The Cosmic Meaning of the Church

The Cosmic Meaning of the Church

To say churches are in a crisis of meaning is an understatement. Some attend church because of a moralistic impulse. They have been conditioned to believe it’s the right thing to do, though they may not know why it’s the right thing to do. Others go to church because they feel like the church has something to offer, usually emotional support. 

A troubled person can find uplifting sayings in the sermon, instructions for living a more fulfilling life, and comfort in a sea of smiling parishioners. Others attend church but have no idea why. They just haven’t faced the uncomfortable reality that they, perhaps, believe nothing the church says and that they’ve been driving to church from Sunday to Sunday out of sheer habit. Still, a small minority are secure in their church attendance. They want to be there and they know precisely why.

This crisis of meaning stems from a drought of theological understanding, a fault I might attribute to pulpits nationwide. But I’m not looking to blame anyone in this article. Far from it. I want to offer something more constructive. That is, I want to paint a portrait of the church that will help us understand why the church is cosmically and practically significant. But first, we need to begin with the identity of the church.

A Biblical Portrait of the Church

The church is an organism with a divinely bestowed identity and a heaven-entranced trajectory. 

Let me explain…

In Colossians 1:17, Paul is reveling in the mystery of Christ as he writes, “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Christ is the Creator and sustainer of all things. But then in v. 18, he writes, “And He is the head of the body, the church…” When we attempt to understand what the church is, we must start here. The church is “the body,” of which Christ is the head. The “body language” refers to the church’s union with Christ, denoting the marital union of Genesis 2. Illustrating this point further, Paul writes, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:30-32)

The church, therefore, is in vital union with the Son of God through the gospel of the Son of God. It is an organism that has been brought into a life-giving relation to the triune God through the Mediatorial office of the incarnate Christ. All people who are united to Christ comprise His church. Hence, the historical designation of “universal church.” This church knows no geographical or architectural bounds. It consists of all who have been effectually called and united to the Savior. Apart from this union, a person cannot possess spiritual life, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5)

Those who are grafted into the true vine and thus members of the new covenant are termed “the church.” But since this macrocosmic church is made up of those who have been made alive in Christ through His Holy Spirit, (cf. Tit. 3:5) there is a real communal life that takes place among them. And since these members are scattered all over the globe at any given time, the ordinary way in which this communal life takes place is in localized, microcosmic versions of the universal church.

The local church is a sacred assembly of God’s people in a given area where there are some Christians banded together by a common confession of faith. The presupposition of their local assembly is their membership in the broader body and bride of Jesus Christ, from whom they derive their life. The local church, therefore, is but a visible manifestation of the universal church. (Cf. 2LCF 26.1, 5) People who have been endowed with the virtue of faith because of the gospel are those who receive the gospel. And those who receive the gospel do so precisely because they’ve been freely given a life that receives it. This life, expressive of one’s union with Christ, necessarily manifests in the vibrant religious life of local churches.

For those in Christ, going to church is but an inaugural manifestation of Christ’s own vibrant, resurrectional life in the lives of His people. This alone ought to cast due aspersions upon the crisis of meaning commonly experienced in many churches today.

Cosmic Renewal & the Place of the Church

The divine operation of the gospel is described in 2 Corinthians 5:19, where we learn that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…” This cosmic redemption occurs through means of and within the church. In Christ, the church constitutes an inaugurated new creation and new nation into which people from all tribes and tongues are gathered. Speaking to the Corinthian church, Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17) And Peter describes the church as a holy nation, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” (1 Pet. 2:9)

This nation is, in essence, the new covenant kingdom and world established in the blood of the Lamb. For it is in the death of Christ that He secures the church and rescues her from the dominion of sin, death, and Satan — “Now is the judgment of this world,” He says, “now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (Jn. 12:31-32) That the church is the initiatory new world into which the redeemed are transferred upon their Spirit-wrought renewal means that the church plays a transitional role between this world and the next. (Col. 1:13)

If the already/not yet distinction was an institution, it would be the church of the living God. This is why the structure of Colossians 1:15-23 is [creation → church → new creation]. I want to suggest that the church is the inter-creational vehicle in which the redeemed begin to exit one world and enter another. The church has one foot in the old world and one foot in the new. This transitional status of the militant church needs to inform how we understand the church’s place between two cosmic realities. 

We might mistakenly conclude, therefore, that once a person is united to Christ and is made a part of His body, the old world no longer matters. This would be a gross error. The church may be between two worlds, but it’s not between two separate and unrelated locations. The new world could accurately be described as the old world remade, renewed, and redeemed. In Romans 8:21, Paul contemplates a renewal of the old world in connection to the resurrection, “the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” The church must continue to take the first creation seriously even as she enjoys and looks forward to the second.

The creation and sustainment of the old world is through Christ according to Colossians 1:15-17, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” And in v. 18, “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” Though Christ is the Creator and sustainer of the old world, only the church is said to be His own body. Upon His entering into new, resurrectional life and taking His seat at the right hand of God, Christ begins to bestow that same life upon elect sinners. The project of new creation starts with Christ, and the church is caught up with Christ to participate in His new resurrectional life. There is no place or institution other than the church in which this occurs. The bodily resurrection of the church means the old world will be consummately delivered from the Genesis 3 curse only to participate in the new creational reality commenced by King Jesus 2,000 years ago.

The preeminence of Christ over “all things” follows from His headship over the church which suggests that the church takes priority in the spiritual hierarchy over the first creation. It further indicates God’s purpose of creational renewal in and through an ever-expanding new and holy nation full of restored images of God. The renewal of the divine image of those within the church can be explained only by their union with the exact imprint of the Father’s nature, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Heb. 1:1-4; Rom. 8:29) Thus, the church at present is a seminal new world populated with renewed image bearers of God pilgrimaging toward the consummation of the new heavens and new earth. Hence, in Colossians 1:19-20, there is a reconciliation and renewal of all things through the blood of Jesus.

This [creation → church → new creation] order in Colossians 1 insinuates the present trans-creational position of Christ’s church. The church is the only entity that simultaneously straddles old and new creations. The church touches, sees, smells, hears, and tastes the old world daily. And as she does, she must shine brightly. (Matt. 5:14) But she also participates in new-world realities that are both already and not yet, e.g. justification, adoption, sanctification, and the several benefits that flow from them.


