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DISPUTATION 18

ON THE CHURCH AND ITS HEAD

RESPONDENT: GERARD, THE SON OF HELMICHIUS

As it is of the greatest utility to hold a right belief about the church of God and its Head, and as there is at present a great controversy between the Orthodox and the Papists respecting this matter, it appears to us that we shall not be profitably occupied , if we treat of the Church and of its Head in a few Theses.

I. The Church, ecclesia, is a word of Greek origin, used in the Greek version of the Old Testament for the Hebrew word l h q , "the assembly;" (Deut. xxiii. 2; Judges xx. 2) and properly signifies a "congregation of persons called out," from the very etymology of the word and from the most frequent usage of the Sacred writings, without any distinction of the small or the great number of those who belong to such an assemblage. For sometimes it signifies the universal assembly of all those who have been called out; (Acts xx. 28; Ephes. i. 22;) at other times, an extraordinary multitude; (Acts ii. 41, 47;) and at other times, only a few persons, comprised in a single family. (Rom. xvi. 5.) This diversity in its application is made on account of one essential reason in all of them; and as this reason belongs equally to an assembly of few persons, of many, and of all, these several assemblages equally partake of the name of "the church," with this difference alone, that a congregation consisting of numerous members is called a greater church, but not more a church, according to the axiom of the Logicians, "A substance does not receive more and less."

II. According to this very general notion the church of God is defined, "A congregation of men called forth by God, out of their own nature, into the supernatural dignity of adoption as sons of God to his glory, and of those who answer this call of God." For the act of vocation, as proceeding from God who calls, and as properly received by those who are called, completes his church. Under this definition are likewise comprehended those angels who are called in Scripture "the elect;" (1 Tim. v. 21;) whether they be considered as an assembly separated from men, or as belonging to one church with men. (Psalm lxviii. 17; Jude. 14; Rev. v. 11; Heb. xii. 22.) According to this notion, the church, embracing all, is especially called "Catholic." But omitting any further mention of angels, about whose vocation the Scriptures speak sparingly, we will contemplate the church as consisting of human beings. We must here consider men in two respects—according to the primeval state in which they were created after the image of God, and in reference to their fall from that state into corruption and misery.

III. Because, when men are considered in their primitive state, they were created to be not only what they actually were, but likewise to be elevated to a state of higher felicity, agreeing with the image of God; bearing the impress of which, as children they resembled their Heavenly Father; (Gen. i. 27; Luke iii. 38;) therefore, in this state, theirs was the calling forth, by which they were called out from nature and natural felicity to partake of the fruit of Divine adoption, by the observance of the law which had been imposed on them, and which had been sanctioned by the promise of a life of blessedness assured to them through the sacrament of the tree of life, (Gen. ii. 9, 10,) and by a threat of death. They were therefore the church of God, neither redeemed by the blood of Christ, nor formed anew by regeneration of the Spirit, nor by a new creation, but they were instituted as a church by the primitive creation of God, and formed by a vocation according to the legal covenant.

IV. Before the fall, this church in reality consisted only of our first parents, Adam and Eve; but in capacity it embraced the whole of the human race that were included in their loins, and that were afterwards to proceed from them by natural propagation. This was done by God’s constant and perpetual ordinance, according to which he included all their posterity in the covenant into which He had entered with the parents, provided the parents continued in this covenant. (Gen. xvii. 7; Rom. v. 12, 14.) And in this respect, the church before the fall may take to itself the epithet of "Catholic." But, as a promise of the remission of sins was not annexed to this covenant, when our first parents transgressed this law, which had been imposed as a trial of obedience, they fell from the covenant and ceased to be the church of God, (Jer. xi. 3,) they were expelled from the tree of life and out of Paradise, the symbols of life eternal and of the place in which it was to be enjoyed, and were thus by nature rendered "children of wrath." (Gen. 3.)

