Updated: Sep 29, 2022
Earlier this year (2022) pastor Mike Hovland of the Reformed-Calvinist Grace Bible Fellowship Church posted an online Q&A article on “The Church,” espousing a few significant (not “non-essential”) and dangerous errors concerning the church and the gospel. The errors espoused were:
1. The Universal Church;
2. The Church Started at Pentecost;
3. The Gospel was Lost and Rescued by the Reformers; and
4. Exaltation of Church Fathers and Reformers.
These are very common but erroneous philosophies within Calvinist Reformed churches, though not confined to these institutions. Let’s consider them in some more detail.
1. The False “Universal Church” or “Universal Body of Christ.”
Within Calvinism we find Reformed or Covenant Theology. And within this heresy we find regeneration preceding faith/ repentance/ conversion, and that of the “elect = Church.” The “universal church” idea within Reformed theology comes from the elect being “the church.” Though this heresy is not confined to Reformed Calvinism, it’s rampant there and provides the backbone for much of what they do and also some of what they believe. But it’s just a theory, since it’s found nowhere in Scripture. Torturing scripture to make this philosophy fit doesn’t officialize it, but that is a camel that Calvinism swallows. It is most commonly the product of spiritualizing the church (which most in this group also do concerning replacement theology) and a spirit of ecumenism, both of which are rampant in reformed theology, but both unscriptural and heretical.
He also claims that all Christians at their salvation are,
“gathered together in what Scripture calls the church. They are the gathering, the church.”
In an online video he reiterates this,
“You can’t be a Christian without belonging to the universal church.”
When Scripture is corrupted and stretched, you end up adding to God's Word and creating a form of works salvation as we note with the last quote. Nowhere in God's Word does it say that salvation hinges on "belonging to the universal church." Hovland should carefully consider the Rev 22:18 indictment upon himself,
"If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:"
And the charge of preaching a false gospel:
"...there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:7-8).
To support the universal philosophy, Hovland forces scripture (e.g. Eph 2 and 5 in this article) to fit a preconceived ideology of what ecclesiology is, the “ekklesia.” He shouldn’t attempt to fit the Bible into a position, but take a position that the Bible teaches. Attempting to fit passages into a particular position is a tell-tale indicator of how to come to a wrong one. Bible teaching utilizes basic grammar. It is looking at the actual words and deriving a teaching from them, allowing the Bible to stand as the authority. You would think this is what people do that consistently parrot sola scriptura, but no.
Hovland also writes:
“This assembly includes all those genuine believers who have trusted in Christ whether on earth or in heaven. This is the universal church: there is one body. There is one bride. But this universal church exists on earth in local assemblies. There is one church that meets all over the world in many individual local churches.”
Concerning the word "ecclesia" (he wrote, "ἐκκλησία"), he stated,
"The Lord Jesus and the New Testament writers took this word and used it to refer the gathering of believers who were called into fellowship with God. The ἐκκλησία is made up of those who are called out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Lord Jesus Christ."
Hovland connects "assembly" with "the universal church." The "assembly" "is one body . . . one bride." He calls salvation the membership for the universal church. This is a delusion. The Bible has terminology for all saved people: the family of God and the kingdom of God. What occurs in heaven is not an ecclesiological gathering. The heavenly assembly does not function as a N.T. assembly. The church is not just any assembly. The N.T. uses "ekklesia" to refer to something other than the church, and the King James translates it “assembly,” referring to a group of people gathered together, not always a church (Ac 19:32, 39, 41). An assembly in heaven, the King James also calls “an assembly,” because it isn’t a church. No assembly is universal. Jesus’ ekklesia in all usages of the word, 19 in Revelation and 2 in Matthew, is still an ekklesia, not something scattered all over the world, but still an assembly. When He calls it “my ekklesia,” Jesus distinguishes it from other governing assemblies. People in that day already understood the concept of a town meeting, a governing assembly. Jesus rules through His assembly and gives it His authority. "Ekklesia" was also the Greek word translated for the Hebrew congregation of Israel, the assembly in the O.T.
Most people are so immersed in neo-evangelical and reformed-calvinist teachings, they’ve never questioned whether the idea of a “universal” or Platonic church is even a biblically sound concept. Often, terms such as “visible church” and “invisible church” are used to identify the difference of the local assembly and the alleged universal church, but they are complete oxymoron when yoked to the word “church.” The church is never called or referred to as universal or catholic in Scripture.
The Bible nowhere speaks about Christ’s church as a “universal church.” While churches may choose to work together, each true local congregation is independent and self-governing, without any hierarchy (Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5) and without any connection to any other church. The only actual world-wide “universal church” entity is the universal one-world religious system centred in Rome prophesied about in Rev 17-18, where it is called “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev 17:5 — capitalization is original).
The true church authorized by Jesus Christ, the only church, is local only. Jesus started it in Jerusalem in the first century during His earthly life as seen in Matt 16:18 and 18:15-17. The NT book of Acts records that first church reproduced other assemblies with scripture as their sole authority. The Lord Jesus Christ gave the true church authority, autonomy, with Him as the Head of each true church (Eph 1:22; 5:23; Col 1:18). The true church can only be local, for both scriptural and logical reason.
In the article Hovland misuses Eph 2 and 5 to argue this error of universal church, declaring that,
“This union of saved people is called ‘one new man’ and ‘one body.’ So, the church is the body of Christ . . . In Ephesians 5 this body is called the bride of Christ.”
Eph 2 and 5 are written to a local church in Ephesus not to a universal church. That is the actual context. All saved people are individually united to Jesus Christ and on earth the relationship between people is local only. “One new man” in Eph 2:15 is not referring to a “union of saved people” but to individual born again Christians (vv. 14-17). As per normal, this position has to stretch and twist the scriptures to find support for the unBiblical position.
Singular nouns have either a particular or generic usage. Singular nouns must be one or the other. Eph 5:25 is a good example of the generic use of the singular noun "ecclesia."
"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body."
If there is a universal church, then there must be a universal husband and a universal wife. All of these singular nouns are examples of the generic singular noun. “The husband” is still a husband in one particular place or location. There is no mystical or platonic husband.
The only place in Scripture where “body of Christ” is defined, it is defined as local only, which is 1 Cor 12:27, where Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” Paul says “the body of Christ” is local. If it were all believers, then Paul excluded himself as a believer and from the body of Christ. When Paul uses the body analogy, he means something local. All bodies are local. All body parts belong to one particular body, not spread out all over the planet. All 118 usages of ekklesia in the N.T. are an assembly either used as a particular singular noun or a generic singular noun. An ekklesia is always local. In a few instances, the assembly is something other than a church, but when it is used for the church, it is always local. That’s what ekklesia means.
Close scrutiny to the NT reveals that the Apostle Paul never identified the body with the realm of regeneration. Paul utilized the ecclesiological expression "the body of Christ" (soma christou) twice (1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12), denoting Christ's possession of His Body. He used other combinations of the expression as well, such as "one body" (heni somati) eight times (Rom. 12:4; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12 [2x], 13, 20; Eph. 4:4; and Col 3:15), "one body in Christ" (hen soma en Christo) once (Rom. 12:5), "His body" (to soma autou) twice (Eph. 1:23, 5:30), and "the body" (tou somatos) twenty times (1 Cor. 12:12, 14, 15 [2x], 16 [2x], 17-19, 22-25; Eph. 3:6, 4:12, 16 [2x]; 5:23; Col. 1:18; and 2:19). Every ecclesiological reference to “soma” utilized by Paul was in an epistle to a local church. He never addressed some universal church body.
The interpretation that “soma Christou” refers to the local church may be applied to several representative passages. In Eph. 1:22-23, the Apostle equated the ekklesia to the soma ("the church, Which is his body"). Since all 115 references to “ekklesia” in the Textus Receptus refer to a visible assembly (civic [Ac 19:32, 39, 41], Israel [Ac 7:38], or Christ's [Matt 16:18, et al]), it follows that the “soma” was the visible assembly at Ephesus. Paul declared that this same body at Ephesus would include both Jews and Gentiles as fellowheirs, a mystery not taught in the OT (Eph. 3:5-6). Furthermore, the Apostle taught that Christ was the Saviour of the body, the Ephesian church for which He gave Himself (Eph. 5:23, 25). The Lord loved and died for the assembly at Ephesus. Though it is certainly true that He loved and died for other churches, for all Christians and all OT saints, and for the whole world (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn 2:2), all this verse requires is that He loved and died for the Ephesian body of Christ. Paul also affirmed that the Lord was the Head of the Colossian body of Christ (Col 1:18), which had close association with the churches (bodies) at Nymphas' house and in Laodicea (Col 4:15-16).