The church is that in which redeemed image bearers participate in new creational life. While this no doubt indirectly implies some practical solutions to present woes, the emphatic reason why Christians ought to find meaning in the church is that the church is united and is being united with God through Jesus Christ. It is the gathering of God’s people called by Christ and formed by His Spirit through means of churchly ordinances. As such, the ritual life of the church consisting of ordinances administered on the Lord’s Day ought to be seen as cosmically significant. If life in the church is participation in the new world, then the ordinances and practices occurring within the church are slivers of heaven intended by God to make us more heaven-like.

Therefore, the worship of the church — particularly on the Lord’s Day — takes on heavenly overtones. The crisis of meaning in contemporary Western church culture is a crisis of identity. What the church is and what the church does is disconnected from the God to whom the Savior reconciles us. And when this happens, “church life” becomes nothing more than an extracurricular activity among many other possible extracurricular activities. But when the church is seen as an organism peculiarly favored by God through Christ intended to result in our consummate delight in God Himself, the meaning of the church is at once understood to be essential to the lives of Christians.


For more relevant material & bibliography see my article, “A Most Meaningful Church,”

The Sufficiency of Scripture, the Insufficiency of Man

The Sufficiency of Scripture, the Insufficiency of Man

Scripture, tradition, and the relationship between the two—it’s a conversation that needs to be had.

But the present manifestation of this conversation includes two sides talking past one another in a big way. One reason for this is the emerging divergence between two very different epistemologies. Presuppositionalism, broadly speaking—with its idealist DNA—makes Scripture the epistemological starting point of the Christian individual. Man’s idea of Scripture and Scripture itself are nearly the same. And this results in very little attention paid to man’s insufficiency once Scripture is presupposed as sufficient. It is generally assumed that the individual Christian has sole right in determining the proper interpretation of any given verse, chapter, or book of the Bible. Hence, the disdain of some for the tradition.

The classical Reformed position, on the other hand, understands there to be a distinction between Scripture as a source for our theology and our theology as it exists in the fallible mind. In other words, the fount of man’s theology is the text of Scripture, the principium cognoscendi, and man’s theology derives from that principle in an imperfect manner. (1 Cor. 13:12) This means Scripture is presupposed, but it is presupposed as a principle that leads to conclusions drawn by the fallible intellect. Naturally, therefore, we can admit these theological conclusions drawn from biblical exegesis to be fallible as well, while the source itself, Scripture, is infallible. Subsequently, a team effort in biblical interpretation becomes a needful service.

Scripture & the Tradition

Given the above explication, we should be readily able to see why the presuppositional milieu seems so allergic to the ministerial authority of tradition. Man presupposes the Scriptures in such a way that there’s functionally no difference between Scripture and man’s knowledge of Scripture. This cashes out in an infallible presupposition, or an infallible idea in man. In this one area, the knowledge of man is raised to an apostolic quality of infallibility. If Scripture is infallible, and there is no distinction between Scripture itself and man’s idea of it, man’s idea is infallible. And thus, it is no longer subject to peer scrutiny, say, from the tradition. It’s a simple matter of applying the law of identity and following the implications.

On the other hand, if classicalism is true, and Scripture acts as a perfect reservoir for our  imperfect theological knowledge, it follows that we might maintain Scripture’s unique attribute of infallibility while at the same time admitting man’s fallibility. And this leads us to the good and necessary use of secondary authorities. If man is fallible, he needs help to understand the infallible Scriptures aright. Biblical interpretation is not purely an individual exercise. It requires the Holy Spirit, as He works in the individual, but also as He has worked in believers past and present. Francis Turretin writes:

When we dispute at any time from the fathers against our adversaries, we use them only as witnesses, to approve by their vote the truth believed by us and to declare the belief of the church in their time. We do not use them as judges whose opinion is to be acquiesced in absolutely and without examination and as the standard of truth in doctrines of faith or in the interpretation of the Scriptures.[1]

In other words, while the fathers are not determinative of biblical meaning, as Rome conceived of them, they are witnesses unto the truth. They are the Democracy of the Dead. The peer review of theological discourse.

But not even this minimalized view of tradition may be granted if indeed our presupposition of the Scriptures is one and the same with the Scriptures themselves. If this is the case, to criticize the presupposer is to criticize what is presupposed. If Scripture and our idea of Scripture are identical, then subjecting ourselves to the voice of history is as bad as subjecting Scripture itself to the voice of men! In this scheme, to make man accountable to other men is to make Scripture accountable to man.

The Protestant View of Tradition

During the Reformation, two different views of tradition were forcefully advanced. There was “tradition 1” (T1), which taught the magisterial authority of Scripture, the meaning of which is witnessed by ministerial authorities, like creeds, confessions, the early church fathers, and biblical commentators. But “tradition 2” (T2) taught that there were two magisterial authorities, Scripture and tradition—the latter being able to create doctrines not found in the former. In the modern discourse, a “tradition 3” (T3) seems to emerge which rejects the place of tradition in theology entirely. Charitably, we might credit the (T3) position with maintaining a use for tradition, but what that use is is not abundantly clear. On (T3), tradition may be interesting, but it isn’t authoritative in any measure, and it rarely maps to the church’s contemporary situation.

For example, in a recent journal article, James White writes:

Just as in the days of the Reformation, citations and counter-citations of earlier church writings appear in the battles of our own day, whether in reference to the positions of Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, or any other system that claims to honor both Scripture and other external sources of authority (whether those sources are necessary for the interpretation of Scripture or whether they exist as co-equal or even superior authorities alongside of Scripture). But it is here that we must insist upon this maxim: Let the early church fathers be the early church fathers. That is, we must allow them to speak in their own context, to their own battles, in their own language. We cannot demand that they answer our questions and engage in our conflicts, nor can we assume that the battles back then were identical in form and substance to ours today. It is far, far too easy to abuse historical sources in the service of a cause or a movement. Rome has done this, and has done so authoritatively, by claiming her dogmas have been the “constant faith of the church” down through the ages. But Protestants, free of the dogmatic constraints of Rome’s infallible pronouncements, can still emphasize a particular lens through which the statements of earlier generations and previous centuries are filtered, giving a distorted view of earlier theologians’ actual beliefs. Ironically, such modern lenses are often constructed with carefully selected citations of the fathers by contemporary historians who insist that they are, in fact, simply walking in the tradition that has come down to them.[2]

Apparently, there is a severance between our time and their time. The issues they dealt with were their issues, and the issues we deal with are ours. The implication is startling. Their doctrinal conclusions were formed from issues unique to their time. And this leaves the reader scratching his head, asking, “Are their doctrinal conclusions to be left behind, as unique to their own day, as were their theological disputes?” Of course, Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us there is nothing new under the sun. So, one has to wonder what White intends to achieve by seemingly isolating the fathers and their problems to their historical context.