V. Wherefore, if a church was to be again collected from among men, it was to be called out from that state of sin and misery; but it was to be collected through the decree of the gracious mercy of God. He therefore employed such a mode of calling the members forth as was agreeable to that state, that is, the institution of a new and gracious covenant, as the word is used in the writings of the evangelism. (Jer. xxxi. 33; Matt. xxvi. 28.) This covenant exhibits remission of sins ratified by the blood of the Mediator, Christ the only begotten Son of God, and the Spirit of grace through faith in Him. (Heb. ix. 15; Gal. iii. 2, 5; iv, 19.) To a participation in this covenant men have been called "in divers manners," according to the economy of time most wisely arranged by God. First, by the declaration or solemn promise of the blessed seed, (Gen. iii. 15; Rom. i. 2,) when the heir was by appointment constituted an infant: wherefore He was also to be detained for a time under the preparatory discipline of the law economically repeated. Afterwards, by that full manifestation in the Gospel, when, according to "the time appointed of God the Father," the heir had arrived at maturity. (Gal. iv. 1-4; Matt. xi. 11-13.)

VI. But this economic distinction, and this diversity in the method of calling forth, do not make a double and in substance a different church. For it is one and the same person that is an infant and afterwards a full-grown man, not distinguished except with regard to age and advancement according to increased age. But the whole church, both before and after Christ, is called one heir. (Gal. 4.) The whole church, collected together from among the Jews and the Gentiles, is also called "one new man;" and not from those Jews only who lived after the advent of Christ, but likewise from those who lived prior to his coming, when the Gentiles were without Christ," being then aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise." (Ephes. ii. 12-15.) The church is one city, the heavenly Jerusalem, "the mother of all" those who are blessed with faithful Abraham, and who, "as Isaac was, are the children of promise." (Gal. iv. 26-28.) It is also one house of God founded upon Christ the chief corner-stone, which has been laid in a foundation the most firm and stable, through the preaching not only of the apostles, but likewise of the prophets, (Ephes. ii. 20-22,) to the latter of whom also belong Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as Moses himself, who according to the authority of the promise was a son, (Heb. xi. 24-26,) although a servant in the house with regard to the economical legislation which was administered by his hands. (iii, 4.)

VII. This assembly being distinguished in the manner already described, by the names of "the one heir" and "the one new man," of "the one city" and "the one house of God," is in the most ample signification and in the widest latitude called "the Catholic Church," collected together from among men of every period and age from the first promise of the seed of the woman to the end of the world, and of all places; men who have been called forth to the participation of the grace of God, and to the service of his glory; and who are obedient to this Divine calling. (Heb. 11; xii, 22- 24.) It is distributed into two integral members, each of which is homogeneous and similar to the whole; that is, into the church before Christ, and that after Him: (Gal. iv. 1-4; Heb. xi. 40.) But as a discussion upon their agreement and difference will be a labour rather too prolix, we will not enter into it on this occasion: omitting therefore the peculiar consideration of that which was before Christ, our further attention shall be directed to that which is specially called "Christian," yet not to the entire exclusion of the other.

VIII. We may be permitted, therefore, to define the Christian church, "A congregation of believers, who have been called by the saving vocation of God from the state of corruption to the dignity of the sons of God through the gospel, and are by a true faith engrafted into Christ, as living members are to the Head, to the praise of the glorious grace of God. (Matt. v. 15, 16; Acts iv. 31; 1 Pet. ii. 9; v, 10; Rom. viii. 28-30; vi, 5; Ephes. iii. 17; v, 30.) This, as a general definition, belongs to every congregation of believers, whether it be small or large; it also appertains to the Catholic church, which contains the entire number of believers from the time when Christ came into his kingdom unto the consummation of all things: which universal company we properly describe, if we add these few words to the previous description, "Of all the believers who have been called out from every tongue, tribe, people, nation and vocation," &c. From this it is apparent, that the Catholic or universal church differs from particular churches in nothing which relates to the substance of the church, but solely in its amplitude: an argument which ought to be diligently observed in our controversy with the Papists.