Those that assume that the body of Christ refers to all Christians in the world must prove from exegesis that their assumption is valid. To do so they have several biblically exegetical obstacles to overcome. First, they must show that the body of Christ is exclusively a soteriological expression, which they cannot do since the term is found only in Epistles addressing local churches. Second, they must demonstrate exegetically that "one body" cannot mean "united bodies" but instead must mean numerically "one" body. Third, they must explain exegetically, without assuming, that Paul did not address the Corinthian church as "the body of Christ." (1 Cor 12).
In overwhelming number of cases, when the Bible refers to multiple churches in a region, it uses the term “churches” plural. For example, Luke did not say, “Then had the CHURCH rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria” (Ac 9:31). He said, “Then had the CHURCHES rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria.” And Paul did not refer to “the church of Galatia” (1 Cor 16:1) or “the church of Asia” (1 Cor 16:19) or “the church of Macedonia” (2 Cor 8:1) or “the church of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2) or “the church of Judea” (1 Th. 2:14). Rather, he referred to all of these in the plural as “churchES.” These churches were local, and were the universal error true, then Paul would’ve only been required to write in the singular.
In Corinth there was only one church and so we see in scripture, “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth,” (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1). That’s also what we see in Paul’s addressing of this church throughout the two epistles (e.g. 1 Cor 1:9-10; 6:1-6; etc). To make the ekklesia something more than local only deviates from the meaning of the word. An ekklesia must be at some local context—city, town, village, area. Paul wrote to the church at Colossae and he told that church to pass that letter along to the church of the Laodiceans, seeing that those were two separate churches (Col 4:16). Paul wrote to the church of the Thessalonians (1 & 2 Th 1:1). Paul also said that the bishop, the pastor, is to "take care of the church of God" (1 Tim 3:5). One man isn't responsible to take care of all believers on earth. It wouldn’t even be possible. At the end of 2 Timothy, the non-inspired afterwords say that Timothy, to whom 1 Tim 3:5 was written, was "ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians."
Let’s consider also the usages of "church” by the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus used the term ekklesia 21 times (2 times in Matthew and 19 in Revelation). All 19 times in Revelation are plain and unambiguous usages. In each instance, they are speaking of an institution that is local only. The two in Matt 18:17 are also very plainly local. In the 21 instances, "church" is local only. Jesus was local only in His ecclesiology.
Only one usage of the word by the Lord Jesus, Matt 16:18, might be considered to be unclear, and mainly because of the distortion of this doctrine, thus Matt 16:18 is a passage sometimes used to defend the universal position. This passage reads:
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
But like any other Bible doctrine, the more obscure or difficult passages are interpreted by the obvious clear ones. Matt 16:18 should be understood in light of the 21 other usages of ekklesia by the Lord Jesus Christ. “Church” (ekklesia) is a singular noun in some instances like in Matt 16:18. That does not mean there is one of them in the entire world. If I say, “I took the dog for a walk,” I’m not saying there is only one dog in the world, since I wasn’t referencing a particular dog. The singular noun can only be used two ways: a particular or a generic. Often, the singular noun is used in a generic way in the NT. It is used that way all the time in Greek and in English and in many other languages. This is very basic. When Jesus says, “I will build my church,” we don’t assume that He means there will be just one. He could be talking about the churches generically. I think that He was, but it isn’t easy to conclude whether it was a particular, the Jerusalem church, or His church as an institution, the generic use, by the context. It could be either and could be both. We certainly shouldn’t make any conclusions about what “church” means from a passage ambiguous in its context. Just like “the dog” doesn’t mean just one dog, the words “the church” as found in the NT should not make people think that it must mean “one church.”
In Matt 16:18 the Lord Jesus Christ uses a singular noun ("church") with a singular, personal possessive pronoun ("my"). The singular noun can either be a particular place, person, or thing, or a generic place, person, or thing. This singular noun does not plainly refer to any particular church. It could be the Jerusalem church, but it seems that the simpler answer is that Jesus incorporates the generic singular usage. In all language, a singular is either particular or generic. There is no other usage of the singular. For instance, there is no platonic or spiritual or allegorical usage of the singular noun in any language. It is either a particular church to which Jesus refers in Matt 16:18, or it is a generic church. In both cases, it is still the same thing, a church, an assembly. The generic usage of the singular noun does not turn the noun into something other than what it is. A church is an assembly. That is the very definition of the word, as described below. It is still an assembly even if used in a generic way. When Jesus says "my," He differentiates His assembly, always a local one, from other governing institutions, including from the nation state Israel and the Greek city state, which was called an ekklesia. If Jesus' assembly is a local one, which is all an assembly could be, then it can't also simultaneously be a universal one. That's not how He is using ekklesia in Matt 16:18, but rather generically.
Putting that clear teaching aside, you think that Matt 16:18 should be interpreted according to the other 21 usages of Jesus? Or do you think that the other 21 usages should be interpreted in light of Matt 16:18? Should we not understand the less plain in light of the plain? And should we not confine ourselves to the only two usages of the singular noun or make up an entirely new usage, not found in any language in the history of mankind, in order to read a universal church into the text?
The very meaning of “ekklesia,” even as Hovland (in part) gives in the article — (“It means ‘assembly,’ or ‘gathering.’ It is formed from two root works ἐκ and καλέω. ἐκ means ‘out’ and καλέω means ‘to call.’ A gathering consists of those people who were called out to assemble”) — can ONLY indicate a local assembly, not some unBiblical universal Platonic entity. It’s in the very definition. People are called out of their homes into an assembly. Local. Only. Not. Universal. And. Not. Possible. Assembly doesn’t occur universally, with people you don’t know or see. Even in the OT it only had this meaning. How would a universal church assemble together? It’s silly but it’s serious because it has many serious ramifications (as noted here: The Destructive Damage of the “Universal Church” Doctrine) leading to further error, false doctrine and heresy. The kind we see in most of the “evangelical” world today.
Throughout the Greek world right down to NT times (see Ac 19:39), ekklesia was the designation of the whole body of citizens in a free city-state, "called out of" (ek—out of, klesia—called) their homes by the kerux, the herald, for the discussion and decision of public business. B.H. Carroll’s book “Ecclesia” provides a number of helpful instances of the classical use of ἐκκλησία (consider one example: Demosthenes 378, 24 — “When after this the assembly (ecclesia) adjourned, they came together and planned . . . For the future still being uncertain, meetings and speeches of all sorts took place in the marketplace. They were afraid that an assembly (ecclesia) would be summoned suddenly, etc.” — Compare the distinction here between a lawfully assembled business body and a mere gathering together of the people in unofficial capacity, with the town-clerk’s statement in Ac 19:35, 40). Examining the Greek background is valuable because Christ and the Apostles spoke the Greek language of the day. When they used the word ekklesia (church), the did not pull the word out of thin air, but used a word that was already in use in the first century. Nor is there any indication in Scripture that they gave the word a radical new meaning that it never had before—and, indeed, to make a word that means assembly signify a group of people all over the world that will never assemble on earth would be a very radical change of meaning. Translators of the OT used ekklesia to render the Hebrew qahal, which means "congregation." We see Stephen in Ac 7:38 call the OT congregation of Israel the "ekklesia in the wilderness." A local assembly.
The word church, meaning “assembly,” can only mean a local congregation; not a universal existence of Christians scattered all over the face of the earth. The word “universal” is the definition of “catholic,” from whence the “universal church” doctrine derives. Ignatius (A.D. 30-107), one of Mike Hovland’s heroes, was the first writer to combine "catholic" with "church,” who stated "wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." (A. Cleveland Coxe, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 90). Hovland’s affinity for the “church fathers” and “reformers” (covered the last, third, point) buttresses his allegiance to this error of a universal invisible organism that includes all professing believers in one body.
