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Hodge’s (Baptist) Understanding of the Visible/Invisible Church

March 7, 2019 2 comments

In a recent post I summarized Scottish Presbyterian James Currie’s criticism of Bannerman/Westminster’s understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction. He quoted extensively from a 17th century French reformed theologian Jean Claude who had a famous debate (1678) with French Roman Catholic Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet about the nature and authority of the church. I recently provided extensive quotes from that writing as well. Currie also commended “The True Idea of the Church, by Dr. Hodge of Princeton College, reprinted in Edinburgh some few years ago.”

Hodge’s essays on the church were written in the context of the American Presbyterian Church coming to grips with the implications of disestablishmentarianism. The result was nearly a century of debate over a variety of ecclesiological topics. In his lengthy dissertation, Peter J. Wallace (OPC) explains

The transformation in identity from “church” to “denomination” took time. The older understanding of the unity–or catholicity–of the visible church could not help but be eroded as “liberty of conscience” began to trump [visible] catholicity…

The Protestant Reformation did not reject the idea of catholicity. It simply claimed that the Pope was a usurper… At least through the seventeenth century, the principle of [visible] catholicity remained theoretically intact. The ideal was to have one orthodox church in any given region… It was in America that this older understanding of [visible] catholicity utterly disintegrated… The old idea of [visible] catholicity–one church per region–had broken down.

But American Protestants were not willing to surrender the idea of catholicity. When Roman Catholics accused them of being divided and divisive, Protestants replied that they were still united in doctrine and fellowship… If the older understanding of [visible] catholicity maintained a tenuous existence in the early nineteenth century (experiencing gradual erosions from the middle of the seventeenth century), the concept of conscience had been undergoing a revolution of its own. “Conscience” referred to an understanding of the right of the individual to decide what he or she believes on any given subject. The nineteenth century saw conscience gradually become a more central symbol than [visible] catholicity in defining religion and morals, resulting in the inward and outward fragmentation of Anglo-American Protestantism…

It was only in 1789 that Presbyterians revised their Confession of Faith to become the first Christian confession to make denominational pluralism an article of faith [23.3]… This new section, added in 1789, had the effect of altering the meaning of the Confession’s statement on the catholicity of the visible church (25.2-5), rendering the older concept of one church per region untenable.

Hodge’s work was reprinted in Scotland in support of the Free Church of Scotland split from the established church. Wallace notes “The Church of Scotland lost nearly half of its ministers to the Free Church Disruption of 1843, as 40% of the church departed in order to maintain the spiritual independence of the church against state interference.”

Our interest here is that Hodge’s understanding of the visible/invisible Church distinction is identical to the Reformed Baptist understanding – which is often dismissed offhand as an uninformed misunderstanding of Scripture simply because it differs from Westminster’s.

Like Jean Claude, Hodge sought to explain what is meant by “the communion of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed.

Not a Visible Organized Society

It is obvious that the Church, considered as the communion of saints, does not necessarily include the idea of a visible society organized under one definite form… [It] does not include the idea of any external organization. The bond of union may be spiritual… [The Apostles’ Creed] does not present it under the idea of an external society at all. (1-2)

Saints

The saints, therefore, according to the scriptural meaning of the term, are those who have been cleansed from guilt or justified, who have been inwardly renewed or sanctified, and who have been separated from the world and consecrated to God. Of such the Church consists. If a man is not justified, sanctified, and consecrated to God, he is not a saint, and therefore does not belong to the Church, which is the communion of saints. (2)

The True Idea of the Church

As to the bond by which the saints are united so as to become a Church, it cannot be anything external, because that may and always does unite those who are not saints… The proximate and essential bond of union between the saints, that which gives rise to their communion, and makes them the Church or body of Christ, is, therefore, the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Such, then, is the true idea of the Church, or, what is the same thing, the idea of the true Church. It is the communion of saints, the body of those who are united to Christ by the indwelling of his Spirit. (2-3)

The only Church which is holy, which is one, which is catholic, apostolic, and perpetual, is the communion of saints, the company of faithful men, the mystical body of Christ, whose only essential bond of union is the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. That Spirit, however, always produces faith and love, so that all in whom he dwells are united in faith and Christian fellowship. (21)

The argument for the true doctrine concerning the Church, derived from the divine promises, is this. Those promises, according to the Scriptures, are made to the h umble, the penitent and believing; the Church, therefore, must consist exclusively of the regenerated. Those to whom the promises of divine presence, guidance, protection, and salvation, are made, cannot be a promiscuous multitude of all sorts of men. That theory of the Church, therefore, which makes it an external society, is necessarily destructive of religion and morality. (25)

It is conceded that the church is the body of Christ, and therefore consists of those who are in Christ; and as, according to the evangelical system, faith is the means of union with Christ, it follows, — l. That none but believers are in the church; and, 2. That all true believers are, as such, and for that reason alone, members of the church of Christ. 3. The church, therefore, in its true idea or essential nature, is not a visible society, but the company of faithful men, – the coetus sanctorum, or the communion of saints. The turning point, therefore, between the two systems, — that on which all other matters in dispute between ritualists and the evangelical, Romanists and Protestants, depend,—is the answer to the question, What unites us to Christ? If we are united to Christ by faith, then all believers are in Christ, and constitute the church. (32)

The Meaning of Ekklesia

The word ἐκκλησίαν from ἐκκλησία, evocare, means an assembly or body of men evoked, or called out and together. It was used to designate the public assembly of the people among the Greeks, collected for the transaction of business. It is applied to the tumultuous assembly called together in Ephesus by the outcries of Demetrius, Acts six. 39. It is used for those who are called out of the world, by the gospel, so as to form a distinct class… [I]t is not those who merely hear the call of the gospel, who constitute the Church, but those who obey the call… In all the various applications, therefore, of the word ἐκκλησίαν in the New Testament, we find it uniformly used as a collective term for the [GREEK]xXiivoi or [GREEK]tdexTot, that is, for those who obey the gospel call, and who are thus selected and separated, as a distinct class from the rest of the world. (4)

The word in the New Testament is never used except in reference to the company of true believers. This consideration alone is sufficient to determine the nature of the Church. (6)

Synonyms of Ekklesia

Those epistles in the New Testament which are addressed to Churches, are addressed to believers, saints, the children of God… From this collation it appears, that to call any body of men a Church, is to call them saints, sanctified in Christ Jesus, elected to obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Christ, partakers of the same precious faith with the apostles, the beloved of God, and faithful brethren. The inference from this fact is inevitable. The Church consists of those to whom these terms are applicable… From all this, it is evident that the terms, believers, saints, children of God, the sanctified, the justified, and the like, are equivalent to the collective term Church, so that any company of men addressed as a Church, are always addressed as saints, faithful brethren, partakers of the Holy Ghost, and children of God. The Church, therefore, consists exclusively of such. (7-9)

It is to degrade and destroy the gospel to apply this description of the Church as the body of Christ, to the mass of nominal Christians, the visible Church, which consists of “all sorts of men.” No such visible society is animated by his Spirit, is a partaker of his life, and heir of his glory. It is to obliterate the distinction between holiness and sin, between the Church and the world, between the children of God and the children of the devil, to apply what the Bible says of the body of Christ to any promiscuous society of saints and sinners. (10)

The Church is declared to be the temple of God… the family of God… the flock of Christ… the bride of Christ… These descriptions of the Church are inapplicable to any external visible society as such; to the Church of Rome, the Church of England, or the Presbyterian Church. The only Church of which these things are true, is the communion of saints, the body of true Christians.

Holiness

If then we conceive of the Church as the communion of saints, as the body of Christ, in which the Holy Spirit dwells as the source of its life, we see that the Church is and must be holy. It must be inwardly pure, that is, its members must be regenerated men, and it must be really separated from the world, and consecrated to God. These are the two ideas included in the scriptural sense of holiness, and in both these senses the Church is truly holy. But in neither sense can holiness be predicated of any external visible society as such. No such society is really pure, nor is it really separated from the world, and devoted to God. This is evident from the most superficial observation. It is plain that neither the Roman, the Greek, the English, nor the Presbyterian Church, falls within the definition of the Church as the coetus sanctorum, or company of believers. (12)

The holiness attributed to the church in Scripture, includes inward purity and outward consecration to God. In neither of these senses can holiness be predicated of any who are not true believers. (57)

Union with Christ

The church, as is conceded, consists of those who are in Christ. Whatever, therefore, is the condition of union with Christ, is the condition of membership in the church. (58)

They Are All Taught of God

The Church, considered as the communion of saints, is one in faith. The Spirit of God leads his people into all truth. He takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto them. They are all taught of God [Is 54:13; Jer 31:31; Jn 6:45]. The anointing which they have received abideth with them, and teacheth them all things, and is truth. 1 John ii. 27. Under this teaching of the Spirit, which is promised to all believers, and which is with and by the word, they are all led to the knowledge and belief of all necessary truth. (15)

The Visible Church

if the Church is the coetus sanctorum, the company of believers; if it is the body of Christ, and if his body consists of those, and of those only, in whom he dwells by his Spirit, then the Church is visible only, in the sense in which believers are visibleWherever there are true believers, there is the true Church; and wherever such believers confess their faith, and illustrate it by a holy life, there the Church is visible. The Church is visible, because believers are, by their “effectual calling,” separated from the world. Though in it, they are not of it…

This becomes intelligible by adverting to the origin of the Christian community. The admitted facts in reference to this subject are — 1. That our Lord appeared on earth as the Son of God, and the Saviour of sinners. To all who received him he gave power to become the sons of God; they were justified and made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and thereby united to Christ as living members of his body. They were thus distinguished inwardly and outwardly from all other men. 2. He commissioned his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He enjoined upon them to require as the conditions of any man’s being admitted into their communion as a member of his body, repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 3. He commanded all who did thus repent and believe, to unite together for his worship, for instruction, for the administration of the sacraments, and for mutual watch and care. For this purpose he provided for the appointment of certain officers, and gave, through his apostles, a body of laws for their government, and for the regulation of all things which those who believed were required to perform. Provision was thus made, by divine authority, for the Church assuming the form of an external visible society…

If, then, the Church is the body of Christ; if a man becomes a member of that body by faith; if multitudes of those who profess in baptism the true religion, are not believers, then it is just as certain that the external body consisting of the baptized is not the Church, as that a man’s calling himself a Christian does not make him a Christian. (65-68)

In his [the Apostle John’s] day many who had been baptized, and received into the communion of the external society of Christians, were not true believers. How were they regarded by the apostle? Did their external profession make them members of the true Church, to which the promises pertain? St. John answers this question by saying, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us : but they went out, that it might be made manifest that they were not all of us. But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” 1 John ii. 19, 20. It is here taught, 1. That many are included in the pale of the external Church, who are not members of the true Church. 2. That those only who have an unction of the Holy One, leading them into the knowledge of the truth, constitute the Church. 3. And consequently the visibility of the Church is that which belongs to the body of true believers. (70)

Everything comes back to the question. What is the Church? True believers constitute the true Church; professed believers constitute the outward Church. These two things are not to be confounded. The external body is not, as such, the body of Christ. Neither are they to be separated as two Churches; the one true and the other false, the one real and the other nominal. They differ as the sincere and insincere differ in any community… The question, how far the outward Church is the true Church, is easily answered. Just so far as it is what it professes to be, and no further. So far as it is a company of faithful men, animated and controlled by the Holy Spirit, it is a true Church, a constituent member of the body of Christ. If it be asked further, how we are to know whether a given society is to be regarded as a Church; we answer, precisely as we know whether a given individual is to be regarded as a Christian, i. e. by their profession and conduct. (72-73)

Regeneration Goggles?

[Objection:] “[W]here was there any such society, answering to the Protestant definition, before the Reformation?” This objection rests upon the misconception which Ritualists do not appear able to rid themselves of. When Protestants say the Church is invisible, they only mean that an inward and consequently invisible state of mind is the condition of membership, and not that those who have this internal qualification are invisible, or that they cannot be so known as to enable us to discharge the duties which we owe them. When asked, what makes a man a Christian? we say, true faith. When asked whom must we regard and treat as Christians? we answer, those who make a credible profession of their faith. Is there any contradiction in this? Is there any force in the objection, that if faith is an inward quality, it cannot be proved by outward evidence? Thus, when Protestants are asked, what is the true Church? they answer, the company of believers. When asked what associations are to be regarded and treated as churches? they answer, those in which the gospel is preached. When asked further, where was the Church before the Reformation? they answer, just where it was in the days of Elias, when it consisted of a few thousand scattered believers. (73)

The General Call a Call to Bare Profession?

The nature of the Church, therefore, must depend on the nature of the gospel call. If that call is merely or essentially to the outward profession of certain doctrines, or to baptism, or to anything external, then the Church must consist of all who make that profession, or are baptized. But if the call of the gospel is to repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, then none obey that call but those who repent and believe, and the Church must consist of penitent believers. It cannot require proof that the call of the gospel is to faith and repentance…

Every [GREEK],xxXt,trta is composed of the [GREEK]xXtjtoi, of those called out and assembled. But the word [GREEK]xXrjTot, as applied to Christians, is never used in the New Testament, except in reference to true believers. If, therefore, the Church consists of “the called,” it must consist of true believers. (5-6)

The faith which has all this power is not a mere historical assent to the gospel, but a cordial acquiescence in its truths, founded on the testimony of God, with and by the truth through his Spirit. From these considerations it is abundantly evident that none are in Christ but true believers; and as it is conceded that the church consists of those who are in Christ, it must consist of true believers. (33)

Visible Church Includes Hypocrites?

To this argument it is indeed objected, that as the apostles addressed all the Christians of Antioch, Corinth, or Ephesus, as constituting the Church in those cities, and as among them there were many hypocrites, therefore the word Church designates a body of professors, whether sincere or insincere. The fact is admitted, that all the professors of the true religion in Corinth, without reference to their character, are called the church of Corinth. This, however, is no answer to the preceding argument. It determines nothing as to the nature of the Church. It does not prove it to be an external society, composed of sincere and insincere professors of the true religion. All the professors in Corinth are called saints, sanctified in Christ Jesus, the saved, the children of God, the faithful believers, &c., &c. Does this prove that there are good and bad saints, holy and unholy sanctified persons, believing and unbelieving believers, or men who are at the same time children of God and children of the devil? Their being called believers does not prove that they were all believers; neither does their being called the Church prove that they were all members of the Church. They are designated according to their profession. In professing to be members of the Church, they professed to be believers, to be saints and faithful brethren, and this proves that the Church consists of true believers

In the same sense and in no other, in which infidels may be called believers, and wicked men saints, in the same sense may they be said to be included in the Church. If they are not really believers, they are not the Church. They are not constituent members of the company of believers. (7)

It is not to be inferred from the fact that all the members of the Christian societies in Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus, are addressed as believers, that they all had true faith. But we can infer, that since what is said of them is said of them as believers, it had no application to those who were without faith. In like manner, though all are addressed as belonging to the Church, what is said of the Church had no application to those who were not really its members. Addressing a body of professed believers, as believers, does not prove them to be all sincere; neither does addressing a body of men as a Church, prove that they all belong to the Church. In both cases they are addressed according to their profession. If it is a fatal error to transfer what is said in Scripture of believers, to mere professors, to apply to nominal what is said of true Christians, it is no less fatal to apply what is said of the Church to those who are only by profession its members. It is no more proper to infer that the Church consists of the promiscuous multitude of sincere and insincere professors of the true faith, from the fact that all the professors, good and bad, in Corinth, are called the Church, than it would be to infer that they were all saints and children of God, because they are all so denominated. It is enough to determine the true nature of the Church, that none are ever addressed as its members, who are not, at the same time, addressed as true saints and sincere believers. (9)

Of the objections commonly urged against the doctrine that the church is the communion of saints, consisting of true believers, those only which demand notice in this connexion are,—First, that as the societies at Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome were undoubtedly churches, and as they were composed of insincere as well as sincere professors of faith, it follows that the church does not consist exclusively of true believers. This objection has already been answered. The fact referred to proves only that those who profess to be members of the church are addressed and treated as members. In the same manner, those who professed to be believers, saints, the children of God, are constantly in Scripture addressed as being what they professed to be. If, therefore, addressing a body of men as a church proves that they are really its constituent members, addressing them as believers and saints must prove they all have true faith, and are really holy. The objection, therefore, is founded on a false assumption, viz., that men are always what they are addressed as being; and it would prove far more than the objector is willing to admit, viz., that all the members of the external church are saints and believers, and would thus establish the very doctrine the objection is adduced to refute. (61-62)

The Parables of the Kingdom

A second and more plausible objection is founded upon those parables of our Lord in which the kingdom of heaven is compared to a net containing fish, good and bad, and to a field in which tares grow together with the wheat. As the church and kingdom of heaven are assumed to be the same, it is inferred that if the one includes good and bad, so must also the other.

In answer to this objection it may be remarked, in the first place, that it is founded on a false assumption. The terms, “kingdom of God” and “ church,” are not equivalent. Many things are said of the one which cannot be said of the other. It cannot be said of the church that it consists not in meat and drink, but in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Nor can it be said that the church is within us; neither are we commanded to seek first the church; nor is the church said to be at hand. All these forms of expression occur in reference to the kingdom of God, but are inapplicable to the church. It is evident, therefore, that it is not safe to conclude that something is true of the church, simply because it is a parcel of the kingdom of God…

[T]he parables in question were not intended to teach us the condition of membership in the kingdom of heaven, they cannot decide that point. In one place Christ asserts didactically, that regeneration by the Holy Spirit is essential to admission into his kingdom; shall we infer, in direct opposition to this assertion, that his kingdom includes both the regenerate and unregenerate, because he compares it to a net containing fishes, good and bad? Certainly not, because the comparison was not designed to teach us what is the condition of membership in his kingdom. This, however, is the precise point in dispute. What is the church? What is the condition of membership in the body of Christ? Does his body consist of all the baptized, or of all true believers ? As our Lord did not intend to answer these questions in those parables, they do not answer them. The design of each particular parable is to be learned from the occasion on which it was delivered, and from its contents. That respecting the tares and the wheat was evidently intended to teach, that as God has not given us the power to inspect the heart, or to discriminate between the sincere and insincere professors of religion, he has not imposed on us the obligation to do so. That is his work. We must allow both to grow on together until the harvest, when he will effect the separation. This surely does not teach that what the Scriptures say of the wheat is to be understood of the tares. Others of these parables are obviously designed to teach, that external profession or relations cannot secure the blessings of the kingdom of God. It is not every one who says, Lord, Lord, who is to be admitted into his presence. These parables teach that many of those who profess to be the disciples, and who, in the eyes of men, constitute his kingdom, are none of his. This is a very important lesson; but if we were to infer, from the figure in which it is inculcated, that mere profession does make men members of Christ’s kingdom, we should infer the very opposite from what he intended to teach. To learn the condition of membership in that kingdom, we must turn to those passages which are designed to teach us that point, —-to those which professedly set forth the nature of that kingdom, and the terms of admission into it.

