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

Continued from the previous posting . . .

ARTICLE XIX : 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.


(2) The Church, so planned by Our Lord, was of necessity the visible Church: for it inherited the name, and was to step into the place, of the old theocracy.

(a) The foreign reformers, who had but an inadequate sense of the obligation of Church unity, endeavoured to justify their separation from the historic Church by setting up a doctrine of the Invisible Church, which consisted of true believers known only to God. As if with an eye merely to the Greek associations of Ecclesia, they spoke of a Church of the elect: and, decrying all organisation as mere externalism, they affected to regard membership in any or no ecclesiastical unity as indifferent by the side of membership in the Invisible Church. Saint Augustine had, indeed, opened up an ulterior distinction between the corpus Christi verum and the corpus Christi mixtum. (De Doctrina Christiana iii.32). He made an ‘interior’ Church of those only who were predestined to adhere permanently ‘perseveringly’ to their Lord. But, for all this, he never lost sight of the visible Church as a Divine institution, nor set up the ‘interior’ Church as a rival to the actual, of which it was but a subdivision. This antagonism was first set up by Wyclif (d. 1387), who defined the Church as ‘the congregation of all the predestinate,’ and contrasted it with the corrupt Church of his day. Wyclif’s definition was taken up by Hus (d. 1415), and through him the doctrine became common property with the continental reformers, though Luther was the first to embody it in the actual phrase of ‘the Invisible Church’ in his lectures on the Galatians (1516-19). Melanchthon, however, who will not hear of an invisible Church apart from the visible, had sufficient influence to keep the tenet out of the Lutheran formularies, whose definitions of the Church run on lines similar to those of Art. 19. But the Swiss were less cautious. They firmly believed that the Church is one: but by seeking its unity in the invisible Church rather than in the visible, they necessarily set up the one as a rival to the other. Their formularies now draw a distinction between the visible and the invisible Church, and speak of the true Church as invisible. In England, Swiss influences on this point made themselves felt as early as the reign of Henry VIII. : for both the Bishops’ Book of 1537 and the Thirteen Articles of 1538 assert that the Church has two senses in Scripture, and means either ‘the whole congregation of them that be christened and profess Christ’s Gospel’ or ‘the number of them only which belong . . . to everlasting life.’ It is only visible in the first sense: it is only one in the second. These distinctions are traceable to Zwingli, and are reproduced in the language of his English disciple Hooper. Hence their entire rejection, in the later and authorised English formularies, is no less significant than providential. Such currency as this doctrine of the Invisible Church still retains it owes to the exigencies of apology for the sects (including the new sect of unsectarianism) and not to sound learning. The notion that, for instance, ‘S. Paul regarded membership of the universal Ecclesia as invisible and exclusively spiritual. . . seems. . . incompatible with any reasonable interpretation of S. Paul’s words.’

(b) The evidence that our Lord intended to found a visible Church appears both in

(alpha) the plan of action which He adopted, and in

(beta) the language which He used to describe His work.

(alpha) His plan was not to scatter His teaching broadcast for men to make what they could of it, nor to set it down in a book; but to organise a society to which it should be entrusted. Thus, after He had offered Himself as Messiah to the rulers of the old theocracy at Jerusalem (John ii. 18 and iii. 1-15) and been rejected (John iv. 1), He retired to Galilee (Mark i. 14), and left Judea to itself (John iv. 3). In the Galilean ministry, He at once proceeded to gather round Him a band of disciples (Matt. iv. 18-22; Luke vi. 13), out of whom He chose twelve (Mark iii. 13; cf. John xv. 16) to be apostles (Luke vi. 13). Thus provided with the nucleus of His new society, His next step was to legislate for it (Matt. v.-vii.). He then trained the apostles for their future work by sending them out, with a ministerial charge (Matt. ix. 35-xi. 1), on temporary missions (Mark iii. 14, 15; cf. Luke viii. 1), by revealing His real claims (Matt. xvi. 16) and intentions (Matt. xvi. 18) to them alone (Matt. xvi. 20), by correcting their notions of the means by which His Kingdom would be attained (Matt. xvi. 21; xvii. 22; xx. 18), and of the sort of Kingdom which it would be (Matt. xviii. 1; xx. 21; cf. John xviii. 36). Finally, He instituted in the two sacraments of Baptism (Matt. xxviii. 19) and the Eucharist (Matt. xxvi. 26; 1 Cor. xi. 23) rites of admission into (John iii. 5), and maintenance in (John vi. 53), the new society, which were of an essentially visible and corporate (1 Cor. x. 17) character, and entrusted the administration of them to His apostles, who also received, under the warrant of successive commissions, power to legislate for (Matt. xvi. 19; xviii. 18), absolve (John xx. 22, 23), and feed (Luke xii. 42) the Church, together with a last injunction to gather ‘all the nations’ into its obedience (Matt. xxviii. 19). In this work, the Apostles were to regard themselves as enjoying a mission identical with that which the Lord Himself had received from the Father (John xvii. 18; xx. 21 a), as acting under the escort (John xx. 21 b; cf. Matt. xxviii. 20) of His perpetual presence, and the guidance of the Spirit (John xvi. 13); and that with a view to all their converts being ‘perfected into one,’ with a unity organic enough to bear a true likeness to the Unity of the Trinity, and visible enough to convince the world (John xvii. 20-23).

