Vol.II No.V Pg.6
June 1965

History Looks At "Church Universal"

Robert F. Turner

W. K. Pendleton based his apology for the Missionary Society (presented as an Address, in 1866) upon his conception of the church universal, and in this he followed closely the reasoning of Alexander Campbell. No man is prepared to see the Society as Pendleton saw it without beginning where Pendleton began.

First, he filled his mind with the thought of the church in its universal aspect, ignoring for the time being the local church. God gave to the church -- in its universal sense -- the responsibility to convert the world. But God did not give the method by which the church -- in its universal sense -- was to convert the world. So, whatever method the church -- in its universal sense -- uses, is acceptable. The method is a matter of expediency. The church universal is left free to decide for itself. This is briefly the defense he made for it.


There are some things about this truly significant. It is significant, for example, that the church universal has never known but one officer-Jesus Christ Himself, who is Head over the body, King over his Kingdom. The apostles were the ambassadors of this King to the church universal. They were not officers of the church, were never appointed by the church, and existed before the church did. The study of church history reveals the fact that every time men thought in terms of the church universal they ended up by forming organizations which in their work substituted themselves in the place of Christ. Roman Catholicism is the highest embodiment of the church universal concept, and claims that its pope is the vicegerent of Christ on earth. So far as the church universal on earth is concerned, as viewed by a Romanist, the pope is virtually Christ. Protestantism thought in terms of the church universal, and set up synods and conferences. These synods and conferences have written creeds, created confessions of faith -- in short, have made laws for the church universal, a prerogative that belongs to Christ. In the final analysis these synods and conferences assume the position of Christ over the church universal.

Some, like the Baptist denomination, have tried to throw off the concept of the church universal for a time, and insist upon strict congregational polity. Yet they invariably thought in terms of the church universal and established associations which soon began to dictate to the local churches, a prerogative that belongs only to Christ.

In the restoration movement, brethren thought in terms of the church universal, and with that concept formed a Missionary Society. Looking back on this history, as we can now, who can fail to see that this Society became the master, and soon dictated to the churches; a prerogative which belongs only to Christ.

The only church organization known to the New Testament is that of a local church, not the church universal.

(Frm. "ANCIENT ORDER" by West; II, 55f)