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§ 82. Name of the Church.—Its Form traced back to Christ himself.
But even if it be admitted that Christ intended to found a Church, the further (but less important) question arises, whether the name, 124ἐκκλησια, which has been stamped upon it, had its origin with himself. There is no ground for doubting even this (as some have done), and thereby casting suspicion upon passages like Matt., xvi., 18, in which he is reported to have used the term. The name corresponds to the Hebrew קָהָל, in connexion with הָאֱלהִים ,יְהוָה ,יִשְׂרָאֵל, which expressed the old Theocratic national community; and so was transferred to the new congregation of God, which was to emerge from the ancient covering. This communion in itself, indeed, is nothing but the form in which Christ has established the kingdom of God upon earth, and in which he intends it shall develope itself until its full consummation.
But it must not, therefore, be concluded that this community was ever to realize itself in the form of a State.191191 See this inference drawn by Rothe, in his work “Uber die Anfänge der Christlichen Kirche und ihrer Verfassung,” p. 89. The name, borrowed from an earthly kingdom, is, on one side, entirely symbolical, and was immediately taken from the form in which the idea of the Divine community was represented by the Jewish nation. But the essential difference between the Jewish and the Christian stand-point consists in this, that in the latter the political element is wholly discarded. Excluding all other relations that belong to the essence of a state, the only real feature expressed by the symbolical name is the monarchical principle; and that, too, in a sense that cannot be applied to any temporal state, without subverting its organism, and making it a horde of slaves under the arbitrary will of a despot. The fundamental principle of the Christian community is, that there shall be no other subordination than that of its members to God and Christ, and that this shall be absolute; while, in regard to each other, they are to be upon the footing of complete equality. Christ himself drew a striking contrast between his own community and all political organizations in this respect.192192 Luke, xxii., 25, 26.
But even though it be admitted that Christ intended to found a visible Church, and gave the first impulse to a movement that was afterward to propagate itself, it does not necessarily follow that he himself directly established such a separate community, and made the arrangements and preparations that naturally belonged to it.
It may be said that the outward fabric of the visible Church could not be erected until that which constituted its true essence, viz., the life of the invisible Church, which as yet lay only in the germ, should be more fully unfolded—until the higher life had obtained in the disciples a more substantial and self-dependent form, a state of things presupposed in a community whose manifold members were reciprocally 125to affect each other. So, too, it may be said193193 As is asserted by Weisse (p. 387, seq.; 406, seq.), whose views and proofs we shall examine in another place. that one of the specific differences between Christ and other founders of religions was, that, as he did not impart a complete and sharply-defined system of doctrines to his Apostles, but left it to their human activity, under the guidance of the Divine Spirit, to form such a system from the elements which he bestowed,194194 It is not without good ground, therefore, that we do not devote a separate section of this work to a systematic exposition of the doctrines of Christ, but content ourselves, both here and in the Apostolic age, with pointing out, in his words, the fundamental principles which were afterward expanded by the Apostles. so, also, he founded no outwardly complete and accurately defined religious community, with a fixed form of government, usages, and rules of worship; but, after implanting the Divine germ of this community, left it also to human agency, guided by the same Holy Spirit, to develope the forms which it should assume under the varying relations of human society. According to this view, only the fructifying elements were given by Christ, and all the rest was left to human developement proper, animated by the Divine principle of life.
According to this view, the only defined community which Christ established was that of the Apostles, who, as bearers and organs of his Spirit, formed the sole prototype of the Church, which only grew up at a later period from the seed which Christ had sown. He did not wish to establish an exclusive school or sect, but to draw all men to himself. In this view, further, it would be necessary to suppose that he had, at that time, fixed no rite of initiation into his narrower fellowship; that such passages as John, iii., 22; Matt., xxviii., 19, arose only from the attempts of a later period to ascribe the origin of baptism directly to Christ; and that baptism, with confession of the name of Christ, was introduced by the Apostles subsequently195195 Weisse thinks that the first trace of the institution is to be found in Acts, ii., 38. to the formation of a separate Christian congregation, as a sign of membership therein. And the high estimate196196 The ecclesiastical import of baptism would remain untouched, even if it were granted that the symbol was first instituted by the Apostles at the time of the bestowing of the Holy Spirit, which the rite symbolized; for, even in that case, we must consider them as Christ’s organs, and acting out his will. which was put upon the rite may be ascribed, not to its having been instituted by Christ, but to the extraordinary phenomena of inspiration which were wont to attend it.
We agree fully with the fundamental principle of the view just recited. Christ only prepared the way for the foundation of the Church, according to its inner essence and its outward form; as he gave no complete doctrinal system, so he erected no Church fabric that was to stand through all time; his work was rather to implant in humanity the new spirit, which was to adapt to itself such outward 126forms as would meet the wants of human progress in successive ages But, while we cordially go thus far, we do not find ourselves warranted, either by history or by the idea of such a community, in granting so wide a latitude as the theory demands to a principle so just in itself.
The gradual and natural formation of the circle of disciples about Christ is no reason for believing that he did not found a Church. His manifestation to men of different degrees of susceptibility caused, indeed, a sifting process, which soon separated the congregation of believers from the mass that rejected Christ; but the natural way in which this result was brought about is no argument against the establishment of the Church at that time, more than against its existence at any time; for, in fact, in a certain sense this is always the case. The relations of Christ to the world typified, in every respect, what were afterward to be the relations of Christianity to the world. We find the name of disciples applied with a wider signification than that of Apostles; and why may we not consider the bands of these, scattered through different parts of Palestine, and especially those who, apart from the Apostles, formed the constant retinue of Christ, as constituting the first nucleus of the Church?
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