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§ 57. The Church, Collective and Representative.

The entire number of those who are called to salvation in Christ cannot equally participate in all the affairs of the Church by giving counsel, direction, or decision; it seeks, therefore, an instrumentality through which it can be represented, and to which it assigns this business, and it finds this in the Ministry, which is, therefore, not only entrusted with the business of publicly proclaiming the faith of the Church, [1] but also of leading the Church, and of discussing and deciding all the questions that may arise in it. The Ministry we therefore call the representative Church, as distinguished 600from the collective Church, by which we mean the whole number of the members of the Church. [2] This Ministry, then, assembles in a council, whenever special occasions call for consultation, from which council laymen are not excluded if they prove themselves experienced in ecclesiastical affairs, [3] and the conclusions there adopted serve as a rule for the Church. Such an assembly is called a General or Universal Council, if all, or, at all events, the most of the particular churches are represented in it; it is called a Particular Council if only a few particular churches are thus represented. [4] Due regard for order makes it necessary that each council have a president, but only for the purpose of introducing in proper order the matters to be discussed, and to preside over the deliberations, and not as though in the matters of faith themselves that are discussed he should have a higher authority. [5] Under ordinary circumstances, a council is called by the political ruler under whose outward protection the Church stands; in extraordinary cases, a portion of the members of the Church has the right to call it. [6] The assembling of a council can have no other purpose than to discuss and decide the matters in question upon the basis of the Holy Scriptures, [7] for even the council can have no other means of forming a decision; the authority of a council is, therefore, not absolutely decisive in all matters of faith, and the council can never demand the submission of the Church to its decrees simply because it has issued them, but only because, and only when, the decision has been made upon the basis of the divine Word, and in accordance with it. [8] The more unanimously adopted the decrees of a council are, and the greater the number of the particular churches that agree in adopting them, the greater weight do they have; although even then they are not infallible and therefore even then not of absolutely binding authority. [9]

[1] HOLL. (1320): “The profession of faith which is announced by the voice of pastors, when they inculcate doctrine in public congregations and declare it for the reception of hearers, is regarded as the common confession of the entire Church and of the individual members.”

[2] HOLL. (1277): “The Collective Church (ecclesia synthetica, 601απο της συνθεσεως, from the collection or connection of all the living members, who constitute one mystical body) is the Church taken collectively, consisting of teachers and hearers, joined by the bond of the same faith, and is called the collective Church in distinction from the Representative Church (Matt. 18:16), which is an assembly of Christian teachers formally assembled for the purpose of deciding questions concerning the doctrine of faith and practice” (QUEN. (IV, 478), “inasmuch as they can represent and explain the public doctrine of the Church more fully and correctly than the hearers alone without the teachers.”

The question here under consideration is, more generally stated, the following, viz.: “To whom does the government of the Church belong?” To this HUTT. answers (Loc. Com. Th., 568): “We contend that the aristocratic form of government is the best, and belongs most properly to the Church Militant on this earth.” More accurately: “It is our belief that it is the best and most advantageous of all forms of Church government, if the Church be united in the unity of the faith and Spirit into one mystical body, under one universal Head, Christ, and under one equal ministry of teachers, or pastors, or bishops of the Church. But the belief of the Romanists is this, that the best and most advantageous of all forms of Church government is, if the Church, in addition to Christ, recognize also a visible Head on this earth, namely, the Pope of Rome.” . . . HUTT. then proceeds (581): “The question is, If the monarchical form of government cannot exist, what form, therefore, has a place in the Church?” and answers: “I think that we ought to reply to this question not in an absolutely categorical manner, but we should proceed to it distinctly, according to the threefold relation which the Church sustains. For (1) the Church may be considered with respect to its supreme and only Head, which is Christ Jesus alone. In this respect, we acknowledge that the government of the Church is purely and absolutely monarchical. Again (2) the Church may be considered with regard to its mystical body, which grows together from the entire organism of called believers into one body, and is quickened by one Spirit. Now, in so far as, in the election and calling of ministers, the votes and suffrages of the entire people and all the three hierarchical orders are required; in so far, likewise, as the privileges, benefits, rights, and dignities of the Church are not confined to this or that order alone, or this or that man, but have been handed down and committed by Christ and the apostles to the entire Church; so far, certainly, FLACIUS ILLYRICUS judged not improperly that the government of the Church possessed something in common with a 602democracy . . . . Finally (3) the Church is considered, also, with respect to its ministers and pastors, but in such a manner that the universal and particular churches differ. For a particular church can have one certain pastor . . . . But the question is not with respect to such a government of a particular church, but only concerning the government of the universal or catholic Church; whether this, with respect to its pastors and bishops, is monarchical, and depends upon one. Where we maintain the negative,  . . . and believe and teach that this government is aristocratic, relying upon the following arguments: (1) The Church will at all times be administered in the same manner in which the primitive Church was governed by the apostles. But the apostles governed it in an aristocratic manner. Therefore, (2) That which is administered with equal justice by a few, and by these as the chief persons, is ruled in an aristocratic manner. But the Church is administered with equal justice by a few and these belonging to a higher class. Therefore, (3) A proof can be derived from the practice of the primitive Church, which was governed by bishops . . . . (4) And the last proof can be produced from the agreement of antiquity . . . We therefore conclude our thesis with this general syllogism: ‘Whatever God appointed, whatever was always observed by the apostles, was confirmed by the practice of the early Church, and finally was profitable and advantageous to the Church, that must be regarded as necessary, and be firmly retained in the Church. But such government of the Church, with respect to bishops and teachers, was aristocratic . . . . Therefore it must be regarded as necessary, and be firmly retained, nor must it be changed in any way into a monarchy.’”

