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§ 56. Of the Church [1] in a Wider and a Narrower Sense.

IN view of the efficiency which God has communicated to the means of grace appointed by Him, it may naturally be expected (Is. 55:10; 59:21) that through their instrumentality there should arise a community of such as really embrace the saving grace offered to them. These recognize as their Lord and their Head, Christ, who, by giving Himself up to death, has not only made a congregation of the redeemed possible, but preserves the same, presides over it as Head and King, and procures for it everything that is necessary and serviceable for its existence and prosperity. [2] This congregation is most intimately united to Him, and its members are also most intimately joined together by the bond of a common faith, a common hope, and reciprocal love; [3] so that all who have become so united and believing constitute a single, great communion, which we call the Church. [4] To the Church belong all those who have the same faith and the same hope, however widely they may be separated one from another by space and time. The Church embraces, therefore, not only those now living, but, as well, those who have died in the faith; and between these there is only this difference, that the latter have already reached the goal, the former are still striving after it (Church militant, triumphant). [5] There is, therefore, only one such communion, because there is only one 583Head to whom all are subject, and only one faith through which they can be saved. This communion we then call holy, because in it the Holy Ghost is operating, to sanctify it; catholic, because, however widely the members of the Church are scattered, yet at all times and in all places the same faith is confessed; apostolic, because its faith, resting upon that proclaimed by the apostles, has never, in the course of time, been changed.

[6] Only those who belong to this communion are certain of their salvation, for the only way of salvation lies in the faith which is the faith of this communion (extra ecclesiam nulla salus). [7] To this communion, moreover, the promise is given that it shall endure for all times, [8] and it can never utterly fall into error, because in the Word of God it possesses the eternal truth. [9]

If moreover, the members of this communion are joined together by the like hope and the like faith, it is just as natural as it is desired by God, that those who dwell together in the same place and at the same time, should combine in a close, visible community; so that thus the one, universal Church should take the form of several particular churches (ecclesia universalis — particularis), [10] and its actual existence be also externally recognized by such combination. It then becomes the duty of each such congregation to draw others also into the same saving fellowship with Christ, and for this end to employ the means of grace by which individuals can be gained. The particular [or individual] Church will then have to count all such as belonging to it, who unite themselves to it, though it be only by an outward profession: for, first, as it cannot, like God, look into the heart, it has no means whereby to determine whether any individual has indeed inwardly followed the call addressed to him; secondly, it can still always hope, in regard to those who at first have only outwardly accepted the call, that, through the power of the divine Word and Sacraments, they will still in time give inward heed to it. Concerning the particular church we cannot, however, assert so unconditionally, that it is a congregation of believers, i.e., of such as have accepted the saving grace offered to them; to it, therefore, the definition of the Church 584thus far given, viz., the communion of believers, does not apply, for in the midst of it there may be those who have not yet accepted the offered grace. While we count only those as belonging to the Church, as the communion of believers, whose treatment of the offered grace is what it should be, we must count as belonging to the particular Church all those also who stand in outward relation to and in connection with it. And thus we see ourselves driven to admit a twofold conception of the Church, viz., the Church in the narrow sense, composed of only true believers, and the Church in the wider sense, by which we understand the congregation of those who have joined themselves together in the same confession in the use of the Sacraments (ecclesia stricte et late dicta). [11] We do not thereby assume two churches, antagonistic and standing alongside of each other; rather, the relation between them is this, that the Church in the narrower sense exists in the midst of the Church in the wider sense — not so that the latter is numerically equal to the former, but that it contains, or at least may contain, members within itself whom we dare not count as belonging to the Church in the narrower sense. [12] Thus, every one will readily understand that individuals are to be counted as belonging to the Church in this wider sense, not, however, who of them belong to the Church in the narrower sense; and hence the distinction between the visible and invisible Church corresponds to that between the Church widely and narrowly considered. [13] It becomes of the greatest importance, then, if these distinctions be made, not to transfer without qualification the promises and predicates that are given to the Church in the narrower sense to the Church in the wider sense, [14] which course might easily give occasion to false fear or to false hopes, and to selfdeception. [15] Concerning the latter it cannot be said, in the same sense, but only by synecdoche, [16] that it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, or that it cannot fail or err; [17] rather, from the fact that the call reaches many who do not receive it in their hearts, it already is manifest, that individuals in it often fail and err, and it is quite as possible that the evil may preponderate in the Church as the good should do so.