Furthermore, White’s engagement of his interlocutors simply fails to remark upon crucial aspects of (T1) and the Reformational doctrine of Sola Scriptura as the norma normans over subordinate authorities, norma normata. The “contemporary historians,” though not named in the above quote, presumably includes the historians and theologians White has been interacting with over the last year—a year which no doubt contextualizes the entire journal issue in which White’s article appears. And those particular historians and theologians, as far as I can tell, do not accept White’s presupposition that historical figures are adopted as idealistic “lenses” through which Scripture must be filtered. It has been unequivocally stated that Scripture is the source and principle of true theological knowledge, and that this source of knowledge is a document read by the Holy Spirit-filled individual with Holy Spirit-filled voices from the past. To use Turretin’s language, employment of the creeds, confessions, and historical commentary is the employment of “witnesses”—other minds which demonstrate that we ourselves are not going it alone.

The Insufficiency of Man

This brings me to what should be an elephant in the room: the insufficiency of man. Fundamental to the task of theology is the theologian’s humble acknowledgment of his own inadequacy. He has a keen awareness of Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” noting especially the present tense of his fallenness in that text. He confesses that his heart is accurately diagnosed by Jeremiah when he writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9)

Because of man’s inadequacy, the Holy Spirit turns the Christian to his fellow man, “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.” (Prov. 15:22) Through consort with his brothers, he gains a wider periphery. A single man can see, but many men can see more. He also gains accountability, and is less likely to chart his own, novel path. Heretics, though claiming love for the Scriptures, gain nothing but their own innovative opinions leading to their spiritual shipwreck. A helmsman needs a navigator to chart the sea.


Once we acknowledge the difference between the primacy and adequacy of the Scriptures versus our own inadequacy, we will clearly begin to see the need for a “multitude of counselors” when it comes to biblical interpretation and theological formulation. So long as Scripture and our commitment to it are seen as one and the same (some corners of presuppositionalism), man’s insufficiency figures less into the exegetical picture. So long as Scripture and man’s idea of it are the same, Scripture’s adequacy and man’s adequacy are one and the same. The result is an unfalsifiable, individual Bible interpreter that sets himself above the collective voice of the historical church. A self-made pope.

For these reasons, it would be best to understand Scripture as sufficient, man as inadequate, Scripture as chiefly authoritative, and tradition as a ministerial aid to man’s intellectual and ethical handicaps.


[1] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. I, (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1992), 163.

[2] James White, “What Is Sola Scriptura,” Pro Pastor,Vol. 1, No. 1, FALL 2022, A Journal of Grace Bible Theological Seminary, 3-4.

Confessional Baptist Ecclesiology (Part II)

Confessional Baptist Ecclesiology (Part II)

All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted. (1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 11:26; Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:20-22) 

~ The Second London Baptist Confession (1677), 26.2 ~

Our 17th century Baptist forerunners continued to make the distinction between the invisible/visible,  and thus universal/local church, as becomes obvious upon a reading of 2LBC, 26.1-2. However, there is a careful departure from the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and even the Savoy Declaration. Whereas the Westminster Confession makes the visible church universal/catholic in 25.2, the 2LBC locates the visibility in the saints rather than in the institution. The framers of the 2LBC cautiously avoided conceiving of any kind of visible institution that would sit over and above the local church. A further point of departure is seen in the 2LBC’s omission of the WCF clause, “The visible church… consists… of their (believers’) children.” The children of professing parents should not be admitted into the visible or local church simply because of their birth to believing parents. Visible saints, those who outwardly profess Christ, are those who ought to make up the visible church, which is necessarily local.

What Makes a “Visible Saint”?

The 2LBC lists three characteristics of visible saints. First, they profess faith in the gospel. Second, there is a measure of obedience that justifies their profession before fellow saints. Third, they are orthodox in all matters integral to a true profession of faith. We should look at each of these elements as they come to us from the Scriptures.

First, visible saints are those who profess faith in the gospel. Some argue there is no such thing as an invisible saint, therefore, visible is an adjective without real significance. Saints are saints. However, saints are invisible in the sense that the certainty concerning their status before God belongs to God alone. Creatures may approximate such a certainty through the evidence of the fruits faith produces. But the question of whether or not those fruits are produced by a living faith or by existential wherewithal to appear a Christian before others is a question that often goes unanswered. Therefore, “visible saints” are those who have vindicated their profession of faith before men (Jas. 2:26; Tit. 1:16), men perceiving such fruits to the best of their Spirit-given ability in accordance with faith.

Those who profess the gospel are to be considered saints, as is clear from the Scriptures, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9).” And in 1 John 4:2-3 we read: “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.”

Second, obedience justifies the profession. James 2:26 says, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” This isn’t speaking of our justification before God, which is wholly through the blood and righteousness of our Lord. James has in mind our justification before the church, as v. 18 seems to make clear. Visible saints are not only those with a profession, but also those whose profession is justified before men with a measure of visible fruits “worthy of repentance (Lk. 3:8).” Those professing Christians who persist in unrepentant sin, ignoring all calls to repentance and brotherly admonishment, should be considered unbelievers since there is no fruit vindicating their claim to faith. They could have been true believers, but those saints to whom they’re accountable would have no sufficient reason to believe they were.

Third, visible saints hold to orthodox theology. This does not mean that all visible saints know all that is orthodox. Indeed, no creature knows all there is to know about God or things related to God. But, generally, visible saints confess orthodoxy. And since the orthodoxy of the creature is always subject to error, visible saints are receptive to correction by the grace of God. And furthermore, because creatures do not know everything, visible saints are willing to learn more. It’s not that the visible saint has perfect orthodoxy, it’s that the visible saint will, by the grace of God, believe what a Spirit-wrought faith believes.

Visible Saints, But Not Visible Church?

The framers of the 2LBC understood there to be a doctrine of the universal church. But they did not understand the universal church to be a visible institution which would require a universal government. Rather, for Baptists, the catholic or universal church is all God’s elect throughout time and place which makes it transcendent of time and place. Their only universal head is Christ, who is in heaven governing through His Holy Spirit. The only way in which this universal church appears in this world is the instance of the local assembly. This is why the last portion of 26.2 says, “of [visible saints] ought all particular congregations to be constituted.” Thus, the universal church is invisible, because it is transcendent of time and place, it exists in heaven and on earth, and it has stretched throughout the centuries. Christ is its only head. There is no single place a person could point at on a map or on a timeline and say, “That is the universal church.”

