Some words which appear in the KJV of the scriptures do not always mean the same thing each time they are used. It is necessary to look at the context in which they are used and to have a certain level of spiritual enlightenment in order to ascertain the exact meaning that is intended. the years, since the LORD walked the earth, there have been many diversions of doctrine by those who would all call themselves the followers of CHRIST. Some have been outright departures from the core beliefs of the faith. Others have been more subtle and have confused the lines between that which is of the flesh and that which is of the SPIRIT. Some have arisen through ignorance and dullness of hearing and some have arisen through the work of deceivers who desire to “draw away disciples after them”. These men who sow seeds of division and discord are rightly termed “heretics” in the scriptures. All error is not equally deadly, but no error is of the truth. “No lie is of the truth.” (I John 2:21)

The first epistle of John is written to combat a very damnable doctrine which arose quite early on which is generally known as Gnosticism even though there are various branches and aberrations of philosophies that fall in this category. This was an outright assault on the very “doctrine of CHRIST” without which there is no gospel. Therefore, John wrote, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed” (2John 1:9-10)

Altar to the Unknown God
"Altar to the unknown god"

Some of the “Gnostics” basically believed that the material world did not really exist and therefore there was no such thing as sin and some of them believed that the material world was the only one that did exist, and that sin was no big deal since GOD was unconcerned with it. The most heinous error associated with Gnosticism was that they denied that the LORD JESUS CHRIST was actually a human being who walked upon the earth and bled for HIS people’s sin or either they denied that HE was GOD at all. They sought to deemphasize the actual redemption which CHRIST wrought and to excuse sin as though it did not exist or was even desirable. Simply put the error of Gnosticism was that men thought they could reason out the truth or “know” the truth by the operation of their own mind. This is exactly that which Paul refers to when he said “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness. (1Cor 1:22-23)

The other error, that Paul mentions in this passage, was one that he also confronted very early on by the “Judaizers” who tried to mix the truth of justification by faith with the Judaic system which was built upon the principle of law. They tried to establish that while a man might be justified by faith in a certain sense, yet it was still necessary for those who believe to embrace and follow the tenets of the law. This prompted Paul to say, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Gal 2:21) “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3) This same error exists today and we call it “conditionalism”. Those who embrace this error believe that men have the power to either gain or lose GOD’s blessings by their behavior and believe as Job’s miserable comforters that the blessings of GOD are on those who obey while those that do not suffer. This is a legal principle.

The error of conditionalism along with a denial of the particular and definite nature of the redemptive work of CHRIST in the behalf of HIS elect are the two greatest errors that are prevalent in Christendom today. Sadly, I think that it is true that for the most part the “doctrine of CHRIST” is absent from most so called churches in this day and age.

Both the errors of the Gnostics and that of the Judaizers, are serious departures from the central truth of the gospel which is “CHRIST is ALL”. To add something to that or to take something from it, is, ultimately, to miss the gospel entirely. A man may err on many things and still be considered to be in the faith, but to err on this central truth is to be shipwrecked and without any basis of truth. The “doctrine of CHRIST” is this pure and simple message which gives men no basis for any hope except in HIM, and that “in HIM” is the blessed hope of all of the elect children of GOD. This is that which Paul summed up by saying, “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col 3:11)

There are basically only two “religions” which exist in the world, that which is of the SPIRIT of GOD (which is true, see John 4:21-24) and that which is of the flesh of man ( a way which is false but appears to men to be right {see Prov.16:25}). Because we have not yet been set free from this flesh in which we were born, we are still all very susceptible to its wooing, power, and often deceptions, even though we may have been born again by HIS SPIRIT and are new creatures. As new creatures it is not possible that we should be overcome and destroyed by the error of a denial of the “doctrine of CHRIST” but we are (because of this flesh) still susceptible to many deviations and if it were possible we would be ultimately deceived. (see Mat.24:24) But HE which hath begun a good work in us will perform it until HE comes again. And though Satan may go about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour he can only go so far as the LORD will “allow” (or direct) him. Though he desires to destroy all of the seed of CHRIST, yet he cannot, because greater is HE that is in us than he that is in the world. Yet he does sometimes wreak havoc in the midst of GOD’s people and wound them in such a manner that only the mollifying BALM of Gilead can heal their hurt. We are sure that the LORD directs this for their ultimate good, but the trial and affliction is nonetheless real and often painful even as that of Job.