The major metaphors for the church also demonstrate that the idea of a universal, invisible church is false. The church is Christ’s body (1 Cor 12:27), His temple (1 Tim 3:15), and His bride (2 Cor 11:2). Bodies are very local and visible—a bunch of flesh and bones scattered around the globe is not a body. A temple is in one particular location, available for everyone to see; bricks scattered all over the place are not a building at all. And certainly every man on his wedding day rejoices that his bride is very local and visible, not invisible or cut into little pieces which are scattered all over the earth! Christ’s church is not a building, a denomination, or something universal and invisible; it is a particular assembly of baptized saints, just as we see in Scripture. So when people say that “the body of Christ” or church is all believers all over the world, they actually are espousing something that cannot be true. How can a body actually be a body if it is not in a particular location? In 1 Cor 12:13-27, Paul’s point is unity in the congregation. The passage makes no sense if the body is anything other than the church at Corinth to which Paul is writing. 1 Cor 12:27 gives the only definition of the body of Christ metaphor, and it is defined as the church at Corinth, as “ye are the body of Christ” is written to “the church at Corinth” (1 Cor 1:2), where there were divisions that needed to be corrected by each church member fitting into that assembly where he was a member (1 Cor 1).
A church is local only because that is what ekklesia, the word translated "church," means. I'm not trotting out landmarkism or Baptist bride-ism. Those who make ekklesia anything other than local only are reading something into the word that isn't there. It never has been. They are eating at the trough of Ignatius, Augustine and Roman Catholicism, whether wittingly or unwittingly. Pushing false doctrine is taken very serious in the Holy Scriptures of God.
In the article Hovland also wrote,
“The church is the vehicle for the propagation of the truth and the church guards the truth against false teachers and teachings.”
This would be true were it not for knowing what he means by “the church.” What Hovland is describing is applicable only to true local churches that are pillars and grounds of the truth, but that is not what he meant by it. The “universal church” is not “the vehicle for the propagation of the truth” or the guard for “the truth against false teachers and teachings” but is in fact the catalyst for much of the error that is flooded throughout all the churches in the world. It destroys other Biblical truth. A universal church cannot protect the truth. It doesn't have congregational and pastoral authority, doesn't practice the ordinances, doesn't practice church discipline, doesn’t earnestly contend for the faith and keep out false teachers (Ac 20:27-31), all ways that the truth is protected and preserved. It is a container with holes all over it and it results in exponentially fast distortion of the truth. The truth can only be protected at a local level. On a side note, many of these so-called “believers” referenced as belonging in the “universal church” are certainly not true believers at all for they have never been truly converted so they are included in nothing except certain eternal condemnation.
Hovlands view of the universal, invisible church, like most other Reformed-Calvinists and Evangelicals, corresponds with the Protestant view found in the Westminster Confession of Faith —
“The catholic or universal Church, which is 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 fills all in all.” (chapter 25).
This view was a way for the Protestants to explain how they could be saved but be outside of the Catholic denomination. It came from Augustine of Hippo (a hero of Hovland and all Reformed-Calvinists, the true father of Calvinist doctrine), who used it to combat the Baptists of his day, the Donatists (appearing as the Baptists of his era), whom Augustine wanted numbered, and who contended for a regenerate church membership, held to the idea of an invisible catholic church before the era of the Reformation. Augustine held that the invisible church was a smaller remnant of true believers entirely contained within the invisible catholic church, developing this concept in order to justify the catholic practice of allowing obviously ungodly, immoral, and unregenerate members within the Catholic fold. Augustine also held that the members of this invisible church were entirely contained within the bounds of the visible Catholic denomination—following Cyprian, Augustine held that outside of the visible church there was no salvation. When Protestantism adopted Augustine’s invisible church conception, it was adjusted—at least among the more evangelical wing of the reform movement—so that one could be part of the invisible church without the absolute necessity of membership in the visible church. In this manner the Reformation and post-Reformation doctrine of the universal, invisible church developed and became the view of evangelical Protestantism.
The true and Biblical view is the Baptist view, where the word church (“ekklesia”) means assembly or congregation. That is it. Christ's church is an assembly of baptized believers, organized to carry out the Lord’s work. This is the view of Scripture. While the family of God is a universal, invisible entity that consists of all true born again believers everywhere that will one day all be united together in the kingdom of Heaven (Gal 3:26), a church is a particular, local, visible congregation. It is noteworthy that historic Baptist confessions such as the 1833 New Hampshire Confession, “perhaps the most widely used and influential statement of doctrine among American Baptists at the present time” (Baptist Confessions of Faith, McGlothin, part 4), make no mention of a universal church, speaking only of the church as local and visible. (This is however not to say that no Baptist confessions held to the Protestant doctrine of the church; the Second London Confession of 1689 does for instance, which was based on the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, and which is very influential among Calvinistic Baptists).
Does it matter whether someone believes church is universal or local only? Absolutely! “Universal" and "church" are mutually exclusive, contradictory to each other, kinda like "Christian" and "Rock music" are. The universal church doctrine and belief is unbiblical and unsound doctrine for a number of reasons. Universal church is the death knell of scripture truth which must be twisted, mangled, and tortured to arrive at its conclusion.
Here are some of the real consequences of the dangerous universal church doctrine:
Reading universal into scripture is corrupting scripture. Thats bad. That dishonours God in the most significant way. It’s wresting Scripture, an error of the wicked, the work of a false teacher (2 Pet 3:16-17). When allegorization becomes the norm, then you can read in many other errors including denominations, apostolic succession, a human priesthood, transubstantiation, etc.
It causes men to see all sorts of other interpretations, doctrines and practices in a different way, the wrong way. Scripture won't contradict itself, even as God won't deny Himself, but unity and separation contradict with a universal church belief. It becomes impossible not to contradict. That doctrine cannot be true.
It destroys other Biblical truth. The fastest way for the truth to be destroyed is to get it outside of what God built to protect it.
It disables biblical unity and destroys biblical separation. Separation as noted in Rom 16:17-18; Eph 5:11; 1 Tim 6:3-5; 2 Jn 1:9-11; 2 Th 3:6; 2 Cor 6:14-18 for example. This, of course, is related to truth, the destruction of other beliefs, including the gospel. The unity and separation of the Bible can never be practiced consistently by a universal church practice. The reason there are about twelve interpretations of Jn 17 is because of this error. There is little agreement on what the unity is that Jesus is praying for or what or whom to separate from. True unity (Rom 15:6; I Cor 1:10; Ac 2:42, 45; 4:32-33; Eph 4:1-16; Phil 1:27; 2:1-4; 3:15-19; 4:1-2) is impossible under this doctrine. When the Bible speaks of unity, it refers to unity within the local church. Since a universal church can't get the unity the Bible describes, the advocates of this false idea force it in many different places. They sacrifice the truth, the belief and practice of the Bible, for this idea. They go for unity between all believers, never get it, but in the attempt at it, they give up the truth and actual unity. Nothing is gained and all is lost. This error naturally leads to the popular but exceedingly false and unscriptural teaching of ‘in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty,’ which justifies doctrinal and practical error for the sake of keeping together coalitions, since all are part of “the universal church.”
It allows for para-church organizations/activities, which is unscriptural. For instance unscriptural ministries such as Gospel for Asia, MCC, World Vision, and Mennonite singing ministries, etc, get their “authority” from universal doctrine. These will perform anywhere that will help them meet their payroll and budget, and terrible amounts of compromise occurs from this foundation. This is not worshiping God in spirit and in truth, something Jesus said all true believers do (Jn 4:23-24). There are thousands that work in "ministries" that are not worshippers of God, but an ox-cart of their own invention. They are wasting their time and life.
It destroys church purity. Due to not practicing Biblical separation, resulting in compromise and capitulation to error and sin. Here is God’s will on purity of the local church and all this is within the local church: “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 5:25b-27).
It brings many other serious errors. Such as ecumenism and denominationalism and inclusion of all sorts of heinous and apostate groups into the broad umbrella of "the church” such as Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Methodism, Calvinism (Presbyterian), etc, and thus justification of a state church; disrespect of the true church (which is local only); unfaithfulness to church (they're attending the big one); validates hierarchical leadership; discipleship is destroyed because men think they are making disciples outside of the actual Great Commission (when they're not); missionaries giving account to boards instead of churches; elder boards; etc. “A little leaven leaventh the whole lump.” (Gal 5:9).
It fosters the one-world church of the Anti-christ. He will lead a “universal church” in the Tribulation whose followers don’t get raptured because they were never saved. That “church” will feel justified by the same arguments we see today. It's easy to see how a universal church belief is going there, even if you oppose THAT universal church. It will have the ecclesiology of Roman Catholicism, something the reformers (e.g. Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, etc) never gave up, only one of their many heresies. But God will have the “universal church” destroyed, as we see in Rev 17 and 18. Babylon, is the final religion, which is Rome, the universal church, that will be destroyed. It’s a modern tower of Babel. People protecting an invisible church are warring for a concept not only not found in Scripture but one that has the Antichrist’s signature all over it. It originated with Ignatius and Augustine, perfected by Romanism, and then passed through the Reformers, who were former Catholics and lovers of the writings of Augustine and ongoing embracers of other heresies from Rome. It continues today spread around through academia, through the graduates into churches and the writings and preachings of men. Augustine's invisible, catholic church will find its reality in the one world church of the Antichrist.