The local church, on the other hand, is the assembly of saints in time and place—saints who themselves belong to the larger project of the universal church (Matt. 16:18)—but who nevertheless are bound to associate on a smaller, temporal scale given their limitation to time and place. Christ is the only one who can “see,” and thus rule over, the universal church. As creatures, we are limited to time and place, heaven or earth, then or now, but not all the above at once. The issue of a “visible universal” church is the issue of confusing creature with Creator. By nature, creatures are unable to visualize a universal except through the particular. The creature is bound to experience the universal through the particular, hence the necessity of the local (or particular) church. 

The Confession uses the language of “particular congregations” to distinguish the institution of the local church in 26.2 from the universal in 26.1. Visible saints must necessarily become part of visible congregations which are necessarily particular, not universal. Benjamin Keach employs an analogy of a vineyard and its vines, “So in the universal Church are many particular congregations or communities of Christians, who are as so many choice Vines in God’s sight; it also abounds with plants, some fruitful, and some barren, as is signified by our Saviour.”[1] Commenting on 2 Corinthians 11:2, John Gill helpfully distinguishes between the universal church and its particular instances in “particular congregated churches” when he writes:

Christ stands in the relation of an husband to the church catholic and universal; to the whole general assembly and church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven; even to all the elect of God, that ever were, are, or shall be; and so he does to particular congregated churches, as he did to this church at Corinth, and so he does to every individual believer: which character he responds to, by loving them with a love prior to theirs, a love of complacency and delight, which is single, special, and peculiar, strong and affectionate, wonderful and inconceivable, constant, and what will last for ever; by sympathizing with them under all their afflictions, temptations, desertions, and exercises of every kind; by nourishing and cherishing them, which phrases are expressive of the spiritual food and clothing he provides for them, of that intimate communion he admits them to, and of that whole care he takes of them; by paying all their debts, supplying all their wants, supporting them with his right hand, protecting them against all their enemies, giving them grace here, and glory hereafter; and, last of all, by interesting them in his person, and all that he has, in all the blessings and promises of the covenant in his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.[2]

The particular congregations are related in terms of time and locality. They are included within the universal church, as parts are included within the whole. Yet, the visible churches under heaven remain distinct (yet not separate) from the universal church since the universal church is broader than the local church, including also the saints in heaven.


The universal church is the whole—all the elect across time and place. This is imperceivable to the creature, who is confined to a particular time and particular place. Such a natural limitation requires the natural necessity of the local church. Ecclesiological systems that visualize the universal church fail to account for the inherent limitation of creatures which God has accommodated through the local church. Such local churches, being composed of visible saints, are the only instances that “visualize” the universal church. This is why we say that what goes on in the local church is a small glimpse into what the entire gathered universal church will look like at the end of time. In the following installment, I will discuss the relationship of the church to the kingdom as we look at 2LBC 26.3.


[1] Keach, Benjamin, Tropologia, (William Hill Collingridge, 1856), 687.

[2] Gill, John. John Gill’s Exposition on the Entire Bible-Book of 2nd Corinthians. Graceworks Multimedia. Kindle Edition. Loc. 3885.

Confessional Baptist Ecclesiology (Part I)

Confessional Baptist Ecclesiology (Part I)

The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Hebrews 12:23; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23; Ephesians 5:23, 27, 32)

~ The Second London Baptist Confession (1677), 26.1 ~

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus tells Peter, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Statements such as this one, and others like it, led the 17th century London Baptists to maintain the conviction that there is one church, the bride and body of the Lord Jesus Christ which He secured with His blood. “The catholic or universal church… (26.1),” as our Baptist predecessors called it, is a doctrine surrounded by no small amount of controversy. The controversy largely centers on the misuse of the doctrine by the Roman Catholic Church, though it has suffered confusion since the 4th to 5th centuries. However, the perversion of a doctrine should not lead us to conclude the doctrine itself is false. Good doctrine has suffered much abuse. Examples include but are not limited to the Trinity (cf. John Biddle’s confession), Christology (Arius), and soteriology (Pelagius). But these doctrines ought not be rejected outrightly simply because they’ve been misused by sinners! If misuse were the measurement of what is true or false, there would be no Christianity left.

Returning to Matthew 16:18, Jesus came to secure, establish, and continue a building project. The bride of Christ did not appear in the first century absolutely, as if there were no bride previously. The body of Christ are all those who are united to the Lord Jesus Christ and are, thus, His members. This body comprises both Old Testament and New Testament saints, and has sojourned under various covenants since the time of Adam. In Colossians 1:24, Paul writes, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church…” And in Ephesians 5:25-27, we read, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” The church achieves such permanency in the mind of Paul so as to secure a place as the very object of our Lord’s atoning work. He “gave Himself for her.”

John Gill, commenting on Ephesians 5:25, says this church is “his bride and spouse, whom he betrothed to himself from all eternity, the Father having given her to him; and is no other than the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven, even all the elect of God. Ver. 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it, &c.”[1] Matthew 16:18 probably serves as one of the fundamental teachings set forth by Jesus upon which the apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, further develop the doctrine of the one church. If this is true, it would be prudent to make a few observations that might further bolster the confessional Baptist conception of the universal (or catholic) church.

Christ Builds One Church

Historically, Baptists have confessed the one or universal church of Christ simply because the text demands it. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promises to build His church. This is a singular usage of the term ekklesia, and thus demands a more robust understanding of the church of Christ not entirely reducible to particular or local bodies. The church Jesus speaks of here has its genesis in His own sufferings, death, and resurrection. To reduce the church to a particular local church neglects this two-millennia-old institution, especially since local churches rise and fall regularly. Most are started and ended within half a century or less. Some churches are planted spontaneously and are not planted from a previously constituted church. This was the case in the 17th century. The Jacob-Lathrop-Jesse church (JLJ church) was not planted from a previously constituted Baptist church, yet was nevertheless a true church.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus employs the singular or the universal/abstract term ekklesia and promises the continuance of its construction from Pentecost onward by the power of His Holy Spirit. As Gill notes above, this church just is the fullness of the Lord’s elect.