The Church (in the wider sense) is further called a true or a 585false one, not in consequence of there being a greater or smaller number of believers or unbelievers in it, but just in proportion as the doctrines of the Gospel are preached in it purely or impurely, and as the means by which we attain salvation are more or less purely and fully administered in it. [18] The pure preaching of the divine Word and the proper administration of the Sacraments are, therefore, the marks by which we may recognize the Church as a true one. [19]

[1] GRH. (XI, 7): “The word Church [ecclesia] (from εκκαλειν) generically signifies an assembly or congregation, whence it is applied to political and secular assemblies. In order, therefore, that the holy assembly of the Church may be distinguished from secular assemblies, it is called the Church of God, η εκκλησια του θεου, Neh. 13:1; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:16, 22; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:5, 15. Likewise εκκλησια εν θεω, 1 Thess. 1:1, του κυριου, Deut. 23:1; Micah 2:5. But, inasmuch as even heretics boast of a church, for the sake of difference and honor the true Church is called η εκκλησια των αγιων, Ps. 89:15; 149:1; 1 Cor. 14:33, to which is opposed η εκκλησια πονερηυομενων, Ps. 26:5; Rev. 2:9. Finally, inasmuch as the Church of both the Old and the New Testaments is said to be the Church of God and of the Lord, in order to express the difference, the New Testament Church is said to be the Church of Christ. Matt. 16:18; Rom. 16:16; Col. 1:24.”

[2] HOLL. (1292): “The Head of the Church is Christ, the God-man (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22, 23; 4:16), not only because of His superior eminence and perfection above the members, but also especially because of the moral and physical or real influence, which, according to both natures, He affords the members of His mystical body. The influence which Christ exerts over the members of the Church is twofold: (1) moral, which consists in this, that Christ, by virtue of His merit, has acquired all spiritual blessings, Eph. 1:3; (2) physical, or real, so called in distinction from that which is moral; this Christ affords the members of His Church efficiently, through actions terminating in themselves, by enkindling, increasing and strengthening faith, love, and other Christian virtues; by comforting anxious minds, by sustaining the wavering, by bringing back the wandering, by governing each and every one in the course of life.”

The Church is, accordingly, the kingdom in which Christ exercises His dominion; hence many Dogmaticians append the doctrine 586concerning the Church to that concerning Christ as the Sovereign in His empire.

In connection with the foregoing proposition, the following antitheses to the Roman Catholic doctrine are presented:

HOLL. (1293): (a) “Neither from necessity, nor from Christ’s free will and appointment, are we to recognize, in addition to Christ, any other head of the Church, that in Christ’s stead visibly governs the Church Universal.”

(b) (1295): “Christ never appointed the Apostle Peter the general head of His Church, neither did He grant to him primacy of power and jurisdiction over the Catholic Church.”

(c) (1297): “The Pope of Rome is neither the successor of Peter in the episcopate nor the head or monarch of the Catholic Church.”

The Protestant Dogmaticians, in expounding the passage, Matt. 16:18, understand the “rock” to mean the confession which Peter had made, v. 17. HOLL. (1295): “The meaning is, ‘Thou art Peter, a man made of rock, standing upon thy confession just as upon a rock, or most firm petra, and upon this rock will I build my Church, so that it may be made a rock, immovable and impregnable, as long as it shall stand upon this confession of doctrine, as upon an immovable rock.’ v. 19. Christ gave the keys to Peter, not as a prince, but as a minister and steward. Now, indeed, not only Peter, but also the rest of the apostles were appointed stewards by Christ, 1 Cor. 4:1. Therefore the keys here promised Peter were likewise given to the rest of the apostles.”

[3] HOLL. (1300): “The inner and essential form of the Church consists in the spiritual union of true believers and saints, who, as members of the Church, are bound together with Christ the Head, through true and living faith (John 1:12; Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 6:17), which is followed by a communion of mutual love (John 13:35).”

[4] BR. (742): “Those men whom God, in accordance with His eternal decree, has granted His faith and grace, taken collectively are called the Church.”

“Men who are true believers and saints constitute the material of the Church.” Hence the Church is defined as “the congregation of saints who truly believe in the Gospel of Christ, and have the Holy Ghost.” (AP. CONF., IV, 28.) It is better defined, “the congregation of saints,” than “the congregation of the elect,” as some define it; “because the title, ’saints and believers,’ is broader than ‘elect.’ Wherefore since the Catholic Church embraces within its limits, not only the elect, properly and accurately so 587called, but also saints and believers who afterwards fall away, it is preferable to define the Church as the congregation of saints and true believers, than of the elect, although if the term ‘of the elect’ be employed in a correct sense, viz., according to the ecclesiastical and general usage, it ought to offend no one.” (GRH., XI, 13.)