IX. The efficient cause of the church, that both produces her by regeneration and preserves her by daily education, and that perfects her by an immediate union of her to himself, is God the Father, in his well beloved Son Jesus Christ, by the Spirit of Christ who is the Redeemer and the Head of the church. (2 Tim. i. 9; 1 Pet. i. 12.) We view the gospel as the instrument, that is, "the incorruptible seed by which the church is born again." (1 Pet. i. 23, 25.) Hence those persons also whom God appointed to be ministers of the Gospel, were the instrumental causes, and are called "co-operators," or "workers together with God," of whom some are employed in laying the foundation, others in raising the superstructure. (1 Cor. iii. 5, 10; Rev. xv. 18-21; Ephes. ii. 20.) They are indeed the founders of many particular churches, by their oral preaching; but by their writings which have been delivered down to us, they are the founders of all churches and of the whole Catholic church; on this account the entire church of Christ is called Apostolical.

X. We call the act of this cause that produces the church, and preserves her, "a calling forth." This word includes, First, the point from which a commencement is made to that in which it terminates, and, then, the means by which men proceed from the one to the other. (1.) The point of commencement is the state of sin and misery, in which state, a sinner without the law is at ease and flatters himself; but to which a sinner is averse who is under the law through the vocation previously administered by the legal spirit, that is, the spirit of bondage, and from which he desires to be delivered. (Matt. ix. 13; xi, 28; Rom. 7.) The point of termination is the dignity of being adopted as the sons of God, which, also, with respect to the desire of those who have been called forth, may be fitly denominated their end. (2.) The means by which men proceed from the one point to the other, is faith in Christ, by which we obtain this dignity, and are "translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light" and of the Son of God, through the decree of divine predestination. (Jer. i. 12; Col. i. 13; Acts xvi. 17.)

XI. Hence it will easily appear what it is that we have laid down as the matter or substance of this calling forth, about which it is conversant, and in which it exercises its operation. Sinners are the remote matter; for to them alone is an entrance into this way necessary. The still nearer matter are sinners through the law acknowledging their sins, deploring their state, and expecting redemption. (Gal. ii. 15, 16, 21; Matt. ix. 13; xi, 28; Rom. viii. 28-30.) Believers are the proximate matter, who, alone, are called to the fellowship of Jesus Christ, and to a participation of the inheritance which he has purchased for his children with his own blood, and of which he is constituted the dispenser to those who obey him. (Heb. v. 9.) For however perfect in the act, vocation is, when it has proceeded from Him who calls us, yet a relative effect is required for this purpose, that they who are called may be numbered in the name of the church. (Acts ii. 41.) Wherefore we exclude from the church, unbelievers, apostates, hypocrites, and those heretics who do not hold Christ as the head. (Ephes. i. 22.) We make a distinction between those who have not been baptized with the external baptism of water, those who have been excommunicated by the sentence of the church, and schismatics; and according to the varying distinction in each case, we affirm either that they belong to the church, or that they do not belong to her.

XII. As the form of the church is of the genus of relatives, we place it as relatively necessary, and in reality in the relation of disquiparancy, as we are enjoined to do by the relative names by which the church is called. For she is called "the body," (Ephes. i. 23,) "the bride" (John iii. 29,) "the city of the kingdom," (Heb. i. 8,) and "the house" (1 Tim. iii. 15,) in relation to "the Head," (Ephes. i. 22; Col. i. 18,) to "the Bridegroom" to "the King," and "the Master," or the Father of the family. But the relation between these things which are thus relatively placed, consists of three points or degrees, union, appointment and communication. (1.) The form therefore of the church in union is with her Head, Husband, King and Master of the house or family; which is formed by his Spirit, and by the faith of the church. (Gal. ii. 30; Rom. viii. 9-11.) (2.) In her subordination under her Head, Husband and King, which is required by the perfection and virtue of her Head, and by the necessity and usefulness of the church herself. (Ephes. v. 23.) (3.) In the influence of life, sensation and motion, which influence benevolently proceeds from the Head, and is happily apprehended by the church.

XIII. The chief end of the church is the glory of Him by whose gracious evocation the church is what she is; the glory which He completes in His gracious acts towards the church, by creating, preserving, increasing and perfecting her. (Ephes. i. 12.) To this glory is justly subordinate, that which the church is commanded to ascribe to Him, and which she will ascribe as the perfecting of her "throughout all ages, world without end." (Rom. xi. 36; 1 Pet.. ii, 9; Ephes. iii, 21; v, 20.) As the salvation of the church is the gift of her Head and King, it cannot be the end of his church, though it may be the end which she intends by her faith, and which she strives to obtain, that she may be blessed before God.