Jesus Possesses This Church

This church is defined, in part, by Jesus’ special possession of it. This is His church. “I will build My church…” He says. He does not say, “I will build My churches…” albeit the existence of local churches is inevitably implied. If ecclesiology were indeed reducible to the local church, one would expect Jesus to reflect such a reduction in the employment of the plural form, ekklesias. As it is, He employs the singular which universalizes the concept. Jesus does not possess several churches, brides, or bodies, He possesses a single church that instantiates in the visible institution of local churches throughout time and across the globe, as we will hopefully discover in a later installment within this series.

The Meaning of Ekklesia

The term often translated to “church,” but is perhaps more woodenly translated to “assembly,” means a “gathering of citizens.”[2] While local assemblies are a concrete and experiential picture of this larger citizenry, the term ekklesia is by no means restricted to local assemblies circumscribed by geographical nearness. It rather has connotations consistent with national assembly, a theme picked up by the apostle Peter, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light… (1 Pet. 2:9).” This assembly exists on earth and in heaven, that those who’ve preceded us “should not be made perfect apart from us (Heb. 11:40).” Such is implied by Paul when he appeals to our heavenly, mother-Jerusalem, “but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all (Gal. 4:26).”

The term ekklesia is also linked to the “household of God” in Ephesians 2:19-22, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” The same term in Matthew 16:18 (oikodomeo) is utilized here in Ephesians 2, albeit in the aorist tense this time. Furthermore, 1 Timothy 3:15 explicitly identifies the “house of God” with the church, “I write to you so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God…”

The English translation of the word ekklesia to “church” is apparently the result of theological interpretation of Scripture (TIS). The English word “church” finds the start of its etymology in the Greek term for “of the Lord” (kuriakon) with “house” (doma). From the Greek, such was translated in Dutch to kerk, finding its German counterpart in the term kirche. It eventually ends up in the old English as cirice. The interpretative translation seemingly occurred in light of the church’s Biblical identification as the “house of God,” or the “house of the LORD.”

As mentioned above, in 1 Timothy 3:15, the “house of God” is the church of the living God. Such language is almost certainly carried over from Old Testament temple language. In 2 Chronicles 2:3, Solomon writes to Hiram, saying, “As you have dealt with David my father, and sent him cedars to build himself a house to dwell in, so deal with me. Behold, I am building a temple for the name of the LORD my God, to dedicate it to Him, to burn before Him sweet incense, for the continual showbread, for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths, on the New Moons, and on the set feasts of the LORD our God. This is an ordinance forever to Israel.” According to the Hebrew, the same idea, i.e. “house,” is clearly conveyed here. The Septuagint rendering of 2 Chronicles 2:3 even uses the same term used for “house” in 1 Timothy 3:15, i.e. oiko.

A further parallel exists in the fact that the temple had pillars and a foundation, both of which are attributed to the church of the living God. In 1 Kings 7:15, we read, “And he cast two pillars of bronze, each one eighteen cubits high, and a line of twelve cubits measured the circumference of each.” And 2 Chronicles 3:3 says, “This is the foundation which Solomon laid for building the house of God: The length was sixty cubits (by cubits according to the former measure) and the width twenty cubits.” See Revelation 3 for “pillar” language applied to members of Christ’s church.

The New Testament is replete with language identifying the church with the temple of our God, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are (1 Cor. 3:17).” And, “And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God (2 Cor. 6:16).” Speaking to the church, Jesus says, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more (Rev. 3:12).”

The Old Testament continually links the temple with the presence of God. In fact, the entire significance of the temple was wrapped up in it serving as the special dwelling place of God. And following the finished work of Christ revealed in the New Testament, we learn that the house/temple of God is the church in which God dwells. It is this presence of God which makes the church the temple of the living God. Where the Spirit of God dwells, there is the temple of God, as seems to be basically assumed by the Scriptures themselves. God dwelt in His tabernacle, “So I will consecrate the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. I will also consecrate both Aaron and his sons to minister to Me as priests. I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the LORD their God (Ex. 29:44-46).” First Corinthians 3:16 makes this same association, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

Ezekiel 47 seems to have a multinational scope, since “everything will live wherever the river goes (v. 9b).” The land allotment appears to be larger than that originally promised to Abraham and conquered by Joshua. The land of rest will spill beyond Israel’s then-current borders into Gentile territory. Revelation 21:16 makes the New Jerusalem multinational in scope, since it far surpasses the bounds of the Old Testament promised land, “The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal.” Twelve-thousand furlongs equate to 1500 miles. The New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 is cubic in structure, and therefore represents an expansion of the holy of holies, not only beyond the Old Testament temple grounds, but beyond the borders of national Israel. If antecedent New Testament revelation is allowed to be utilized in our interpretation of Revelation 21, the New Jerusalem, or the New Holy of Holies, is the church of the living God. The New Testament could not be clearer that the church is God’s dwelling place, and is therefore the New Covenant temple. In such a light, Revelation 21:16 apparently understands the temple/church as a single entity that transcends geographical and politico-national barriers.


There are several other observations we could make that would further the point of a Baptist doctrine of the universal church. That Christ’s bride must be one, that His body must be singular, etc. could all be used as supporting evidence for this doctrine of the universal church. In the following installment, I will work to distinguish the confessional Baptist doctrine of the catholic church from that of other ecclesiological traditions.


[1] Gill, John. John Gill’s Exposition on the Entire Bible-Book of Ephesians. Graceworks Multimedia. Kindle Edition. Loc. 2417.

[2] Thayer, J. H. (1889). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti (pp. 195–196). Harper & Brothers.

The Kingdom & Its Implications

The Kingdom & Its Implications

If God speaks on earth, the people to whom He speaks are obligated to Him. The covenant established at Mt. Sinai was a covenant of law, the violation of which made one liable to judicial punishment. When God speaks on earth, He imposes upon His people a covenant they are obligated to keep upon pain of death. When God speaks from heaven, however, much less will those escape who refuse such a punctuated address. And indeed the way in which the Father has spoken to us in these latter days is through His Son, the Lord from heaven (1 Cor. 15:47). If Christ is refused, no hope remains. God has spoken from heaven through His Son, and in His Son, He has established a greater covenant through which comes a greater kingdom than that which came through the Mosaic covenant. The old things have been, are, and are being shaken and removed. The new things have come, are coming, and will come in Christ Jesus—an economy which will by no means fade away (Heb. 12:22-24).

