William Andrew Dillard
title is paradoxical. To say that there is a church is to say that it
exists, but to say there is a church that does not exist is a
contradiction of thoughts. Yet, I have read about such a church, and
I am sure you have, too. In newspapers and magazines, it will not be
unusual to read of “the Baptist church.” This reflects a thought
pattern of the church being universal. Of course, expressions of “the
Catholic church,” the Methodist church,” etc. are more nearly
correct since Catholic and Protestant churches consider themselves to
be universal. Catholic theology points to a universal, visible church
while Protestants point to a universal invisible church.
So, to which of these lines of theological thought do Baptist churches generally subscribe? Neither! It is the Bible presentation that the true churches of the Lord Jesus Christ are both visible and local. Each church is totally independent under the headship of Christ Jesus. There is no ecclesiastical (preacher) authority. There is no hierarchy. There is no little church/ big church difference in the eyes of the Lord. All are local assemblies, answerable only to God, with the full weight and responsibility of carrying out the commands of Christ as though they were the only congregation on earth. The only headquarters of the Lord’s churches is in heaven. His churches have equal authority to win disciples, baptize them, teach them, and administer the ordinances according to the Word. A church simply cannot get any more independent than to have the independence God gave to it to represent Him on earth. But, a church can get a lot less independent by subscribing to false doctrines, practices, and acquiescing to the designs and schemes of men. The purpose of such is usually for the sake of “business advantage” and/or to capture congregational power to enhance economic, political, and strained theological activity that God never commanded or intended.
There is no such thing as a biblically recognized, universal church on earth whether visible or invisible! Jesus set in motion a local congregation and empowered it to do likewise in carrying out the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20. I understand “Johnson Street Baptist Church” or a church by some other name that distinguishes it as a local assembly in a specific location or in a specified dedication of service. I do not understand nor will I accept the terminology of “The Baptist Church.” It is a church that simply does not exist.