XIV. But the church is herself now distinguished according to the acts of God towards her, so far as she perceives all or some of them. (1.) She that has a perception only of the act of creation and preservation, is said to be in the way or course, and is called militant, because she must still contend with sin, the flesh, the world and Satan. (Ephes. vi. 11, 12; Heb. xii. 1-4. (2.) But she that is made partaker besides, of the consummation, is said to be in her own land, and is called triumphant. After conquering her enemies, she rests from her labours, and reigns with Christ in heaven. (Rev. iii. 21; xiv, 13.) To that part of the church which is militant on earth, the title of Catholic or universal is likewise ascribed, as embracing within her pale every particular combatant or soldier. We place neither any church, nor anything belonging to her, in purgatory, for that is a real utopia, and of great notoriety among all men.

XV. Hence, since the calling forth of the church is made inwardly by the spirit, and outwardly by the word preached (Acts xvi. 14,) and since those who are called answer inwardly by faith, and outwardly by the profession of their faith, as they who are called have an inward man and an outward; (2 Cor. iv. 16;) therefore, in reference to those who are called, the church is distinguished into the visible and the invisible from an external adjunct and accident. She is invisible, as "believing with the heart unto righteousness;" and she is visible, as "making confession with the mouth unto salvation." (Rom. x. 9, 10.) This visibility and invisibility belong neither less nor more to the whole catholic church than to each particular church. For that which is called "the catholic invisible church" does not appertain to this subject, because it can not come together into one place, and thus be exposed to view. But as more persons "are called" than "are chosen" or elected. (Matt. xx. 16.) And as many of the called profess with their mouths "that they know God, while in works they deny him;" (Tit. i. 16;) and since of the hearts of these men, God is the sole judge, who alone "knoweth them that are his;" (2 Tim. ii. 19;) therefore such persons are judged, on account of the promise, to belong to the visible church, although equivocally, since they do not belong to the invisible church, and have none of that inward communion with the Head, which is the Form of the church.

XVI. Then, since the church is collected out of "the world that lieth wholly in wickedness," (John xv. 19; Matt. xv. 9,) and as this office is frequently performed by ministers who preach another doctrine than that which the word of God contains; (2 Cor. xi. 15; Gal. iii. 1-3;) and since the church is composed of men who are exposed to deception and to falling—nay, of such as are actually deceived and fallen; on this account, the church is distinguished, with respect to the doctrine of faith, into "the orthodox" and "the heretical;" with respect to divine worship, into "the idolatrous," and that which retains the "right worship of God and of Christ;" and with respect to the moral virtues prescribed in the second table of the law into "a purer church, or into "one that is more impure." In all these respects, degrees are also to be observed, according to which one church is more heretical, idolatrous and impure, than another. But concerning all these things, a right judgment must be formed according to the Scriptures. In this relation, too, the word "catholic" is used respecting those churches which are neither oppressed with destructive heresy nor are idolatrous.

XVII. Wherefore, that question is confused and preposterous which asks, "Can the Catholic church err?" when the inquiry ought rather to be, "Can the assembly that errs be the church?" For as faith is prior to the church, and as the church obtains this appellation on account of her believing, so the name of "the church" is taken away from any church so far as she errs from the faith. Yet if this question be pressed by any one, we say that by it nothing more is asked than this, "Can it happen that at any one time there can be no assemblage or congregation of men in the whole world who have not a right faith in Christ and God," To which an answer is readily made by a negation; because the church on earth will never totally fail, but must continue to be collected together without interruption to the end of the world, although not always from the same places and nations. (Matt. xxviii. 20; Rev. ii. 5.) Otherwise, Christ will not have any kingdom on earth, and will not rule in the midst of his enemies until they be made his footstool. (Psalm cx. 1, 2.)

We have hitherto treated of the church herself, let us now briefly consider her head.