This suggests a third remark in answer to the above objection. Whenever the kingdom of God means the same thing as the church, it is expressly taught that admission into it depends on saving faith, or an inward spiritual change, and not on external rites or profession. The ancient prophets having predicted, that after the rise and fall of other kingdoms the God of heaven would set up a kingdom, the establishment of that kingdom became to his ancient people an object of expectation and desire. They were, however, greatly mistaken both as to its nature and the terms of admission into it. They had much the same notion of the kingdom of God that ritualists now have of the church. They expected it to be, in its essential character, an external organization, and the condition of membership to be descent from Abraham, or the rite of circumcision. Our Lord did not simply modify this conception by teaching that his kingdom, instead of being a visible organization with kings and nobles, was to be such an organization with cardinals and bishops; and that, instead of circumcision, baptism was to secure membership. He presented a radically different idea of its whole nature. He taught that it was to be a spiritual kingdom,—that it was to have its seat in the heart,—its Sovereign being the invisible God in Christ,—its laws such as relate to the conscience,—-its service the obedience of faith,—its rewards eternal life. It is true, he imposed upon his people the duty of confession, and other obligations which implied their manifestation to the world, and their external union among themselves. But these are mere incidents. His kingdom no more consists in these externals than the nature of man in his name or colour. The kingdom of Christ is therefore spiritual, not only as opposed to secular, but as distinguished from external organization. Such organization is not the church…

The question, which kingdom a man belongs to, the kingdom of Christ or the kingdom of Satan, the church or the world, does not depend on anything external, but on the state of his heart. It is a contradiction to say that the kingdom of Satan consists of good and bad, of the renewed and the unrenewed. It is no less a contradiction to say that the kingdom of Christ consists of the wicked and the good, the sincere and the insincere. The very idea of the one kingdom is, that it consists of those who obey Satan, and that of the other, that it is composed of those who obey Christ. If it is a contradiction to say there are good wicked men, it is no less a contradiction to say there are wicked good men. If Satan’s kingdom consists of the wicked, Christ’s kingdom consists of the good. Accordingly, whenever our Lord states the condition of admission into his kingdom, he declares it to be a change of heart, without which, he says, it is impossible any should enter it : “ Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto you, Ye must be born again.” Whatever else this passage teaches, it certainly asserts the absolute necessity of an inward spiritual birth in order to membership in Christ’s kingdom. (62-64)

Outside of the Church There is No Salvation

Cyprian is urged as another authority, who says: “Whosoever, divorced from the Church, is united to an adulteress, is separated from the Church’s promises; nor shall that man attain the rewards of Christ, who relinquishes his Church. He is a stranger, he is profane, he is an enemy.” All this is undoubtedly true. It is true, as Augustin says, that the good cannot divide themselves from the Church; it is true, as Irenaeus says, where the Church is, there the Spirit of God is; and where the Spirit is, there the Church is. This is the favorite motto of Protestants. It is also true, as Cyprian says, that he who is separated from the Church, is separated from Christ. This brings the nature of the Church down to a palpable matter of fact…

To say, therefore, with Augustin, that no good man can leave the Church, is only to say that the good will love and cleave to each other; to say, with Irenaeus, that where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, is to say the presence of the Spirit makes the Church; and to say with Cyprian, that he who is separated from the Church, is separated from Christ, is only saying, that if a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, he cannot love God whom he hath not seen. If the Church is the communion of saints, it includes all saints; it has catholic unity because it embraces all the children of God. And to say there is no salvation out of the Church, in this sense of the word, is only saying there is no salvation for the wicked, for the unrenewed and unsanctified… Wherever the Spirit of God is, there the Church is; and as the Spirit is not only within, but without all external Church organizations, so the Church itself cannot be limited to any visible society. (19-20)

Visible Church Succession from Apostles?

If, on the other hand, the Church is a company of believers, if it is the communion of saints, all that is essential to its perpetuity is that there should always be believers. It is not necessary that they should be externally organized, much less is it necessary that they should be organized in any prescribed form. It is not necessary that any line of officers should be uninterruptedly continued; much less is it necessary that those officers should be prelates or popes… But the Church can exist without a pope, without prelates, yea, without presbyters, if in its essential nature it is the communion of saints. There is, therefore, no promise of an uninterrupted succession of validly ordained church-officers, and consequently no foundation for faith in any such succession. In the absence of any such promise, the historical argument against “apostolic succession,” becomes overwhelming and unanswerable. (20-21)

Not of This World

We find in the Scriptures frequent assurances that the Church is to extend from sea to sea, from the rising to the setting of the sun; that all nations and people are to flow unto it. These promises the Jews referred to their theocracy. Jerusalem was to be the capital of the world; the King of Zion was to be the King of the whole earth, and all nations were to be subject to the Jews. Judaizing Christians interpret these same predictions as securing the universal prevalence of the theocratic Church, with its pope or prelates. In opposition to both, the Redeemer said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” His apostles also taught that the kingdom of God consists in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. The extension of the Church, therefore, consists in the prevalence of love to God and man, of the worship and service of the Lord Jesus Christ. It matters not how the saints may be associated; it is not their association, but their faith and love that makes them the Church, and as they multiply and spread, so does the Church extend. All the fond anticipations of the Jews, founded on a false interpretation of the divine promises, were dissipated by the advent of a Messiah whose kingdom is not of this world. History is not less effectually refuting the ritual theory of the Church, by showing that piety, the worship and obedience of Christ, the true kingdom of God, is extending far beyond the limits which that theory would assign to the dominion of the Redeemer. (24)

The men of the world are devoted to the world,——they do not belong to the peculiar people whom God has called out of the world and set apart for himself. (57)

National Churches are of the World

And no more wicked or more disastrous mistake has ever been made, than to transfer to the visible society of professors of the true religion, subject to bishops having succession, the promises and prerogatives of the body of Christ. It is to attribute to the world the attributes of the Church; to the kingdom of darkness the prerogatives of the kingdom of light. It is to ascribe to wickedness the character and blessedness of goodness. Every such historical Church has been the world baptized; all the men of a generation, or of a nation, are included in the pale of such a communion. If they are the Church, who are the world? If they are the kingdom of light, who constitute the kingdom of darkness? To teach that the promises and prerogatives of the Church belong to these visible societies, is to teach that they belong to the world, organized under a particular form and called by a new name. (29)

Individuals, Not Societies or Nations, Redeemed

[H]oliness and salvation are promised to every member of the Church. This is obvious; 1. Because these are blessings of which individuals alone are susceptible. It is not a community or society, as such, that is redeemed, regenerated, sanctified, and saved. Persons, and not communities, are the subjects of these blessings[.] (24)

The Right of Private Judgment

[A]ccording to the Scriptures, it is the duty of every Christian to try the spirits whether they be of God, to reject an apostle, or an angel from heaven, should he deny the faith, and of that denial such Christian is of necessity the judge. Faith, moreover, is an act for which every man is personally responsible; his salvation depends upon his believing the truth. He must, therefore, have the right to believe God, let the chief officers of the Church teach what they may. The right of private judgment is, therefore, a divine right. It is incompatible with the ritual theory of the Church, but perfectly consistent with the Protestant doctrine that the Church is the communion of saints. (29)

National Israel the Church?

Under the old dispensation, the whole nation of the Hebrews was called holy, as separated from the idolatrous nations around them, and consecrated to God. The Israelites were also called the children of God, as the recipients of his peculiar favours. These expressions had reference rather to external relations and privileges than to internal character. In the New Testament, however, they are applied only to the true people of God. None are there called saints but the sanctified in Christ Jesus. None are called the children of God, but those born of the Spirit, who being children are heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ of a heavenly inheritance. When, therefore, it is said that the Church consists of saints, the meaning is not that it consists of all who are externally consecrated to God, irrespective of their moral character, but that it consists of true Christians or sincere believers. (2)

Much the most plausible argument of Romanists is derived from the analogy of the old dispensation. That the Church is a visible society, consisting of the professors of the true religion, as distinguished from the body of true believers, known only to God, is plain, they say, because under the old dispensation it was such a society, embracing all the descendants of Abraham who professed the true religion, and received the sign of circumcision… If such a society existed then by divine appointment, what has become of it? Has it ceased to exist? Has removing its restriction to one people destroyed its nature? Does lopping certain branches from the tree destroy the tree itself? Far from it. The Church exists as an external society now as it did then; what once belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, now belongs to the visible Church… Such is the favourite argument of Romanists; and such, (striking out illogically the last clause, which requires subjection to prelates, or the Pope,) we are sorry to say is the argument of some Protestants, and even of some Presbyterians.

The fallacy of the whole argument lies in its false assumption, that the external Israel was the true Church. It was not the body of Christ; it was not pervaded by his Spirit. Membership in it did not constitute membership in the body of Christ. The rejection or destruction of the external Israel was not the destruction of the Church. The apostasy of the former was not the apostasy of the latter. The attributes, promises, and prerogatives of the one, were not those of the other. In short, they were not the same…

It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant, (i. e. of the covenant of grace,) were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law; the condition of the latter was, is, and ever has been, faith in the Messiah as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, and the commonwealth founded on the one with the Church founded on the other.

When Christ came “the commonwealth” was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The Church remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessings, on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. In no part of the New Testament is any other condition of membership in the Church prescribed than that contained in the answer of Philip to the eunuch who desired baptism: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” — Acts viii. 37. The Church, therefore, is, in its essential nature, a company of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership. While this is true and vitally important, it is no less true that believers make themselves visible by the profession of the truth, by holiness of life, by separation from the world as a peculiar people, and by organizing themselves for the worship of Christ, and for mutual watch and care. (74-75)

Augustine

Augustine says, the Church is a living body, in which there are both a soul and body. Some are members of the Church in both respects, being united to Christ, as well externally as internally. These are the living members of the Church; others are of the soul, but not of the body — that is, they have faith and love, without external communion with the Church. Others, again, are of the body and not of the soul — that is, they have no true faith. These last, he says, are as the hairs, or nails, or evil humours of the human body. According to Augustin, then, the wicked are not true members of the Church; their relation to it is altogether external. They no more make up the Church, than the scurf or hair on the surface of the skin make up the human body. This representation is in entire accordance with the Protestant doctrine, that the Church is a communion of saints, and that none but the holy are its true members. It expressly contradicts the Romish and Oxford theory, that the Church consists of all sorts of men; and that the baptized, no matter what their character, if they submit to their legitimate pastors, are by divine right constituent portions of the Church; and that none who do not receive the sacraments, and who are not thus subject, can be members of the body of Christ. (14-15)

History of the Decline of the True Idea of the Church

The history of the idea of the church would be one of the most interesting chapters of a history of doctrine. Such a history would naturally divide itself into the following periods: —1. The apostolic period; 2. The transition period, during which the attributes of the true church came to be gradually transferred to the external society of professed believers; 3. The period of the complete ascendency of the ritual theory of the church; and, 4. The Reformation period…

We have seen that, during the apostolic period, the church was regarded as a company of faithful men, a coetus sanctorum, or body of saints, and that true faith was the indispensable condition of membership, so that none but believers were considered to belong to the church, and all believers were regarded as within its pale. The very word [GREEK]e’xxqurla, during this period, was never used except as a collective term for the [GREEK]Kltn-roi, for those whom God, by his Word and Spirit, had called out of the world or kingdom of Satan, into the kingdom of his dear Son. None, therefore, were ever addressed as members of the church, who were not also called believers, saints, the sanctified in Christ Jesus, the children of God, and heirs of eternal life. They were all described as members of the body of Christ, in whom he dwells by his Spirit, and who, therefore, are the temple of God. They constitute the family of God, the flock of the good Shepherd, and the bride of Christ… Believers, therefore, are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. They, and they alone, constitute that body of which all these attributes are predicated, and to which all these promises are made. Such being the nature of the church, as it is described in the apostolic writings, it follows, of course, that all out of the church perish, and all within the church are saved…

The transition period cannot be marked off by precise limits… One is soon perplexed when he endeavours to reduce the declarations of the fathers of this period to any consistent theory… By the common consent of Christians, the church is one, catholic, holy, and apostolical. We find, therefore, these attributes, in all their modifications, freely ascribed to the church by the fathers of the first three centuries. By the church, however, they often meant the aggregate of believers. This is the true idea of the church. In this sense all the attributes above mentioned do truly belong to it. But as believers actually and visibly exist in this world, as they manifest themselves to be believers by the profession of their faith, by their union in the worship of Christ, and by their holy life in obedience to his commands, the body of those who professed to be believers was called the church. To the aggregate, then, of these professors of the true faith, all the attributes of the church were referred. This was a very natural process, and had the semblance of scriptural authority in its behalf. In the Bible all who profess to believe, are called believers, and every thing that is or can be predicated of believers is predicated of such professors. From this, however, it is not to be inferred that the attributes of believers belong to unbelievers. The only thing this scriptural usage teaches us is, that the church consists of believers, and that all that is predicated of the church is ascribed to it as so constituted. The fathers, however, went one step beyond the usage of Scripture. They not merely addressed professed believers as believers, and spoke of the aggregate of such professors as the church, but they transferred to the body of professors the attributes which belonged to the body of believers. Even this was in their day a much more venial error than it is in ours. For the great body of professors were at first, and especially in times of persecution, sincere believers; and the distinction between the visible church and the world was then the distinction between Christianity and heathenism. It was natural, therefore, to speak of this band of united and suffering Christians, separated from their idolatrous countrymen, as indeed the church of which unity, catholicity, and holiness could be predicated, and out of whose pale there is no salvation. It is also to be remembered, that it was mainly in opposition to heretics that the fathers claimed for the body of professors the attributes of the true church. They could say, with full propriety, that out of the pale of the visible church there is no salvation, because out of that pale there was then no saving truth. All were in the visible church except the heathen and heretics who denied all of Christianity but its name. The church, therefore, in the sense of these early fathers, included all who professed faith in the true gospel; and, therefore, their claiming for such professors the attributes of the true church, is something very different from the conduct of those who in our day set up that claim in behalf of a small portion of the professed followers of Christ…

In experience, however, it was found that multitudes were members of the church who were not members of Christ, and who were entirely destitute of his Spirit… There were three methods of meeting this difficulty, all of which were adopted:—

1. A distinction was made between the visible church and the true church… It was, therefore, denied that the attributes and promises belonging to the church pertained to any but the living members of Christ’s body. This is the true doctrine, and differs in no essential particular from the doctrine afterwards revived at the Reformation, and universally adopted by Protestants. It was substantially their distinction between the visible and invisible church. This was the method adopted by Origen, and afterwards by Augustin… Only the holy really belong to the church; the wicked are in it only in appearance… The saints are the wheat, the wicked are the chaff ; the latter are no more the church than chaff is wheat… To Augustin the same objection was made by the Donatists that is now made by Romanists against Protestants, viz., that the distinction between the church visible and invisible supposes there are two churches. He answered the objection, just as Protestants do, by saying there is but one church; the wicked are not in the church; that the distinction between sincere and insincere Christians does not suppose there are two gospels and two Christs. It is one and the same church that appears on earth, with many impenitent men attached to it in external communion, which in heaven is to appear in its true character…

2. A second method adopted to reconcile the actual with the ideal church, the visible with the invisible, was the exercise of discipline…

3. A third method of getting over the difficulty was unhappily adopted and sanctioned. The whole theory of the church was altered and corrupted. It was assumed that all the attributes of the church belonged to the visible society of professed Christians. It was, however, apparent that such society did not possess these attributes according to the scriptural account of their nature. The view taken, therefore, of the nature of these attributes was changed…

The Bible says there is no salvation out of the church, for the church includes all the saints. The early fathers said there was no salvation out of the church, for there were none out of the church but heathen and heretics. It was a very different matter, however, when Cyprian came to deny salvation to his brethren holding the same faith, and giving the same evidence of being in Christ with himself. To them he says there is no salvation, because they were not in communion with the right bishop… Thus the whole theory and nature of the church was changed… This was the perversion of the true doctrine effected by Cyprian… This was the parent corruption, the fruitful source of almost all the other evils which have afflicted the church…

It is plain, from this brief survey, that the theory concerning the church passed, during the first few centuries, through these several stages. The apostles represented it as consisting of true believers; many of the fathers considered it as including all the professors of the true religion, as distinguished from Jews, pagans, and heretics; and then it came to be regarded as consisting of those professors of the true religion who were subject to bishops having succession; and to such society of professors all the attributes, promises, and prerogatives belonging to the true church were referred. As, however, it was seen that such attributes did not, in fact, belong to the society of professed believers, some made the distinction between the visible and invisible church, referring these attributes and promises only to the latter; others endeavoured to make the one identical with the other; and others perverted the nature of these attributes to make them answer to their preconceived conception of the church…

At first the unity of the church was made to rest on the indwelling of the Spirit, producing unity of faith and fellowship. Next, it was conceived of as belonging to the external body of professors, as distinguished from infidels and heretics. But when orthodox men separated from this external society, Cyprian asserted they were not of the church. Why not? They had the same faith, the same sacraments, and the same discipline or polity, but they were not subject to legitimate bishops. Soon, however, apostolic bishops separated. What was to be said now? Some other external bond of unity than the episcopate became essential, if the external unity of the church was to be preserved. For the very same reason, and with quite as much show of right, as Cyprian said no man was in the church who was not subject to a regularly consecrated bishop, did Gregory say, No bishop was in the church who is not subject to the Pope. The papal monarchy of the middle ages was, therefore, the natural product of Cyprian’s theory of the church…

Against this system the Reformation was a protest. The Reformers protested, first, against the fundamental error of the whole theory, viz., that the visible church is, in such a sense, the true church; that the attributes, promises, and prerogatives pertaining to the latter, belong to the former. In opposition to this doctrine, they maintained that the church consists of true believers; that it is a company of faithful men, a communion of saints, to which no man belongs who is not a true child of God… This is the essential character of the protest entered by all the churches of the Reformation. In proof of this, it will be sufficient to advert briefly to the teachings of those churches, in their symbolical books, as to the nature of the church.

Reformation Confessions

The Lutheran Church was the oldest daughter of the Reformation, and on this subject her standards are very explicit. Augs. Con., § vii.: “The church is a congregation of saints, in which the gospel is properly taught, and the sacraments rightly administered. And to the true unity of the church, agreement in the doctrine of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments is sufficient.” § viii.: “Although the church is, properly, a congregation of saints and of true believers, yet as in this life many hypocrites and wicked persons are included, it is lawful to use the sacraments administered by wicked men.”