Religion is a powerful force in the earth and there is a certain affinity which the natural man has for the religion of the flesh. Even after a man is born again, he is often still quite attracted to it even as a moth will fly around the flames of a campfire, sometimes with disastrous results. This is the exact force that existed in some of the early Jewish Christians, who, while they embraced the truth of the gospel, they were in many cases still enticed by the siren song of that religion which is built upon the principle of law (i.e. that which can be seen with natural eyes). Peter is a good case in point. Peter and Barnabas were overtaken and somewhat enamored by this aspect of their “former religion” so much so that Paul accused Peter of dissimulation (i.e., hypocrisy) with some of the stronger Judaizers. They had not denounced CHRIST or preached “another” gospel but they were influenced by that which comes to men as naturally as breathing, and were in danger (humanly speaking) of departing from the gospel of free grace.

It should then come as no surprise to find many who otherwise bear strong testimony to the grace of GOD, the doctrine of CHRIST, and eschew the wickedness of the flesh, still somewhat beset with a tendency to support the religion of the flesh and confuse it with that which is purely of the SPIRIT. Most who fall into this error do not even recognize it because this is such a great subterfuge which has much logical and sometimes even seeming scriptural support. If a man is predisposed to this line of thought it is impossible that he should ever be delivered from it except that he is delivered from a reliance on it.

It is easy to see this error among the Roman Catholics who essentially deny the grace of GOD in reality while promoting a form of morality and a fervor after their own brand of religious observances. Their shrines are right out in the open where one can plainly see men bowing down in reverence to traditions and dogmas which have been practiced for centuries and idols which are hewn out of wood and stone. I think that few (if any) of the LORD’s children are taken in for very long by such a blatant display of natural religion.

Pope Francis: Mary is the 'mother of forgiveness'

Yet Satan has a more subtle way of slipping the same error before GOD’s people which is not so easily detected, though essentially springing from the same source. This is the very heart of the subject matter undertaken in this article where the question is asked “Do you believe in a “universal, invisible” church.” The simple answer is no. Yet there are those who usually ask this question who would accuse us of such.

This particular description arose many years ago as GOD’s children sought to differentiate themselves from the Roman Catholic (i.e., universal) view of a visible church into which all men are to be baptized. Those who saw the error of this church’s (?) dogmas denied that men ought to be “baptized” into it at all, and many concluded that GOD’s elect are baptized into a universal invisible church by the SPIRIT of GOD rather than at the hands of a priest who “sprinkled” (not baptism at all, but rather properly called rantism) men to make them members of this great monolithic beast they called the Roman Catholic church.

Priest Baptizing Infant

Others came along, (most notably many who call themselves Baptists) and argued that men are to be baptized in water as a visible sign (upon belief of the gospel) that they are becoming members of particular local assemblies. In all of these cases men associated baptism (whether spiritual or in water) as being some form of “initiation” into the church of GOD. Of course this basic idea is supported by the paedobaptists (i.e., baby sprinklers), as well, even though they may differ in some particulars from the Baptists. Practically all extant, organized religions or denominations, view “baptism” as an initiation rite of one sort or another and is the means whereby one is counted in or out by them.

I would contend that baptism (whether spiritual or in water) has nothing to do with “joining” the church, (all of the examples in Acts can be brought as witness) whether considered as the general gathering of the saints or a particular congregation which gathers in a certain location regardless of its doctrine. Never is any mention made of such a connection in the scripture unless one uses the techniques of reverse engineering.

I do believe that the children of GOD are (in HIS time) baptized (immersed, or covered) by the SPIRIT of GOD and can be considered as one great assembly. “But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect”. (Heb 12:22-23) This is that church which Paul speaks of in Ephesians, “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:25-27)

However, I do not believe that their spiritual baptism in any wise makes them a part of this innumerable company of saints but that they were made so in the eternal covenant of redemption as they were chosen in CHRIST before the foundation of the world. This spiritual baptism is simply the evidence of their inclusion therein and is the earnest of their inheritance until the time CHRIST comes to claim that possession which HE purchased with HIS own blood.

Neither do I believe that their baptism (i.e.; immersion) in water has anything to do with them becoming a part of any local congregation or larger association of such assemblies. One must do some serious Texas two step in order to define which “church” the Ethiopian eunuch or the Philippian jailer, not to mention Lydia were “baptized into” or even under which church’s “authority” they were baptized. Those that contend for baptism into a local church will always contend that they were, but they do so without any concrete example in the scriptures but a dogmatic reliance on those who have contended for the same thing traditionally.