The universal church doctrine doesn’t require membership, another casualty of this error. Local church does though, and that’s what we see throughout scripture. Churches require membership. It is unscriptural to have a “church” without actual membership; it cannot function as a true church in accordance to Scripture, which is the pillar & ground of the truth. Here are reasons why church membership is a critical necessity & requirement: (a) Scripture reveals principles & pattern of church membership, although not specifically mentioned by word (Matt 18:15-20; Ac 5:11-13; Rom 12:4-6; 1 Cor 14:23-24, 31; 1 Jn 2:19); (b) Because each true Biblical church is a body & family (1 Cor 12:24-27); (c) Because of fellowship (1 Jn 1:1-3; 2 Tim 2:19-21); (d) Because of pastoral authority (Ac 20:28; Heb 13:17); (e) Because of congregational authority (1 Cor 5:1–6:5; Matt 18:15-20); (f) Because of cooperative accountability (Ac 15:1-2, 30-31, 40; 1 Cor 5), incl. ecclesiastical and personal separation (Ac 15; 2 Cor 6:14-18; Eph 5:6-11; 2 Th 3:6; Am 3:3; 2 Jn 1:9-11); (g) For church discipline (Matt 18:15-17); (h) For keeping the church ordinances, baptism & communion (Ac 2:38-42; 1 Cor 11:20-34); (i) For true Biblical unity and purity (Rom 15:6; 1 Cor 1:10; Ac 2:42; 4:31-32; Eph 4:1-16; Phil 1:27; 2:1-4; 1 Pet 3:8-9); and (j) For protection and order (Ac 20:26-31; 1 Cor 14:40; Eph 4:11-16).
It confuses the reality of a mixed multitude in the local church. The teaching of Hovland’s that we are saved into a universal church undermines and delegitimizes many passages of scripture that reflect the reality that there will be both saved and unsaved people in the local church. Being saved into a universal church as is put forth necessitates the local churches to retain only a truly regenerate membership. Though that is the ideal condition and position that all true local churches should and must strive after, it is unrealistic because the Bible says it is. We can judge a persons salvation, yea we are commanded to, but because of the “hearts deceitful above all things” and “desperately wicked” natural condition (Jer 17:9), we can be fooled. There will be tares among the wheat and bad fish among the good (Matt 13). This is also clearly noted in the epistles of Paul to the various churches (especially Corinthians, Galatians) and especially in the seven letters to the churches in Rev 2 & 3.
If a person isn’t taught the universal church doctrine, it won’t occur to them since they do not get that from the Bible. It reminds me of Calvinism in that way. Paul wrote in 1 Th 5:21: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." In another place he said: “I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.” (1 Cor 10:15). Jesus commanded judging (Lk 12:57). Proverbs 21 teaches us that justice and judging is greater than sacrifice and that it is a joy for the just to judge (vv. 3, 15). All teaching and preaching should be judged, proven, tested, which is also a loving thing to do, because if it's wrong, it's not helping the person who believes it or the people listening to it, but could very well destroy them or keep them unsaved (if they are yet so). “A little leaven [doctrinal error] leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal 5:9). And false doctrine is always dangerous, some just more dangerous than others.
“Universal church” doctrine is false. Its also dangerous and the product of private interpretation of scripture. When Peter said no scripture is of any private interpretation (1 Pet 1:16-21), he didn’t simply mean my opinion over yours. The word private carries the idea to take away from, or apart from, the rest. To take a verse alone. But Scripture must interpret Scripture, and doctrine (singular) is all one, one interpretation, there is no contradiction in it. God’s Word must be rightly divided. God could not teach local visible and universal invisible church at the same time, two opposing views. Scripture interpreting Scripture is the public method, meaning it is done inclusively with all the other witnesses in scripture, and they all come together to make one unified point. There is no discord in doctrine.
Hovland does not prove a "universal church." He assumes it and then he sees it in places in the N.T. where it isn’t. His conclusions do not follow from his premises. “Universal church” doctrine is discordance, duplicitous and destructive and should be discharged to the bin of apostasy where it belongs.
For further reading, see Is the Church Local, or Universal, or Both? Part 1 and Does the Bible Teach the Church is Universal? Part 2
2. The False Teaching that the Church Began on Pentecost.
This ties into the egregious belief of church universalism.
Hovland claims that,
“It seems clear to me that the church began on the day of pentecost.”
He bases his claim on a few different arguments tying the future sending of the “Holy Spirit who baptizes us into the church” to Matt 16:18,
“Jesus spoke of the church as a future thing in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” He was not building his church yet, although he was making disciples. . . Since the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, it seems that that is the best day to say the church began.”
Christ in fact started His church during His earthly ministry (Matt 18:17) from people converted and baptized by John the Baptist (Jn 1:35-37) and promised that His assembly would overcome the powers of hell from that time to the end of the age (Matt 16:18). Obviously already extant, the church was “added unto” on the day of Pentecost (Ac 2:41, 47) with the conversion of three thousand men.
The common idea adopted by universal church adherents that the church started on Pentecost is unbiblical. No passage anywhere states that the church began on that day. Consider some proof of the church beginning in the days of Christ's ministry.
1. The Lord referred to His church twice in the gospels (Matt 16:18; 18:17), without any indication whatsoever that it did not yet exist.
2. Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, had the church as His bride before Pentecost (Jn 3:29; cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:22-33).
3. “God hath set . . . in the church, first apostles” (1 Cor 12:28), but the Lord appointed the apostles far before Pentecost (Mk 3:13-19; Matt 10:2-4).
4. Christ sang in the midst of the church (Heb 2:12), but His only recorded singing took place at the institution of the Lord’s supper (Matt 26:30)—an ordinance given to the church before Pentecost (Matt 26:26-31; 1 Cor 11:2, 17-34). This was also the only time that Christ was only in the presence of true believers, what the local church is to be made up of.
5. Before Pentecost Christ was the shepherd/pastor of His church (Jn 10:14), which was already His flock (a term for the church; Matt 26:31; Lk 12:32; Ac 20:28-29; 1 Pet 5:2-3), until He appointed Peter to pastor His first assembly after His resurrection (Jn 21:15-17).
6. Christ's church had a prayer meeting (Ac 1:15-26), a membership roll (Ac 1:15), a treasurer (Jn 12:6; 13:29), baptism (Jn 4:1-2), the Lord’s supper (Matt 26:26-31), church discipline (Matt 18:15-18), the power to bind and loose (Matt 18:17-18), and the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) before it was “added unto” at Pentecost (Ac 2:41, 47).
7. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 the church simply received the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit and public recognition as the new institution for the course of the age of grace (cf. Ex 40:35; the tabernacle; 2 Ch 7:1; Solomon’s temple; Ezk 43:4-5; the Millennial temple).
Thus the NT Dispensation began with John the Baptist, not at Pentecost (Mk 1:1-4; Matt 11:13; Lk 16:16; Matt 11:5; Mk 8:35), otherwise Jesus Christ did not preach NT doctrine, the apostles—who were obviously saved before the book of Acts (Lk 5:1-10; 10:20; 18:28-30)—were not actual Christians, and other equally absurd conclusions follow.
John the Baptist preached NT doctrine. He preached on the Deity of Christ (Jn 1:23; Is 40:3), His substitutionary death (Jn 1:29), repentance (Matt 3:2), hell (Matt 3:10-12), Christ’s bride, the church (Jn 3:29; Eph 5:32), etc. He required confession of sin (Matt 3:6) and evidence of salvation (Matt 3:8) before he would baptize people, so he baptized only believers, not infants. He immersed—not sprinkled or poured (Mk 1:5; Jn 3:23; etc)—and his baptism pictured Christ’s coming death, burial, and resurrection (Jn 1:31). He had God’s authority to baptize (Matt 21:24-27), just as the local church has that authority today (Matt 28:18-20). The apostles had John’s baptism (Ac 1:22), but were never “rebaptized” when some supposedly different Christian baptism originated—nor were any other converts ever “rebaptized.” When Christ commanded His church to go into all the world, preach, baptize, and disciple converts (Matt 28:17-20; Mk 16:15-16, etc), He spoke to those who had received John’s baptism and were familiar with no other kind.