The fourth head of the apology of the Augsburg Confession is a defence of the definition of the church as the congregation of saints. After saying and proving that it was so defined in Scripture, it refers to the language of the Creed, “which requires us to believe that there is a holy catholic church.” But the wicked are not the church. And the next clause, “communion of saints,” is added to explain what the church is,—viz., “the congregation of saints, having fellowship in the same gospel or doctrine, and in the same Holy Spirit, who renews, sanctifies, and governs their hearts.”

Again: “Although, therefore, hypocrites and evil men are connected with the church by external rites, yet, when the church is defined, it is necessary to describe it as the true body of Christ, that which is in name and reality the church.” “If the church, which is the true kingdom of Christ, is distinguished from the kingdom of the devil, it is clear that the wicked, who are in the kingdom of the devil, are not the church, although in this life, since the kingdom of Christ is not revealed, they are mixed with the church, and bear office therein.”

“The creed speaks of the church as catholic, that we may not conceive of it as an external polity of a certain nation, but as consisting of men scattered throughout the world, who agree in doctrine, and have the same Christ, the same Holy Spirit, whether they have the same human traditions or not.”

The Lutheran theologians, with one accord, adhere to this doctrine concerning the church. By Calovius it is defined as “coetus fidelium, qui sub uno capite Christo per verbum et sacramenta collectus alitur et conservatur per eadem ad aeternam salutem.” Hollazius says the church is regarded,—1. In its true nature, as the company of saints united to Christ their head by faith, and constituting his one mystical and living body. 2. Improperly, for all those professing the true faith, believers and hypocrites. The former is the church invisible, and the latter the visible church. Gerhard says to the same effect, “Our view of the nature of the church is clearly exhibited in the Augsburgh Confession,——viz., that the church, properly speaking, is the congregation of saints and true believers, with which, however, in this life, many hypocrites and unrenewed men are externally united.”

The Reformed Church in this matter agrees perfectly with the Lutheran. Indeed, as this was a subject of constant controversy between Protestants and Romanists, it seems hardly worth while to appeal to any particular assertions. Bellarmine sets it forth as they doctrine of all Protestants, “that only the just and pious pertain to the true church.” “If,” he adds, “those destitute of inward faith neither are nor can be in the church, there is an end of all dispute between us and heretics as to the visibility of the church.” The Lutherans, he says, define the church to be “the congregation of saints who truly believe and obey God,” and the Reformed, as consisting of believers predestinated to eternal life,–a distinction, in this case, without a difference. In opposition to the views of both classes of Protestants, he asserts the church to consist of all the professors of the true faith, whether sincere or insincere, who are united in the participation of the same sacraments, and subjection to the same pastors, and especially to the pope, as vicar of Christ.

We find the doctrine of the Reformed churches clearly stated in all their confessions of faith. In the second Helvetic Confession, the seventeenth chapter is devoted to the exposition of this subject. The church is declared to be “a company of believers, called out from the world, or collected, i.e., a communion of saints, who through the Word and Spirit, truly acknowledge and rightly worship the true God, in Christ the Saviour, and who through faith participate in all the benefits freely offered through Christ.” “It is of them that the article in the creed, ‘I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,’ is to be understood.” . . . . “All who are numbered in the church are not saints, or true living members of the church.” ….. “Such, though they simulate piety, are not of the church.”

In the Belgic Confession, art. 27, it is said, “We believe one catholic or universal church, which is the congregation of saints or company of true believers, who look for their entire salvation in Christ alone, being washed by his blood, sanctified and sealed by his Spirit.” Art. 29: “We do not here speak of the company of hypocrites, who, although they may be mixed with the good in the church, are not of it, though (corpore) externally they are in it.”

In the Geneva Catechism it is asked, “What is the church?” Answer,—“The society of believers whom God hath predestinated to eternal life.”

In the Gallican Confession, the 27th article contains these words: “We affirm that the church is the company of believers, who agree in following the Word of God, and in the exercise of true religion,” &c.

In the Heidelberg Catechism, the question, “What believest thou concerning the Holy Catholic Church of Christ?” is answered, “I believe that the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, from the whole human family, collects, defends, and preserves for himself, by his Word and Spirit, a company chosen unto eternal life, and that I am and always will remain a living member of that church.”

The standards of the Church of England teach the same doctrine. The church is declared to be a “company of faithful men;” or, as in the communion service, “the blessed company of faithful people.” This definition is expanded in the homily for Whitsunday:—“The true church is a universal congregation or fellowship of God’s faithful and elect people, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.”

For further reading:

The French Reformed Understanding of the Visible/Invisible Church

March 5, 2019 6 comments

In a recent post I summarized Scottish Presbyterian James Currie’s criticism of Bannerman/Westminster’s understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction. He quoted extensively from a 17th century French reformed theologian Jean Claude who had a famous debate (1678) with French Roman Catholic Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet about the nature and authority of the church. Bossuet published an account of the debate, followed by Claude’s account of the debate, which was translated into English and printed in England in 1687. Claude wrote several other works including an account of the persecution of the reformed church by Roman Catholics in France (which was translated and printed in England, but ordered burned by James II), as well as a two-volume History of the Reformation – translated and printed in England in 1815. Claude is described as “a burning and shining light” whose “well-timed instructions and powerful example diffuse[d] moral and spiritual blessings all around him[.]” You can read a brief sketch of his life here.

What interests us here is that in his debate with Bossuet regarding the nature of the Church, Claude argues for an understanding of the visible/invisible Church distinction that would be dismissed today as an uninformed baptist misunderstanding of Scripture – and yet Claude shows this was the position of the French reformed confession. Claude’s book can be read in full here. Note: Claude refers to Bossuet by his title/position in the Roman Catholic church: Bishop of Meaux (thus Monsieur de Meaux) and previously of Condom (thus M. de Condom).

The debate centered upon the meaning of the statement “I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints” from the Apostle’s Creed. Bossuet argued it refers to “A Society making profession to believe the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, and govern it self by his word” and “’tis consequently visible.” Claude argued rather that it refers to “the company of all those that are truly the faithful, separated from the world by the Word and Holy Spirit of God, according to the purpose of his Election from the beginning to the end of all things.” [Page 6]

Claude argues first that Bossuet’s definition incorrectly limits the “Church” to the its present manifestation on Earth, excluding those presently in heaven.

[B]y the Universal Church must be understood, not barely the visible body, or company of the Faithful at present upon Earth, but that body or company of all the Faithful, which have been, are, or at any time shall be, from the beginning to the end of the World. Thus the Universal Church is, That which is already triumphant in Heaven, that which is now militant on Earth, and that which is not yet in the world, but shall be in succeeding Ages. [Page 4]

Second, Claude argues that even limiting Bossuet’s definition of the Church to the Church presently upon Earth, it is still incorrect. The proper definition of the Church upon Earth is

A Society of such persons, as making profession to believe the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, do truly and effectually believe it; and making profession to govern themselves by his word, do really and effectually govern themselves by it. [Page 9]

Which he adds is “in agreement with all Protestants.”

That is to say, we are concerned to know, whether the nature and essence of the Church consist barely in externals and appearances; or whether something of reality be not required? whether Hypocrisy, and superficial Cheats can make men true members of the Church? or whether something of truth be not necessary also, to know whether wicked men, worldlings, and reprobates, provided they make an outward profession, and can but dissemble handsomely, are real members of Christ’s mystical body, or whether this priviledge do not be­long to those that are truly the Faithful?…

The Question is, whether wick­ed men, let them dissemble never so well, and carry never so fair an outside, do truly belong to this Church, or whether it consist of sincere Be­lievers only. ‘Tis a Church exteriour and visible, I acknowledg it, but it is also a Church interiour, and real; otherwise it would differ nothing from a Phantome, a cheating apparition. ‘Tis a Confessing Church, and publishes the Faith, but it is likewise a Church believing in what it confesses and pub­lishes. ‘Tis a Church, to which not only St. Peter’s Confession must be at­tributed, but also the principle and ground of that Confession.Matt. 16. 17. Blessed art thou Simon Bar-jona, for flesh and blood hath net revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven: And therefore whose Confession proceeds not from Flesh and Blood, but from Grace and Divine Illumination. ‘Tis a Church built upon a Rock, and not upon the Sand, therefore not a Church that Hypocrites are of. ‘Tis a Church built by Jesus Christ; a Church therefore of true Believers only, because such only are built by Christ. [Page 45] …

All our business is to know, what Church this is; M. de Condom will have it all that Society that makes profession to believe, &c. we think it to be that, which making profession to believe, does so really and sincerely.

Election and the Church

I. The Scripture represents the Church to us, as the product and execution of God’s eternal decree of Predestination, or Election; and besides it teaches us, that God in electing and predestinating men, does it not to a mere outward profession of Faith and Holiness, but to an effectual Faith, and true Holiness: And consequently, effectual Faith and Holiness are of the nature and essence of the Church, and not an outward profession only. [Page 9] …

My Church are thine Elect, and thy Elect are my Church; they who are mine, as my people, are thine, as thy Elect; my Communion, and thy Election, have the same measures, the same extent, and do both comprehend the same persons: So that the Election is nothing else but God’s design and project of the Church; and the constituting of a Church, is the putting that design of Election in Execution.

Appellations of the Church

II. The Scripture, when speaking of the Church with reference to God, gives it such appellations as can by no means be restrain’d to a more profession, or allow us to think it can be composed of wicked persons. It calls the Church,Gal. 4. 26. Jerusalem which is above, Heb. 12. 22. the Heavenly Jerusalem, the City of the living God, Ps. 2. 6. the Holy Hill of Sion, Gal. 6. 16. the Israel of God, 1 Pet. 2. 9. A Holy Nation, a peculiar people; Psal. 28. 9. the inheritance of God, Ephes. 2. 22. the habitation of God through the spirit, 1 Tim. 3. 15. the house of God, 1 Cor. 3. 17. the temple of God, 1 Pet. 2. 5. His holy Priesthood, His spiritual house, Ibid v. 9. His royal Priesthood, Eph. 1. 14. His purchased possession, 1 Pet. 2. 10. the people of God. Tell me now, I pray, if the energy of these expressions is not admirably answered, by being reduced to a bare external profession? Would God have sent us a new Jerusalem, a new Sion, a new City from above, and make this up of Righteous and Wicked, Hypocrites and true Believers indifferently? [Page 11] …

Can any man after all this grant, that the Church should be defined, A Society making profession to believe, &c. or imagine that Hypocrites belong to this mystical Divine Body?

Prophecy of the Church

IV. If we search the Scripture yet further, we shall find other Arguments in confirmation of this Truth. Among these I reckon the predictions concerning the Church of Christ, to be met with in the Prophets. Thus it is described by Moses; Deut. 30. 6. The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live… Isa. 34. 8, 9… And in another place Isa. 54. 13, 14. All thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children, In righteousness shalt thou be established. In the same sense Jeremiah speaks of it Jer. 31. 33., They shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, say­ing, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, for I will forgive their inquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Ezek. 36. 25, 26, 27. Ezekiel says as much; I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgements… Joel 3:17…

What can all these great and wonderful promises mean? This Circumcision of Heart? This way of Holiness where the unclean shall not pass over? This keeping out of Lions and ravenous beasts? This being taught of God? This universal knowledg, joyned with a pardon of sins? This pouring out of the spirit, which shall take away the hearts of stone, and change them for hearts of flesh? This Holiness of Jeru­salem, so as to suffer no stranger, nor Canaanite in the midst of her? I say, What signifies all this, if the form and essence of a Church consist in a bare profession; and if this Communion can be composed of unjust, as well as just, of Bad as well as Good men? [Page 12]

A Supernatural Work of the Spirit

The Church is a Divine and Supernatural work, born only of the Blood of the Son of God, and animated only by his Spirit. [Page iv]

It is the spirit which the faithful receive, and whereof Baptism is a sign: For (says the Apostle) we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have all been made to drink into one spirit. Thus you see the band and principle of the Churches Unity. The evident consequence whereof is, that inward regeneration is essential to it, and that as many as have not been washed by, nor made to drink into this heavenly spirit, cannot be parts of this body. [Page 13] …

If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his [Rom 8:9]. Words of such strength as will not allow us to acknowledg wicked men belong to the Church unless we should make a Church that is not Christ’s. If the Church formally, and as such, be Christ’s, this must be true of all that are of the Church, and participate of that which constitutes it such. Now according to M. de Condom’s definition, wicked men and reprobates may be of the Church; therefore in his opinion they may be Christ’s. Notwithstanding St. Paul avers, that they that are Christ’s, live not according to the flesh; and that as many as have not Christ’s spirit, are none of his; so that he is of a judgement different from M. de Condom’s… That one without Christ’s Spirit may still be his, directly contradicts Saint Paul’s assertion, which positively declares, That he who hath not Christ’s Spirit, is not his. [Page 15]

Hypocrites Not of Christ’s Church

IX. The sundry passages of Scripture concerning Hypocrites, who cloak themselves with such an outward profession, abundantly prove them not to be of Christ’s Church. 1 Joh. 2. 9… 1 Joh. 3. 10… 1 Joh. 4. 8… Jud. v. 12… Mat. 7. 23. Jesus Christ himself says, In the last day he will profess unto them, he never knew them. What colour then have we for making such members of the Church, which is Christ’s Body? But that place of St. John removes all the difficulty, 1 Joh. 2. 19. They went out from us, but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us, but that they might be made manifest, that they were not all of us. What a plain difference is here made between being among us, and being of us; be­ing among us, is proper for Hypocrites, that are mixed with the Faithful, and joyn in the same profession: Being with us, is sincerely and truly to be of the Church; for which something more than an outward profession is requisite…

[The] visible Church is that of the true Believers only, and that Hypocrites have no share at all in it.

The General Call Not a Call to Outward Profession

X. We read in Scripture of a twofold Call, one by the meer Preach­ing of the Word, commonly termed an outward Call; the other by the Preaching of the Word, and the Holy Spirit both, stiled an inward Call. Of the first our Saviour speaks,Mat. 22. 14. when he says, Many are called, but few cho­sen. Of the second St. Paul, Whom he did predestinate, them he also cased, and whom he called, Rom. 8. 30. […] them he also justified. Now the Church, whose very name im­plies a Call, must needs have been the effect of one of these two just mentioned. But if defined by a bare profession, it cannot refer to one or other of these, nor can it answer the design of either. It does not fulfil the end of the first, for the Preaching of the Gospel does not call men to a meer Profession of believing Jesus Christ’s Doctrine. A Hypocrite is so far from com­plying with this Call, that he rejects and mocks at it. It does not refer to the second Call, because the Spirit which calls with the Word, is a Spirit of Regeneration, and not bare profession. What Call shall we refer it to then? I know not any third, the Scripture mentions not any, and the nature of the thing will not admit of any. We can consider God in such a case but according to two different capacities, either as a Law-giver, commanding, exhorting, promising and threating, or as an absolute disposer of Events, and so bringing to pass in us the thing he commands us.

Sacraments Only For True Believers

But this is a Chruch which hath, and exerciseth such a Ministry. Who questions it? But does this Ministry belong to the wicked and hypocrites? No. It belongs only to true Behevers, the rest have no part in it; only as they sometimes exercise the external Offices, without any true right to them; or receive them unworthily, under the covering of hypocrisy, and being intermixt with good Christi­ans.

Church Militant and Church Triumphant One Church

XI. I suppose it is a maxim among all Christians, That Jesus Christ hath no more Churches than one, and that this on Earth, together with that in Heaven, make but that one; thus much we learn from the Trent-Catechism it self. A sure method then of discovering the true nature and essence of the Church upon Earth, would be to search into that in Heaven; for it is plain, were these of different natures, they would be no longer one, but two Churches of a several species. Thus much, I think, must be granted, and so likewise must the Conclusion I deduce from it, viz. That either the nature of the Church Triumphant, must exist in a bare profession, or that of the Church Militant cannot.

Is the Church Visible, Invisible, or Both?

The thing then to be examined is, whether the Society of true believers, who only are the Church, be visible or invisible, or whether both in some senses and respects. [Page 23] …

[T]his true Church… hath… a visibility common to it with all other bodies… for the Believers are not Angels, nor invisible Spirits, but in this respect like the rest of mankind…

In this there would not be the least difficulty, had not God’s design, as to his Church, been disturbed by the enemy of our Salvation. For since God calls true Believers only, and since, as we have already shewn, such alone constitute the Church; were it not for what happens from some other thing, there would not be among the outward Professors of Christianity, either Hypocrites, or Hereticks, or Superstitious, or worldly, or profane persons. And thus none but such as are truly the faithful being to be found among them, this outward profession would be a sure means, and an univocal Character to know the true Faith and Regeneration by, and consequently to know the true Church of Jesus Christ as such. So that we need say only thus much, That although the Church were not immediately visible by its inward and essential form, because none can immediately see mens hearts but God only; yet it would be visible by its external form, as by a sure distinguishing Character. For it might be seen by its Ministery and profession of Faith in Christ, and known to such a degree that a man might infallibly and positively say, That is the Church.

But we all know, that is Jesus Christ sowed his good seed in the field of the world,Matt. 13 so to use the expressions in the Parable, the enemy hath likewise sown Tares. That is, that with the true Believers are intermixt vast numbers of men, who […] no more than the appearance and outside of Christianity, and so make the outward profession to be a note subject to mighty uncertainties and equivocation…

So that the Church now, like all other things liable to hypocrisy and dissi­mulation, cannot be truly known without much difficulty. And whereas, according to the nature of the thing, the Churches visibility and invisibility ought to lye here, that its essential and internal form cannot be seen immediately, and of it self, but may by the mediation of its external form; instead of this, they do now consist further, in a discerning between true and false, a distinguishing betwixt that which is real and sincere, and that which is counterfeit.

We must therefore examine, how this distinction is to be made, because in it consists the visibility or invisibility of the true Church.

[Judgment of Charity]

By the Judgment of Charity, we look upon all within the Body to be true Believers, indifferently; For the searching of hearts being not in our power, but peculiar to God, Charity makes no distinctions, but supposes that things are in truth what they should be; and upon this supposition, we call all that society the visible Church, speaking simply, and absolutely.