Water baptism is not an initiation rite or some de facto stamp of approval which enables men to obey CHRIST’s commands, as those who argue for “close/closed communion” might contend. Water baptism is an act of obedience to the command of CHRIST which the scripture defines as “the answer of a good conscience toward GOD.” (I Pet 3:21) It is a declaration or confession of one’s desire to be identified as a follower of CHRIST who, HIMSELF, also went into the baptismal waters in their behalf at the hands of John. I have never heard anyone say which church that HE was supposedly baptized into or under which one’s authority, John acted.

The only reason I would ever even bring up the subject of baptism in a discussion of the “church” is because of the pervasive view that water baptism is somehow connected with it. The only connection that I can find in the scripture is that all of those who would be followers of CHRIST are commanded to be baptized even as Peter demonstrated in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, and they are added to the church not because of baptism but because they are believers. This act of baptism is a matter of conscience in the one baptized and has nothing at all to do with any inclusion with a local congregation except that it is a mutually shared experience.

So, we conclude that all discussions of baptism as a means of being identified with a particular church or having to be carried out under the auspices of a particular assembly or to manifest agreement with a particular assembly or association of assemblies and their dogma arise out of a clouded view of what true baptism is. These aberrant and in my opinion unscriptural views of baptism take it from its rightful place as a simple act of obedience to CHRIST and make it into a rite, ritual, or ceremony which has to be presided over or “administered” by someone particularly “qualified” in the eyes of men. The simple faith of the Ethiopian speaks volumes about the nature of true water baptism when he said, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (Act 8:36)

Then Phillip’s answer forever settles the requirements of it, “And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Act 8:37) This is a most profound example of the simplicity of new testament water baptism and the heart confession of a believer that prompts the whole matter and is the central purpose of the action. This is confirmed by Paul’s dealings with the Philippian jailer. This is not a ceremony but an act of obedience.

Red  Kings Crown

One of the greatest downfalls of the nation of Israel is that they desired to have a king like the other nations of the earth. They figured this would give them an air of respectability in the eyes of the world as well as relieving them of a certain level of personal accountability. Even though they were warned of the toll that would be exacted upon them by such a course they persisted and cried out to the LORD to give them a ruler after the flesh. They got their wish and years of heartache and toil were the result.

Men naturally desire to have someone to rule over them in the flesh even though they are rebels at heart. It is because they secretly despise the presence of GOD that they want someone to interact with GOD in their behalf, so they are relieved of what they consider a duty in religion. This is an oddity on the one hand given man’s rebellious nature but is nonetheless demonstrated as men desire to relieve themselves of accountability by having someone else they can appoint to the task of “spiritual service”.

Just as the Jews desired “respectability” among the nations of the earth, so does natural man desire “respectability” among his “peers” in his religious endeavors. The natural man can continue in a state of being “despised” or considered inferior only so long without doing something to counteract the cause of it. The scriptures plainly record the disdain of Christianity in the eyes of both the Jews and the Greeks. These early followers of CHRIST had no status or someone in charge as did these “respectable” societies. Their “leaders” were by and large “ignorant and unlearned men” and they were knit together without a hierarchy since everyman among them answered to the same HEAD and followed the same KING.

Therefore, in time it has occurred that men have taken the rudimentary office of elder which the LORD gave to HIS church as servants and in imitation of the world, they have turned it into a higher station or status, akin to “a king”. These men who are raised to these positions of respect, honor, and authority are sometimes termed the “clergy” in contrast to what would now be known as the “laity”. Quite often this status is bestowed upon men with great pomp and ceremony equal to that of any religious society. None of which can be found in the scriptures.

There are many who are themselves in these “positions” who would take great offense in my portrayal of it. They would protest that they do not view their “positions” as I have described them. It is true that some may not, but it is human nature to love the salutations of men and very few do not secretly rejoice in their status as “elders” or “pastors” and take a certain pleasure in being called by a “title” whatever that may be.

Now it is a true thing that the scripture speaks of those who are called to occupy this office of elder as those who have been given rule. Yet the type of rule they are given in the scripture is hardly that which many if not most view that their position entails. Many seem to think they are called to run the church as an autocrat. Diotrephes was such an individual and he has no shortage of descendants. Many use the world’s definition of “rule” rather than that which is defined by the scripture.