Though Hovland did not go there in the article, some attempt to make a distinction between John’s baptism and Christian baptism in Ac 19:1-7, which they use to support the start of the church at Pentecost. This argument is invalid however. The individuals of Acts 19 were spurious “converts,” not real disciples of John the Baptist. They did not know the Trinity, and so were unsaved (Jn 17:3), for they had never even heard of the Holy Spirit (Ac 19:2), although John preached about Him (Matt 3:11). Their spurious discipleship is further indicated by the fact that the plural word “disciples,” (“mathetai”), is non-articular in Ac 19:1—unlike every single one of the 25 other references in the book of Acts to the word (1:15; 6:1-2, 7; 9:1, 19, 26, 38; 11:26, 29; 14:20, 22, 28; 15:10; 18:23, 27; 19:1, 9, 30; 20:7, 30; 21:4, 16). Paul does not tell these “disciples” that John’s baptism has passed away and Christian baptism has now been inaugurated; he tells them what John the Baptist really said (Ac 19:4), upon which they believed John’s message as expounded by Paul and submitted themselves to baptism (Ac 19:5-7). Note also that a truly born-again man with John’s baptism is not “rebaptized” in the immediate preceding context (Ac 18:24-28) — he is simply instructed in the further developments of truth (for the fact that the gospel dispensation began with John does not mean that everything about God’s new method of dealing with people was instantly perfectly developed). Ac 18:24–19:7 supports, not undermines, the fact that Christian baptism is John’s baptism, which in turn supports the beginning of the church during Christ's ministry.
3. The False Teaching that the Gospel was Lost, and then Recovered by the Reformers.
“the reformers . . . recovered the gospel and defended it against Rome.”
Additionally, in a video online on Church Hero’s (where he essentially repeats the same info in this article), Hovland claims,
“[pre-reformation] the message of salvation had been lost for the most part in their generations.”
This same error was taught by a member of Hovland’s GBF Church, Rob Dyck, while he was attending Evangelical Bergthaler Mennonite Church (EBMC) Countryside Church, teaching the pre-packaged Bible Study course “An Introduction to Theology” in Dec of 2018, which was essentially an indoctrination into Reformed Theology and Calvinism, a course loaded with falsehoods, doctrinal and historical errors, and even heresies. Dyck claimed that during the dark ages there was only one church, that of the Roman Catholic Church, and that “there was no other church.” (Seventh Session). This is untrue. Clearly there is a lot of confusion surrounding this subject, but the rewriting or retelling of true history doesn’t help. Much of Church history was written by those who hated NT Christianity or were extremely biased but untruthful.
Its easy to see that the history of reformed Calvinists like Hovland (and Dyck) is a matter of personal interpretation through a convoluted lens. Much of reformed material, whether written, audio or video is interpreted in such fashion, according to a personal reformed agenda. In this way it reminds me of the documentary, “Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer” by Ligonier Ministries, the brain child of the reformed-calvinist apostate R.C Sproul (link).
The documentary presents a very dark and God-less world out of which the reformation began. The church was corrupt with few exceptions, John Wycliffe and John Hus (who, along with Peter Waldo, are also mentioned by Hovland in the article as hero’s he loves as “pre-reformers”). Hus is reported to have said while being burned at the stake, "You can kill the goose [Hus apparently means "goose" in Bohemian], but one day soon a swan will come that no one will be able to silence.” When Luther came along a hundred years later, he asserted himself the fulfillment of Hus' “prophecy.” He even had his pulpit painted with a swan (resource). With the reformation view of history, Luther becomes important. He becomes the vessel of the Reformation, it's veracity attached to him. His nailing of his 95 theses to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany is marked as the beginnings of the true Christian movement. Are these things true? Did God send another prophet after all, after the completion of prophets in the first century, in contradiction to His own words? Is this the workings of God after the canonization of His Word was complete nearly two thousand years ago? Did the true Christian movement only start in the reformation? Would God use someone who very very likely never knew Him in a personal manner, one the Bible defines as a wolf in sheep’s clothing to rescue or revive the long lost true gospel out of the clutches of Rome?
Though these things may be oft repeated and popularly believed, it is a tall tale and fabulous fable. Luther’s 95 Theses are not a representation of orthodox Biblical theology. Contrary to widespread public opinion, Luther’s 95 Theses have nothing to do with justification by faith alone—which is actually not supported, but rejected in the theses. Nor do they utter a word of protest against the Catholic Mass, the sacramental system, Mary worship, the Pope, or numerous other Roman Catholic heresies, which makes sense considering Luther continued to embraced many of these heresies after his Roman departure. They certainly say nothing against baptismal regeneration, a damnable heresy that Luther continued to trust in to for the remainder of his life as well.
Those who obtain their history mainly from sanitized and hagiographical Protestant sources often have a very inaccurate view of history.
If perpetuity of the truth and the church is true, i.e. that truth and the church were never lost, — how do we know? What is the proof? What is true, in the philosophy of history? We know the Bible is true. We know what Jesus said was true. The reformed view isn't much different than that of the restorationist, whichever ones that might be. Jesus and the Bible teach perpetuity. There have always been true local churches separate from the state church, that started in the days of Christ's sojourn on earth to this present time, including during the dark ages when Rome controlled most of the world. That's what Jesus prophesied and He couldn't be wrong (Matt 16:18-19). Jesus explicitly said the gates of hell shall never prevail against His church. We know what Jesus said is true. He cannot lie. The true church of God did not cease to exist during the dark ages with the Roman Catholic Church ruling large portions of the world, and then come back to life with the Protestant Reformation, as these men claim.
Historians have written of this fact:
“New Testament or apostolic churches were the ones that existed in the First Century. That they were Baptist is proven in their doctrine and practice. Every doctrine of Baptists is found in the New Testament. Histories by such non-Baptists as Mishiem (Lutheran), Gibbons, Erasmus (Catholic), Schaff (Lutheran), Ridpath (Methodist), Beza (Presbyterian), and others prove that the Christians of the First Century were Baptist. Ridpath even states boldly, ‘In the year 100 all Christians were Baptist.’” (W.A. Jarrell, Baptist Church Perpetuity, p. 59)
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) the English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author, nailed it down when he said:
“Baptists maintain that they existed before the Catholic apostasy took place; that they existed alongside Catholicism after her formation; and that they existed apart from Catholicism.”
That is absolutely right, buttressed by many historical books. Even Martin Luther and John Calvin admitted so much. When Menno Simons was converted to Christ whilst a Catholic priest, he did not go and join up with Protestant Reformers but to the true church that existed in that day, the Baptists/Anabaptists whom were viciously hated and persecuted by not only the Catholics abut also the Protestant Reformers. Baptists/Anabaptists are not Protestants. Baptists did not come out of the Reformation Movement. Baptists came through the Reformation time, as an individual stream. Those denominations who trace their roots to the Reformation are considered Protestant because they were a part of the "Protest" movement against the Roman Catholic institution as members. Most of those became state churches (e.g. Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian). The Baptist churches were never out of nor a part of the Roman Catholic religion. Members of Baptist churches have been Catholic but the churches have not. They have always remained separate because true Biblical Christianity separates from heresy and apostasy. Again, there have always been true churches separate from the state church. This is what Jesus clearly prophesied and He couldn't be wrong (Matt 16:18-19).
The means whereby God promises the preservation of His Word, that of the Greek Textus Receptus and Hebrew Masoretic Text (which are the words He inspired and promised to preserve), is through the Lord’s local churches. The preservation of the truth pertains to the preservation of the church. God gave the truth to the church to preserve (1 Tim 3:15). If this error propelled by Hovland were to be true, this incredibly important work of God concerning preservation of truth would have ceased to exist. And the Critical Text proponent heretics of our day would then be correct that the Bible is nowhere to be found after all. But they aren’t correct and God is no liar like they are.