[Judgment of Reflection]

By the Judgment of Re­flection, having consulted the Rules of Scripture, and the light of Expe­rience, we come to know that there are Tares mixed with the Wheat, and that it is past a doubt, that among these outward Professours, are abundance of hypocritical, superstitious, ambitious, and prophane people. Hence we correct our first notion, and term this Society, a visible mixt Church. Thus in the same external body, we distinguish two different Bodies, one of true Believers, which we look upon as the true Church of Jesus Christ; the other of hypocrites and worldlings, who have only the shadow, and shell of Faith and Regeneration, and consequently do not belong to Jesus Christ’s true Church… [W]e judge of the true visible Church, by that other, termed the notion of Reflection, which excludes hypocrites and worldlings, and confines it self to true Believers only. He supposes without offering any proof for it, that there is no other visible Church, than this whole Body of Professors, and that That of the true Believers is invisible; which we deny…

II. By all I have said concerning the Visibility or Invisibility of the Church, you may know what an unjust accusation they load us with daily, of making the Church utterly invisible, upon pretence that we place it in true Believers only; for if this accusation were true, it would fall not upon us, but upon Scripture, upon the Fathers, and particularly upon St. Augustine, whose Principles we follow intirely. But as St. Paul never thought of making a Church perfectly invisible,2 Tim. 2. 19. though he said, The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his; and let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity; so neither do we pretend to spoil her of her Visibility, when we say the same thing he did. As St. Augustin hath not made her invisible, though he said all that was related out of him; the same thing must be said for us. [Page 51]

The Visible Church All Who Profess Faith?

Was not M. de Condom in the right, to say, there was not actually any visible Church, but that which he defines, A Society making profession to believe the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, and govern it self by his word? And so no other than that which comprehends good and bad, true Believers and Hypocrites? And was it not fair then to make use of this notion in the Controversy? I answer, the true Church consisting of true Believers only, is not indeed visible, by any certain and distinct sight we can have of it, so as to affirm positively and personally, such or such are of the true Church. When we would carry on this distinction to particular men, disguise and hypocrisie put a stop to it, so that in this sence the true Church will always continue invisible, till Jesus Christ come to make a full and perfect separation betwixt his own Corn and the Enemies Tares, which shall not be done till the end of the World. Thus it is not visible, not only immediately by its internal form in mens hearts, but even by these external Characters, as to certain and distinct visibility, because dissimulation and deceit often makes these marks to be doubtful. All this I grant.

But for all this, we may and must say, that the true Church is visible, truly visible, in other senses and respects. For first of all; it cannot be denied that it is visible at least materially, as they say, because the true Believers that appear visibly in publick Assemblies, partake of the same Sacraments, and live in the same external Order: The faithful do not con­ceal themselves, nor decline the Holy Exercises of Religion, but on the contrary frequent them, and shew themselves more than other men, remembring that of St. Paul Heb. 10, 25., Not forsaking the assembling of our selves together. Besides, It is plain, that tho the true Church be mixt with wicked men in the same profession,Matt. 1 […]. yet is it visible in this very mixture, as the wheat is visible, tho in the same field with the tares, and the good fish in the same net with the bad, according to the parables in the Gospel; or as true Friends are vi­sible, tho mixt with dissemblers and flatterers. This mixture indeed hinders us from an exact distinction of persons, but still we may with great certainty distinguish and discern two sorts of persons. We are not sure which particular men are true Believers, and which Hypocrites, but we are sure that there are true Belivers as well as Hypocrites; and this is enough to prove the Church visible, according to the Scriptures, and St. Augustin’s Hypothesis…

To talk of two true Churches even in Christ’s sight, one to which the Promises belong as such, viz. That of True Believers; and another to which they do not belong as such, viz. That, whose essence consists in the external profession; besides that it would be advancing a notion contrary to Scripture and Reason, which inform us but of one true Church; would be to argue to no purpose; for wherefore should we argue about a Church to which the Pro­mises of Jesus Christ have no relation? Why should we invest with such glorious and divine priviledges, a Church to which Christ hath promised nothing at all?…

To say we ought to distinguish between two kinds of Promises, one such as respect inward Sanctification, and Salvation, the other respecting the perpetual Visibility of the Ministry, and its Infallibility in the external profession of the Truth; and that the first sort are peculiar to the Elect and true Believers in the Church, but the other belong to the whole Body of that Society making Profession; … this would be to start a Di­vision of the Promises, which the Scripture divided not, for all made there, are made to one and the same Body, to one and the same Church, without distinction…

That we sometimes form an Idea of the Church, by a Judgment of Charity, so looking upon all external Professors in general to be true Believers, and by this Judgment we in­clude in our Notion abundance of People who really and indeed are not of the Church, and consequently have no title to the Promises of Jesus Christ. But this Notion is rectified by a Judgment of Reflection, Exactness, and Truths formed from the Idea’s which Scripture and right Reason give us of the true Church, restraining it to true Believers only; and that the Promises of Scripture must be applyed to it in this last, true, exact Notion only. Add to this, that this true Church being intermixt with the counterfeit, is not indeed so distinctly visible, that we can say with certainly, this or that particular man is a true Believer; for this is proper to God alone; but that it is however visible, in a sure, though indistinct manner, which will go so far as to affirm, That there are true Believers in such an external Profession: Add further, that this Church thus visible, becomes more or less so, according as Corruptions and Disorders are more or less predominant in their exteriour Society; and that sometimes it is mightily eclipsed, partly through the prevalence of worldly, superstitious, and such like Persons; partly through the infirmities of most true Believers; but still that it never was absolutely invisible: Add once more, that this Church now upon Earth, together with that in Heaven, and that which shall spring up in succeeding Ages, are all three that Universal Church, we profess to believe in our Creed: Add, I say, these three last Propositions to the two foregoing, and so you will comprise all I have advanced hitherto; you will be furnished with certain uncontestable Principles grounded upon Scripture, upon Reason, upon the Fathers, and upon experience; by the help of which you will be able with great ease to throw off all those difficulties usually started by the Romanists upon this Subject.

God’s vs Man’s Perspective

To be a member of the Church, it is required that a man be so, not in the eyes of men only, but of God too, who as the Scripture ex­presses it, trieth the very hearts and reins, and will not be satisfied with a bare outside. [Page iv]

The French Reformed [Gallic] Confession (1559)

We never denied the visible Church upon Earth to be Christ’s Body; not the whole Body indeed, for there is one part of it collected in Heaven, and another not yet in being, but still that part upon Earth is Jesus Christ’s Body, so the Scripture calls it, and we are so far from thinking as he saies, that quite contrary, we prove Hypocrites and Worldlings to be really no part of the true visible Church, by this very Argument, that it is called in Scripture the Body of Jesus Christ. For this reason the visible Church is thus defined in the 27th Article of our Confession of Faith.

[XXVII. Nevertheless we believe that it is important to discern with care and prudence which is the true Church, for this title has been much abused. We say, then, according to the Word of God, that it is the company of the faithful who agree to follow his Word, and the pure religion which it teaches; who advance in it all their lives, growing and becoming more confirmed in the fear of God according as they feel the want of growing and pressing onward. Even although they strive continually, they can have no hope save in the remission of their sins. Nevertheless we do not deny that among the faithful there may be hypocrites and reprobates, but their wickedness can not destroy the title of the Church.]

The company of the Faithful agreeing to follow the Word of God, and that pure Religion grounded thereon, and who constantly make proficiency therein. Now, this Company of the Faithful thus described, is, and is called the Body of Jesus Christ… the visible Church is in our Opinion Jesus Christ’s Body, or which comes all to one, that the Body of Christ, which is the true Church upon Earth, is visible.

Augustine

[O]f all the Fathers, there is not any that treats of this Subject with such exactness and perspicuity, as St. Augustin does; a Man might compile a whole Volume of what he hath written about it. This Father ex­plaining that of St. John, They went out from us, but they were not of us.

They went out from us, (says he) we lament the loss: But hear the comfort, they were not of us. All Hereticks and Schismaticks go out from us; That is, depart from the Church; but were they truly any of outs, they would not have departed. They were not therefore out members even before they went out, and if so, then there are many within, who, tho they have not yet gone out, are Antichrists. [Augustin. Tom. 9. Tractar. 3. in Epist. Jonnis. Edit. Paris. 1531.] …

These Antichrists are in the body of Christ like ill humours, the voiding of which eases the body: Thus when the wicked go out, the Church finds refreshment; and when the body throws them out, she says, these noxious humours are gone out of me, but they were no part of me; that is, they were not cut away from my flesh or substance, but opprest my stomach while they lay there. They are gone from us then, but be not troubled at it, they were not ours. But how do you prove this? 1 Joh. 2. 19. St. John says, If they had been of us, they would have continued with us. So that you see, many people receive the Sacraments with us, which yet are not any part of us; They have Baptism administred to them, they receive that benediction which the faithful are sensible they receive truly and effectually, the Eucharist, and whatever is in the Sacraments. They communicate of the same Altar with us, and yet are no parts of us. Temptation discovers them to be none. When that arises they are carried away, as with a strong wind, because they are not the true solid Corn. Nothing can be more express. Evil men, tho within the pale of the Church; That is, making an outward profession, yet are not of his Body, nor ought to be reckoned among his Members. These are distempered humours within the Body, but not at all of the substance of the Body, such as do but annoy the Body, and must be evacuated in order to give its relief.

So that St. Augustine’s sense of the Church was, That it consisted only of Righteous persons, and true Believers, and that inward vertues were essential to it, and ought to make a part of its definition…

Observe again what he delivers in his Treatise of Baptism, against the Donatists. Aug. de Bapt. contra Donar. Lib. 1. Cap. 17.

Whether evil men be seemingly within the Church, or evidently out of it, still that which is flesh is flesh. Whether the barren Chaff continue in the floor, or be scattered by the blast of temptation, it is still but Chaff. Carnal and obdurate persons, tho they mix with the Saints in the same Assemblies, are still separated from the Unity of that Church which is without spot or wrinkle…

And in another place of the same Treatise Aug. de Bapt. contra Donatist. Lib. 3. Cap. 19.

Such as oppose brotherly love, whether they are plainly without, or whether seemingly within, are divided from that invisible Assembly which Charity knits together. Therefore St. John says, They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us. He does not say they alienated themselves by going out, but that they were aliens, and that this was the reason why they went out. Thus far this Father does not dissemble his opinion; He will by no means own any but the Saints to be Members of the Church, he totally excludes wicked men and hypocrites; he uses no such nice distinctions between dead and living members, as our modern Controvertists do; in the contrary, he explains what he said, That wicked men were in the Church, by saying, that they seem to be in it; but they only seem to be so, for in very deed they are more foreigners, and such as the Church does not acknowledg for hers…

This Holy Doctor thought it not enough to allow wicked men and hypocrites no place in his notion of the Church, and to make it up of just men only, but he does besides shew wherein the very essential form, that Unity which constitutes a Church, does consist; to wit, not in any thing external, but in the internal graces. In the Circumcision of the heart, and the Glory within: He goes farther still, and makes the Church to consist of the predestinated only, The number, says he, of God’s Elect, are his inclosed Garden, and sealed Fountain, that is, the Church of Christ. How shall we reconcile this Doctrine with M. de Condom,’s who distinguishes between the Church of Christ, and the predestinate, as between a whole and it’s part; who counts the reprobates in too, and blames us for retraining the Church to the number of God’s Elect alone?…

But if St. Augustin be to be believed, we must take the Church in a quite different sense; for a Society made up of none but righteous persons, and true Believers; because to such a one, and no other, do these passages belong. In his Opinion the just alone are the House built upon a Rock, the Spouse without spot or wrinkle, they only have the keys and power of binding and loosing, ’tis their censures only that men ought not to despise, if they would not be looked upon as Heathens and Publicans.

The Wheat and the Tares

[T]he Ministry and the use of it is common both to good and bad, comes to pass only by accident, and from the treachery of the Enemy. Of right it belongs to true Believers only, and its genuine design was for them. Jesus Christ gave it for the assembling of the Saints, and instituted it to increase and cultivate his good Corn. If the Tares use it, or to speak more truly, abuse it, this is contrary to his intention. For his hand never sowed these, but the enemy’s, who rose by night for that purpose. It is sure then that the Ministry of it self does not make up a Church composed of good and bad men, because such only as it was intended to gather, are to be reckoned of his visi­ble Church. Now the Ministry is designed to gather the true Believers, and truly Righteous, not the worldlings and hypocrites in the least. If they thrust themselves into the Assemblies, it is not the Ministry that calls them, but the spirit of the world that sends them thither. An invincible argu­ment that there is no other visible Church, but what consists of true Believers, because they are the only persons call’d to Religious Assemblies; and it is not Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ’s enemy that thrusts others into them…

If you still desire an Argument of more strength, remember that the visi­bility attributed to the Church in Scripture, cannot possibly be any other than that we assign it. For as on the one hand we are taught there, that the true Church consists of true Believers only; so do we learn there also, that true Believers are mixt with wicked men and hypocrites: It is there we find the similitudes, of Chaff amongst the good Corn, of bad Fishes jumbled together with the good, of Tares sown among the good Wheat. Now whatever we deliver concerning the Churches visibility and invisibility, is grounded entirely upon these two principles…

III. Hence likewise you may perceive, how unjustly they put that question to us, Where our Church was before the Reformation? For if the Church consist of true Believers alone, as we have shown, ours was then just where it is now, i. e. in the common Field, where Jesus Christ hath sown his Wheat, and the Enemy by Night his Tares… The Field is the World (as Christ says) the good Corn are true Believers, the Tares are the Children of this World. Before the Reformation, the true Believers were mixt with the rest in the same exteriour Profession, as they are still

The Church a Civil Society?

The ground then of all this mistake is, that upon pretence of the Churches being a Society, they immediately suffer themselves to be possest at first with an Opinion, That we are to judg of it almost in the same manner, that we do of a Civil Society; and so never give themselves the trouble of enquiring into the differences by which these two are distinguisht from one another. Hence they have fancied, that the Essence of the Church consists intirely in something External; and that as a man need do no more to become a true Member of a Civil Society, than only live in an outward observance of the Laws; so to become a true Member of the Church, no more was required, than barely an outward Profession of the Faith and Religion; and that there was no necessity at all of any inward Virtues, such as Faith, Hope, and Charity. [Page ii]

[W]hat greater vanity can there by, than to go about to form an Idea of the Church, after the pattern of a Civil Society? [Page iv]

I repeat it therefore once again, That there is not in the World a greater falsity, nor a more sophistical imposture, than the framing such a notion of the Church, after the model of Civil Societies. [Page v]

[W]hen we discourse of a thing that is the work and contri­vance of God, and must bear some proportion to the excellency of its Author, we must affirm that Faith, Hope and Charity, and in one word, all the parts of true Regeneration are essential to it; and that this consists of the Faithful and Elect only, excluding thence the Hypocrites and Repro­bate. We must not afterwards fancy the Church so be a body or company of men, visible at the same rate that Kingdoms and Commonwealths are; Li […]an, so as to distinguish plainly, and without danger of mistake, the very persons whereof it is composed. [Page v]

National Israel the Church?

I acknowledg the word Church when used in a Civil sense, as for instance when spoken of the people of Israel, does most properly signifie an external and visible company, and so far I am of M. de Condom’s mind, both as to what he urges out of the Acts, and from the Septuagint Translation. But still I assert, that this word when applied to a Christian Society, does not properly denote a visible Congregation, or an outward profession of the Faith, and no more; but chiefly an inward calling, a spiritual communion, and such as that outward is only a conse­quence of, and does depend upon. [Page 6]

Would God separate to himself a new people, a new Israel, a new Nation, from all other Nations, and require from it no more than an outward profession, which alone works no regeneration at all? To shew that God himself never intended this, observe how himself speaks,Jer. 31. 32. This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, After those days (saith the Lord) I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people. We must take notice, that all these names above mentioned, are derived from the old figures of the Mosaical dispensation; this the very reading of them plainly testifies. Now this very thing makes directly against M. de Condom’s definition: For as it is essential to a figure, to consist of something External and Corporeal, so is it equally essential to the thing figured, to consist of something Internal and Spiritual. The Church therefore is no longer a Jerusalem, an Israel, a people linked together by outward bands only; this would correspond well enough with the figures of the old Law; but it is a people, an Israel, a Jerusalem, united and compacted by the inward hands of the same Faith, and the same Sanctification. This very term [the Church] is of it self sufficient to confirm this truth; M. de Condom acknowledges the Christians had it from the Jews, Conf. p. 5. which is true. He says the Jews made use of it to signify the visible Society of God’s people, the Assembly which makes profession to serve him. I agree with him in that too. He adds, That the Christians have kept it in the same sense. I am not of that opinion. This word, when applied to the figure, can signify no more than a visible outward Assembly; but when to the thing figured, it must of necessity imply something more, it must denote an inward community, a company, not of Bodies only, but Souls too; Rom. 10. 10. for it is not enough that a confession be made with the mouth, men must also believe with the heart unto Righteousness. [Page 11] …

[I]t may be said, These Prophets [Isaiah, etc] never proceeded so far as a positive Separation, and you [Reformers] have. I answer, The Reason they never separated positively, was pecu­liar to themselves, as M. de Condom himself acknowledges, to wit, that over and above the real and spiritual Covenant [Covenant of Grace], God had entred into with such as were true Believers among that People; there was besides another Exterior and Temporal one, in which the whole Nation were concern’d, founded upon their being the Blood and Progeny of Abraham, and all bearing about them the Mark of this Covenant (to wit, Circumcision) in their Flesh; so that the true Believers were obliged upon this account to continue in Communion with the People, and could not separate from them positively, by reason of that common Covenant which they might not break. But the case is otherwise with the Christian Church, which hath but one Covenant with God, and that a real and spiritual one, of true Faith, and sincere Regeneration; when, therefore we can no longer maintain this Covenant, by living amongst a People, and under a Ministry which is become contrary thereto, there lies a necessity upon us of separating by a positive Separation…

I confess, That carnal Generation was in that Ancient People, enough to keep up their Succession in Quality of Gods People, with Relation to that temporal Covenant common to them all. Tho it be true too, that this Quality was but very imperfectly discerned in times of general Prevarications; because, if they were then Gods temporal People, they were a vicious and prevaricating People. But, I say, that carnal Generation was not enough to maintain among them a Succession, with respect to the spiritual Covenant; because the Succession here, could be preserved no other way, but by a Participation of the same Faith, and the same Charity. Now the Covenant in which the new People live, is not any longer a carnal one, but purely and solely Spiritual; and consequently, the Succession in it, can only consist in this perpetual Participation of one and the same Faith, and one and the same Charity.

For further reading:

19th Century Scottish Presbyterian Criticism of Bannerman’s Visible/Invisible Church(es)

February 11, 2019 4 comments

We have seen how 17th/18th century Dutch theologian à Brakel rejected Westminster’s distinction between the visible and invisible church as two distinct societies with two distinct memberships, in favor of seeing one church of Christ viewed infallibly by God or fallibly by man. We have also seen 20th century John Murray make the same criticism or 19th century Scottish theologian James Bannerman. And now a reader of blog (Craig) has pointed us towards a 19th century Scottish Presbyterian critique of Bannerman to the same effect.

