities of such a theory.
The third inferred adjective of the word "assembly" is organized. God, through His Word, has continually instructed His church on being organized and orderly. The assembly that is not organized, is a waste of human resources. they might have all the talents that are needed, but if they are not "fitly joined together," as Ephesians 4:16 states in the first part of the verse, they will not "maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love," as the end of the verse states. Verse 15 of the same chapter, states that Christ is the organizer, the head, not any hierarchy.
The Lord has some very definite rules of order, in the organizing of His church. Paul wrote to Titus in chapter one of the book, instructing him to "...set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city," as he had appointed him. There was to be order in the churches; they were to have leaders and examples. It was not an unorganized, no holds barred, free for all "as I feel led" assembly. 1 Timothy 3, speaks specifically about Pastors and Pastors in training's conduct in the church of God, any one of them.
It, however, also applies to the rest of the body in application. Verse 15 says that, "...thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God." We notice in this scripture, the words "behave thyself." It is apparent in this chapter, that God cares about our homes, that is the life we lead within, but more importantly, "the church of God." (1 Timothy 3:5).
Again, we can go to our first example of a church, in the Old Testament. Were they disorganized? No, absolutely not. They had very specific rules of conduct and organization. According to Numbers 2:34, "the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses." There is a blueprint of success for the New Testament church. This is in the hands of the Master Carpenter. Paul referred to himself as "a wise masterbuilder" in 1 Corinthians 3:10. Why? Because he had hearkened unto the instructions of the Lord. The Lord stated on more than one occasion how he would organize, compile, or build His church.
One such place was 1 Corinthians 12:28. "And God hath set some in the church first apostles..." That's what Paul was, an apostle, howbeit borne out of due season. This was the Lord's order of building. Psalm 127:1 states that "...except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it." The U.I.C. theorists tend to stray far and wide of biblical authority or headship, such as a Pastor. 1 Peter 5:2 tells the Pastors to "take the oversight" of the flock of God that is among them, each local church. The Pastor's office is definitely part of our Lord's plan to organized His church so we are fitly joined together. Hebrews 13:17, tells us to "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls." The U.I.C.'ers believe that only God (Christ) is over them as a head.
They fail to see the scriptures that state he gave "pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints... that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine..." (Ephesians 4:11,12,14). They seem to believe instead, that they must be carried about by every wind, supposedly of the Holy Spirit, to be fulfilled by this supposed Universal Invisible church.
The fourth implication of the word "assembly", inferred by its definition, is constituted. An assembly must be constituted. This point is very closely related to being organized. What good would come of being an assembly of "dead men's bones?" Christ had specific requirements for the first members of His church, just as there is specific requirements in the membership of any assembly. The first requirement for membership was, are you ready? "They had to be living." Each one of them received Jesus' Words and believed. They received the Word of life into their hearts. John 1:1 states, "...the Word was God..." Jesus is the Word. John 1:4 says, "In him was life..." John 10:28 further states that he gave his disciples–they that followed him–eternal life. So, the first component of membership was salvation.
Romans 8:9 says, "...now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." According to John 3:3 and 5, the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Christ, is only obtained by way of salvation, being born again. Five epistles of Paul, to local visible churches–I know there are no other kinds–address the members as saints. 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, just to mention a few.
The second observation we see with Jesus' disciples was baptism. The root word "baptizo," defined to be immersed fully, to plunge. This doctrine is very unpopular and confused among U.I.C. theorists. The word "baptizo" tolerates no other method of ordinance. Who's baptism did the disciples have? just anybody's? No, they had John's baptism. the Bible refers to John as, "sent from God" in John 1:6. Mark 1:2 refers to him as, "my messenger."
John had been sent from God, to baptize those who believed. He had the authority from God. We see him preaching, then baptizing all those who believed in Mark 1:2-5. He was the only one baptizing any body up until this point. We further see in Mark 1:9, that Jesus was baptized by John. This baptism was the only acceptable baptism for Jesus and his disciples. In the early church in Acts, we see they followed the example laid down by Jesus. Their members were also Authority Baptized Believers.
They were baptized by the apostles who got the authority from John, God's messenger. Acts 2:41 and 42 state, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." They were not added until they both believed and were baptized.
We know that this was in fact a church by what it fulfilled in verse 42. So what type of church were they baptized into here? Was it an invisible universal church? Not!! The word states here that they continued in the apostles' doctrine, of which they had just heard. This was a very local visible church, of which had apostles cast into prison, Acts 5:18, and also members in Acts 8:3. They were obviously very local and visible.