Why believe such horrible? It outright denies Gods Word, denies the continual working of the Spirit of God in the world (Jn 16:7-11), denies the preservation of God unto all generations and puts trust and confidence in man (cf. Jer 17:7-8). No one “recovered the gospel,” and most definitely not the “reformers” who for the most part embraced the same false gospels of works (I.e. baptismal regeneration and Lords Supper to maintain salvation) that they allegedly left in Catholicism. The “legendary reformer” Luther did not rescue the gospel from the clutches of the papacy. This is not “the man that God used to recapture the gospel, to restore the Word of God, the Bible, to the centre of the Christian life” as some claim. These are heretical and untrue claims, and if anything, the popular Protestant Reformers were just another tool of Satan to persecute and destroy the true church. They were very active and willing participants in the persecution of true church’s made up of true born again believers, as noted here in this book: https://www.wayoflife.org/database/protestantpersecutions.html
Those who want us to believe that the Reformers who appeared in the 1500s, rescued the gospel from extinction, and boast of the (so-called) Reformation battle cry, ”By faith alone,” (sola fide) give a distorted picture. Why don't they tell the other side of their spiritual giants and heroes? They did not conquer by “faith alone.” Luther retained many Roman Catholic doctrines, including a state church. He was better than the Catholics, no doubt, but based on his own writings, Luther was not converted). A reformation viewpoint embraces Luther and then adapts him to provide the proof, ignoring all the evidence revealing his wolf-condition. This is a great distortion of church history. These “Great Reformers” conquered with the sword, torture rack, drowning, hanging, burning, spears, beatings, prisons, dungeons, public flaying, whips, arrows, clubs, stones, banishments, and techniques of suffering that were like death by crucifixion. These are only a few of the horrific methods applied by the Great Reformers to conquer and remain in power. These people preached much about “God’s sovereignty” but used the Devil’s methods to handle their enemies. Check out John Calvin and the Geneva Council on murdering their religious enemies by burning them to death with green wood, beheading a 12-year-old girl, and driving red hot pokers through the tongue! Click here for an overview of some of the murders of the murderous heretic John Calvin. See also the liberal historian, Philip Schaff's “History of the Christian Church,” (Vol. VIII, pp. 489-493).
This is a side of Christian history many writers are strangely silent about. Those who continually boast of their Reformation heritage should first wash the blood of thousands of innocents from their garments! This is like festered sores on their faces. What the vicious Roman Catholic Church leadership did to her enemies, the Reformers did likewise to their enemies when they came to power, proving they were swine who had merely been washed temporarily from their filth (2 Pet 2:22; Matt 7:16). One stands as guilty before God Almighty as the other of cold-blooded murder, and we “know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” (1 Jn 3:15)! (In many cases, the “good old Puritans” in early America also killed their enemies.) A few super-Calvinists are honest enough to admit to these shocking facts, but most cunningly or vehemently fight and deny by distortions of history the reality of these shocking deeds. Let them try as hard as they may, the verdict remains that many of the early Reformed leadership, and their followers stand knee-deep in the blood of the countless thousands they hounded, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered-all in the names of “faith, the church, and God's sovereignty!” It is a dark lie to present all of these people as heroes. And I haven’t even delved into all the false doctrine and heresy, including a false gospel preached by all the Reformers: John Calvin (link), Martin Luther (link), Ulrich Zwingli or John Wesley (link). Read here on an overview of why The Protestant Reformers Were Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing.
So it is simply not true that the Reformers rescued the gospel, and it is a dark lie to present these leaders as heroes. That brings us to the next point.
4. Reformed Calvinist’s Hero’s are Heretics — the “Early Church Fathers” and the “Reformed Fathers.”
The first point, the false teaching of the “universal church,” and the the third point on the great gospel rescue of the reformers, correspond to this last point. They dovetail, to the keep the reformed system breathing.
“Those who dug deep into the word of God. Men who studied to show themselves approved, having no need to be ashamed. Men who knew God and trusted God. Those who stood against error and who endured suffering for Jesus’ sake. I love the early church fathers who withstood the tyrannical governments of their day and gave a defense of the gospel in the face of persecution: Ignatius, and Irenaeus, and Chrysostom (they called him ‘the golden tongue’ who preached verse by verse through the books of the New Testament. I love the pre-reformers who brought the gospel to their nations, who translated the word of God for the people, and proclaimed to them the message of salvation. I think of men like Jan Huss, John Wycliff, and Peter Waldo. I love the reformers who did much the same. They recovered the gospel and defended it against Rome. They preached the word to their congregations, translated it into the common language of the people, and shone the light of God’s truth to a world in darkness. I love puritans who continued in the same vein. They meditated on the word and dug deep in their understanding of it until it transformed their lives. They reflected on the word until it transformed their lives and then they communicated it clearly so that it would change others’ lives.”
He goes on to stay that,
“These were all men of the church. Their love for Christ made them love his bride—the church and they gave up their lives for Jesus’ sake by serving the church according to their gifts.”
At other times, Augustine has been assiduously mentioned, and then there is John Calvin of course, a household name. The same positive connotations have been uttered many times by practically all other Reformed Calvinists I have ever encountered, and additionally many evangelical preachers and others. Is it wise however to positively endorse men who were blatant heretics, dangerously misleading congregational members with such extremely dangerous counsel?
Maybe you don’t think they were heretics or maybe you just ignore this important fact because it doesn’t support or fit your philosophy or agenda. Let’s consider that briefly, concerning the three men named by Hovland, and Augustine, all of whom he loves.
(a) Ignatius (c. 50-110AD), was the bishop of Antioch in the early 2nd century. He was arrested in about A.D. 110 and sent to Rome for trial and martyrdom. He taught a lot of heresy and perverted a lot of Scripture. He taught that churches should have both elders and a ruling bishop; in other words, he was exalting one bishop over another, whereas in scripture the terms “bishop” and “elder” refer to the same humble office in the assembly (Ti 1:5-7). He taught that all churches are a part of one universal church, which he called “the Catholic Church” (The Ante Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 90, chap. VIII, entitled "LET NOTHING BE DONE WITHOUT THE BISHOP”). Catholic of course means “universal.” He claimed that a church does not have authority to baptize or conduct the Lord’s Supper unless it has a bishop, i.e. a ruler over other pastors. His teachings and promotion of the office of Catholic Bishop and man’s submission to it, is extreme man-centredness and utter heresy. Consider some quotes from his writings.
In his epistle to the Trallians (shorter version), Ignatius writes,
“He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without is not pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience.” (ibid., p. 69, chap. VII).
His extreme man-centred heresy is nauseating as noted here in this quote:
“It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil.” (ibid., chap. IX)
And here in the epistle to the Magnesians,
. . . your bishop presides in the place of God . . . (ibid., p. 61, chap. VI)
And here in his epistle to the Ephesians,
“Now the more any one sees the bishop keeping silence, the more ought he to revere him. For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.” (ibid., p. 51, chap. VI)
Wow! That is idolatry! Believers look to the Lord in worship (Is 45:22; Jn 20:28; Heb 12:2) and NOT to man! To look to any man as "we would upon the Lord Himself" is idolatry. Ignatius purveyed heresy (2 Pet 2:1) and lies (cf. Rev 21:8) which helped establish the papal infallibility dogma.
There are other similar quotes from his epistles, all exalt the bishop to Pope-like status and all extremely unscriptural but perfectly inline with Roman Catholicism which was borne out of such heresy. Though Scripture teaches that believers are to give honour to and be subject to those who rule over them (1 Th 5:12-13a; 1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:7, 17), Ignatius takes this way beyond what is written (1 Cor 4:6) and plainly adds to the Word of God (Pr 30:5-6), which lies further establish his status as a heretic.
But there is even worse heresy, damnable heresy. Ignatius embraced a false works gospel and false Christ of the Eucharist. In his epistle to the Ephesians he writes:
“. . . so that ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.” (The Ante Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 58, chap. XX).
This is heretical on a number of fronts, and in his epistle to the Smyrnaeans, he further elaborates on this:
“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again.” (ibid., p. 89, chap. VII)
This is classic Roman Catholic Eucharistic dogma and false doctrine. In these two quotes, Ignatius makes the Eucharist out to be the Saviour and that which will save a soul and grant eternal life. The only bread and blood that can save the soul and grant eternal life is the spiritual bread and blood of the real Lord Jesus Christ (Jn 6:35, 53-63). Despite the false claim of this Catholic mystical and heretical incantations (transubstantiation), fleshly bread (flour and water) and wine will save no one.
These so-called “innocent” errors (no leaven is innocent or relative but is evil) helped prepare the way for greater error and heresy in the next century and eventually helped establish the Great Whore and Mother of all Harlots — Roman Catholicism.
(b) Irenaeus (c. A.D. 120-202), was a bishop at Lyons, France. He wrote a polemic titled Against Heresies in about A.D. 185, which ironically Promoted Heresies. He propelled the heresy of a “universal church,” and the authority of the Catholic Church over all churches in the world and the authority of the bishop as a ruler over many churches. He also defended church tradition beyond what the Scripture allows and taught the Catholic heresy of “real presence,” saying, “The Eucharist becomes the body of Christ.” For these reasons and more, he is claimed by the Roman Catholic Church as one of their own.