All men like to tell others what to do. It takes no special talent to boss folks around and demand certain behavior and activities. Yet Peter specifically describes the nature of the “rulership” of those whom GOD calls and equips to carry out the office of elder in the NT church. “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock.“ (1Pe 5:1-3)

This rulership to which NT elders are called is that of a gentle teacher who leads more by example than by thunderous discourses. He must show the way and not just tell others the way. He cannot expect to exhort men to pray and study the word of GOD if he is not himself a man of prayer and study. Nor can he teach men to esteem one another above themselves if he is not exhibiting that trait in their midst. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Gal 5:22-26)

The religion of the flesh associates power with certain positions of authority but the only power that is in the hands of those that GOD calls and equips to be “rulers” in HIS house is the power of the SPIRIT. “For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” (1Cor 4:20-21) “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” (1 Thess 1:5) The power which is in the hands of those whom GOD is pleased to call to proclaim HIS word is not a conferred power but is one which is demonstrated even as Paul declared, that even though he was week in the flesh and many judged his preaching to be less than eloquent he spoke with “authority”. Even though as an apostle he occupied an office (or calling) which he might rightly have used to demand an audience, he never expected that men should listen to him because of his office but because GOD was pleased to manifest HIS power in the word HE sent through him. (see II Cor.10:7-18)

Natural religion often views meekness as weakness but such a spirit is highly prized among those who would “lead” the flock of GOD. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” (2Ti 2:24-25) So the power of an “elder’s” rebuke is not in his harsh tongue or demeanor but in the SPIRIT who empowers those words spoken.

We often see men who think that they should be shown deference because of a position they might occupy in some religious organization they are a part of. It is common in the natural religious mind to think of power as resting in the organizational structure of a church and perhaps conferred upon men by installing them in certain positions, but the only power that the New Testament mentions is that which is brought to pass by the operation of the HOLY GHOST and not because of any credentials or institutional authority. The church has power and authority only as the SPIRIT is walking among their candlesticks. Many local assemblies continue on long after this light has been extinguished because they think that their authority is in their organization. They are as the Church at Sardis who had a name that indicated that they should live but were dead. (see Rev. 3:1)

Now some might say at this point that I have departed from my original subject but such is not the case because in order to understand the true nature of the church of GOD one must first disassociate it from the preconceived notions that have been borrowed from the natural thinking of men and the pervasive religious traditions that affect nearly all of GOD’s people to some extent.

The church of JESUS CHRIST is comprised of the elect sons who were chosen in CHRIST before the foundation of the world. None can come in who are not chosen nor can any be left out who are. Therefore we can say that the Church of JESUS CHRIST is not universal but very particular and in the eyes of the world, “peculiar”. Her authority is not conferred upon her as an organization but is manifest in her as HE is pleased to walk among HIS garden and cause the spices thereof to flow out. (see Song. of Sol. 4:16)

The Greek word which is translated church in the NT is “ekklesia” which literally means a gathering or an assembly. There is no differentiation made between the church for which CHRIST shed HIS blood and that one which is gathered together in specific locations all over the earth. So we must conclude that these assemblies which gather at these various locations are but expressions or manifestations of HIS church rather than individual clubs or organizations that are given a sphere of “power” or “authority”. Yet having said that it is also clear that HE is pleased to manifest HIS power in the operation of HIS SPIRIT among the individual churches which HE has established in all corners of the Earth. We bring to witness the letters to the seven Churches of Asia as proof of that. It is also clear (though with a note of sadness we make the observation) that these individual churches have definite lifespans as is witnessed by the fact that none of them exist today.

This ought to be evidence enough for us to discover the folly of the thinking (brought about by man’s natural religious tendencies), that men are able to perpetuate HIS church in the earth by the establishment of creeds, decorums, and confessions of faith. All of these might be useful and helpful for a season, but serve no purpose beyond that time when GOD is pleased to move among HIS people in the presence and power of HIS SPIRIT. No reliance upon them or consideration of long held traditions can cause HIS power to rest there again.

The Church which JESUS CHRIST has established in the earth, against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail is that same Church for which HE shed HIS precious blood. It is that Church which HE has loved with an everlasting love. This Church is no religious order, institution, or organization but is the elect Bride of CHRIST, the people of GOD, which HE chose out of every nation, tribe, and tongue, and is pleased to raise up in various locations of the earth as a manifestation of HIS grace and mercy. They are churches among whom HE is pleased to dwell among in the power of the HOLY GHOST and the SPIRIT of obedience to HIS commands, regardless of what they may call themselves or what they may be termed by their detractors.