James Currie, M.A. wrote a short pamphlet (~25 pages) “SOME REMARKS ON DR. BANNERMAN’S WIEW OF THAT WHICH CONSTITUTES THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, AS SET FORTH IN HIS LATE WORK ON THE CHURCH” in 1869. If the identification is correct (thanks Craig) Revd James Currie was principal of the Church of Scotland Training College, Edinburgh (see here and here).

Currie’s work is interesting because he confirms my previous observations that Westminster differed from the earlier Continental reformed view on the nature of the visible church (and thus the nature of infant baptism). Currie says he quotes “in nearly every instance, from foreign Presbyterian Confessions of Faith, or their leading expositors. In Scotland itself, though what I here treat as error is very generally received as truth.” (16) He quotes extensively from a 17th century French reformed theologian Jean Claude who had a famous debate with French Roman Catholic Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet about the nature and authority of the church (see here). He quotes extensively in the Notes from the Continental reformed confessions on the church. He also commends “The True Idea of the Church, by Dr. Hodge of Princeton College, reprinted in Edinburgh some few years ago.” This appears to be a full compilation of three essays written in the Princeton Review, part of which is addressed in my post Hodge on the Visibility of the Church wherein Hodge argues for two Abrahamic covenants.

What is even more interesting is that Currie also commends John Cameron’s treatise on the church (De Ecclesia). When faced with the question of the nation of Israel’s relationship to our understanding of the visible church, Currie adopts a very Cameronian explanation of the nation of Israel as typological of the Church. As Samuel Renihan explains in From Shadow to Substance, Cameron developed the subservient covenant theology view adopted and built upon by 17th century Congregationalists and Particular Baptists in their rejection of Westminster’s covenant theology and ecclessiology.

Visible Church Distinct from the Invisible Church

To the query, then, why I stand forth as an objector, I allege, as an adequate motive, the desire, even though the point were far less momentous, to clear the truth of God from misconstruction. (19)

The focus of Currie’s criticism is Bannerman’s view that the Visible Church is in fact distinct from the Invisible Church.

He thus introduces this part of his subject (pp. 8, 9), “Over and above that unseen society, consisting of the whole number of the Elect spiritually united to Christ, there is set forth to us in Scripture, another society externally connected with Him, and standing out visibly before the eyes of the world… having a character and a membership altogether different from the first.”… [W]hatever may be “its symmetry of plan,” the superstructure does not seem to me to rest upon a scriptural basis… [H]is assertion that the Church thus defined is “invisible” (pp. 7, 8), nay, “purely invisible” to us (p. 74), is, I think, not scriptural. (8, 4-6)

He acknowledges that Bannerman claims that he does not mean there are two churches. Bannerman said

It is not to be identified with the Invisible Church, for men may belong to the one society who do not truly belong to the other. Neither are the two to be wholly placed in opposition to each other, for they do not form so much two separate Churches as one Church under two distinct and different aspects (Note I). (8)

However, Currie (like à Brakel) argues Bannerman is trying to have his cake and eat it too.

Professor Bannerman’s self-contradictory statements in this sense, though uttered more or less falteringly, are so many and so obvious as not to need specification… The epithet “another Church” is of frequent recurrence, and the following extract will show his self-inconsistency still more clearly. In vol. i. p. 29, he writes, “It is not unimportant to remark that when we speak of the Church Invisible and Visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ hath founded two Churches on earth, but only one.” That a duality of Churches founded by Christ, though frequently taught by the Professor in equivalent phraseology, is not asserted by him in these ipsissima verba, is not alleged, but how are we to reconcile what he goes on to say with the substance of his disclaimer? He proceeds, p. 30, “There is an outward government established for the order and regulation of the elect, outward ordinances adapted and blessed for their improvement, outward discipline for their purification and protection. All this necessarily implies an outward and visible society, embracing and encompassing the inward and spiritual, in other words, an outward Church within which the Invisible Church of real believers is embosomed, protected, and perfected. (18)

He says

The present Dean of Ripon (Lectures on the Church, p. 19, 8th edition) says, “Thus there are two Churches, or the Church in two senses,” as if these phrases were synonymous. So, p. 18, he writes,—“There were two Israels, or Israel in two senses.” If the Church, however, mean the aggregate of those who comprise it, it would be difficult to show how one and the same Church or society, viewed in any number of senses or aspects, could be, as the word or implies, a second, i.e., another Church or society, so as to constitute “two Churches.” The sentence here quoted is but a specimen, though a glaring one, of the loose mode of treating the question of the Church. Were the Scriptures resorted to in the first instance to learn there what our opinions ought to be, and not simply to prove extra-scriptural views, grounded on human and conventional teaching true, such mistakes could not be made. (Note I)

He continues

I would observe, then, that whereas God has seen fit to institute but one Church Universal, Dr. Banner man and the Westminster Confession define two such. This accusation, urged so persistently by Romanists, is strenuously denied, but cannot, I think, be disproved by those who accept the teaching on this head, here called in question. That the august title, “the Visible Church of God, or of Christ,” is very popularly given to an heterogeneous and in fact a hybrid aggregation, composed of mere outward professors as well as of the elect, is sadly true; but does Scripture sanction such an application of the title? If it do, let the permissive passage be shown. (17)

Outwardly Christ’s but Inwardly Satan’s

NOTE H, p. 8.

“Not only true believers, but hypocrites.” Whilst Augustine says, “Christus non potest habere damnata membra,” and Zanchius, “that hypocrites and reprobates,” “membra sunt Satanae non Christi,” I find it asserted in Fulwood on the Visible Church, p. 54, that “the same person may at the very same instant of time, be both a member of Christ and a member of Satan, in divers respects. A member of Satan internally, of Christ externally, and yet both really ; a member of Satan by obedience, of Christ by profession ; of Satan habitually, of Christ relatively; of Christ by covenant, of Satan by service; a member of Christ’s visible kingdom, of Satan’s invisible kingdom, and both really and truly so. As a man that is openly and really the husband of an honest wife may yet be the member of a harlot by a close and unreserved course of uncleanness with her; even so, one that is really and openly in covenant with Christ, and truly a member of his body, may yet, by a secret course of unfaithfulness to Him, be also a member of Satan.”

I once thought that Hooker’s saying (Ecclesiastical Polity, book iii. sec. 7), founded probably upon one of Bullinger’s in his Decades, that “the imps and limbs of Satan.” (why not Satan himself?) “provided they make an eacternal profession of Christianity, even as long as they continue such, may be, and often times are, constituent members of the visible Church of Christ,” was the ne plus ultra of profanity. What I here quote is at least an imp and limb of Hooker’s dictum, more foul and filthy even than its parents, to one of whom (Hooker) it appeals for countenance. And yet Fulwood’s book, published in 1657, is recommended by the Moderator of the Devonshire Presbyterian Association in the name of his brethren, of whom the author in all probability was one… Augustine, as we have just seen, denies that Christ can have any damnata, or putrid or dead members; and so, most assuredly, do the Scriptures, as, e.g., Eph. iv. 16.

The Visibility of the Invisible Church

Rather than two separate constitutions, memberships, societies, or churches, the distinction between the visible and invisible church is to be understood in terms of perspective – God’s vs man’s.

[T]he Church is, as to its constituent elements, that which it is as seen of God. We are bound, in the judgment of charity, to treat as members of the Church those who make a credible profession to be such, but owing to our fallibility the judgment of charity may not always be that of truth, whilst those who merely seem to be God’s chosen people, contribute nothing to the Church’s visibility as respects itself or us… God’s Church is that which He sees to be such, and our judgment neither adds to nor takes from it a single member. (29, 15)

He quotes Jean Claude

Having defined it to be the society of true believers only, he adds (Answer to Bossuet’s Dis course of the Church, p. 31), “This true Church, being a society of men, and so a body that hath its external order, as all other Societies have, has likewise consequent to that a visibility common to it with all other bodies. Thus much is necessarily supposed, for those who believe are not angels nor invisible spirits, but in this respect like the rest of mankind.” Further on he says, “The true Church is visible, and truly visible. For, first of all, it cannot be denied that it is visible at least materially as they say, because true believers are men who appear visibly in public assemblies, partake of the same sacraments, and live in the same external order.”

He elaborates

I ask, if the Church of those “who are written in heaven” cannot be discerned by us, how can Christ’s disciples, as such, be truly likened to “a city set on an hill, which cannot be hid”? or be commanded, as “the light of the world,” to let their light shine before men?… [T]he graces of the Spirit, planted in the soul, though themselves invisible, yet discover their life and being, in the tract of a Christian life, his words and actions, and the frame of his carriage. Thus faith shows that it lives, as the apostle James teaches at large” (chap. ii. 14-26)… Visibility has its degrees of more and less, nor is our discrimi nating faculty invariably accurate, yet after these necessary deductions we have still that “probability of knowledge,” which our daily experience, as well as Bishop Butler, assures us is “the very guide of life,” and not unfrequently rises into the region of “moral certainty.”* Thus it was that Barnabas (Acts xi. 23), “when he had seen the grace of God,” was not merely gladdened, but quickened by it to further labours of love. He saw it, not, doubtless, in its essentially constitutive principle, but in the tempers and conduct of the Antiochian converts. Let me add, that if (Note F) no such limited but practical visibility existed, Christians, unable to distinguish from others their brethren in Christ, could not do the special good enjoined (Gal. vi. 10) “towards the household of faith,” nor add to god liness brotherly love as distinct from charity (2 Pet. i. 7), nor admonish one another (2 Thess. iii. 6, 15), nor discharge to Christ’s brethren the offices of love by which our faith will here after be tested (Matt. xxv. 35-45), with any satisfactory evi dence that they were carrying out His injunction. As, then, to the real though modified visibility I seek to uphold, I aver that, as there is nothing in God’s Word to favour the notion of “a purely invisible Church,” so there is in it nothing whatever that “may not well be reconciled” with the fact, that in its militant portion the Church of the Elect is discernible by man, imperfectly indeed, but really and practically. (7-8)

The Nation of Israel

In behalf of the mixed composition of that Church to which alone the Professor attributes visibility to men, viz., one which may be made up of “hypocrites as well as true believers” (p. 32)… he urges two things: the dealings of God with the nation Israel as such, and also some of the New Testament parables. This is his argument from the first of these (p. 33), “There was a Church Visible standing in an external relation to God, and embracing in it many who belonged to God only after the flesh; and within the bosom of that external Church there was another, the Invisible, standing in a spiritual relation to God, and em bracing in it none but His spiritual people.” He continues, “That former dispensation has passed away, and another has succeeded it of a wider range and more elevated character, yet the principle of God’s dealings with His people is still one and the same. He still provides for the benefit of His own believing people an outward framework, so to speak, of ordinances and external administration, within which His invisible Church is hid.” (12)

Carrie adopts a subservient covenant view to answer “the Scottish Presbyterian view” on this point.

The Jewish nation was, in a sense of the term, an Ecclesia. It was a body composed of all the human beings who sprang, from Abraham’s loins, irrespective of any other consideration, and consisted therefore of Israelites after the flesh only, as well as of such as were also the children of his faith. But under the New Testament, where is there anything analogous to this temporary and typical state of things to be found?… [T]o say that professing Christendom at large has been divinely substituted for the outward Israel, is simply to beg the question at issue. Under the Sinaitic covenant, an outward Church sheltered and promoted the development of that of the the shell of a nut to its kernel, but the object of that relation having been attained, the shell has been broken, and, for a time at least, cast away. They are declared (Phil. iii. 3) to be “the circumcision now, which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh;” or, as the Holy Ghost elsewhere (Gal. iii. 26-29) writes, “They that are Christ’s, whether Jew or Greek, are ‘Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’” Since then the outward Ecclesia under the Law exists no longer, and has not been replaced by Him who alone is competent to do so (Note L), Dr. Bannerman, though his reasoning requires it, cannot argue from that which obtained under the Law to what now exists under the Gospel. If I am mistaken when thus speaking, let my error be scripturally demonstrated. (13)

From Note L:

“Under the New Testament God did not constitute any typical or figurative Church, as He had done under the Old. His Dove is one, and consists of true believers only.” “It is true the enemy scatters his tares among God’s good corn, but this neither makes a true Church nor a typical one, for the typical Church was of God’s own institution, but these tares are not so.” Claude thus concludes—“viz., that under the Old Testament there was a typical Church, of which God Himself was the Author and Founder, whereas under the New there was to be a spiritual Church, composed of His elect, and to be no other besides that.”—Bossuet’s Reflections Examined, pp. 84,85.

The Parables

Dr. Bannerman, confounding together, as is unhappily so com mon, the very distinct ideas of that which constitutes the Church, and the condition on earth of its militant portion, speaks of it as “described by our Lord under the expressive title of the kingdom of heaven,” adding, that “on one occasion He said that the kingdom of heaven” (that is, according to Dr. Bannerman, the visible Church) “is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind.” Daillé (Catéchisme des Eglises Réformées, tom. i. 543) affirms that “It is nowhere said in Scripture” (Note M) “that the Church is represented in these parables (Matt. xiii.), but simply its state in this world, where we allow that it is often mingled with hypocrites living in the same locality, or on the same threshing-floor, meeting in the same place of public worship, and making the same profession, but who are not on that account the Church. The chaff is indeed on the same floor with the good grain, but nevertheless is not the grain. The tares, though growing together with the wheat, are not wheat. The goats are sometimes penned in the same fold with the sheep, but who would be silly enough to say that hence they are sheep? It is thus as regards the wicked, who, in the same mass as the good, are not therefore themselves good. We say then that the threshing-floor spoken of in the Gospel signifies the present dispensation, during which hypo crites and profane persons mingle themselves with the faithful so speciously, that the Lord alone in many cases can separate them from it. The net we maintain to mean, not the Church” (if it do, what do the fishes signify),” “but the preaching of the Gospel, which attracts both the good and the wicked, but which transforms and brings into the Church the elect only, the rest remaining in their natural corruption. The field in which the tares and the wheat grow together is not the Church, but the world, as the Saviour explains it, whilst the room in which the hypocrite was found seated at the table with those invited, is each particular assembly, in which the wicked often deceive the eye of men, and pass for good and faithful, who, however, as St. John witnesses, are not such, for he says, “They are not of us, though they went out from us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.” If, however, we believe our adversaries, they were of us, since they professed to be so, and since also, according to their” (the Romish) “teaching, profession suffices to make a man a true member of the Church. They have nothing else of moment on this subject to object to us, and we conclude, therefore, that the faithful are the mem— bers of the Church, and that the hypocrites and the profane, whatever they profess, are not of it, unless they are changed.”

He adds

Mr. Arnot on the Parables (p. 82), writes:—“‘The field is the world,” said the Lord; “The field is the Church,” say the interpreters. It is wearisome to read the reasonings whereby they endeavour to justify their assumption.”

Conclusion

In response to Bannerman’s claim that “there are external privileges which he [the unbeliever] may and does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession and observance” (p. 31), Currie responds

This statement seems to me very melancholy, and as much opposed to the truth of God, and as suited to lead astray in a matter of very great if not of vital moment, as though an enemy to His truth had penned it. My notice of it must needs be very elementary, but it does strike me as utterly irreconcilable with the inspired declaration (Rom. viii. 9), that “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His,” and consequently not a member of His one body the Church. Again, to those whom He is said to have invited to join His Church, who complied with the invitation, and who were then “made par takers by Him in the external privileges and ordinances of a Church state” (p. 31), how will He be able to say with truth, as we know (Matt. vii. 23) He will say, “I never knew you,” that is, evidently, I never acknowledged and owned you as Mine?… (20)

Daillé may well ask, “How canst thou range in the Church” (thus supposed by thee to be in great measure constituted) “those against whom the gates of hell are con tinually prevailing” (Matt. xvi. 18), “or how say that in all ages hypocrites, for such compose the Church, etc., as well as His believing people, shall be protected and preserved by Him, notwithstanding the opposition of all their enemies?” (22)

Currie concludes

If glory to God is to be given in His Church by Christ Jesus (Eph. iii. 21), not only in heavenly places (Eph. iii. 10), but on earth (Luke ii. 14, 1 Pet. ii. 9-12), and if, consequently, men created anew in the moral likeness of the Deity and acting under the leadings of the Holy Spirit, are to be the instruments in thus glorifying Him by the living out the Gospel, then to teach that those are members of His Church who are still in reality the bond-slaves of sin and Satan, is to thwart the very design of God’s Ecclesia. Dr. Bannerman writes, p. 78, “The Visible Church can never be completely, and in all its parts identical, in this world with the Invisible,” but unless God have seen fit to interpose a physical inability additional to the moral, it is still our bounden duty to tend in honest effort at least towards the ideal of the Church militant, as composed only of believers imperfectly but truly regenerated. Sinless perfection will not be attained on this side the grave, but on that account to aim at anything less would be to sin; nor will our obligation to give glory to God in His Church be discharged by lowering its prescribed standard. Though forbidden the use of violence in the attempt to pull up the tares, and though the strictest discipline may have only a partial success, it must still be enforced; but its failure in a measure will not warrant our placing by the side of the one holy Catholic Church one of our own imagining. (24)

Addendum – Continental Reformed Confessions

Currie provides the following in an end note

NOTED, p. 7. “The Reformed Confessions.” The Tetrapolitan (A.D. 1539) Art. xv., “Of the Church,” having defined it as consisting of true believers only, says, as to the Church’s visibility, “Although that whereby this congregation hath obtained to be called the Church and company of Christ (to wit, faith itself cannot be seen), yet the fruits of that faith can be seen and known, and of them a certain Christian conjecture can be made. These fruits be chiefly a bold profession of faith, a true love offering itself to do humble service to all men, and a contempt of all things.” It further speaks of those fruits as visible “that in the same we may be instructed, admonished, and help one another.”

The later Helvetic Confession, teaching that the Church is “a company of the faithful, who do truly know and serve the true God—by the Word and by the Spirit,” adds (sec. 8) that “they do thereby declare (i.e. clearly show) themselves to be the disciples of Christ by continuing in the bond of peace and holy unity.” To harmonize with such a statement, the declaration of the Confession (sec. 9), “Whereupon the Church of God may be termed invisible,” etc., must refer to such seasons of persecution and comparative obscurity, as it had just mentioned, and is explained by the words that immediately follow —“not that the men whereof it consisteth (i.e. the Church) are invisible, but because being at such times hidden from our sight, and known only to God, it cannot be discerned by the judgment of man.

The Bohemian Confession (given Reformation of Bohemia, vol. i. p. 101), says, “We believe that there is one holy Catholic Church, always abiding and the same, while here in this world is a visible assembly of believers (not merely outward professors) who in all places adhere to the true and pure doctrine of Christ.”