Let’s consider some quotes.
“Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority,” (The Ante Nicene Fathers, vol. I, book III, chap. III, p. 415)
Shortly after the above quote, Irenaeus lists off the bishops (Popes) of the Church of Rome, and the first sentence in the title of his next chapter is,
“CHAP. IV. - THE TRUTH IS T0 BE FOUND NOWHERE ELSE BUT IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, THE SOLE DEPOSITORY OF APOSTOLIC DOCTRINE.”
Naturally, being a Catholic at heart, Irenaeus promoted the Eucharist (which is a damnable heresy and false gospel):
“When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?" (ibid., book V, chap. II, 3, p. 528)
The footnote for this passage, for "body of Christ is made," reads,
“The Greek text, of which a considerable portion remains here, would give, "and the Eucharist becomes the body of Christ."
Besides the emphasis on these Catholic doctrines of the one true church in Rome, a listing of the bishops (Popes), and Eucharistic theology, the heresy of Maryology can also be found in the writing of Irenaeus. Speaking in the context of Eve and Mary, he writes,
“And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness (advocata) of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.” (ibid., book V, chap. XIX, 1, p. 547)
Wow! Just. Wow. This is completely unscriptural, blatant and heretical garbage. It is unbelievable that anyone would consider this man to be a “hero” of the church. Mary is no "advocata" (advocate) of Eve. The only advocate is Christ, the Lord (1 Tim 2:5; 1 Jn 2:1). Scripture nowhere says Eve was still a virgin when she was deceived (Pr 30:5-6), and the human race did not fall via Eve, but rather through Adam (Rom 5:12-19). Moreover, the human race is not rescued by a virgin, that is, Mary (she is not a virgin anymore, Matt 1:25; 12:46; 13:55; Jn 7:3-5; 1 Cor 9:5); the human race is rescued by none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Ac 4:12; Rev 5:1-9).
Irenaeus further adds to the Word of God (Pr 30:5-6) by saying that Adam's sin was on the sixth day (ibid., book V, chap. XXIII, p. 551), and that Adam was saved:
“All therefore speak falsely who disallow his (Adam's) salvation, shutting themselves out from life for ever, in that they do not believe that the sheep which had perished has been found. For if it has not been found, the whole human race is still held in a state of perdition. False, therefore, is that man who first started this idea, or rather, this ignorance and blindness - Tatian.” (ibid., book III, chap. XXIII, 8., p. 457)
We don’t know if Adam was saved. The Bible doesn’t tell us, and the account we actually have of the first saved person is Adam's son Abel (Heb 11). But according to Irenaeus, you're damned if you don't believe something Scripture never says! This is foolishness and clearly interpreting Scripture by the dishonouring method of eisegesis.
(c) Chrysostom, who lived in A.D. 347-407, was a leader in Antioch, in the Greek part of the Catholic church of that day, and became “patriarch” of Constantinople in the year A.D. 398. Like the men above, John Chrysostom also believed in the “real presence” of the mass, that the bread literally becomes Jesus Christ (the Eucharist), thus likewise contributing to this Roman Catholic dogma. He taught that church tradition can be equal in authority to the Scriptures. He was a heretic in other words. He was also an anti-semite, delivering a series of messages Against the Jews. This is who Hovland exalts in his article as “the golden tongue.”
(d) Augustine, (A.D. 354-430). Though not mentioned by name in the article, we know that Augustine holds a very special place in the hearts of Reformed Calvinist like Hovland. Why? Well, he is the true father of Calvinism, John Calvin having adopted almost entirely Augustine’s teachings as his own. Matter of fact, Calvin has been accused of massive amounts of plagiarizing in his Systematic Theology commentary, and further, Calvin who never gives any record of an actual testimony of conversion, claimed that Augustines conversion was accepted as his own. When asked about his absence of testimony, Calvin respond the only testimony he could’ve had was what he copied from Augustine:
“Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I would do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings” (Calvin, “The Eternal Predestination of God").
The false teachings this utter heretic and gnostic was polluted with are practically endless, so hold on for a short ride.
As the above, Augustine believed that the sacraments are the means of saving grace; the Eucharist is necessary for salvation.
Augustine also taught that the sacrament of communion was a means of saving grace.
Augustine “baptized” infants because baptism takes away their sin he claimed, a heretical false teaching and false gospel derived from Roman Catholicism. In fact, he was one of the fathers of infant baptism, claiming that unbaptized infants (or adults for that matter) were lost, and calling all who rejected infant baptism, “infidels” and “cursed.” The ‘council’ of Mela, in Numidia, A.D. 416, composed of merely fifteen persons and presided over by Augustine, decreed: “Also, it is the pleasure of the bishops in order that whoever denies that infants newly born of their mothers, are to be baptized or says that baptism is administered for the remission of their own sins, but not on account of original sin, delivered from Adam, and to be expiated by the laver of regeneration, BE ACCURSED” (Wall, The History of Infant Baptism, I, p. 265).
The unBiblical and heretical phrase, “Essentials, unity; In non-essentials, liberty; In all things, love" comes from Augustine.
The Roman Catholic Augustine believed in an ancient heresy called Ransom theory of atonement, which heresy originated with Origen. This heretical theory teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom sacrifice, said to have been paid to Satan, in satisfaction for the bondage and debt on the souls of humanity as a result of inherited sin. This is pure fiction, originating and embraced in the minds of unregenerate heretics and Christ rejectors.
Augustine likened the Jewish people to Cain, who had murdered his own brother. He wrote that Jews were a “wicked sect” who should be subjected to permanent exile because of their evil ways. He wrote in his Confessions (12.14): “How hateful to me are the enemies of your Scripture! How I wish that you would slay them [the Jews] with your two-edged sword, so that there should be none to oppose your word! Gladly would I have them die to themselves and live to you!”
Augustine was a persecutor and the father of the doctrine of persecution in the Catholic Church, laying the foundation for the inquisition. The historian Neander observed that Augustine’s teaching “contains the germ of the whole system of spiritual despotism, intolerance, and persecution, even to the court of the Inquisition.” He instigated bitter persecutions against the Bible-believing Donatists who were striving to maintain pure churches after the apostolic faith, who required that church members give evidence of repentance and regeneration and then followed by believers baptism (immersion).
Augustine was the father of amillennialism, interpreting Bible prophecy allegorically (teachings that dovetail with replacement theology) which is utter heresy and immediately indicative of someone that is unregenerate since they are without the Spirit of truth to teach them literal truth as God gave (cf. Jn 8:31-32; 1 Jn 2:20-21).
Augustine taught that the Catholic Church is the supreme authority and the kingdom of God, and the new Israel (i.e. Replacement Theology).
Augustine taught that Mary was sinless; she did not commit sin, and promoted her “veneration” — that we would do well to worship her and pray to her or through her. He believed that Mary plays a vital role in salvation (Augustine, Sermon 289, cited in Durant, The Story of Civilization, IV, p. 69).
Augustine believed and promoted the utter Satanic myth of purgatory.
Augustine embraced prayers for the dead
Augustine exalted the authority of the church and church tradition above the Bible and said, “I should not believe the gospel unless I were moved to do so by the authority of the Catholic Church.” (quoted by John Paul II, Augustineum Hyponensem, Apostolic Letter, Aug. 28, 1986, www.cin.org/jp2.ency/augustin.html).
Augustine believed that the true interpretation of Scripture is derived from the declaration of church councils (Augustin, De Vera Religione, xxiv, p. 45).
Augustine interpreted the early chapters of Genesis figuratively (Dave Hunt, “Calvin and Augustine: Two Jonahs Who Sink the Ship,” Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views by Dave Hunt and James White, 2004, p. 230).
Augustine believed and taught the heresy pf unconditional election/absolute predestination (God sovereignly elects who will be saved/damned, known as Molinism, in that God has pre-ordained some for salvation and others for damnation) and that the grace of God is irresistible for the true elect; thus where John Calvin learned this heresy. By his own admission, Calvin in the 16th century derived his TULIP theology on the “sovereignty of God” from Augustine. Calvin said: “If I were inclined to compile a whole volume from Augustine, I could easily show my readers, that I need no words but his” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, chap. 22).
Augustine believed man has no free will (monergism), again a major teaching in Calvinism and upon one which the TULIP strongly relies.