The Conclusion to Hebrews 12:18-24

Hebrews 12:28-29 begins with a “therefore,” because it is drawing an important practical conclusion from what has thus far been said, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom…” This is only the third time in the whole of the epistle the term kingdom is utilized. In Hebrews 1:8, it was used when our author quoted from Psalm 45:6, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” It was used in Hebrews 11:33, speaking of the faith who “subdued kingdoms.” And now, it is used a final time in Hebrews 12:28, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom…” What kingdom? What is the term kingdom in reference to? The term has not once been employed in ch. 12 until now. What, then, could possibly be its significance?

The Identity of “Kingdom” in v. 28

There has been much speculation as to the identity and timing of God’s kingdom. Contemporary speculation on the kingdom of God tends to domesticate and separate the kingdom from Christ and His work, and it fails to account for present-kingdom language used throughout the New Testament. Moreover, it often cannot account for how the Old Testament relates the kingdom of Christ with His first, not second, coming. Some believe the kingdom has not yet been established, and that it is a future-only reality. Others believe the kingdom has been established to such a degree such that there is nothing but the kingdom of God in the here and now. Everything is the kingdom of God, or so it is thought. I do not think either of these positions account for the biblical data. One reason for this is our text, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom…” The term for “are receiving” is in the present tense. This kingdom is, at present, being received by God’s people. In fact, we could render it more strongly, “Therefore, since we are taking a kingdom…”

The kingdom is something all Christians receive or take in the here and now. But, what about its identity? We know it is present to us. But what is present to us? We have to remember how v. 28 begins, “Therefore…” It is a conclusion. Moreover, this kingdom is one that “cannot be shaken.” We should also remember that vv. 25-27 and its contrast between shakable and unshakable things corresponds to the contrast in vv. 18-24, that between Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion—the mountain of terror and the mountain of glory. Thus, the mountain of glory and all it entails is one and the same with the unshakable things. And the unshakable things are summarized by our author using the term kingdom. What is the kingdom of God? Verses 22-24 tells us: Zion, heavenly Jerusalem, the church, God, His Christ, the New Covenant, and justification, i.e. the sprinkling of the blood “that speaks better things than that of Abel.”

If this is not the kingdom, it follows that our author introduces an entirely new concept in v. 28. But such a new introduction would not help his purpose. If his purpose is to motivate his audience unto godliness through vv. 22-24, i.e. Mt. Zion and all it entails, he would not introduce something new and altogether separate in v. 28. So, the kingdom, I contend, just is what is described in vv. 22-24—God, His Christ, His Covenant, His people, that is, His kingdom. Some do not understand the church to be God’s kingdom. It is true that the church at present is not the sum total of the kingdom. But the church does constitute the people of the kingdom. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love… (Col. 1:13).” Who is conveyed into the kingdom? “Us,” Christians—the church. The church is the citizenry of Christ’s kingdom, and this is made necessary by vv. 22-24 where it is the church who dwells atop Mt. Zion in heavenly Jerusalem. Thus, Christ’s kingdom is now. It is being received at present by all true believers. And the identity of Christ’s kingdom is found in vv. 22-24—the unshakable inheritance of all those who are in Christ Jesus.

Implications of the Kingdom

Yet, our passage moves beyond the unshakable kingdom now to certain implications of the reality of this kingdom. “Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken,” our text says, “let us have grace…” We are here admonished to “have grace.” And it is this grace “by which we may serve God acceptably…” Apart from grace, it is impossible to serve God in any kind of acceptable manner. And this grace is both justifying and sanctifying grace—justifying, that our works may be acceptable before God in Christ; sanctifying, that we would be enabled to perform such works in the first place. And thus, as John Owen notes, this admonishment to “have grace” is nothing more than an exhortation toward perseverance in the gospel. And it is the grace of the gospel which, in turn, moves us to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

By grace, we serve God acceptably. In what manner do we serve God? “With reverence and godly fear.” We need to look at both of these terms individually. The term for reverence (αἰδώς) could literally be rendered modesty. The primary lexical connotation is to have a sense of shame. The idea here is to serve God humbly, having a lowly disposition rather than one that exalts man in a proud or irreverent manner. To revere someone is to observe their superiority to yourself. We revere others because their accomplishments and reputations far outshine our own, and thus they seem special and deserving of our undivided attention. How much more ought we revere God, who is Himself beyond us—our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer!

The second term employed is “godly fear.” If read narrowly, this term could almost be synonymous with the term reverence. But “godly fear” denotes more of a recognition of God’s awesomeness, His sublimity, magnificence, etc. To serve God in godly fear is to serve God whilst consumed by the overwhelming glory of our Triune God. For those who stand in awe of a king have no time to disobey—they are too taken by his character and majestic appearance. So too, if we labor to stand in awe of our God through contemplation of the divine essence, less time we have to disobey and much more strength we will have to obey.

An Ominous Reality for Those Outside the Kingdom

In v. 29, our author solidifies this point by returning to the holy nature of God, “For our God is a consuming fire.” This is an application of the terror of God as seen atop Mt. Sinai, “The sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel (Ex. 24:17).” You may be wondering, “But I thought we came to Mt. Zion, where there is no terror or wrath, not Mt. Sinai!” This is true. But those who are without the gospel still relate to God just as the disobedient Israelites did in those days under the law. All those who are without the gospel are, by nature, transgressors. And so all they see, all they will experience with a veiled face, is YHWH shrouded in smoke along with His threats and condemning wrath. The admonishment in v. 28 is to persevere in the gospel. The threat of v. 29 is not a threat of the New Covenant (the New Covenant has no threats toward its members, since it’s unbreakable), but a threat toward those who would not persevere, thereby proving their apostacy and condemnation under the law. Without the gospel, outside the New Covenant, there is only the condemnation of the moral law—the same moral law issued upon the stormy, smoky, fiery Mt. Sinai.

The Monogamous Marriage of Christ and His Church Defended, from Baptist History

The Monogamous Marriage of Christ and His Church Defended, from Baptist History

The teaching that Christ has one Church is integral to a right understanding of the Person of Christ. Christ must have one Bride only. Moreover, His body must not be divided, fragmented, or depreciated in any way which would imply multiple faiths, Spirits, etc (cf. Eph. 4). It must also be said that this one body and Bride is not an earthly, visible institution, but an invisible, presently inaugurated reality received by faith in the present, to be seen with glorified eyes in the eschaton. Or, to put it positively, the one Bride of Christ presently instantiates, or becomes visible, only in local assemblies or churches.