What about the all time favorite, "Baptized into one body, by one Spirit?" I use the U.I.C. theorist's words on that statement. The Bible states in 1 Cor. 12:13, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." First of all, the Corinthian church was an example of a very carnal, divided assembly. Although, the manifestation gifts were in operation, the Bible states in 1 Cor. 3:3 that they were carnal because there was yet envy and strife and division among them.
There were present contentions over who was saved under who's preaching, who was baptized by which apostle, who had which manifestation gifts of the Holy Spirit, even who was a Jew, and who was a mere Gentile of Greek. What Paul was exhorting, under the inspiration of that same Holy Spirit, was that although they all had different gifts, or purposes, or stations in life, it was one and the same Holy Spirit that had made them partakers of that one body, by leading or drawing them there. They were to be of one accord. Notice the parallel terminology of verse 12, "...and all the members of that one body..."
Let us remember, Christ is the head of every New Testament church (or assembly). (Ephesians 4:15). Just the same as He is the head of every man (1 Cor. 11:3). All the members of that church at Corinth, were sealed with the same Holy Spirit. Verse 13 states, "...have been all made to drink into one spirit." So much for their last hope of substantiating their theory. Universal Invisible church theorists have grabbed at straws from the first day of their theory's birth. They did this so as to justify their lack of compliance with biblical doctrine. Why else would they not join the ranks of the New Testament churches, who from the beginning, had preached against the paganism of Rome.
Why else would they not, "come out from among them...." (2 Cor. 6:17), in doctrine, as well as physically. Why? Because they wanted to straddle the fence between the two. Separate, yet attached. As we will see, this has ultimately led them on the road back to Rome, as we see in the ungodly ecumenical alliance movement.
Now that we have established that each of the components of the Universal Invisible church theory has no scriptural validity, neither has ever since its inception by the protestants in the sixteenth century. We will examine some of the fruit produced by the promotion and acceptance of this theory. Primarily, this theory "calls Jesus a liar." He said in Matthew 16:13, that he would build his church. If the Holy Spirit placed the apostles in the church by way of a mystical baptism, and that not until the day of Pentecost, then the Holy Spirit would be building the church not Jesus.
If there were no church before Pentecost, Christ died before starting His church. If we go back to our definition of a church; "an assembly of baptized believers organized to carry out the Lord's work" (8), we can soon see if they qualified as a church. Indeed they do. As previously stated, they were all born again. His sheep were following Him, his disciples, and He gave unto them eternal life." John 10:27 and 28. According to the scriptures, they also had authority baptism (Matt. 3:6). Thirdly, they were organized.
They had already both ordinances and even a treasurer (John 13:29). Finally, His church had a commission, as recorded in Matthew 28:19 and 20 and Mark 16:15. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matt. 28:19 and 20).
If the church wasn't started until the day of Pentecost, then the church would not have any commission either. Again, this theory is laced with blatant disregard for adherence to the scriptures.
The most hideous fruit produced by the spread of this theory, is the break down of the local church, because of neglect. It must be a Pastor's nightmare, to have a whole congregation of members, who are not committed to that body. This is a very real situation in many assemblies today. This theory promotes the idea of flying off to this conference, taking off to those special meetings; with no grass root commitment to any one church. It would be very hard to maintain Sunday School, with teachers such as that, or any church office as far as that goes.
How about the tithe? Where does that go? If the church is some universal invisible identity, I suppose anywhere somebody preferred. I am not guessing about this attitude of liberality with the tithe, I have seen it at work. Malachi 3:10 commands us to bring it into the storehouse. That storehouse was a very local visible place. 1 Corinthians 16:2 states, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come."
This was a local visible church at Corinth. There was a reason, they were told to bring it there. Let's look at verse 1 of 1 Cor. 16. "Now concerning the collection for the saints." Notice the word order later in the verse. It was to be used to supply the needs of that local body. When there is a need in a believer's life, it isn't this Universal Invisible entity that meets the need. It is the God ordained New testament local church. What about missionaries? Does the U.I.C. program send them out? They try. Look at what we get, a bunch of worldly unlearned and untrained robots.