The scriptural proof that the Church is the congregation of saints, according to QUEN. (IV, 489): “In Scripture passages (1) the Church is called the mystical body of Christ, Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:27; Eph. 1:23; Col. 1:18; (2) the Church is the mother of true believers, Gal. 4:26, of the sons of God, John 1:12; 3:6, who are led by the Spirit of God, Rom. 8:14, and are the heirs of Christ, Rom. 8:17; (3) the Church is Christ’s fold, John 10:1, 27, 28; (4) prophets and apostles frequently ascribe such praises to the Church as cannot be referred to the entire assembly of the called, which embraces good and evil, wheat and tares, Matt. 13:24, good and bad fish, sheep and goats, Matt. 3:12; 13:47, 49; John 10:1.” (IV, 490): “Therefore, that must be termed a Church, properly and accurately so called, to which these praises and attributes primarily and immediately belong. For, in the Old and New Testaments, it is frequently called the Bride of Christ, John 3:29; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 21:9; Cant. 4:7, a chaste virgin, 2 Cor. 11:2, one flesh with Christ, Eph. 5:30 (none of these accord with the wicked), the house of the living God, 1 Tim. 3:15, a spiritual house, 1 Pet. 2:5; Tit. 2:14, sq. To this none belong except those who are living stones built upon the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ, Eph. 2:20, 21; 1 Pet. 2:5.”

[5] BR. (742): “Believers, considered with respect to the present life, are called the Church Militant; but with respect to the other life, or the life to come, the Church Triumphant.”

GRH. (XI, 10): “That is called the Church Militant, which in this life is still fighting, under the banner of Christ, against Satan, the world, and the flesh. (Here observe that this description pertains only to the Church of the elect, and if indeed it ought to be applied to the assembly of the called, it must be added that the Church Militant has been called and established for the purpose of fighting bravely against these contending powers, an object common to all those called into the Church.)”

“That is called the Church Triumphant, which, being transferred to heavenly rest, and relieved from the labor of fighting and the danger of being overcome, triumphs in heaven against all contending powers.”

“The Church is called militant from its spiritual war, or battle against the devil, Eph. 6:10, 11; 1 Pet. 5:8, 9, the world, 1 John 5:4, and the flesh, Rom. 7:14; Gal. 5:17.”


“The Church derives the name, triumphant, from the spiritual triumph or victory obtained over its enemies, Rev. 2:10; 4:4; 7:9.”

[6] SYMB. NIC.: (I believe) “One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church.”

1. GRH. (XI, 35): “The Church is said to be one, because it is gathered by one Lord, through one Baptism, into one mystical body, under one Head, governed by one Spirit, bound together in the unity of the common faith, hope, and love (Eph. 4:5), acknowledges one faith, and is called by one calling to one celestial inheritance.” HOLL. (1301): “The Church is (a) one and undivided, because all the members of the Church are united in Christ as a head, through faith in Christ, which is joined not only with love to God, but also with inseparable connection with our neighbor; (b) it is one and no more (α) because it does not acknowledge a plurality of assemblies, of the same nature, existing at the same time, inasmuch as the Church Catholic is the assembly of all believers, united by faith to Christ, as the Head; (β) because it does not acknowledge a Church succeeding it, inasmuch as it never has altogether perished, and never will altogether perish, but, from its first beginning, has continued, by a constant succession of believers, to the present time, and will always continue until the end of time.”

2. GRH. (XI, 36): “The Church is said to be holy, from 1 Cor. 14:33; Rev. 11:2; because Christ its Head is holy, Heb. 7:26, who makes the Church partaker of His holiness, John 17:19; because it is called by a holy calling and separated from the world, 2 Tim. 1:9; because the Word of God, committed to it, is holy, Rom. 3:2; because the Holy Ghost in this assembly sanctifies believers by applying to them, through faith, Christ’s holiness, working inner renewal and holiness in their hearts, and awakening in them the desire of perfect holiness.”

3. AP. CONF. (IV, 10): “And it calls the Church catholic, so that we may understand that the Church is not an external polity of certain nations, but rather the men scattered throughout the entire globe, who agree concerning the Gospel, and have the same Christ, the same Holy Ghost, and the same Sacraments.”

