The Myth Of The Universal Invisible Church

By Pastor Roy Mason

What's Wrong With This Theory?

    The answer to the heading of this chapter is, EVERY THING IS WRONG WITH IT. Some teachings while predominately false contain elements of truth, but this Universal Church theory is wholly false. It is completely man invented; is wholly unscriptural and anti scriptural, and well nigh constitutes blasphemy against the church that Jesus started. I shall seek to enlarge upon these statements in this chapter.
    First, I wish to make the statement that the Universal theory PERVERTS THE MEANING OF THE WORD ECCLESIA, which is translated church. The word ecclesia was not a word coined by our Lord for the institution that He established. It was a word in common use. Overby, in his thesis on "The Meaning of Ecclesia In the New Testament," aptly expresses the meaning of the word when he says:
"The Greek word ecclesia signified primarily the assembly of citizens in a self governed state, being derived from Ekkaleo, to call out; i.e., out from their homes or places of business, to summon as we speak of calling out the militia. The popular notion that it meant to call out in the sense of separation from others, is a mistake."
    This last statement is in accord with Dr. John A. Broadus, in his "Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew."
    Those who want to bolster up the Universal theory try to make the word mean "called out," and that only, but there was always attached to the word the significance of "assembly." In other words, organization and locality inheres in the word.
    The idea of a Universal, Invisible something that has neither organization nor locality - that doesn't assemble and never has, is completely foreign to the meaning of the word.
    Simmons, in his "Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine," (Page 349 4th Edition) expresses himself in full accord with what has just been said in these words:
"Ekklesia comes from 'ekkletos' and this latter word comes from 'ekkaleo', to call out or forth. But ecclesia does not mean the called out. Let this statement be pondered well. Usage, not etymology, determines the meaning of words. For instance, 'prevent' by etymology, means to anticipate or precede. But usage has made that meaning archaic. By usage, 'prevent' means forestall, frustrate, circumvent, hinder.
    Ekklesia had its original application to a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into a public place. (Thayer). Then it came to mean any assembly of people or gathering or throng of men, even when gathered by chance or tumultuously. (See Acts 19:32, 39, 41). The resulting meaning is 'assembly.' The word never did mean simply 'the called out.' It always implied that the called out ones would gather or assemble. Thus according to culmination, the word always did mean assembly, and later came to mean this alone."
    Dr. B. H. Carroll in his book, "Ecclesia - The Church" has the following to say:
"The primary meaning is: An organized assembly, whose members have been called out from among private homes or business to attend to public affairs. This definition necessarily implies prescribeid conditions of membership.
(1) This meaning applies substantially alike to the ecclesia of a self-governing Greek state (Acts 19:39),
(2) the Old Testament ecclesia or convocation of National Israel (Acts 7:38), and
(3) and to the New Testament ecclesia.
When our Lord says: 'On this rock I will build MY ecclesia', while the 'my' distinguished His ecclesia from the Greek state ecclesia, and the Old Testament ecclesia, the word naturally retains its ordinary meaning."
    The word church should not be in our English versions today to represent ecclesia, for the word has come to have meanings that are not expressed in ecclesia. That it does occur is due - not to scholarship - but to King James of England. The word church did not occur in the earliest versions of the Bible into English. Tyndale's, Coverdale's, and the Crammer (The Great Bible) version used the word "congregation" to translate ecclesia. According to the scholar Hort, "congregation" 'was the only rendering of ecclesia in the English New Testament as it stood during the reign of Henry VlII.' "Congregation" would have no doubt been the translation of ecclesia used in the King James Version, had it not been for King James who furnished the translators with some rules to guide them. One of these was this: "The word church is not to be translated congregation."'
    The meaning of the word ecclesia is all important in considering the question that we are dealing with, for the advocates of the Universal Church cannot justify their theory if the word means a called out assembly. The limited meaning of ecclesia simply ruins their theory.
    The Bible in use during New Testament times was called the Septuagint. Was the word ecclesia used in any looser way in that version, than I have indicated? The answer is a positive NO! H. E. Dana of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (A Manual of Ecclesiology) says, speaking of the Septuagint, "In it ekklesia was used to translate the Hebrew word qahal, which means an assembly, convocation or congregation." I could go on almost indefinitely quoting things to prove the truth that I have just stated, but it is unnecessary.
    Is the word ecclesia used in classical Greek to indicate a vague unassembling universal something? The answer is again NO! Dr. B. H. Carroll published a splendid and unanswerable booklet entitled "Ecclesia - The Church" In this he examines the word ecclesia as used in the Septuagint, the Apocrypha, classical Greek, and the New Testament, and he shows that never is the word used to represent a universal unassembling something such as indicated by the Universal Church theory. The investigation in the field of classical Greek was made by Dr. George Ragland who was at that time professor of Greek in Baylor University, and who later became the same at Georgetown College. Dr. Ragland was a close friend of mine, and we discussed the Universal Church theory many times. He assured me that the term ecclesia as used in classical Greek, never means what the advocates of the Universal theory try to make it mean.