The Basle Confession (1532) makes the “holy Christian Church, i.e. a communion of saints (Rom. i. 7), a gathering together of the faithful in spirit, to consist of such as show forth their faith by the works of love,” whilst the English Article 19 terms “the visible Church of Christ a congrega tion of faithful men.” Archbishop Whately and Mr. Litton would make the Article to say “a visible Church of Christ,” and would reduce the term “faithful” to mean simply a profession of faith, not necessarily working by love; but the definition of the Anglican Church in the nearly contemporaneous Homily for Whitsunday, Part ii., which describes it as composed of the faithful and elect people, surely does away with the objection. Even as late as 1618 the Synod of Dort, Article 27, speaking of the Church as consist ing of such as are washed in the blood, and sanctified and sealed by God’s Holy Spirit, goes on to say that “the company of hypocrites which are mixed among the godly in the Church, yet are not of it,” and further states, “but as touching the members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of a true Christian, i.e., by their faith, and when having received Jesus Christ their only Saviour, they flee from sin and follow righteousness, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof.” I would here add a Scottish Confession as much to the point of my argument as any of those just quoted, though as being of the 16th century it must, according to Dr. Bannerman (p. 62), be viewed as “a somewhat loose and popular definition.” Compared with the Westminster definition, it seems to me to justify the charge Dr. Bannerman relates of a fundamental, but not progressive change of view as to what constitutes the Church :—

“The Holy Catholic Church the Communion of Saints.

“We constantly believe that there is, was, and shall be till the coming of the Lord Jesus, a Church which is holy and universal, to wit, the communion of saints. This Church is holy because it receives free remission of sins, and that by faith only in the blood of Jesus Christ. Secondly, because it being regenerate it receiveth the Spirit of sanctification and power, to walk in new ness of life and in good works which God hath prepared for His chosen to walk in.’ Not that we think the justice of this Church, or any member of the same, ever was, or ever yet shall be, so full and perfect that it needeth not to stoop under mercy; but that because the imperfections are pardoned, and the justice of Jesus Christ imputed to such as by true faith cleave unto Him; which Church we call universal because it consisteth and standeth of all tongues and nations, yea, of all estates and conditions of men and women whom of His mercy God calleth from darkness to light, and from the bondage and thraldom of sin to His spiritual service and purity of life; unto whom He also communicateth His Holy Spirit, giveth unto them one faith, one head and sovereign Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, one baptism and right use of sacraments; whose heart also He knitteth together in love and Christian concord.”—Book of Common Order, received and used by the Reformed Kirk of Scotland, ch. ix., Order of Baptism—Exposition of Creed before Baptism.

 

For further reading:

Does 1689 Federalism require “Regeneration Goggles”?

August 17, 2017 6 comments

Critics of 1689 Federalism often caricature baptists as claiming to know who the elect are. This does not follow from any 1689 Federalism belief. We agree with the reformed “judgment of charity.” Based upon a credible profession of faith, we judge (with charity) a person to be saved. The only difference is that we do not believe that being born to a professing parent is sufficient warrant to charitably judge a person to be saved.

The following is a rather revealing Twitter conversation demonstrating 1) that there is nothing radical about baptists on this point, and 2) that some (many?) paedobaptists haven’t really thought through this issue.


AKA: Why I am not a baptist.

Notice in the final row where Denault explains the need to discern who is in the invis church to identify the visible. This isn’t a strawman

Aug 10

 Discern = judgment of charity based on a credible profession of faith. No different from paedo for those “of age.”

The chart says that the visible church is identified by a credible profession of faith, that’s not how reformed identify the visible church.

Aug 10

 I’m sorry, you’re really confusing me. Can you please clarify?

Maybe you can tell me what you aren’t getting.

Everything you’ve said in the above replies. How do you think the reformed identify the visible church?

Aug 10

via baptism, WCF 28.1 “Baptism is …not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church”

Aug 10

How do you understand WCF 25.2?

I’d have to look at what they intended by it, but I assume “professing christian” would include baptised.

Aug 10

However, what a thing is, and how you identify a thing are not the same thing.

What role does a credible profession of faith play, in your understanding?

Aug 10

It’s a means to determine if someone outside the covenant is serious about entering into it.

It wouldn’t make sense to baptize someone into the church who has no real interest in joining.

So credible profession just means “Wants to join the church”?

Aug 10

 with all that entails, yes.

“just means” sounds like it’s trying to make church membership into a small thing.

Aug 10

What is required for someone to be a communicant member?

For someone to be made a communicant member they have to publicly profess their faith and be baptized.

OPC DPW IV.B.1 says they must “give evidence of conscious saving faith in Christ.” Do you agree?

Ah, you’re talking about someone who is already a member. Yes, but this wouldn’t make them any less a church member.

It’s a protection against judgement for misusing the supper.

How does it protect? What would be misuse?

Eating or drinking without discerning the body, because of sin.

Sin in this instance would be lack of saving faith?

that could be an example, though I don’t think it’s the only one.

Does the public reception into full communion entail a judgment of charity that the person has “conscious saving faith in Christ”?

I think that’s fair, otherwise, what’s the point of fencing the table

Does making said judgment of charity require “regeneration goggles”?

non communicant members are still church members, the assumption is still that they are church members…

…but that they have some sin that requires repentance. The Q isn’t about regeneration. The only time it /might/ be is excommunication.

Does judging a person to have saving faith mean judging that they are regenerate?

It seems to me this is exactly the problem I was pointing out, you really want this to be about something invisible, and behind the scenes.

I’m saying that it isn’t, and a judgment of charity is exactly the kind of thing you use when you *don’t* know.

Ben, I honestly think you’re unnecessarily pushing yourself into a weird corner in this thread, becoming a polar opposite without good cause

Maybe so, my original point was, and remains that trying to ‘see’ the invisible church to identify the visible isn’t helpful.

I guess I’d just say I find that argument (baps try to see invis church) a straw man, realizing you wouldn’t agree.

Reconstructing the vis kirk w/ infant inclusion as primary deconstructs the system & is source of unnecessary polarizing to ur own hurt.

Aug 10

Aug 10

He says visible = ppl we have “reason to believe” are in invis. It’s not speculation or stating absolutes to connect prof of faith to regen

Would you say that Ref/Pres do the same thing, but just with different standards for ‘reason to believe’?

What do you think the different standards are?
For instance, a person might say that being born in a christian home *is* reason to believe they are in the invisible church.
In that case, you’d say baptists and ref’d are baptizing for the same reason.
This gets hairy because of disagreement about presumptive regeneration. But in that case, yes (see Utrecht 1905 Synod for example)
Yeah, personally, I’m not a fan of answering the regeneration question at all, as you could probably tell from my answers.
WCF 28.1 says baptism is a sign and seal of regeneration. OPC DPW IV.B.1 says public profession = “you have accepted God’s covenant…
promise that was signified and sealed unto you in your infancy by holy baptism.” To receive prof of saving faith = to judge regenerate.
Ben, can you acknowledge 1689 Fed view does not require “regeneration goggles”?
I don’t think I used those words in this convo, I think there is an over-emphasis on the invisible, but only use that phrase in jest.
Nor do I think baptists think they know who the elect are.
To clarify your view: how can you judge someone to have saving faith without judging them to be regenerate?

I received no reply to the last question, so I asked it again 2 days later.

To clarify your view: how can you judge someone to have saving faith without judging them to be regenerate?

I received no reply, so I asked again 2 days later. And again 2 days after that. I asked 4 times over the course of a week and was never given a reply.

Note this statement from an 1857 issue of the Princeton Review

And this statement from Hodge in an 1858 Princeton Review.

In sum, there is nothing radical about 1689 Federalism’s view of church membership.

For more on this, see

 

 

Re: Some Vossian Thoughts on the Visible-Invisible Church Distinction

December 31, 2016 1 comment

Lane Keister, at the Green Baggins blog, offers some comments on Vos’ explanation of the visible-invisible church distinction. His point is that there are visible and invisible aspects of the church, noting that Anabaptists and some baptists are therefore in error in holding that the true church is entirely invisible. Keister apparently didn’t put much thought into that point, since I don’t know any Anabaptists or baptists who deny there is a visible aspect of the true church. Interestingly, a commenter picked up on a very important point. He objected to Keister’s insistence that visible and invisible refer to two aspects of the same church because he felt that would lead to the Federal Vision error. I offered some comments. Read more…

John Murray (the Baptist) vs James Bannerman (the Presbyterian) on The Church

December 5, 2016 15 comments

One of the primary foundations of infant baptism is the concept of an external church member, with external church privileges, stemming from an external covenant of grace. While saving faith is a required condition for the invisible church, it is not a condition of the visible church. Therefore the church consists of both true believers and false believers, along with their children.

James Bannerman

James Bannerman, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, published the popular The Church of Christ in 1868. He explains this concept as it relates to the visible/invisible church distinction.

Now, at the outset, it is not unimportant to remark, that when we speak of the Church invisible and the Church visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ has founded two Churches on earth, but only one; and we affirm that that one Church is to be regarded under two distinct aspects. As the Church invisible, it consists of the whole number of the elect, who are vitally united to Christ the Head, and of none other. As the Church visible, it consists of all those who profess the faith of Christ, together with their children…

The Church invisible stands with respect to its members, in an inward and spiritual relationship to Christ, whereas the Church visible stands to Him in an outward relationship only… involving no more than the promise and enjoyment of outward privileges…

This external relationship, in which the members of the visible Church stand to Christ, as having been brought into a Church state from out of the world, has been often spoken of by theologians under the name of an external covenant or federal relationship. Whatever name may be given to it, there is no doubt that there is a real and important relationship into which the members of the visible Church have entered, to be distinguished alike from the state of the world without, and from the state of the invisible Church within…

[T]he formal professor may not possess that faith unfeigned and that vital union to the Saviour which will obtain for him the internal and saving blessing which the real believer will find in the ordinances; but there are external privileges which he may and does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession and observance; and although he falls short of the saving benefit which the spiritual Christian finds in Christ’s Church, yet the benefits he actually enjoys are both real and important. This relation of the mere formal professor and member of the visible Church to Christ may be called an external covenant and outward federal union, or not. But under whatever name, it is important to bear in mind that there is such a relationship, involving both real responsibilities and real privileges; and that it is this relationship, as contradistinguished from an inward and saving one, that makes the difference between the members of the visible and the members of the invisible Church of Christ.

That is a principle foundation of paedobaptism, and Bannerman knew it. He goes on to explain that this particular view of the distinction between the visible and invisible church is what separates Presbyterianism from Congregationalism and paedobaptism from credobaptism.

The principles now illustrated, in regard to the real distinction and yet the real connection between the Church invisible and the Church visible, bear with them very important consequences. It may be well to indicate, without illustrating in detail, their bearings in four different directions.

In the first place, the doctrine in regard to the visible and invisible Church which we have laid down, if it be a correct and scriptural one, has a most important and decisive bearing upon the principles of Independents in reference to Church communion…

[T]he conclusions to which the principles already laid down, in regard to the Church in its twofold character of visible and invisible, seem to lead on the subject of its membership. Independents in general have rejected this distinction, and denied that there is ground in Scripture for asserting the existence of an outward society of professing Christians standing in an outward relation to Christ, and made up of nominal as well as actual believers…

In the second place, the principles in regard to the visible and invisible Church already indicated have a very important bearing on the question of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of Infant Baptism… [T]he doctrine of the visible Church and its external covenant relationship to Christ, lays the foundation for those views of Church membership which justify us in regarding the infants of professing Christians as entitled to share the communion and privileges of the Church

The Independent view, which insists on the possession of a saving faith in Christ as the only footing on which Church membership can be conceded, and the only title to the enjoyment of Church ordinances, tends very directly, if consistently carried out, to deprive the infants of professing Christians of their right to be regarded as members of the Church, or to claim the benefit of its ordinances.

John Murray

Writing 100 years later, John Murray criticized Bannerman’s (Presbyterianism’s) argument regarding the visible/invisible church distinction. Murray wrote about this issue on multiple occasions. His essay The Church: Its Definition in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid is found in Volume I of his Collected Writings. He also wrote about it in The Theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith, found in Volume IV.

In the former, he argues

It has been common to make a sharp distinction between the church visible and the church invisible and with this distinction to apply definitions by which the differentiation can be maintained. This position calls for examination in the light of Scripture…

The distinction between the church visible and the church invisible is not well-grounded in terms of Scripture, and the abuses to which the distinction has been subjected require correction…

Strictly speaking, it is not proper to speak of the ‘visible church’. According to Scripture we should speak of ‘the church’ and conceive of it as that visible entity that exists and functions in accord with the institution of Christ as Head, the church that is the body of Christ indwelt and directed by the Holy Spirit, consisting of those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, manifested in the congregations of the faithful, and finally the church glorious, holy and without blemish.

Murray’s point is liable to misunderstanding. In fact, Federal Vision proponents have  called upon Murray in defense of their rejection of the invisible church. But that is certainly not what Murray meant. He defines the church in terms typically reserved for the invisible church and says they apply to the visible church as well. He does not reject the invisible church at all.

His third chapter in Christian Baptism titled “The Church” actually brings great clarity to his position. It is excellent. I could honestly quote and endorse the entire chapter (save the last paragraph and 2-3 sentences elsewhere). I will try to be as concise as I can in quoting him here.

The Church as Invisible

The church is therefore circumscribed by the facts of regeneration and faith, facts which in themselves are spiritual and invisible. For this reason no man or organisation of men is able infallibly to determine who are regenerate and who are not, who are true believers and who are not… For these reasons, if for not others, we must recognize that there is an aspect of invisibility that attaches to the concept of the church. *21

*21 In order to avoid the misconstructions and misconceptions frequently associated with the distinction between the church visible and invisible it is more proper to speak of the church as invisible and the church as visible or of the aspects of invisibility and visibility attaching to the church rather than of the visible church and the invisible church. The terms visible and invisible are aspects from which the church may be viewed. James Bannerman states this well: “When we speak of the Church invisible and the Church visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ has founded two Churches on earth, but only one; and we affirm that that one Church is to be regarded under two distinct aspects” (op. cit., Vol. I, p. 29). But Bannerman does not appear to carry out this emphasis consistently in his subsequent discussion. He proceeds to define the visible church and the invisible respectively in terms of distinctions which do not appear to be borne out by the usage of Scripture itself.

Our approach to this question of the church must take account of the fact that every one who has a place in the organization which is visible and known to men is not by that mere token necessarily united to Christ by regeneration and faith. It is the distinction between that which is visible to men and what is known and viewed only perfectly by God that is guarded by saying that there is to the church and aspect of invisibility

The Church as Visible

[T]hose united to Christ form the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful… We cannot think of the church invisible as anything that exists in abstraction or apart from the overt expression which the spiritual and invisible facts of union and communion with Christ demand…

[H]uman agency and responsibility are operative in the church… [H]ow does this administration on the part of men relate itself to those spiritual and invisible facts by which the church is constituted? Men are n o t omniscient. and they, are fallible… What we find in the New Testament is that the constituting bond of communion w a s common faith in Christ and that the condition of admission to the fellowship was this same common faith (cf. Acts 2:38‐42: 8:13. 35~38: 10:34-38; 16:14, 15, 31‐ 33). This faith. however. did not have any automatic way of evidencing itself and, consequently. could become effective in gaining admission to the fellowship of the saints only by confession or profession. This means that faith was registered by confession, and the criterion by which the church exercised its administrative responsibility in the admission of members was confession…

This profession, though it is a profession that only a true believer can honestly and truly make, is, nevertheless, of such a nature that those who do not have true faith may make it to the satisfaction of those responsible for that administration whereby admission is secured into the fellowship of the church (cf. Acts 8:13, 20-23). We are here faced with the anomaly that the visible entity which is called the church may comprise within its membership those who do not really and truly belong to the body of Christ… This is an anomaly which must be fully appreciated and we must not make attempts to eliminate it. There are two dangers we must avoid and into which we are too liable to fall. *24

The first danger is to construe the confession as not a confession of true and saving faith but simply of intellectual and historical faith. In this way it might appear that the discrepancy between the fact that the church consists of those who are members of the body of Christ and the fact that many may be admitted into the fellowship of the visible church who are not truly members of the body of Christ is removed. It is a false solution. There is no warrant whatsoever for supposing that the confession which we find in the New Testament, by which members were admitted into the fellowship of the church, was a profession of mere intellectual or historical belief. It was the confession of like nature with that which Peter made at Caesarea Philippi, a confession which elicited from our Lord the benediction, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). It is most instructive in this regard that the confession of Peter provided the occasion for the most significant disclosure made by our Lord respecting the church: “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). However we may interpret the word “rock” in this utterance there can be no question but that the church confession is the kind of confession made by Peter. And this means that the confession requisite for membership in the church is the confession of Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God, as Savior, and as Lord. It is a profession of true and saving faith.

It is not by any means the prerogative of those who administer the government and disicpline of the church to determine whether the professino made is a true and sincere profession of such faith. A judgment of this kind would exceed the warrant of men. But it is the prerogative and duty of those who rule in the church of God to make plain, both in the instruction and examination of candidates for admission, what the meaning of the profession is and to insist that only the regenerate, only those united to Christ by faith, can truly make the profession required. There is thus the fullest scope for the examination of candidates in ascertaining the intelligence and consistency of the profession made, in instructing candidates respecting the nature of the Christian confession, in dissuading those who do not have true faith from making the profession which they cannot sincerely and honestly make, and in maintaining the purity of the church against the entrance of the ignorant and profane. But this examination, it must be remembered, is not conducted on the premise that to the officers of the church or to the church as a communion is given the prerogative to determine who are regenerate and who are not. It is conducted, rather, on the basis that to the ministry of the church belongs the obligation to insure as far as possible by instruction and warning that only those united to Christ will make the confession which only. such can truly make. It is the function of the church to demand an intelligent, credible, and uncontradicted confession that Jesus isthe Christ, the Son of the living God.

Murray the Congregationalist

To clarify, Murray is here rejecting the Presbyterian view of profession and adopting the Congregational view (his footnote 24 recommends Williston Walker’s The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, Chapter XI “For a history of thought and debate on this question” – see also Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea). Recall what Bannerman said above. Mere formal profession devoid of saving faith (what is known as “historical faith”) is all that is required for membership in the visible church.

[T]he formal professor may not possess that faith unfeigned and that vital union to the Saviour which will obtain for him the internal and saving blessing which the real believer will find in the ordinances; but there are external privileges which he may and does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession and observance; and although he falls short of the saving benefit which the spiritual Christian finds in Christ’s Church, yet the benefits he actually enjoys are both real and important. This relation of the mere formal professor and member of the visible Church to Christ may be called an external covenant and outward federal union, or not. But under whatever name, it is important to bear in mind that there is such a relationship, involving both real responsibilities and real privileges; and that it is this relationship, as contradistinguished from an inward and saving one, that makes the difference between the members of the visible and the members of the invisible Church of Christ.