HOLL. (1302): “The Church is called catholic (καθ ολον, according to that which is entire or universal), either with respect to its properties, because of its doctrine and faith, in so far as it professes the faith that the whole body of believers has at all times professed; or with respect to its extent, because of its being spread over the entire globe, not like the Old Testament Church, taken from a particular tribe or nation, but from all nations on the whole globe. That 589doctrine and faith is termed catholic, which is required of absolutely all who are to be saved.” The predicate of catholicity can, therefore, be applied to the Church as the antithesis of heresy. “In this manner it is the same as the true and orthodox Church, and is so called from the catholic doctrine, i.e., the orthodox doctrine of Christ and the apostles, which, inasmuch as heresies grew up here and there, has been called catholic, because it has proceeded from Christ and the apostles, has been intrusted to all believers, and been received and believed by them with unanimous agreement.” In this sense, therefore, this predicate can be applied also to a particular Church. It can, however, be also applied to distinguish the Church in general from particular churches. “In this manner it is the same as Church Universal, and in this manner the fact that it embraces the doctrine of Christ and the apostles does not suffice, for a particular church receives this; but, for the Church Catholic there is required, besides, that it includes all believers of all times and places.” HUTT. (Loc. c. Th. 555): “Therefore, whatever church be regarded, whether that of Rome, or Corinth, or Jerusalem, or any other, according to this latter signification, it is only particular; although with respect to the preceding significations, it can be called catholic, provided that it preserve and retain, in good condition, the unity of the faith and spirit.”

4. HOLL. (1303): “The Church is called apostolic, partly because it was planted by the apostles, and partly because it has embraced and been built upon the doctrine handed down by the apostles, ‘on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,’ Eph. 2:20.”

[7] GRH. (XI, 39): “It is necessary for every one of those who are to be saved, to be a living member and true citizen of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; and those who are outside of the Church are, necessarily, aliens from God, from Christ, from the benefits of the heavenly kingdom, and the hope of eternal salvation. This is proved (1) by Eph. 2:12, 13; 4:16; 5:8; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 22:15; 21:8; (2) by the peculiar benefits conferred by the Church, such as regeneration, renewal, etc.; for, since these have no place outside of the Church, there also cannot be salvation outside of the Church.” The proposition, Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, there is no salvation out of the Church, means, therefore, chiefly, that no one will be saved who does not believe.

[8] CONF. AUG. (VII, 1): “They teach that the one holy Church is to continue forever.”

GRH. (XI, 107): “We, in no way, say that the Church Catholic 590(viz., the invisible Church, and Church strictly so called) can fail or perish, because Christ is the eternal king, and the perpetual husband of the Church, and, therefore, by virtue of His relation, He has an eternal kingdom, and is always collecting for Himself, out of the human race, a Church, which He cherishes, loves, and protects as His bride, Matt. 16:18; Luke 1:33; 1 Tim. 3:15.”

[9] GRH. (XI, 143): “The entire Church never errs in such a manner, that there are not some who, following the simple guidance of the Word, by the direction and effectual working of the Holy Ghost, are so sanctified as to retain the foundation of salvation, to persevere exempt from fundamental errors, and be kept by the power of God unto salvation, although these are sometimes few and so concealed by the public prevalence of persecutions and corruptions that they are not recognized publicly by the world, Matt. 16:16; 24:24; 28:20.”

Id. (XI, 143): “Concerning the Church of the elect still warring on earth, we must distinctly reply, that, since errors are two-fold, some being fundamental and overthrowing the very foundation of faith, while others are non-fundamental, existing at the same time with the foundation of faith, and since error likewise can occur in a two-fold manner, either for a time or to the end, those who are elect may, for a time, be involved, and some even actually are involved not only in errors of a less grievous character, but even in fundamental errors. Yet these, in the meantime, before the end of life, again free themselves from such errors; for otherwise they would not be elect properly so called. They do not persevere to the end in fundamental errors, but may be involved in the less grievous errors, not only for a time, but even to the end; nevertheless, by the fire of the cross and of trial, these are diminished in them so as not to defeat their salvation.”

[10] BR. (759): “The Church of Christ, scattered throughout the entire world, comprehends many particular assemblies, which also have appropriated to themselves the name and title of churches; for, although believers themselves are thus diffused over the earth, they still, being united here and there by certain bonds, grow into certain congregations and establish such, served by one regular and complete ministry, which is nevertheless distinct from the ministries of other congregations.”