Yet, the one Church of Christ comprises the whole of the elect people of God at all times and in all places. To deny the one Church of Christ comprised of all the elect, at all times and in all places, without qualification, is to deny Christ a monogamous betrothal to a single Bride, to affirm His body is still broken (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Mk. 10:8; 1 Cor. 6:16), and to deny the definite or limited atonement, contra Ephesians 5:25-27.

Below, it will be proved that Baptist history testifies to this common conviction. And while we Baptists have historically put much more practical emphasis on the local church, the unquestionable commitment to a single Bride of Christ may be clearly seen in the documentation below. Many of the document titles double as links to digital versions of source documentation. What is not linked is still sourced underneath the quotation. This symbol (*) corresponds to important commentary or clarifying subject-matter also viewable underneath the relevant quotations.

That Baptists Have Always Affirmed One (catholic) Church, Body, and Bride, We Affirm by the Following Proofs— 

Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528):

The church is sometimes understood to include all the people who are gathered and united in one God, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, and have confessed this faith with their mouths, wherever they may be on earth. This, then, is the universal Christian corporeal church and fellowship of the saints, assembled only in the Spirit of God, as we confess in the ninth article of our creed (Nicaea). At other times the church is understood to mean each separate and outward meeting assembly or parish membership that is under one shepherd or bishop and assembles bodily for instruction, for baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Balthasar Hubmaier, Balthasar Hubmaier, (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1989), 351-352.

The Schleitheim Confession (1527): 

The ban shall be employed with all those who have given themselves to the Lord, to walk in His commandments, and with all those who are baptized into the one body of Christ and who are called brethren or sisters… 

In the breaking of bread we are of one mind and are agreed [as follows]; All those who wish to break one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ, and all who wish to drink of one drink as a remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, shall be united beforehand by baptism in one body of Christ which is the church of God and whose Head is Christ.

Whoever has not been called by one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one Spirit, to one body, with all the children of God’s church, cannot be made [into] one bread with them, as indeed must be done if one is truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.

Hubmaier, Balthasar; Denk, Hans; Simons, Menno. The Anabaptists: Excerpts from the writings of various authors (Anabaptist Writings Book 2) . Solid Christian Books. Kindle Edition.

The Writings of Menno Simons (1496-1561):

But we teach and maintain by the word of the Lord that all true believers are members of one body, are baptized by one Spirit into one body (I Cor. 10:18) and have one Lord and one God (Eph. 4: 5,6).

All who are born of God, are partakers of the Spirit of the Lord, and are called into one body of love, according to the Scriptures, are ready by such love to serve their neighbors, not only with money and goods, but also, according to the example of their Lord and Head, Jesus Christ, in an evangelical manner, with life and blood.

Hubmaier, Balthasar; Denk, Hans; Simons, Menno. The Anabaptists: Excerpts from the writings of various authors (Anabaptist Writings Book 2) . Solid Christian Books. Kindle Edition. 

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith (1632):

VIII. We believe in, and confess a visible church of God, namely, those who, as has been said before, truly repent and believe, and are rightly baptized;* who are one with God in heaven, and rightly incorporated into the communion of the saints here on earth. These we confess to be the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, who are declared to be the bride and wife of Christ, yea, children and heirs of everlasting life, a tent, tabernacle, and habitation of God in the Spirit, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ Himself is declared to be the cornerstone (upon which His church is built). This church of the living God, which He has acquired, purchased, and redeemed with His own precious blood; with which, according to His promise, He will be and remain always, even unto the end of the world, for consolation and protection, yea, will dwell and walk among them, and preserve them, so that no floods or tempests, nay, not even the gates of hell, shall move or prevail against them-this church, we say, may be known by their Scriptural faith, doctrine, love, and godly conversation, as, also, by the fruitful observance, practice, and maintenance of the true ordinances of Christ, which He so highly enjoined upon His disciples.* I Cor. 12; I Pet. 2.9; John 3.29; Rev. 19.7; Titus 3:6, 7; Eph. 2:19-21; Matt. 16.18; I Pet. 1.18, 19; Matt. 28.20; II Cor. 6:16; Matt. 7:25.

*This represents an error in Anabaptist thought which was rejected by later Baptists in that the one church of Christ is not visible, but invisible, cf. 2LBCF, 26.

*Some may want to argue the local church is assumed throughout the Dordrecht Confession. However, this is unlikely since, in the article above, “the church” under consideration will never be prevailed upon by anything, including the gates of hell—which no doubt occurs from time to time with regard to local churches. Yet, the one Bride of Christ is preserved in all ages.

A True Confession (1596):

XVII. That in the meantime, besides his absolute rule in the world, Christ hath here in earth a spiritual Kingdom and canonical regiment in his Church ouer his servants, which Church he hath purchased and redeemed to himself, as a peculiar inheritance (notwithstanding manie hypocrites do for the tyme lurk emongest the) calling and winning them by the power of his word vnto the faith, separating them from amongst unbelievers, from idolatrie, false worship, superstition, vanitie, dissolute lyfe, & works of darkness, &c; making them a royal Priesthood, an holy Nation, a people set at liberty to shew forth the virtues of him that hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light, gathering and writing them together as members of one body in his faith, loue and holy order, vnto all general and mutual duties, einstructing & governing them by such officers and lawes as hee hath prescribed in his word; by which Officers and lawes hee governeth his Church, and by none other.

A Short Confession of Faith (1610)

22. Such faithful, righteous people, scattered in several parts of the world, being the true congregations of God, or the Church of Christ, whom he saved, and for whom he gave himself, that he might sanctify them, ye whom he bath cleansed by the washing of water in the word of life: of all such is Jesus the Head, the Shepherd, the Leader, the Lord, the King, and Master. Now although among these there may be mingled a company of seeming holy ones, or hypocrites; yet, nevertheless, they are and remain only the righteous, true members of the body of Christ, according to the spirit and the truth, the heirs of the promises, truly saved from the hypocrites the dissemblers.*

*Here the one Church of Christ is put for “congregations… scattered in several parts of the world.”