This is what Murray is explicitly rejecting. What is required is saving faith, not historical faith. Bannerman identified this as the Independent (Congregationalist) view. “The Independent view, which insists on the possession of a saving faith in Christ as the only footing on which Church membership can be conceded…”

Samuel Rutherford, one of the leading members of the Westminster Assembly (Dr. Guy Richard says “Rutherford had a huge impact upon the Assembly” and Chad Van Dixhoorn says Rutherford was the second-most prominent speaker on the floor of the Assembly), faced this argument in his day. He responded to the Congregationalists thus:

Therefore these words must import that nothing is more required for the church to confer the seal of the covenant without sin, but that the children be descended of parents professing the truth and faith, though the parents (indeed, as concerning any real union of faith) be plain strangers to the covenant [inwardly], and are members of the church only as an arm of wood is a member of the body.  Which being true, as it must be said, the assumption [of the Separatists] is weak and sick.

For the question is: what is it to be externally within the covenant? 

It is not to see all known sins, to be a chosen people, a people taught of God [inwardly], as this argument would say.

1. For then God would not have commanded Joshua (Josh. 5) to circumcise all Israel because their fathers were externally within the covenant.

2. For their fathers were a generation of unbelievers who knew not God, who tempted Him, grieved his holy Spirit in the wilderness, and professed themselves by their murmuring never to be truly within the covenant [inwardly].

Then to profess the doctrine of the covenant is but to be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).  And so by this it is clear that Joshua had commandment of God to give the seal of the covenant to their children, who [the parents] were as openly wicked against the Lord, as murderers, drunkards, swearers, etc.

3. This argument [of the Separatists] will prove that circumcision could lawfully be given to none but the children of parents within the covenant, that is, professedly known to be faithful, holy, and separated from the profane world in the judgment of charity. This has no warrant of the Word.  For:

1. The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2 [see also verses 6-7]). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

2. What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews. O, says Mr. Best, they were behooved [required] to be members of the church, whose infants might lawfully be circumcised.  I answer: that is ignotum per ignotius [unknown per the unknown].  Show me one person being a born Jew whose child the Lord forbid to circumcise?

3. What is it to be a member of the Jewish Church? Is it to be a visible saint and taught of God [inwardly]?  I [admit this to be] true: that was required indeed to make men acceptable before God.  But to make one a visible member of the visible Jewish church, nothing was required but to be a born Jew, profess God’s truth, and keep from external ceremonial pollutions.  I mean: to be a member of the visible church, [is] to keep external and church communion with the rest of God’s people.

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

John Murray the Baptist

Murray continues:

The second danger that must be avoided is the tendency to define the church in such a way as would seem to eliminate or at least tone down the discrepancy or anomaly with which we are dealing. This again is a mistake. Our definition of the church must not be framed in terms of an accommodation by which we make provision, within our definition, for the inclusion of hypocrites, that is to say, of those who profess to be Christ’s but are not really his. Our definition of the church must be framed in terms of the constitutive principle, to wit, that the church consists of those who are united to Christ and are members of his body. It is the communion of saints. And it is precisely that body of believers in fellowship with Christ and with one another, associated together in the world in accordance with Christ’s institution, which is called in the New Testament “the church” and is what we often call the visible church. We may not abandon this constitutive principle, we may not accommodate our definition in order to make allowance for the fact that some make the profession who do not have the faith and who enter into the fellowship without the bond that constitutes it.*26

*26 It is very easy to fall into this kind of accommodation when we begin to apply the distinction between the church as invisible and the church as visible. And, indeed, it may appear to be necessary in order to avoid other pitfalls of the Romish doctrine of the church. In the esteem of the present writer this appears rather conspicuously in James Bannerman’s excellent work, The Church of Christ. His definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage (cf. op. cit. Vol. I, pp. 29ff). The terms in which Bannerman develops the distinction between visible and invisible and frames his definition of the visible church seem to provide us with a very simple and effective polemic against Rome. The controversy with Rome must, of course, be unabated, but it does not appear to be sound to conduct this controversy on the basis of a definition which does not find its counterpart in the Biblical usage with reference to the church.

I Cor. 1:1, 2… provides us with Paul’s concept of the church at Corinth, namely, those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, and he does not conceive of the church in broader terms so as to distinguish between the church and those sanctified and called…

Paul recognised that there was old leaven in the church at Corinth, leaven which needed to be purged out. But when he addresses the church he does not address it as a community to be defined in terms of old leaven and new unleavened bread. He does not define the church in terms which would make allowance for both elements. No, he addresses the church as those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, and who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…

It is true that hypocrites may secure admission to the church. As we have seen, the very administration which Christ has instituted for the admission of members allows for that. There are disciples who are not truly disciples, and there are branches in the vine which are not vitally and abidingly in the vine. But while we fully recognise this fact we must at the same time distinguish between the constitutive principle in terms of which the church is defined, on the one hand, and the de facto situation arising from the way in which Christ has chosen to administer the affairs of his church in the world, on the other. The inclusion and exclusion are in the hands of fallible men. This administration is of divine institution. Hence those who are not Christ’s gain admission.*27 Here is the anomaly. We have to recognise and contain it. It persists in its sharpness because we refuse to define the church in lower terms than the body of Christ and the communion of the saints. It is that definition that creates the anomaly and we may not revise the definition in order to relieve the tension…

*27 Cf. Calvin: Inst. IV, i, 7 and 8.
In refraining from the attempt to define the church in terms of an accommodation that will make allowance for the inclusion of hypocrites we are following the same lines as would have to be followed in defining the kingdom of God. We are not forgetful of the parables of the tares and the wheat and of the drag net. There is a mixture in the kingdom, and Christ will at the end gather out of his kingdom all things that offend and them which do iniquity. But we may not define the kingdom of God in terms of accommodation to this de facto situation. We must define it in terms of the rule and realm of righteousness, life, and peace.

What we have here from Murray is the exact argument I have made previously regarding the church (See Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?). False believers who are not united to Christ are part of the visible church de facto only because their “inclusion and exclusion are in the hands of fallible men.” But according to God, who sees rightly, they are not part of the church, the body of Christ. The visible/invisible church distinction is the distinction between man’s fallible perspective and God’s infallible perspective. Murray’s student Edmund P. Clowny (the first president of Westminster Theological Seminary) noted “The confusion about the relation of the aspects of visibility and invisibility of the church can only grow until it is again recognized that the church as invisible is not some abstract ideal, but simply the church as God sees it, in contrast with the church as we see it.” (“Distinctive Emphases in Presbyterian Church Polity,” in Pressing Toward the Mark)

This same point was made by James Ussher.

But are none to be accounted members of this [visible] Church, but such as are true believers, and so inseparably united unto Christ their head? Truly and properly none other. (1 John 2.19)… [they are] in humane judgement accounted members of the true Church, and Saints by calling, (1 Cor 1.1) until the Lord (who only knoweth his) do make known the contrary.

Cited in Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?

And by the Second Helvetic Confession:

Whence the Church of God may be termed invisible; not because the men from whom the Church is gathered are invisible, but because, being hidden from our eyes and known only to God, it often secretly escapes human judgment… not all that are reckoned in the number of the Church are saints, and living and true members of the Church. For there are many hypocrites… But eventually the character of these men, for the most part, will be disclosed. For the apostle John says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would indeed have continued with us” (I John 2:19). And although while they simulate piety they are not of the Church, yet they are considered to be in the Church, just as traitors in a state are numbered among its citizens before they are discovered…

Chapter XVII

And Wilhelmus à Brakel:

As one person cannot be divided into an invisible and a visible person, one may not divide the church into a visible and invisible church, for then it would seem as if there were two churches, each being a different church. One may also not divide the church into a visible and invisible church as far as the members themselves are concerned, as if the one had different members from the other… This is, in our opinion, an erroneous view, generating many confusing thoughts and expressions concerning the church… If one understands the differentiation between the external and internal church to be but a twofold view and perspective of one and the same church, and does not hold to a twofold membership relationship, all is well and our proposition is confirmed: The differentiation between an external and internal church on the basis of membership and relationship is not good. One and the same church, consisting of true believers only, can either be viewed in reference to her internal spiritual condition, or in reference to her external manifestation in the world. This is what we have stated…

The church is a congregation of true believers. The unconverted, even though they have made confession of faith, have been accepted into the fellowship of the church, live without offense, and have been admitted to the use of the sacraments, the unconverted, I repeat, are not true members of the church. This is so whether the church is viewed in her internal, spiritual condition or in her public gatherings whereby she manifests herself externally to the world. The unconverted are not members of the external, visible church. Believers only constitute the true church. They alone are members of the church, regardless of how one views them.

Cited in Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?

Murray applies this to the question of baptism.

The resolution of the anomaly, that there are some who, from the standpoint of administration, rightly receive the sign and seal of that which in reality they do not possess, is not to be sought along the line of the distinction between an external covenant relationship and the internal spiritual relationship but rather in the consideration that there is a discrepancy between the secret operations and purposes of God in his saving grace, on the one hand, and the divinely instituted method of administering the covenant in the world, on the other. In other words, the administration of the rite that is the sign and seal of the covenant has to be conducted not in accordance with God’s secret operations and infallible purposes of grace but in accordance with certain requirements which fallible men may execute and apply. The divine method of administering the covenant in the world is that God commits to fallible men the ordinances of administration. These ordinances have to be dispensed in accordance with requirements which fallible men may apply. But the requirements that may be applied by men are not the measure of God’s secret and efficacious operations of grace. To be very specific, baptism is not administered by revelation of God’s secret will. It is properly administered when certain conditions of divine prescription, conditions with reference to which fallible men are in a position to judge, have been fulfilled. This is the divine institution. (52)

Of course, as Bannerman warned, Murray’s view of the church, “if consistently carried out… deprive[s] the infants of professing Christians of their right to be regarded as members of the Church.” But Bannerman’s warning here comes in the same section where he addresses the Romish view of the church. Thus we may paraphrase Murray’s rebuke of Bannerman’s polemic accommodation.

 It is very easy to fall into this kind of accommodation when we begin to apply the distinction between the church as invisible and the church as visible. And, indeed, it may appear to be necessary in order to avoid other pitfalls of the Baptist doctrine of the church. In the esteem of the present writer this appears rather conspicuously in James Bannerman’s excellent work, The Church of Christ. His definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage (cf. op. cit. Vol. I, pp. 29ff). The terms in which Bannerman develops the distinction between visible and invisible and frames his definition of the visible church seem to provide us with a very simple and effective polemic against the Baptists. The controversy with Baptists must, of course, be unabated, but it does not appear to be sound to conduct this controversy on the basis of a definition which does not find its counterpart in the Biblical usage with reference to the church.

What About Abraham?

Of course Murray goes on to argue for infant baptism on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant. But so did the Congregationalists. And, as older Presbyterians warned, their argument ultimately failed (both theoretically and practically) because of their definition of the church.

Murray argues:

The basic premise of the argument for infant baptism is that the New Testament economy is the unfolding and fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham and that the necessary implication is the unity and continuity of the church…

With reference to circumcision it must be fully appreciated that it was not essentially or primarily the sign of family, racial, or national identity. Any significance which circumcision possessed along the line of national identity or privilege was secondary and derived. Its primary and essential significance was that it was a sign and seal of the highest and richest spiritual blessing which God bestows upon men… [W]e have no authority whatsoever to say that circumcision was simply the sign of an external relationship…

What was the Abrahamic covenant in the highest reaches of its meaning?  Undeniably and simply: “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (cf. Gen. 17:7; Exod 19:5, 6; Deut 7:6; 14:2; Jer 31:33). In a word it is union and communion with Jehovah, the God of Israel… Baptism, which is the sign of the covenant under the new economy as circumcision was under the old, bears essentially the same import as did circumcision.

Congregationalists made this argument in the 17th century. Here is how Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford responded:

[T]here was no more required of the circumcised but that they were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, and by that same reason, there is no more required of infants that they may be baptized but that they be born in the Christian church.  For the Christian baptism, and the Jewish circumcision in substance are all one (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11; Jer. 9:26; Jer. 4:4; 1 Pet. 3:21,22)…

If the root be holy, so also are the branches (Rom. 11:16).  Now this holiness cannot be meant of personal and inherent holiness, for it is not true in that sense.  If the fathers and forefathers be truly sanctified and are believers, then [it would follow] are the branches and children sanctified and believers.  But the contrary we see in wicked Absalom born of holy David, and many others.  Therefore, this holiness must be the holiness of the nation, not of persons.  It must be a holiness because of their elected and chosen parents (the patriarchs, prophets, and the holy seed of the Jews), and so [it must be] the holiness federal, or the holiness of the [external] covenant.

If then the Jews in Paul’s time were holy by covenant (howbeit for the present the sons were branches broken off for unbelief), how much more then (seeing God has chosen the race and nation of the gentiles and is become a God to us and to our seed), that the seed [of those in the covenant] must be holy with a holiness of the chosen nation and an external holiness of the covenant, notwithstanding that the father and mother were as wicked as the Jews who slew the Lord of Glory…

If external profession be sufficient (without a longer examination) to baptize the aged by the apostolic practice (as we see in Simon Magus, Acts 8:13, and in Ananias and Saphira, Acts 2:38-39,44-45, compared with Acts 5:1-2): then the profession of faith in the forefathers is enough for us to judge their forefathers within the covenant and consenters to the covenant.  For when many thousands at once are said to enter into covenant with God (as is clear, Deut. 29:10-13; Josh. 24:24,25; 2 Chron. 15:9-12), they could not give any larger proofs or evidences of their faith of the covenant than a solemn assembling together and a verbal oath (or saying, ‘Amen’, or ‘So be it,’ as Deut. 27:14,17), after which they were reputed to be in the covenant, and so their seed also [were reputed to be] in the covenant…

The proposition he [the Congregationalist] proves from Gen. 17:10, ‘This is my covenant… and every man-child amongst you shall be circumcised,’ and Rom. 4:11, ‘He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith.’  The assumption, he and others, prove [this way]: because murderers, drunkards, swearers, and whose children we baptize, declare themselves not to be Christians (nor faithful, nor saints by their wicked life) and so not within the covenant.  This argument also the Separatists use.

Answer:

…If the former be said it will follow that God speaks (Gen. 17) only to Abraham and his sons by faith (according to the promise) and only to believers.

But God speaks to all Abraham’s sons according to the flesh:

Because [otherwise] God should speak an untruth: that He were a God by real union of faith to all that are commanded to be circumcised.  For He commanded thousands to be circumcised to whom He was not a God by real union of faith. 

Therefore these words must import that nothing is more required for the church to confer the seal of the covenant without sin, but that the children be descended of parents professing the truth and faith, though the parents (indeed, as concerning any real union of faith) be plain strangers to the covenant [inwardly], and are members of the church only as an arm of wood is a member of the body.  Which being true, as it must be said, the assumption [of the Separatists] is weak and sick.

For the question is: what is it to be externally within the covenant?

It is not to see all known sins, to be a chosen people, a people taught of God [inwardly], as this argument would say.

1. For then God would not have commanded Joshua (Josh. 5) to circumcise all Israel because their fathers were externally within the covenant.

2. For their fathers were a generation of unbelievers who knew not God, who tempted Him, grieved his holy Spirit in the wilderness, and professed themselves by their murmuring never to be truly within the covenant [inwardly].

Then to profess the doctrine of the covenant is but to be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).  And so by this it is clear that Joshua had commandment of God to give the seal of the covenant to their children, who [the parents] were as openly wicked against the Lord, as murderers, drunkards, swearers, etc.

3. This argument [of the Separatists] will prove that circumcision could lawfully be given to none but the children of parents within the covenant, that is, professedly known to be faithful, holy, and separated from the profane world in the judgment of charity. This has no warrant of the Word.  For:

1. The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2 [see also verses 6-7]). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

2. What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews. O, says Mr. Best, they were behooved [required] to be members of the church, whose infants might lawfully be circumcised.  I answer: that is ignotum per ignotius [unknown per the unknown].  Show me one person being a born Jew whose child the Lord forbid to circumcise?

3. What is it to be a member of the Jewish Church? Is it to be a visible saint and taught of God [inwardly]?  I [admit this to be] true: that was required indeed to make men acceptable before God.  But to make one a visible member of the visible Jewish church, nothing was required but to be a born Jew, profess God’s truth, and keep from external ceremonial pollutions.  I mean: to be a member of the visible church, [is] to keep external and church communion with the rest of God’s people...

So they cite scriptures that by no force of reason do speak for them, as Rom. 4:11 and Rom. 11:16, which say nothing but that ‘if the root be holy’ with the holiness federal and of the external profession, then so are the branches.  But the place speaks nothing of true inherent holiness: for then all holy parents should have holy and visible saints coming out of their loins, which is against scripture and experience…

By this our divines lose their best argument against Anabaptists: namely, that children of Christians are to be baptized by that same warrant that infants under the Law were circumcised.  But none was circumcised but a member of the visible church under the Law.  Now this you gainsay, who would have all clean and unclean baptized; and so you leave your pattern.

Answer:

We leave our pattern in no sort.  For all were circumcised that were born of circumcised parents within the church of the Jews.  So all are to be baptized that are born of Christians and baptized parents professing the faith.

But, say they: drunkards, murderers, sorcerers, swearers, and ignorant atheists, both fathers and mothers, whose children you baptize, do not profess the faith, for in works they deny and bely their profession.

Answer:

1. Then you will have the children of none to be baptized but those whose parents are sound and sincere professors in the judgment of charity. But so Joshua failed who circumcised the children of all professing themselves to be Abraham’s sons carnally, though Joshua knew and was an eye witness that their fathers did deny and bely their profession.  And John baptized the seed of all (Matt 3) that professed the faith of the Messiah, although he knew them to be a generation of vipers.

They often require that one of the parents be a believer or else the child cannot be clean, nor lawfully baptized.  They repose on that place (1 Cor. 7:14):

‘For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else’ (that is, if both were unbelievers) ‘were your children unclean’ (that is not within the covenant) ‘but now are they holy.’

And they allege Theodore Beza and David Pareus for this.

Answer:  But they mistake the word ‘unbelieving.’  For by ‘unbelieving’ in that place (as the Professors of Leyden do well observe[15]) is meant infidel gentiles that are without the church and profess not Christ [not unbelievers within the visible chuch], as is clear from the text

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

In other words, Rutherford explains that Scripture is clear the “Jewish church” was not “the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful.” Rather, the “Jewish church” was made by the promise of God to Abraham’s sons according to the flesh establishing an external covenant.  To be part of the “Jewish church” was “[T]o be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).” Therefore, if Murray correctly recognizes that the New Testament defines the church as “the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful” then “By this our divine loses his argument against Anabaptists: namely, that children of Christians are to be baptized by that same warrant that infants under the Law were circumcised.”