QUEN. (IV, 479): “The Church is said to be universal, for a double reason: (1) With respect to place. (2) With respect to time. With respect to place, the Church is said to be the general assembly which is collected from different nations throughout the whole world, for church fellowship and participation, through the 591Word and Sacraments, in the benefits of Christ. With respect to time, it is the assembly which, in different times, from the origin to the end of the world, is collected together through the Word. Therefore, the Church Universal, considered absolutely or with respect to both time and place, is the general assembly of true believers, whom God, from the beginning of the world to its end, has called, and to-day calls, and to the end of the world will call, through the preaching of the Word, out of all peoples and nations, to the actual participation in spiritual and heavenly blessings. The Church Universal, considered relatively, is the assembly of all true believers, who at any one time, e.g., that of the Old or of the New Testament, or even at the present day, everywhere continue in one and the same inner communion of faith, grace, love, and salvation. A particular Church is an assembly, not of all, but of some believers, called in a certain place to partake of salvation, and persevering in inner spiritual communion. A Church is said to be particular in a twofold sense, (a) with respect to time; (b) with respect to place. With respect to time, the Church of the Old Testament is one, and the Church of the New Testament another. With respect to place, one is collected by God throughout an entire kingdom; another, in a city, or even in a house. Hence, the apostles make mention not only of a Church in a house (κατ οικου), Rom. 16:5; and the Church at Corinth (την εν Κορινθω), 1 Cor. 1:2; but also, in the plural, of the churches of the Gentiles (των εθνων), Rom. 16:4; Gal. 1:2, 22; Rev. 1:4.”

[11] The Church in the wider sense is, therefore, named “the assembly of the called,” and, as “the Church broadly and improperly so called” (“the entire assembly of the called, in which all those who come together with the outward profession to hear the Word and use the Sacraments are regarded as members of the Church”), it is distinguished from “the Church strictly (properly, accurately, principally) so called (the entire assembly of true believers and saints), who are furnished not only with the outward profession of faith and the outward use of the Sacraments, but also with true faith of heart and inner regeneration.” The ecclesia late dicta is therefore termed Church “by synecdoche, viz., of a part for the whole, by which there is ascribed to the entire assembly, composed of good and evil, that which belongs to only a part.” To the Church in the former sense, the following passages refer: Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 12:28; 14:4, 23. In the latter sense: Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22, 23; 5:23-26; 1 Tim. 3:15. GRH. (XI, 50): “Those who by the call are brought together into the assembly of the Church, differ in two respects. For by the Holy Ghost some 592are inwardly regenerated, renewed, endowed with true faith, enlightened, sanctified, and, in this manner, become true and living members of the Church. But others join the assembly of the called, i.e., the visible Church, only by an outward association, which consists in the profession of faith and the use of the Sacraments, while, at the same time, they are without inner regeneration and holiness. The former are true and living members of the Church, deriving life and breath from Christ, their Head; the latter are corrupt and dead members. The former belong to the Church inwardly; the latter improperly. The former, by reason of inner and spiritual connection with Christ; the latter, by reason of outward custom, profession, and association with the assembly of the called. The former, in the heart; the latter, in outward appearance. The former, actually; the latter, according to opinion. The former, according to the judgment of God; the latter, according to the judgment of men. The former, to the Church equally in body and soul; the latter, in body, and not in soul. The former, as true and sound parts of the body; the latter, as the mange and evil humors in the body.”

[12] GRH., CONF. CATH.: “We do not affirm that there are two Churches, the one true and internal, and the other nominal and external; but we say that the Church is one and the same, viz., the entire assembly of the called considered in a twofold manner, namely, εσωθεν [from within] and εξωθεν [from without], or, with respect to the call and outward association, consisting in the profession of faith and the use of the Sacraments, and with respect to inner regeneration and internal association, consisting in the bond of the Spirit. In the former manner and respect we grant that even hypocrites and those who are not saints belong to the Church; but in the latter manner and respect we contend that only true believers and saints belong to it.” On the other hand, HUTT. (Loc. c. Th., 508): “Although it is by no means sufficient for salvation that you be in the Church, described thus generally, and only with respect to the outward profession of Christian faith, yet salvation itself cannot be found by any one outside of this assembly. And here the comparison of the Church with the ark of Noah is in point. For, as no one was saved outside of this while the deluge lasted, and yet not all who were in the ark were saved eternally, so outside of this Church of the called no one is saved, and yet not every one embraced in this vast assembly of the Church is saved.”

[13] HUTT. (Loc. Th., 194): “If you consider the outward fellowship of signs and rites of the Church, the Church Militant is said to be visible, and embraces all those who are within the assembly 593of the called, whether they be godly or ungodly, whether they be elect or reprobate. But if you consider the Church in so far as it is a fellowship of faith and of the Spirit dwelling in the hearts of believers, it is said to be invisible, and is peculiar to the elect.” CF. AP. CONF., IV, 3.