    Edward H. Overby, a college professor and author of several books, made a painstaking search into the meaning of ecclesia. From that search, he prepared a thesis and it is my privilege to have a copy in my possession. He sums up the results of his research in the following statement:
"What does the word ecclesia mean in the New Testament? This is the question we have sought to answer in this thesis. The word church is the usual translation of ecclesia in the New Testament. It is not a good translation since church has a host of meanings today that no one claims for ecclesia. We must bear this in mind as we study the word lest we be misled. Ecclesia means assembly in the classical Greek and in the Septuagint. In approaching the New Testament we see that the word is admitted by all to have this meaning in about ninety places. The other times it is used there is a difference of opinion. Some contend for assembly, others for a new meaning best described as the universal invisible church. How can we tell which is correct? The principle is used that says the common meaning must be accepted in every place it makes sense. Only when the common meaning will not make sense are we permitted to assume it has a new meaning. Following this principle we find that the word assembly makes sense in every contested passage, so that any new sense must be rejected. To say it has a new meaning in the face of this evidence is to follow a false way of interpreting that could make the Bible meaningless and could undermine a person's duty to the local church."
    In the King James Version of the Bible, ecclesia occurs 115 times in the Greek text. 112 times it is translated by the term church, and three times by the word assembly (in Acts 19). Let us note some of the typical passages in which the word church and churches are used.
    1 - Matthew 16:18 - "I will build my church."
    All kinds of efforts are being made today to make this passage refer to the Universal Church. It does nothing of the kind. The word is used here in an institutional or abstract sense. That He did not refer to a Universal Church Jesus made plain in His very next mention of the word church (Matthew 18:17) where He counseled "tell it to the church." How could they tell something to a Universal, Invisible spiritual Church? Absurd!
    2 - Acts 8:1 - "the church which was at Jerusalem."
    3 - Acts 9:31 - "Then had the churches rest."
    4 - Acts 20:17 - "called the elders of the church."
    5 - Romans 16:4 - "All the churches of the Gentiles."
    6 - I Corinthians 1:2 - "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth."
    7 - I Corinthians 6:4 - "Least esteemed in the church."
    8 - I Corinthians 7:17 - "So ordain I in all the churches."
    9 - Galatians 1:22 - "I persecuted the church of God."
    10 - Galatians 1:2 - "Unto the churches of Galatia."
    I could go ahead and list scores of Scriptures like the ten just given in which the term church and churches occur but it would be a waste of time and paper. You don't doubt I am sure that around 90 of the instances in which church or churches occur, reference is to the local, visible assembly. If you do, just get your Bible and investigate for yourself. Is it not utter presumption to ignore the plain meaning of church as demonstrated by around 90 instances of use, and after the plain meaning is established, to seize upon a handful of Scriptures and seek to make them teach something entirely different? Yet many - yes all who hold the Universal theory are doing that very thing. That Universal Church theory is so precious, and so necessary to their religious sentimentality that they will go to almost any length in order to hold on to it.
    Church unionism largely exists because of the Universal theory. I have known big union meetings to be held, when some of the leaders were not even in agreement on how to be saved. Suppose that during such a revival, a seeker comes forward and asks, "What must I do to be saved?" Several preachers are down front, and a Baptist replies in the words of Paul (Acts 16) "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." A Church of Christ preacher speaks up immediately to say "There's more to it than that. You must be immersed in order to be saved." A Methodist pastor speaks up and says, "Pardon me, but sprinkling or pouring will do just as well." "And don't forget," says a minister of yet another faith, "You will be saved only until you sin again. You have to hold out faithful to the end to be saved." The poor penitent becomes utterly confused as the contradictory arguments grow vehement. Finally, one of the preachers dowses water on the fire by saying, "Well, we don't agree on some things, but our differences relate only to our little local churches. Let us remember that we are all members of the big, Universal Church."
    The service ends with all singing:
                    "We are not divided,
                    All one body we."
    Yes, the Universal theory is directly involved in church unionism, in which conviction is thrown aside and the truths of God's word are sacrificed.
    The ecumenical movement, which is the most Satanic movement in all Christian history is likewise a product of the Universal Church theory. Many of those involved in this movement have repudiated almost every item of the Christian faith. An ecumenical convention was held in Florida and some one made a poll of the beliefs of many of the delegates. This poll revealed that a large number of those questioned did not even believe in a personal, living God. The leaders of this movement seem to be willing for the different denominations to be absorbed back into the Catholic Church. The writer of these lines believes that we are witnessing the beginning of events foretold in the Book of Revelation, where the ecumenical movement shall form the Anti-Christ's Church.
    And remember! The ecumenical movement is largely the product of the Universal Church theory.

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