The Church in the Articles (I): Article XIX (a)

As discussions continue on the nature of authority in the Anglican Communion, I continue to turn to the analysis of the Thirty-nine Articles by B. J. Kidd (see “Reformed Catholocism” and the Thirty-nine Articles). Articles XIX, XX and XXI are the heart of the Articles’ ecclesiology, and so I will give Kidd’s commentary on them over the next several posts, with occasional comments of my own, beginning with Article XIX, which deals with the church’s corporate, visible nature.

As I have written before, Kidd’s commentary is both a century old, and he treats the issues raised by the Articles in a summary manner (as any commentary on something like the Articles must). The virtues of his commentary are not subtlety and nuance, but brevity and clarity. His comments are sprinkled with copious scriptural citation in a manner that would strike some today as naïve and uncritical, but reading his comments first straight through, then together with a Bible while actually looking up his references as you go along, is an exercise I would recommend. He spends much time attacking both the hyper-protestant notion of an “invisible church” and the Roman claims of infallibility; he would probably have been astonished, had he lived long enough, to hear of some who call themselves Roman Catholics and yet, echoing liberal protestant readings of the New Testament, deny that Christ intended to found a church. The activities of the ‘Jesus Seminar’ doubtless would have baffled him.

I have applied a mild editorial touch, breaking up and reorganizing some of Kidd’s paragraphs to bring out the structure of his argument more clearly—otherwise it is too easy to get lost in such subdivisions as (1)(a)(alpha). I have transliterated the Greek or, in case of paragraph divisions, spelled out as (alpha) or (beta), and I have renumbered and reduced his footnotes. I will split his comments on Article XIX into three separate posts; remaining two will be posted over next few days. Then it’s on to Articles XX and XXI.

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ARTICLE XIX

De Ecclesia. (§ 1) Ecclesia Christi visibilis est coetus fidelium, in quo verbum Dei purum praedicatur et sacramenta, quoad ea quae necessario exiguntur, juxta Christi institutum recte administrantur. (§ 2) Sicut erravit Ecclesia Hierosolymitana, Alexandrina, et Antiochena: ita et erravit Ecclesia Romana, non solum quoad agenda et caeremoniarum ritus, verum in his etiam quae credenda sunt.

Of the Church. (§ 1) The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. (§ 2) As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.

(i) Source.-Composed by the English Reformers, 1552-3.

(ii) Object.-Probably polemical, and intended (a) to give such a definition of the visible Church as should exclude the claim of the Roman Church to be the only true Church, and, at the same time, shut out the various sects of Anabaptists: and (b) to deny the claim of the Roman Church to infallibility.

§ 1 offers a definition of the visible Church.

(1) The word Church is the customary English equivalent of the Greek Ekklesia, which was naturalised in the Latin Ecclesia, but not in our own tongue.

(a) As used in the New Testament, Ecclesia once appears in its classical sense of an assembly such as that to which, in a free Greek city, the transaction of public affairs was entrusted (Acts xix. 32, 39, 41). The Greek assemblies were called by a herald, and, consisting as they did of such only as enjoyed the rights of citizenship, were called out or elected from a larger population. Both these ideas are expressed in the word Ekklesia, and have their counterpart in the Christian’s calling (2 Tim. i. 9) and election (Rom. xi. 7 ; cf. 2 Pet. i. 10). There was thus a measure of fitness in the adoption of the heathen term Ecclesia to be the title of the Christian community.

(b) But, before its adoption, its associations had ceased to be exclusively, or even mainly, Greek; for it passed to the Christian Church not direct but through the Septuagint. Ecclesia, with the Alexandrian translators of the Old Testament, was the standing, though not the invariable, equivalent of Qahal, ‘the congregation’ of Israel: which the Revised Version translates now by ‘company’ (Gen. xxviii. 3; xxxv. 11; xlviii. 4), now by ‘assembly’ (Deut. xviii. 16; Josh. viii. 35; Judg. xx. 2; xxi. 5, 8 ), and now by ‘congregation’ (Ezra ii. 64; x. 1; Neh. viii. 2; Joel ii. 16): and twice in the New Testament the word occurs in this sense (Acts vii. 38; Heb. ii. 12), where it is translated in the former passage by ‘church’ and in the latter by ‘congregation.’ Everywhere it conveys the notion

(alpha) of numbers compacted into an organised body, i.e. of a congregation as distinct from a mere aggregation, and

(beta) of the congregation of Israel, or assembly of the whole people gathered together for religious purposes. It contrasts, in the original, with ‘Edhah, which, for the most part, is represented in the LXX by ’synagogue’; and is translated in the Revised Version now by ‘congregation’ (Ex.xii.3; Lev.iv.13;x.17; Num.i.16; Josh.ix. 27), and now by ‘company’ (Num. xvi. 5; Ps. cvi. 17). Both words, indeed, suggest ‘no mere agglomeration of men, but rather a unity carried out in the joint action of many members, each having his own responsibilities, the action of each and all being regulated by a supreme law or order’; but whereas ‘Edhah is used of the society whether assembled or not, and can even be used of animals (Judges xiv. 8; Ps. lxviii. 30), Qahal is always used of men, and denotes properly their actual meeting together.

Ecclesia was thus naturally appropriated by our Lord as the name of His new Society (Matt. xvi. 18): and that as conveying two ideas, that the Church was to be

(alpha) an organised body of men, and

(beta) the new ‘assembly of the people of God’ (Judg. xx. 2). Had Ecclesia been taken over direct from its Greek usage, it would have suggested only that the Church was called out of a larger body, and not that it was intended to take the place of the Jewish theocracy* as the new ‘people for God’s own possession’ (1 Pet. ii. 9; cf. Acts xx. 28; Eph. i. 14).

(c) Thus in the New Testament Ecclesia became the regular designation of the new society. Sometimes it designates the Church as a whole throughout the world (Matt. xvi. 18; 1 Cor. xii. 28; and especially in Eph. e.g. i. 22, etc.; cf. Acts xx. 28): sometimes the Church in a particular place (Acts viii. 1; 1 and 2 Thess. i. 1; 1 Cor. i. 2; 2 Cor. i. 1; Rom. xvi. 1; Rev. ii. 1): and, not infrequently, a particular congregation accustomed to meet in somebody’s house (1 Cor. xvi. 19; Rom. xvi. 5; Col. iv. 15; Philem. 2): and this variety of usage is faithfully reflected in the Articles (19, 20, 34). It would seem from the Gospels that the conception of the Church as a whole (Matt. xvi. 18) historically preceded that of the local church (Matt. xviii. 17). With S. Paul, ‘the idea of the local church, as a unit in itself, is more prominent in the earlier Epistles: that of individual Christians forming part of the great body of believers (the Church Catholic) is more prominent in the later.’**

But we cannot conclude from this that the use of Ecclesia for the local church necessarily came first in order of time: nor that the conception of the Church as a whole is not logically prior to that of the different churches, or of its individual members who are spoken of as ‘added to’ the Church (Acts ii. 47). In order of thought the plan of a building precedes its parts, though in order of time the parts precede the whole. Our Lord, as the architect of His Church, constituted it in effect when, in order to describe it, He adopted the term Ecclesia with all its Old Testament antecedents. S. Paul, ‘as a wise masterbuilder’ (1 Cor. iii. 10), would naturally be preoccupied with the parts until the entire building rose before him in its ideal proportions, as at length it does in the Epistle to the Ephesians.

* Cf. S. Paul’s contrast between ‘Israel after the flesh’ (1 Cor. x.18) and ‘the Israel of God’ (Gal. vi.16)

** Sanday and Headlam on Romans, p. 15

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