BR. (769): “The Church, properly so called, is, indeed, not distinctly visible (or recognizable, so that we may be able to know distinctly and individually who those are that truly compose it as its members; for faith neither meets the senses, neither can we understand with much certainty what there is in others, 2 Tim. 2:19), but only obscurely (namely, where congregations exist, especially the larger ones, in which the Word of God is correctly taught and the Sacraments rightly administered, it is well understood that there are there some true believers and saints who constitute a part of the Church of Christ). But that which by synecdoche is called a particular church is so visible that it can be recognized as true and with respect to its members, and can be distinguished from false or corrupt churches (for they profess the Catholic faith in its integrity and without corruption, and use the Sacraments aright, and can be perceived without doubt and individually).” The Church is therefore (GRH. XI, 82), “(1) visible with respect to the called, invisible with respect to the elect; for who are truly born again and elect does not appear outwardly, neither can it be perceived by the aid of the eyes; (2) visible with respect to outward fellowship, invisible with respect to inner fellowship; for who belong to the outward fellowship is manifest to men’s eyes, but who belong to the inner fellowship of the Church is not likewise manifest, inasmuch as faith and spiritual newness lie concealed under the covering of the infirmities of the flesh; (3) visible with respect to outward means and instruments, through which the Church is collected by God on this earth; as also with respect to the outward exercises of religion, which are the profession of doctrine and Church discipline, the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the Sacraments, as also the remaining outward offices of the Church. On the other hand, it is said to be invisible, primarily indeed and chiefly with respect to faith and the inner gifts of the Holy Ghost in the regenerate, which cannot be perceived by human eyes; secondly, with respect also to the Head of the mystical body, whom now we do not see, and because the discerning of the good, from the hypocrites, with whom they are intermingled in the visible Church, has been left only to the divine knowledge.”

The same remarks, moreover, apply to this distinction as to that between the Church as taken in a broader or narrower sense. GRH. 594(XI, 81): “We by no means introduce two Churches as opposed to each other, as though the visible and invisible Churches were contra-distinguished species; but we say that the visible and invisible are one and the same Church, with a diverse relation.” The visible and invisible Churches, therefore, are not opposed to each other as contraries, but as subalterns and subordinates. “For the invisible assembly of the elect is comprised under the visible congregation of the called, because the elect are not to be sought outside of the assembly of the called, and the Church of the called is more comprehensive than that of the elect (Matt. 20:16). Whoever, therefore, belong to the invisible Church, i.e., all who are elect, are also the called, but not the reverse.” (GRH., XI, 83.)

Besides, false conceptions of the Invisible Church are guarded against by the following statements (ib.): “That the Church of the elect is said to be invisible, not because the godly scattered through the world do not come under the sight of men with respect to their person, but because faith and the divine election, by virtue of which they belong to the Church as true members, do not appear in them — they are seen as men having bodies, and not as elect men; nor is the Church of the elect said to be invisible because the godly and elect have no intercourse whatever with the visible ministry of the Word and Sacraments, and with the outward practice of divine worship, but because the inner gifts of the Holy Ghost, by which, in the sight of God, they are distinguished from corrupt and dead members, are in no way manifest to the sight of men.” As a secondary reason for distinguishing between the Church visible and invisible, GRH. (XI, 85) states the following: “Because not only do earthly governments surpass the Church in outward splendor, but heretical assemblies also very often excel it in wealth, power, etc.; and therefore that the Church may not be judged from its outward appearance, it is said to be invisible, i.e., that the pitiable, despised, and small assembly, in which are many weaknesses, and which is not only oppressed by persecutions and the cross, but is also disgraced by many causes of offence and stumbling-blocks, is the Church, concerning which we must decide not from its outward form, but from the Word, and of which we must judge in accordance with the norm of the Word. And in this sense, and respect we grant that the Church, in this signification, is not constantly invisible in the same manner, i.e., it does not always lie hidden, oppressed, despised, and degraded, but, like the moon, varies, and increases and diminishes its external splendor; for sometimes it is oppressed by persecutions and obscured by clouds of heresies, and sometimes enjoys true tranquillity, and shines most clearly with pureness of doctrine.”


While the distinction between the Church visible and invisible was not expressed, in direct words, in the Symbolical Books, and by the earliest Dogmaticians, as Melanchthon, we nevertheless find the substance of it set forth in the following statements: AP. CONF. (IV, 5): “The Church is not only the fellowship of outward matters and rites, as other governments, but is principally a fellowship of faith and the Holy Ghost in hearts . . . . And this Church alone is called the body of Christ, because Christ renews, sanctifies, and governs it by His Spirit . . . . Although, therefore, hypocrites and wicked men are members of this true Church, according to the outward rites, nevertheless, when the Church is defined, it is necessary to define that Church which is the living body of Christ, and likewise is the Church both in name and reality.” But the earliest Dogmaticians do not set out, as we do, with the conception of the Church as an assembly of saints; and they, moreover, employ the expression, visible Church, in a different sense. Thus MEL. (Loc. c. Th., 284): “The visible Church is the assembly of those embracing the Gospel of Christ, and using aright the Sacraments, in which, through the ministry of the Gospel, God is efficacious.” Their purpose is to rebuke those who refuse to attach themselves to any visible Church, saying that the Church does not assume a visible form. By the assertion that the Church is visible, Melanchthon means, therefore, only to say, that there are indeed certain marks by which a church can be recognized as the true one. AP. CONF. (IV, 20): “Nor, indeed, are we imagining a Platonic state, as some impiously satirize us; but we say that this Church exists, viz., those truly believing and righteous scattered through the entire globe. And we add its marks, the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the Sacraments.”