In sum, Murray is correct that paedobaptism’s “definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage.” Therefore it cannot “justify us in regarding the infants of professing Christians as entitled to share the communion and privileges of the Church.”

à Brakel (the baptist) on the Visible/Invisible Church

May 14, 2016 16 comments

 In 1700, Dutch theologian Wilhelmus à Brakel published The Christian’s Reasonable Service. Volume 2 (starting on book pg. 5) discusses the visible/invisible church distinction at length. à Brakel was a leader in the Dutch Further Reformation which was a response to “the declension or absence of a living faith” in the Netherlands.

Someone in a Covenanter (referring to the English and Scottish Presbyterianism of the 17th century) Facebook group recently posted this asking for help reconciling it with their view of the visible/invisible church consisting of different memberships. Referring to Brakel, they said “The weird thing is that it almost seems like an argument a baptist would use.” It’s worth noting that paedobaptists consistently return to this view whenever they are faced with the inevitable degradation and corruption of the church that occurs when their “external covenant” view is applied consistently (see Hodge and Erskine as other examples).

I’ve added this excerpt in full to the Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto? post.


        We wish to establish at the outset that there are not two or more churches, but only one Christian church. This one church we now wish to consider together.
This one church is made up of all the elect who have been called from the beginning of the world and are yet to be called until the end of the world. They are Christ’s peculiar people (Titus 2:14). “ To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven ” (Heb 12:23); “ … Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it ” (Eph 5:25). This one congregation is partially in heaven, and is called the church triumphant, to which reference is made in Rev 7:9 – 16. This, however, is not the subject of discussion here. This congregation exists also partially upon earth and is called the church militant. It is the church militant which is the subject of this chapter. One can view this church either in its entirety, dispersed throughout the entire word, or as individual congregations in a nation, city, or village. As such one can refer to the church of England, of the Netherlands, or of Rotterdam.

Clarification of the Invisible/Visible Church Distinction
This one church in its militant state upon earth manifests itself at times more openly in her public assemblies, confession, and holiness. She is then called the visible church. At other times she is more hidden from the eyes of the world by prevailing errors, ungodliness, or persecutions. Then she is referred to as the invisible church (Rev 12:14).
This militant church can be viewed either in her internal, spiritual frame, or in her public gatherings. Her internal, spiritual frame, which consists of faith, a mystical union with Christ, and the spiritual life of the soul, is invisible and cannot be observed with the physical eye. The gatherings where God’s Word is heard and the sacraments are used, as well as her public profession in times of prosperity, are public and visible. Thus, in some respects the church is visible, and in some respects invisible. However, one may not divide the church into a visible and invisible church. One and the same person is invisible as far as the soul, will, intellect, and affections are concerned, and he is visible a s far as his body and motions are concerned. As one person cannot be divided into an invisible and a visible person, one may not divide the church into a visible and invisible church, for then it would seem as if there were two churches, each being a different church.
One may also not divide the church into a visible and invisible church as far as the members themselves are concerned, as if the one had different members from the other. Then all the elect, that is, those who truly have been called and converted, would mentally be separated from all others in the church and constitute the invisible church, whereas converted and unconverted together, gathering in one church, and having only in common the external call, historical faith, confession of the truth, and the external use of the sacraments, would constitute the visible church. This is, in our opinion, an erroneous view, generating many confusing thoughts and expressions concerning the church. When a speaker or writer refers to the church, one will then be in doubt as to whether he is speaking of the so – called invisible or visible church.
We maintain that one may not separate the visible and invisible church in such a manner, for, first, I do not find that the terms visible and invisible church are used in God’s Word with that connotation, nor do I find the description of such a distinction.
Secondly, this distinction is founded upon a false supposition — as if the unconverted are truly members of the church with equal right, that is, in its external and visible gathering, and therefore have a right to use the sacraments, something which we deny expressly below. If the unconverted are not members of the church, even when she is visible, the aforementioned distinction is of necessity irrelevant.
Thirdly, such a distinction infers the existence of two churches which are essentially different from each other. From a spiritual perspective true believers constitute the church by reason of a true, spiritual, and believing union with Christ and with each other. If t he unconverted, together with the converted would constitute a church on the basis of equal rights, this would have to be of an essentially different nature, whereby members of distinctly different natures would constitute one body and one church, even though the unconverted are not spiritually united to Christ and believers. If there are two essential manifestations, there must also be two essentially different bodies and churches, whereas we confess that there is but one church.
Fourthly, if in this respect there were a visible and an invisible church, one consisting only of true believers (due to a spiritual union) and one consisting of converted and unconverted together by way of an external union, then believers would simultaneously belong to two churches, one being invisible and the other visible. They would thus be in one church to which salvation is not promised, and in another to which salvation is promised. To hold such a view is as absurd as to propose the existence of two churches.

Objection # 1: There is a twofold calling, the one being internal and the other external. There is also a twofold faith: a saving, and a historical or temporal faith. There is a twofold holiness, the one being external and the other in truth, and there is a twofold participation of benefits, the one being external and the other an internal participation in the real benefits. Consequently, there is also an external and internal church.

Answer : (1) From this proposition it must be concluded that there are two churches, which is contrary to the Bible.
(2) The external call, historical or temporal faith, external holiness, and external participation in external privileges, do not constitute true membership of the church, which is spiritual in nature. Consequently, such a church cannot be the true church of Christ.

Objection #2: We do not think of two churches when we speak of an external or visible church, and of an internal or invisible church. Rather, we understand this to refer to a twofold perspective of the same church.

Answer : (1) If one maintains that the one church consists of different members from the other, there being a different manner of being united to her, one is not proposing that there are two aspects of the same church. Rather, it is only being indicated that there are two essentially different churches, with two types of members essentially different in nature which make up the church, and two ways whereby one can be united to her.
(2) The external relationship neither makes one a true member of the church, nor constitutes an external church, just as an external relationship with a corporation or business does not make one a true member and partner of it. It also does not cause the corporation or business to be viewed in a different perspective.
(3) No external relationship to the church gives the unconverted the right to use the sacraments, and thus unconverted and converted together cannot constitute an external church. There is no true church of Christ unless all who are members of it have a right to partake of the sacraments.
(4) If one understands the differentiation between the external and internal church to be but a twofold view and perspective of one and the same church, and does not hold to a twofold membership relationship, all is well and our proposition is confirmed: The differentiation between an external and internal church on the basis of membership and relationship is not good. One and the same church, consisting of true believers only, can either be viewed in reference to her internal spiritual condition, or in reference to her external manifestation in the world. This is what we have stated.

From that which has been said it is now evident in what manner we view the church in this treatise: We speak of a church consisting of true believers only, which on earth wars against her enemies and for the faith, being at times more and at times less visible to the human eye. As far as her internal, spiritual frame is concerned, she is invisible; but she is visible in reference to her public assemblies and members.
As we shall now consider the matter itself, we shall first give a description of the church, and subsequently give an explanation of all her elements.

The Church Defined
The church is a holy, catholic, Christian congregation, consisting of true believers only, who by the Holy Spirit have been called through the Word of God, are separate from the world, and are united to their Head and each other with a spiritual bond, and thus are united in one spiritual body. All of this is manifested by a true confession of Christ and of His truth, and in striving against their and Christ’s enemies, doing battle with spiritual weapons under the command of their Head Jesus Christ to the glory of God and their salvation. Let us now consider the individual elements of this description.
The church is first of all a congregation. One individual person does not constitute a church or a congregation. The church is referred to as a house, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house ” (1 Pet 2:9); as a flock, “… and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd ” (John 10:16); as a body, “… and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body ” (Eph 1:22 – 23); as a nation, “ But ye are … an holy nation ” (1 Pet 2:9); and as a kingdom , “ … who hath called you unto His kingdom ” (1 Thess 2:12). However, one stone does not constitute a house, one sheep does not constitute a flock, one member is not a body, one person is not a nation, one person is not a kingdom — and thus also one pope doe s not constitute a church, which papists claim to be the case.

The True Church: A Congregation of True Believers
The church is a congregation of true believers. The unconverted, even though they have made confession of faith, have been accepted into the fellowship of the church, live without offense, and have been admitted to the use of the sacraments, the unconverted, I repeat, are not true members of the church. This is so whether the church is viewed in her internal, spiritual condition or in her public gatherings whereby she manifests herself externally to the world. The unconverted are not members of the external, visible church. Believers only constitute the true church. They alone are members of the church, regardless of how one views them.
This is clearly stated in articles 27 – 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith, which read as follows:

Article 27
We believe and profess one catholic or universal Church, which is a holy congregation of true Christian believers, all expecting their salvation in J esus Christ, being washed by His blood, sanctified and sealed by the Holy Ghost. This Church hath been from the beginning of the world and will be to the end thereof; which is evident from this, that Christ is an eternal King, which, without subjects He ca nnot be. And this holy Church is preserved or supported by God against the rage of the whole world; though she sometimes (for a while) appears very small, and in the eyes of men, to be reduced to nothing, as during the perilous reign of Ahab when neverthel ess the Lord reserved unto him seven thousand men, who had not bowed their knees to Baal. Furthermore, this holy Church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed over the whole world; and yet i s joined and united with heart and will, by the power of faith, in one and the same spirit.

Article 28
We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved and out of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it, maintaining the unity of the Church, submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline there of; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them.

And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of a ll believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from those who do not belong to the Church, and to join themselves to this congregation, wheresoever God hath established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes be against it ; yea, though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment. Therefore all those, who separate themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinance of God.

Article 29
We believe, that we ought diligent ly and circumspectly to discern from the Word of God which is the true Church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church. But we speak not here of hypocrites, who are mixed in the Church with the good, yet are not of the Church, though externally in it; but we say that the body and communion of the true Church must be distinguished from all sects who call themselves the Church.

It is first of all evident that the Belgic Confession of Faith makes no mention of an invisible church which would consist, by way of mental deduction, of none but believers only, in distinction from a visible church which would consist of both converted and unconverted. This we have rejected earlier. Rather, it speaks of a church, existing and gathered upon earth, which is more or less visible. Anyone who attentively examines the words of the confession will readily discern this, for it makes mention of that church 1) in which hypocrites are to be found (Article 29), 2) to which one ought to join himself, “wheresoever God hath established it,” subjecting oneself to its instruction and discipline (Article 28), 3) against which are magistrates and the edicts of princes, and the joining of which could result in death or any other corporal punishment during times of persecution (Article 28), and 4) which one can distinguish from other sects. All of this can only be applicable to the visible church as she gathers to hear God’s Word and use the sacraments.
Secondly, the confession states that this church, which is more or less visible, consists only of true believers, when 1) it describes the church as “a holy congregation of true Christian believers, all expecting their salvation in Jesus Christ, being washed by His blood, sanctified and sealed by the Holy Ghost” (Article 27), 2) it declares that “hypocrites, who are mixed in the church with the good, yet are not of the church, though externally in it” (Article 29).
This confirms the conviction of the Reformed church that only believers are members of the church, while the unconverted are not members of the church, though they be externally in it.

Objection: The confession speaks of that church outside of which there is no salvation. Salvation can, however, be obtained outside of the visible and external church. Many are saved, even though they are neither baptized nor partake of the Lord’s Supper — yes,who are as yet in the Roman Catholic Church. The confession therefore speaks of the invisible church, which consists of believers only, and thus not of the visible church.

Answer : (1) At the time of the Reformation, when there was fierce persecution, many did not dare join themselves to the congregations of believers, thus pretending (as many still do) that salvation can be obtained in every religion. This the confession here refutes.
(2) It is an obvious truth that there is no salvation outside of the church; he who does not have the church as his mother, does not have God as His Father, for the church alone has the truth and preaches the truth, without which no one can be converted and saved.
(3) The confession does not state that no one can be saved unless they have been accepted as a member, are baptized, and attend the Lord’s Supper, but rather that apart from the church there is no salvation, and that outside of her neither the way of salvation is taught nor the means unto salvation are to be found.
(4) Unbaptized converted persons are saved by means of the church, which puts God’s Word at their disposal and proclaims that Word to them. If someone from the realm of popery is converted, this does not occur by way of papal doctrine, but by the Word of truth which the papacy has still allowed to remain in the church.

We have thus demonstrated that the Belgic Confession of Faith declares that only true believers are members of the church, and that the unconverted within the church are not members.
The truth of the aforesaid is established by the following arguments:
First, an external covenant between God and man, of which the unconverted would be partakers, has not been established either in the Old or New Testament. Consequently, there is also no external church of which unconverted persons are members. The first proposition has been proven exhaustively in chapter 16; the second proposition is then certain, since the church is founded upon the covenant. As the covenant is, so is the church.
Secondly, all true members of the church are entitled to the use of the sacraments, whereby the benefits of the covenant are sealed to them. The bread and wine are the communion of the body and blood of Christ, which is broken and shed for the forgiveness of sins (cf. Rom 4:11; 1 Cor 10:16; Matt 26:26 – 28). The unconverted, however, have no right to use the sacraments, since they have neither part nor lot in the sealed benefits, and they thus eat and drink judgment to themselves. The Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper states: “All these, while they continue in such sins, shall abstain from this meat (which Christ hath ordained only for the faithful), lest their judgment and condemnation be made the heavier.” Thus, the unconverted are not members of the church.
Thirdly, the very essence of the church, which gathers in an external form, is union with Christ and each other by the Holy Spirit. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body … and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). The Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper speaks of this when it quotes 1 Cor 10:17, “For we being many are one bread, and one body: for w e are all partakers of that one bread.” It further states, “that we by the same Spirit (which dwelleth in Christ as in the head, and in us as His members), might have true communion with Him; … besides, that we by this same Spirit may also be united as members of one body in true brotherly love.” The unconverted, however, do not have this Spirit. “These be they … sensual, having not the Spirit” (Jude 1:19). Since the unconverted do not have the Spirit, they are none of Christ (Rom 8:9). Thus, they are no members of the church, for her members are mutually united by the Spirit and are Christ’s.
Fourthly, the name “church” is not applicable to the unconverted. The church is called, “… the house of God” (1 Tim 3:15); a spiritual house, built up of lively stones (1 Pet 2:5); the fold of Christ (John 10:16); “… the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col 1:13); “the congregation of the saints” (Ps 89:5);  “… the assembly of the upright” (Ps 111:1). The apostle, when writing to the congregation, denominates them as those “that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor 1:2); “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb 3:1). All of this, however, cannot be stated concerning the unconverted. Thus, they do not belong to the church, and consequently are not members of her.
Fifthly, this is also evident in 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.” Those who went out were the unconverted, who prior to their departure were in the church but nevertheless did not belong to the church. Thus, the unconverted, even though they are in the church, are not of the church, and therefore are no members of her.

Objections Answered Concerning Membership in the True Church

Objection #1: It is evident that a large multitude of unconverted persons associate with the church, are accepted as her members, remain members there, and partake of the sacraments. Therefore they are members of the church indeed.

Answer : (1) It is one thing to associate with the church and to be accepted as members, and another thing to be true members. The latter does not proceed from the first, for the acceptance of men as members is performed by men, who see only what is before their eyes and cannot judge according to the heart, leaving this to Him who knows the hearts. Regeneration or the probability of regeneration has not been established as a rule by which the elders of the church accept members. Rather, they are judged by their confession of the truth and their response to this truth, and by the manifestation of a life which does not contradict their confession. The rest is left to them and to the Lord.
(2) It is one thing to join the church externally, and it is another thing to speak of an external church. Even though they are externally in the church, this does not mean that there is an external church of which they are bonafide [de jure] members. Membership in an external church to which the promise of salvation is not annexed is not their objective, but rather a church as being a fellowship within which they may be saved. To this church they apply themselves, but only externally, and not in truth with a converted and believing heart. Therefore they are no members, even though men view them as such externally. They are thus within the church as a poisonous fruit which is attached to a good tree with good fruits. They are therefore within the church as strangers, who for some time dwell in a house, but whom no one deems to be family members. Because of this external association with the church there is also an external relationship to the Lord Jesus as King of His church, as well as her true members, and they enjoy the external privileges of the church. Their entrance into the church, and the church’s acceptance of them does not make them true members of the church. Such can only come about by faith and repentance.

Objection #2: On a threshing floor both wheat and chaff are to be found. The church is the threshing floor, and both chaff and wheat are in an identical relationship to the threshing floor. In like manner the unconverted and the converted belong to the same church.

Answer : There is no argument over the fact that both good and evil men are to be found in the church. We are not proposing, however, the chaff to be a “member” of the threshing floor, that is, the church. Chaff is present on the threshing floor as chaff and not as wheat. All who are in the church are not therefore of the church.

Objection #3: Consider Matt 13:24 – 25, 47. On the same field good fruit and tares were to be found, and the same net contained good and bad fishes. Thus, in the church both the good and the evil are equally members of the church.

Answer: The field does not represent the church, but the world (vs. 38), upon which both good and evil men reside. The fish net which gathers all fish, is examined by the fishermen, and only the good fish are placed in the barrels. One must keep the objective of the parable in view, which is not to show who are true members of the church, but what the end will be of the good and the evil. This passage is therefore not applicable here.

Objection #4: One could object by referring to 2 Tim 2:20: “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.” The house is the church, and the vessels are the members of the church. Among these members are also the unconverted, who are referred to as vessels of dishonor.

Answer: (1) The vessels in a house are not household members. Likewise the vessels of dishonor — the unconverted — are not members; they do not truly belong to the household.
(2) Again, one should not become entangled in details, but take note of the objective, which is to demonstrate who are the good and the evil within the church, a fact we readily admit. Not one word is mentioned here, however, whether or not they are true members of the church. Even if they are in the church, they are not therefore of the church.

Objection #5: If one maintains that only the converted are members of the church, one proposes that there is a pure church upon earth, which is contrary to the Bible and experience. [This is the poor objection every baptist hears from Presbyterians]

Answer: (1) True believers themselves are still subject to many impurities, and are far from being perfect.
(2) By maintaining that only true believers are members of the church, we do not claim that there are no unconverted in the congregation, but that they are not present as true members there. There neither has been nor will ever be a church upon earth in which there are no unconverted, that is, those who merely travel along; yes, the latter are generally in the majority. There is a significant difference between being in the church, and being of the church.

Objection #6: If only the truly converted are true members of the church, the true church which we need to identify is not recognizable, since one cannot be certain of the conversion of others.

Answer : One ought not to identify the church by regeneration, but by the true doctrine, and the sanctification of the confessing members conjoined with this true doctrine. These two are identifiable, and wherever these two are present, the true church is to be found. Whether someone possesses these two in truth or in pretense is a personal matter, however, and is not to be a distinguishing mark for the church for others. It thus remains certain that only true believers who congregate upon earth are members of the church, it being more or less visible. The unconverted are therefore not members of the church, though they be externally in her.