Propositions and Conclusions Concerning True Christian Religion (1612-1614):

65. That the visible church is a mystical figure outwardly of the true, spiritual invisible church, which consisteth of the spirits of just and perfect men only, that is of the regenerate (Rev. i. 20, compared with Rev. xxi. 2, 23, 27).*

*This is a document prepared by English Baptists living in Amsterdam. It represents a positive development from some of the Anabaptist documents in that it carefully distinguishes between the visible and invisible church, a distinction made in the Scripture itself, cf. Eph. 5:25-27; Heb. 12 with Rev. 1-3.

John Spilsbury (1593-1668):

And lastly, I do believe that there is an holy and blessed communion of Saints, that God of his grace calls such as belong to life by election, unto the fellowship of his Son by the Gospel, of which matter, God by his word and Spirit joins them together in his Covenant of grace, and so constitutes his Church… 

The First London Baptist Confession (1644/46):

That Christ has here on earth a spiritual Kingdom, which is the Church, which He has purchased and redeemed to Himself, as a particular inheritance: which Church, as it is visible to us, is a company of visible saints, called and separated from the world, by the Word and the Spirit of God, to the visible profession of the faith of the Gospel, being baptized into the 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.

The Faith and Practice of Thirty Congregations Gathered Together According to the Primitive Pattern (1651):

58. That it is the good pleasure of God, which hath given gifts of his grace to the Saints or Church of God,* that some of the gifted men should be appointed, or set apart to attend upon the preaching of the word, for the further edifying of the Churches, that they may be enabled to stand against all oppositions according as necessity requires, to the glory of God and their comfort. Eph. 4. II, 21.

*The “Church of God” is here put for all the Saints. They then utilize the plural “churches” which strongly implies an invisible church comprised of all saints which instantiates in several local churches.

The True Gospel-Faith (1654):

That all ought to avoid the hearing of any Teachers so as to learn of them, except believers dipped, and making of marriages with any out of the Church lest they be drawn from the truth.  2 Jno.10 v.; I John 4.6; I Cor.7.39; Deut.7.3,4; 2 Cor.6.14,15.*

*The use of “church” in this context must be generally or universally applied since it is extremely unlikely marriages would have been limited only to within local congregations at this time.

Midland Confession of Faith (1655):

9th. That Christ is the only true King, Priest, and Prophet of the Church. Acts ii.22-23; Hebrews iv.14, etc; viii.1, etc.

15th. That persons so baptized ought, by free consent, to walk together, as God shall give opportunity in distinct churches, or assemblies of Zion, continuing in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers, as fellow-men caring for one another, according to the will of God. All these ordinances of Christ are enjoined in His Church, being to be observed till his Second Coming, which we all ought diligently to wait for.

Somerset Confession of Faith (1656):

THAT this man Christ Jesus suffered death under Pilate, at the request of the Jews (Luke 23:24.), bearing the sins of his people on his own body on the cross (I Pet. 2:24), according to the will of God (Isa. 53:6), being made sin for us, (2 Cor. 5:11) and so was also made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13, 14; I Pet. 3:18.), that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:11), and by his death upon the cross, he hath obtained eternal redemption and deliverance for his church. (Col 1:14; Eph. 1:7; Acts 20:28; Heb. 9:12; I Pet 1:18, 19.).

The Second London Baptist Confession (1677/89):

1. The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Hebrews 12:23; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23; Ephesians 5:23, 27, 32).

Hercules Collins (1646-1702):

That is, as he is the Head, and the Church the Body; as he is the King, the Church the Kingdom; for Christ, as Man, is God’s Elect; yea the Head of Election and Predestination: he was fore-appointed to be the Head of a Holy Glorious Mystical Body, the King of a Glorious Kingdom, Captain of a Glorious Company, the Bridegroom of a Glorious Bride… *

*Historically, the mystical body is to be distinguished from the visible body.

The Philadelphia Confession (1742):

The catholic or universal church, which, with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace, may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.

John Gill on Hebrews 12:23 (1697-1771):

and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven; by the “church”, is not meant any particular, or congregational church, nor any national one; but the church catholic, or universal, which consists only of God’s elect, and of all of them, in all times and places; and reaches even to the saints in heaven: this church is invisible at present, and will never fail; of which Christ is the head, and for which he has given himself: now the persons, that belong to this church, are styled the “firstborn”; who are not the apostles only, who received the first fruits of the Spirit; nor the first converts among the Jews, who first trusted in Christ; but also the chosen of God, who are equally the sons of God, and born of him; are equally loved by him, and equally united to Christ, and interested in him: they have the same privileges, honours, and dignity, and shall enjoy the same inheritance; they are all firstborn, and are so called, with respect to the angels, the sons of God, as Christ is with respect to the saints, the many brethren of his: and these are said to be “written in heaven”; not in the earth…

Gill, John. Exposition on the Entire Bible-Book of Hebrews (John Gill’s Exposition on the Entire Bible 58). Grace Works Multimedia. Kindle Edition.

The New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833):

Of a Gospel Church We believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ; governed by his laws, and exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his Word ; that its only scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.*

*The Sandy Creek statement also implies a distinction between the visible and invisible church.

Treatise of Faith and Practices of the Free Will Baptists (1834):

The Church of God, or members of the body of Christ, is the whole body of Christians throughout the whole world, and none but the regenerate are its members.

Abstract of Principles (1858):

The Lord Jesus is the Head of the Church, which is composed of all his true disciples, and in Him is invested supremely all power for its government. According to his commandment, Christians are to associate themselves into particular societies or churches; and to each of these churches he hath given needful authority for administering that order, discipline and worship which he hath appointed. The regular officers of a Church are Bishops or Elders, and Deacons.

Compend of Christian Doctrines Held by Baptists: In Catechism (1866):

What is the church of Christ? His “calling” or followers taken collectively, or any number of them personally associated for his worship and glory. 1 Cor. 1: 2; Rev. ii: 7; Col. i: 18-24.

B. H. Carroll on Ephesians 5:25 (1843-1914):

“Christ loved the church,” that is, He loved the people who were to be given to Him—all of them. In eternity a joy was set before Him—a future reward.*

B. H. Carroll, Colossians, Ephesians, and Hebrews, (Nashville: The Broadman Press, 1942), 166-167.

*Carroll here admits the general use of the term church has in view all of Christ’s elect people. Unfortunately, he later circumscribes this church to a particular chronology by making it eschatological only. But this of course does not comport with Ephesians 5:26, which assumes the bride, in the here and now, is being sanctified. Carroll later rightly notes that while all the elect is the whole church, the visualisation of it takes place only in particular or local churches (cf. John Gill for sharper, more sensible categories).