[14] BR. (761): “The more eminent praises and the promises of perpetual duration, which in the Scriptures are ascribed to the Church, ought not to be referred to any definite, particular church, but to the Church of Christ considered absolutely.”

[15] GRH., CONF. CATH.: “The distinction of the Church into visible and invisible is opposed to the opinion of the Papists, that the Church of Christ is so confined to the Pope of Rome and the prelates who are in the regular succession, that whatever they affirm and believe must necessarily be received by all, and that there dare be no dissent from these in any manner or upon any pretext. Likewise, to the belief of those who flatter themselves in their offences, and think that they cannot be damned, as they are members of the visible Church.”

[16] GRH. (XI, 13): “But, inasmuch as to the saints and true 596believers in the Church, those are joined who are not saints, being indeed without inner regeneration and renewal, yet by outward fellowship (which consists in the profession of faith and the use of the Sacraments) joined, in this life, to the assembly of saints, it follows that the Church is sometimes received in a popular manner, for the entire assembly of the called, to which those honorable commendations which are ascribed in the Scriptures to the Church belong only by synecdoche, an ordinary figure in the Scriptures, doubtless because of the elect, who are in this assembly; just as if any one would eulogize a state because of its honorable and excellent citizens, with whom, nevertheless, wicked and perverse persons are intermingled; or, as if any one would adorn a field with praiseworthy epithets, because of the wheat, with which, nevertheless, tares are intermingled.”

[17] HOLL. (1317): “Every particular and visible church may be so corrupted by fundamental errors, that the teachers professing false doctrine may prevail, and constitute the public ministry, the small number of true believers lying concealed under the multitude of errorists.”

GRH. (XI, 109): “We say that not this and that particular church alone, but absolutely all the particular churches, and, therefore, the entire visible Church, can be obscured by a cloud of corruptions, errors, scandals, heresies, persecutions, etc., and be reduced to such a condition that its outward splendor and glory may fail, and there may no longer remain any manifest and visible assembly to rejoice in the pure ministry of the Word as it sounds forth publicly.” Hence, in opposition to the Catholics (ib.): “We therefore deny that the Church has been bound to any fixed seat in such a manner as to continue in it, with visible glory, by any perpetual succession; as our adversaries say of the Romish Church, that that is the only Catholic Church, in which the Pope is the vicar of Christ.” Yet, on the other hand (ib. 110): “Nor is the Church ever hidden in such a manner as not to be seen by some, if not by the world and the unbelieving, yet by pious confessors, in exile and concealment; nay even, as in the deepest state of self-renunciation, Christ, the Head of the Church, sent forth some rays of His divine majesty, from which His true divinity could be recognized, so, in the deepest depression of the Church, the confession of some of the martyrs shines forth, and presents the clearest testimony to the perpetuity and truth of the Church.”

[18] HOLL. (1306): “The true or pure Church is an assembly of men, in which all things necessary to be believed for salvation, and to be done for attaining holiness of life, are clearly taught from 597God’s Word, without the mixture of any hurtful errors, and the Sacraments are rightly administered according to the institution of Christ, and thus spiritual sons of God are begotten, who, through true faith, are united to Christ the Head, and in Him are made one body.”

(1307): “A false or impure church is an assembly of men, in which the doctrine of faith is publicly proclaimed from the Word of God, with a mixture of errors and corruptions, and the Sacraments administered, it is true, yet not distributed in that manner, and for that end, in and for which they were appointed by Christ.”

“OBSERVATION. The true and false Churches are here opposed to each other, not by way of contradiction, in accordance with which a church which is clearly not a church is a false church, e.g., an assembly of Mohammedans, treading under foot all of the true religion; but privatively, as a false church is a falsified, vitiated, corrupted, impure church.” It is not asserted, however, in reference to the latter, that there may not be some within it who are saved, since even in such a church the Word of God is still preached. HOLL. (1313): “In a church in which the Word of God is publicly read and explained and preached, and, in like manner, Baptism is administered uncorrupt in its essentials, spiritual sons of God, and heirs of eternal life, can be and are born. But, in a corrupted church (the Roman and Greek), the Word of God is publicly read and explained, etc. Therefore, ” etc. (1314), “in a false church specifically so called, in so far as in the same the Word of God is publicly read and explained, and Baptism is administered uncorrupted in essentials, regeneration and salvation are granted, yet not without great danger of souls, because these can be so obscured by false dogmas, that either the light of faith is not enkindled, or, being enkindled in Baptism, is overwhelmed and extinguished by errors.”