There is not any mission board, that knows my testimony and the calling in my life like my local church does. Every example of a man being ordained in the New Testament was done through a local church. They saw his testimony and his calling, then, and only then, sent him out (2 Timothy 1:5 and 6). The Bible warns against doing so without seeing or proving a man's calling, not to mention a blameless testimony (1 Timothy 5:22).
The vilest fruit of this theory's promotion is the support of the ecumenical movement. This movement promotes the so-called unity of all so-called believers under one banner, no matter what church or doctrine. A good number of these people are not saved. I have a hard time receiving a salvation testimony of a person who believes works can and do save you. Ephesians 2:8 and 9 blows that away, also Titus 3:5. How about those who believe infant baptism saves them? Are they saved? Ludicrous! Romans 10:9 and 10 is impossible for any infant to comprehend, and we won't even touch the baptismal regeneration side of that. Scriptural Salvation or the spread of the true gospel are not their goals. What are they then? Rome's old world domination by utilizing religion and politics.
This goal does not and never did have anything to do with pure adherence to the scriptures. As we study Daniel's prophetic dream in chapter 2, we see the Roman Empire (the iron) has never died; it has just been laying low in preparation. However, the time is ripening, because all her daughter harlots are coming home, and bringing as many as they can with them. Rev. 17:4-6 undoubtedly refers to the Roman Catholic organization as the "Mother of Harlots."
Verse 6 states, "...the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus..." The only thing that is going to come out of the ecumenical movement, is the eventual shedding of more believer's blood. They already despise us for not dancing, when they play their flutes.
Finally, who are the real New Testament churches? Who will be the "Bride of Christ?" Who from the days that Jesus started His church have been (local, visible) assemblies of (scriptural authority) baptized (by immersion) believers (those having their B.A. in Christ) organized (according to Christ's headship plans) to carry out the Lord's commission (according to Matthew 28:18-20)?
There is only one name that qualifies to that criteria. The name "Baptist." By process of elimination, all other groups are disqualified. They are disqualified first by being started by some man 300-1900 years too late, and secondly by holding and promoting false doctrine.
The true Baptists have been the ones holding the torch, contending for the faith, and suffering for his sake, down through the ages. Cardinal Hosius of the Council of Trent, was quoted as saying, "If the truth of religion were to be judged by the readiness and boldness of which any man of any sect shows in suffering, then the opinion and persuasion of no sect can be truer and surer than that of the Anabaptists, since there have been none for twelve hundred years past, that have been more generally punished, than these people." (9) There are many testimonies as such by our oppressors, who testify to our contending and suffering for the faith, down through the ages.
The Baptists will be the Bride, as recorded in Rev. 19:7, the Wife that "hath made herself ready." They will be the ones in New Jerusalem, recorded in Rev. 21:9 and 10. As we have shown, they are the only ones who meet all the criteria for the Bride. It was a Baptist assembly, who Paul referred to when he said, "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a Chaste Virgin (the Bride) to Christ (the groom) in 2 Cor. 11:2.
We also get a clear picture of the different people in heaven, recorded in Hebrews 12:22-24. The Baptists (Bride) are the general assembly and church of the first born. The scriptures differentiate between them and, the souls of just men made perfect. We know that our justification is Jesus and His shed blood. So, these people are generally saved. However, the scriptures does clearly differentiate between the two. The Bible is very perfect in its doctrinal tract, as it is consistent from beginning to end.
From the first picture of a church in the wilderness to the last church in Heaven (the bride), the picture is consistent: a local visible called out assembly. My experience and conviction is that a very many believers do not know what the scriptures teach about a New Testament church, merely because they have not taken the time to find out by searching the scriptures.
There is coming a day when their apathy and slothfulness will reap its reward or lack of reward.
The Universal Invisible church theory is so blatantly opposed to scripture, and its fruits are far reaching for those who hold to it.
I close with a scripture that warns us, that even if we are striving for Christ's purpose, if it is not in compliance with his criteria for his church, it will leave him lacking.
"And if any man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." 2 Timothy 2:5.
By Randy L. Penner
(1) Roy Mason, The Myth of the Universal Invisible Church Theory Exploded, p.5.
(2) Ibid. p.10.
(3) Ibid. p.11.
(4) Derived the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, 1986. p.7.
(5) Derived Scott and Liddell A Greek-English Lexicon, p.206.
(6) A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities.
(7) Derived Author of Notes General Knowledge.
(8) Authors General Knowledge
(9) Roy Mason, The Myth of the Universal Invisible Church Theory Exploded, p.64.
Ye Must Be Born Again!