[3] HOLL. (1320): “In councils, the teachers and delegates of the Church are assembled” (Br. (773): “Laymen, provided they be experienced and skilful in sacred affairs, godly, and peace-loving”), “to whom the power has been committed, by the entire communion of believers, of examining and deciding concerning the public interpretation of doctrine in doubtful and controverted points.”

As in councils the clergy largely preponderate, there is no need in the definition of the Representative Church just given, of any special mention of the laity.

“The subjects with which councils are occupied are questions concerning the doctrines of faith, the practical duties, and the ceremonies of the Church of Christ. Example, Acts 15:29.” God is called “the principal and remote cause of a just and legitimate council.” QUEN. (IV. 483): “Councils have a divine origin. In the Old Testament, Numb. 11:16; Deut. 17:9; Ps. 122:5. In 603the New Testament as to genus, Matt. 18:17 (where by the Church is meant the assembly judging. But a promiscuous multitude does not judge. Therefore, a representative Church is intimated, which is the assembly of teachers” (HOLL., 1321)), “having been inaugurated by the renowned apostolic conference at Jerusalem, Acts 15:28.”

[4] HOLL. (1324): “There are general councils, to which learned and godly men are called either from all or from very many parts of the Christian world. There are also particular or national councils, to which learned and godly men of a single nation are summoned; or provincial, in which the teachers of a single province assemble; or diocesan, which consist of religious men of a single diocese.”

[5] HOLL. (1322): “The invisible President of the council is the Holy Ghost (Acts 15:28, who, by means of the Word comprised in Holy Scripture, speaks, teaches, enlightens, and directs the minds of the Church’s arbiters). The visible president is either political or ecclesiastical. The political president is a Christian emperor, king, or prince, or some one delegated by him. The ecclesiastical president is one bishop or more, chosen by the emperor, king, or prince, or by the common vote of the entire council.

The political president controls the outward order of the councils, affords, to those conferring, security from external violence, prevents tumults, suppresses controversies, approves the decisions of the greater and better part, sanctions them by a public edict, and carries them into execution. The ecclesiastical president controls the internal affairs of the Church, or those particular ecclesiastical actions which pertain to the doctrine of faith, not with coercive, but with ordinate authority, and accurately states, and clearly explains, the questions to be considered.”

(1323): “The arbiters and judges in the councils are, in addition to the presiding officers, not only bishops, teachers, and pastors, but laymen also, well versed in sacred literature, godly lovers of truth and peace, delegated by the churches to give their vote concerning the subjects proposed (Acts 15:22, 25).”

[6] HOLL. (1321): “The power to announce and convoke a council, belongs to an orthodox civil magistrate; in the absence of whom believers themselves can, without injustice to the heterodox princes of their domains, appoint an ecclesiastical assembly. NOTE. — If the magistrate be heterodox and unbelieving, nevertheless the right and power to convoke councils does not cease, if the orthodox earnestly request it. But, if, when it is asked, he do not assent to it, the bishops themselves, in accordance with the example 604of the apostles, can, by request as it were, assemble councils (Acts 15:2).”

Hence, the antithesis against the Roman Catholic Church: “1. The right and authority to announce councils, especially general councils, does not belong to the Pope of Rome, but to the highest political magistrate. 2. The president (ecclesiastical) is not necessarily the Roman bishop, or his legates, but those who are chosen for this office by the suffrages of the bishops.” (QUEN., IV, 516.)

[7] The only principle and norm, by which to decide controverted questions concerning doctrines and morals, is canonical Scripture (Deut. 4:2; Is. 8:20; 1 Tim. 3:15; Gal. 1:8; 6:16).

[8] HOLL. (1325): “Councils possess great authority, and this is both decretory (in establishing good order, and appointing rites, and correcting the morals of the Church, in order that all things may be done decently and in order, 1 Cor. 14:40) and decisive (in doctrines of faith);” but the decision is “not purely judicial, but that of a servant and minister, being bound to a regular method of interpreting passages of Scripture (which they do not possess from the fact that they precisely represent the Church Universal). The authority of councils is not derived from a perfect representation of the Catholic Church (inasmuch as there never is a council that precisely represents the Church Universal, and, therefore, there is no council absolutely universal and oecumenical); but they possess it from their dependence upon Holy Scripture, and from the agreement of their decrees with the same.”

[9] HOLL. (1325): “Although some authority is a posteriori given to councils by the consent of churches existing throughout the entire world” (“the councils which are received by a majority of churches, are judged to possess such authority, that from them the doctrine of the true Church may be inferred not obscurely”), “yet, this is not infallible or free from danger of erring (for those who, when out of the council, are liable to mistake, remain the same even when assembled in a council; but teachers of the Church, when out of the council, are liable to mistake . . . . Therefore . . . ).”

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