The phrase “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus,” which our Church also adopts (comp. Note 7), does not, therefore, directly exclude the members of another particular church from the hope of salvation, since one may be regenerated even in such a church. The phrase is therefore not understood in our Church as it is in the Roman Catholic. That church declares salvation to be impossible for any one who belongs to another particular church, while we maintain by this statement only this, that he who would be sure of his salvation must belong to the assembly of the saints.

[19] HOLL. (1307): “The proper (essential and principal) marks of the true visible Church, from which its truth is recognized in such a manner that it can be distinguished from every 598false church, are the pure preaching of the divine Word (John 15:3) and the legitimate administration of the Sacraments (Rom. 4:11).” GRH. XI, 195): “The Church is established, brought together, nourished, and preserved by the Word of God and the use of the Sacraments. Therefore, the Word of God and the use of the Sacraments are the proper, genuine, and infallible marks of the Church, and consequently where these are pure, the Church is pure.” GRH. CONF. CATH.: “When the pure preaching of the Word is affirmed as a mark of the true Church, the term preaching is received in a general sense for a profession of doctrine common to all the members, pastors, and hearers of the Church, and for the public explanation of Biblical texts, which is also a preaching, Acts 15:21” (“whether this be pure or impure ought to be determined from the public symbols and confessions published in the name of the entire Church, or approved by the entire Church, and not from the opinions or writings of this or that teacher” (HOLL., 1308)). “Preaching, in its narrow sense, is an action peculiar to the pastor, rather than common to the entire Church, and is not purely and absolutely necessary to the Church, as is shown by the times of the most grievous persecutions, in which the Church was able to be preserved by the reading of Scripture alone, without the public preaching of pure doctrine.”

Further: “Whole and entire churches are not to be estimated from the pastors alone, nor from some few; wherefore whole churches are not immediately to be condemned if either the pastors or some few depart from soundness and purity of doctrine, because the ears of hearers are often purer than the lips of teachers, and many in a corrupt state of the Church, retaining, after having received Baptism, the fundamental articles of the heavenly doctrine, either do not assent to the errors in reference to them which the false teachers scatter, or cling to these without any pertinacity, or again release themselves from them before the end of life.”

Finally: “Yet we must observe that there are certain grades of this purity, because the Word of God is preached in the Church sometimes with greater and sometimes with less purity; nor does a church immediately cease to exist if the teaching on some articles of religion be even for the most part not pure. The more purely and truthfully, therefore, the Word of God is preached in a church, and the more nearly the preaching and doctrine approach the form of Holy Scripture, the purer and truer will be the church; but the farther it departs from the rule of the Word, the more impure and corrupt will be the state of a church. Yet it is not through every corruption that a church ceases to exist, because we have shown 599above that God begets and preserves for Himself a holy seed and spiritual children, even at the time when the public ministry of the visible Church is corrupt.”

In opposition to the Donatists and Montanists, it is very earnestly maintained that the marks above mentioned are the only essential ones; but that, also, where these exist, it is the duty of every one to connect himself with this Church. MEL. (Loc. c. Th., 284): “Neither let us praise the stragglers who wander about and attach themselves to no church, because they never find a church of such a type as that in it something is not wanting in morals or discipline; but let us search for a church in which the articles of faith are correctly taught, and to this let us attach ourselves.”

The marks which the Roman Catholic Church assigns as those of a true Church are rejected as deceptive. They are the following: “The name Catholic, antiquity, uninterrupted duration, amplitude or multitude of believers, succession of believing bishops in the Roman Church, agreement in doctrine with the primitive Church, union of the members among themselves and with the head, sanctity of doctrine, efficacy of doctrine, holiness of life of its founders, glory of miracles, light of prophecy, confession of adversaries, unhappy end of enemies, temporal felicity conferred upon those who have defended the Church.” Of the mark of antiquity, HOLL. (1312) observes: “By the primitive Church either that is meant which existed indeed many centuries ago, although very corrupt, or the apostolic Church. If the former, the true Church cannot be distinguished from the ancient corrupt Church. If the latter, the mark is indeed correct, but is consistent with our belief. For to agree with the primitive apostolic Church means to embrace the pure doctrine which that Church held.”

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