Augustine believed one cannot know if he is saved, since allegedly those who are carnal minded might be saved as well (no they are not: Rom 8:6-9)
Augustine believed that God commands impossibilities (e.g. God requesting man to completely stop sinning, i.e. sinless perfectionism, which man obviously cannot do).
Augustine accepted the doctrine of celibacy for “priests” on the basis that marital sexual intimacy is sinful. He supported the decree of “Pope” Siricius of 387 which required that any priest that married or refused to separate from his wife should be disciplined.
Augustine believed that the Apocrypha was inspired of God and thus to be included in the Scriptures.
Augustine was the individual responsible for giving Catholics the official “saint” title.
Augustine believed in the veneration of relics.
Augustine taught the heresy of apostolic succession from Peter.
Augustine was a complete disaster. A serious heretic and wolf in sheep’s clothing, yet that doesn’t stop the Reformed Calvinist love affair. But these are only some of his heresies. He was so polluted with heresy that the Roman Catholic Church proudly claimed him as one of the “doctors of the church.” We see many of the Catholic heresies were embraced by him, maybe even initiated by him.
All of the “church fathers” were infected with false doctrine, and most of them were seriously infected and utterly heretical. Even the so-called Apostolic Fathers of the second century were teaching the false gospel that baptism, celibacy, and martyrdom provided forgiveness of sin (Howard Vos, Exploring Church History, p. 12). And of the later “fathers” — Clement, Origen, Cyril, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Theodore, and Chrysostom — the same historian admits:
“In their lives and teachings we find the seed plot of almost all that arose later. In germ form appear the dogmas of purgatory, transubstantiation, priestly mediation, baptismal regeneration, and the whole sacramental system” (Vos, p. 25).
These are only some examples among truck loads from these men; men that Hovland loves as brethren. Their writings are loaded with false doctrine and serious perversion of Scripture. Indeed, these men were lost and unregenerate, and to warn of them, instead of casting him into a positive light as “heroes of the faith” (as Hovland does), is a gracious act of love.
It begs the question: what “faith” are these men heroes of?
When promoting these individuals as allegedly “men of the church” who had a “love for Christ” which apparently “made them love his bride—the church and they gave up their lives for Jesus’ sake by serving the church according to their gifts,” who is Mike Hovland actually advocating for? God or Satan? None of these men were “men of the church” but rather enemies of the church, men who came under the guise of “ministers of righteousness” but were in fact ministers of Satan (2 Cor 11:12-15). They were wolves in sheep’s clothing of whom Christ warned (Matt 7:15-20) and Paul warned (Ac 20:29-30) but Hovland doesn’t seem to have the understanding or discernment to tell otherwise.
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (2 Cor 11:12-15)
These men, among the other “church fathers” such as have been instrumental for many to convert to the evil false religion of Roman Catholicism, like Peter Kreeft from the Dutch Reformed denomination. Kreeft, a very influential Catholic apologist, studied the church fathers as a student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He writes: “My adventurous half rejoiced when I discovered in the early Church such Catholic elements as the centrality of the Eucharist, the Real Presence, prayers to saints, devotion to Mary, an insistence on visible unity, and apostolic succession. Furthermore, THE CHURCH FATHERS JUST ‘SMELLED’ MORE CATHOLIC THAN PROTESTANT, especially St. Augustine, my personal favorite and a hero to most Protestants too. It seemed very obvious that if Augustine or Jerome or Ignatius of Antioch or Anthony of the Desert, or Justin Martyr, or Clement of Alexandria, or Athanasius were alive today they would be Catholics, not Protestants” (“Hauled Aboard the Ark"). Kreeft is absolutely right. Many of the “church fathers” do smell more Catholic than Protestant! But then again, many of the very same heresies in Catholicism are found in Protestanism.
Don't be fooled by men who claim the "early church fathers" were godly men and heroes. They were not. According to what they wrote, they were Catholic-minded liars and heretics and purveyors of damnable heresies. Sometimes the errors of these men are excused, by way of logical fallacies, as “terrible mistakes,” as one notes in the Introduction to Theology course by Rob Dyck. Their errors were beyond terrible and there was no excuse. These men were false believers warned of everywhere in Scripture (e.g. Matt. 7:21-23) and wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15-20; Ac. 20:29-31). Their doctrine proves them to be false teachers (Rom. 16:17-18; Phil. 3:17-19; Gal. 2:4-5; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Jn. 1:9-11), as does their heretical and perverted gospel (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Cor. 11:4); both of which exposes them as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15).
The affection to these men as “heroes” or other such man-centred labels, is horribly unscriptural and heretical. The only genuine “church fathers” are the apostles and prophets, their writings that were given by divine inspiration and recorded in the Holy Scripture. They gave us the “faith ONCE delivered to the saints” (Ju. 1:3). The faith they alone delivered is able to make us “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We don’t need anything beyond the Bible. The teaching of the “church fathers” does not contain one jot or tittle of divine revelation, and on the contrary, contains a whole lot of serious and wicked error. Furthermore, the term “church fathers” is a misnomer that was derived from the Catholic Church’s (RCC) false doctrine of hierarchical church polity. These men were not “fathers” of the church in any scriptural sense and did not have any divine authority. They were merely church leaders from various places who have left a record of their faith in writing, and its no shock that their writings survived the blood-thirsty wrath of Rome. The RCC exalted men to authority beyond the bounds designated by Scripture, making them “fathers” over the churches located within entire regions and over the churches of the whole world.
Equally in importance and reason, the writings of true believers did not survive Rome’s wrath:
“Church History was written primarily by those who hated New Testament Christianity. . . . They were continually being persecuted, often fleeing, meeting in secret, and afraid to make written records that could fall into the hands of their enemies and be thus material for their condemnation. Most of their leaders were a "lay" ministry with little time to write because of making a living in a secular occupation, a circumstance diametrically different from the entrenched Roman clergy and later the Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican full-time ordained literary-trained ecclesiastics.” (Richard Weeks, Lessons Learned from Baptist History, 3rd lesson).
Weeks continued about the kind of material that was published about these NT Christians:
“Anything written in a derogatory expression that would help to counteract [them] was valid. . . . While the New Testament Christians had neither time or opportunity to write church history, their enemies did, and they wrote to express deep animosity of the constant threat pure New Testament truth presented to them. Thank God, in the last one hundred years historian-scholars of most all denominations have by open historical research come to agree that the Biblical Anabaptists were terribly and falsely maligned by their opponents and that the actual truth is that they were a most noble, peaceable, harmless, exemplary people, a wonderful credit to Jesus Christ and remarkably different from the corrupt entrenched crowd that despised them.” (ibid).
All of the “church fathers” were infected to some degree with false doctrine, but most seriously infected and clearly heretical and blatant apostates. Even the so-called Apostolic Fathers of the second century were teaching the false gospel that baptism, celibacy, and martyrdom provided forgiveness of sin (Howard Vos, Exploring Church History, p. 12). And of the later “fathers” — Clement, Origen, Cyril, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Theodore, and John Chrysostom — the same historian admits: “In their lives and teachings we find the seed plot of almost all that arose later. In germ form appear the dogmas of purgatory, transubstantiation, priestly mediation, baptismal regeneration, and the whole sacramental system” (ibid, p. 25). Thus, the “church fathers” are actually the fathers of the RCC. They are the men who laid the foundation of apostasy that produced Romanism and Greek Orthodoxy. These are not “heroes” but wicked men and wolves in sheep’s clothing. What is shocking, is professing believers embracing “church father” material as Biblically genuine and not separating from it, as we have note here with Hovland. What of value spiritually can someone who is spiritually dead offer any true believer? They can’t tell you how to be saved, because they are lost themselves. They can’t tell you how to live for the Lord — because they are not living by faith or pleasing the Lord. They can’t open up the Bible to you and teach you, because it is a closed book to them. All they can do is seduce you and deceive you and destroy you. And that is precisely what they have done to millions of people throughout the years, and continue to do so.
I'm extremely grateful to not be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph 4:14) and not be “carried about with divers and strange doctrines” (Heb 13:9a) such as Reformed Theology, Calvinism and much of Evangelicalism is. Furthermore, I’m also in gratitude to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ that I am not Reformed or Calvinist or Protestant or “Evangelical,” and had I happened to live in the Reformer's day, I would’ve likely been jailed or drowned or both for writing this report.
Are you truly born again through the Spirt of God?
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 Jn 4:1)
Are you unsaved or unsure as to your spiritual estate?
“Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.” (Pr 9:6)
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor 13:5)