XVIII. The conditions of the Head of the church are, that it should contain within itself, in a manner the most perfect, all things necessary to the life and salvation of the church, that it should have a due proportion to the church, should be fitly united to her and placed in order with her, and that by its own virtue it may supply to her life, sensation and motion. But these conditions agree with Christ alone. For "in Him all fullness dwells;" (Col. i. 19;) "and of his fullness have all we received." (John i. 16.) Him hath the Father constituted "the Head over all things to the church;" and he bestows salvation on his body, which is the church. (Ephes. i. 22; v, 25.) By his spirit, the church is animated, perceives and moves. (Rom. viii. 9-12.) Nor is this to be understood only about internal communication, but likewise concerning external administration; for it is He who sends forth his word and his Spirit, (Matt. xxviii. 19; Acts ii. 33,) who institutes a ministry in the church, who appoints, as presidents over this ministry, apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers. (Ephes. iv. 11, 12.) On this account, He is called "the chief Pastor or Shepherd," (1 Pet. v. 4,) who assists and "works with" his ministers, "both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost;" (Mark xvi. 20; Acts iv. 30;) and who defends his church against her enemies, and procures likewise her temporal good, so far as He considers it to be requisite for her inward and eternal benefit.

XIX. This name therefore, "the Head of the Church," cannot be adapted, according to any consideration, either to the apostle Peter or to the Roman pontiff. The papists, themselves, grant that it cannot be according to internal communication; and we prove that it cannot be according to external administration, in the following manner: (1.) St. Peter was himself constituted an apostle by Christ, after the same constitution as that by which Christ is said to have appointed apostles. (Ephes. iv. 7, 11; 1 Pet. i. 1.) Therefore, the rest of the apostles were not constituted by St. Peter, which appointment St. Paul expressly denies respecting himself, when he says that he obtained his apostleship "neither of men nor by man;" (Gal. i. 1.) (2.) St. Peter is a fellow-elder. Therefore, he is not the chief of the elders. (1 Pet. v. 1.) (3.) To St. Peter "was committed the gospel of the circumcision," as that of the uncircumcision was by equal right and authority committed to St. Paul. Therefore "they gave to each other the right hand of fellowship." (Gal. ii. 7-9.) (4.) St. Peter was reprehended by St. Paul, "because he did not walk uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel;" Therefore, he was not a suitable person to receive in charge the administration of the whole church. (5.) St. James, Cephas and John, are all placed by the apostle Paul as equal in degree; nay, as being accounted columns by the churches, with no difference among them. (6.) On the twelve foundations of the new Jerusalem are inscribed "the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb," each name on each foundation without the pre-eminence of any single one apart. (7.) St. Paul says that "in nothing was he behind the very chief apostles." (2 Cor. xii. 11.) Therefore, he was not inferior to St. Peter, who was one of them. (8.) St. Paul says that he "laboured more abundantly than all the rest." (1 Cor. xv. 10.) But he could not have spoken this with truth, if the care of managing the whole church lay upon St. Peter, and if he administered its concerns through St. Paul and other persons. The objections which the papists urge in favour of the primacy or pre-eminence of St. Peter, will be examined in the disputation itself.

XX. Hence it follows that neither does this title of "the Head of the church" belong to the Roman pontiff. For whatever portion of right and dignity belongs to him, the papists say, it is derived from St. Peter, because he has succeeded to the chair and to the functions of that apostle. But let it be allowed for the sake of argument, though by no means conceded, that the primacy of administration over the whole church was granted to Peter; yet it does not follow from this that the same right has devolved on the Roman pontiff; for, before this inference can be deduced from such a supposition, the following propositions must be previously proved: (1.) That this right was not personal but successive. (2.) That this succession was inseparably connected with a certain chair; that he who succeeded to it enjoyed this right; and that he had in fact, by some means or other, irrefragibly gained possession of this chair. (3.) That St. Peter was bishop of Rome, and that he died in Rome while discharging the duties of that bishopric. (4.) That, from the period of St. Peter’s death in the discharge of his episcopal functions at Rome, this primacy has been inseparably connected with the papal chair. All these things, therefore, they must prove by undoubted arguments, since they teach it to be of the necessity of salvation that every man be subject to the Roman pontiff.

To that God in whom, by whom, and for whom all things subsist, be praise and glory forever and ever!

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