The Gospels, then, leave no doubt that our Lord’s purpose was to found a society at once organised and visible.

On turning to the Acts and the Epistles, we find that His work was immediately carried forward on these lines. There was at first but ‘a multitude of persons’ (Acts i. 15), though with the Apostles at their head (i. 13, 14). After the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit they became not merely a larger (Acts ii. 41), but an organised, body (ii. 42). There was ‘one body and one Spirit’ (Eph. iv. 4). Functional developments of organisation followed (Eph. iv. 11 sqq.) under Apostolic guidance. Thus the Apostles appointed (Acts vi. 3; xiv. 23) deacons (vi. 1-6) and elders (xi. 30; xiv. 23) as need arose; exercised discipline (v. 1-11; 1 Cor. v. 3-5); led the way in prayer and preaching (v. 42; vi. 4); presided over the administration of the sacraments (x. 48; xix. 5; 1 Cor. i. 17; Acts xx. 7); and took the chief part in legislating for the Church (xv. 22). Men were invited to have fellowship with the Church in order to have fellowship with God (1 John i. 3); if they became converts, they were admitted through the visible rite Baptism (Acts ii. 38), and regarded as having been ‘added to’ a body previously existing (41); so long as they remained in it ‘they continued stedfastly in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship,’ in the Eucharist and the public prayers (ii. 42). It is quite in accordance with this development that the Epistles frequently describe the Church under such outward figures as a body (1 Cor. xii. 12 sqq.), a building (iii. 9), a temple (iii. 16), a household (Gal. vi. 10), a city (Eph. ii. 19), and a kingdom (Col. i. 13). These Epistles, moreover, are addressed to definite societies (1 Thess. i. 1; Rev. ii. 1), which include bad (1 Cor. v. 1) as well as good among their members, and have both a local habitation (1 Cor. i. 2) and officers of their own (Phil. i. 1).

Nothing, in short, can be clearer than that our Lord’s plan was to found a visible Church, and that Christianity everywhere presented itself under this aspect in the Apostolic age.

(beta) The society thus launched into the world was spoken of by its Founder as the Kingdom of God. The meaning of this phrase was well understood by the Jews, as is clear from the fact that our Lord was never at pains to explain it. He had only to announce it (Matt. iv. 17), and make it from the first (John iii. 5) the substance of His teaching (Matt. xiii. 11,19) and that of His disciples (Matt. x. 7; Luke x. 9; cf. Acts xx. 25; xxviii. 31) for it to be welcomed with enthusiasm (Luke xiv. 15). The exact phrase, indeed, does not occur in the Old Testament, nor in the apocalyptic literature; but the thing itself is frequently alluded to, specially in the Book of Daniel, a book which had much influence at the time of our Lord’s ministry. There it was promised that God would ‘set up a Kingdom which shall never be destroyed’ (Dan. ii. 44; vii. 14; cf. Matt. xvi. 18), under the rule of ‘one like unto a son of man’ (vii. 13), and in the hands of Israel, ‘the people of the saints of the Most High’ (27). Jewish Messianic expectation was building on these prophecies when our Lord appeared; and He not only adopted the tone of one declaring the accomplishment of that which His hearers hoped for (Matt. iv. 17), but employed imagery already associated with the glories of the Kingdom (Luke xiii. 28, 29; cf. Is. lix. 19 ; Mal. i. 11) to describe it. The Jews, however, expected that the Kingdom would take shape in the renewal of an empire like that of David (Mark xi. 10). So secular were their notions of it that our Lord had to transform, before He could accept, them. Thus He refused to be a king after their own heart (John vi. 15), and in the end it was their disappointment at this refusal which led to His death. ‘Pilate executed Him on the ground that His Kingdom was of this world: the Jews procured His execution precisely because it was not’ (cf. John xviii. 33-37; xix. 12-16).

So we find two sides to our Lord’s teaching about the Kingdom. As opposed to current expectation, He laid stress on its spiritual and moral character. The Jews thought it would be a kingdom of the material order (Matt. xx. 21). He taught that it would be for ‘the poor in spirit’ (Matt. v. 3), and described it as the highest moral good (Matt. vi. 33). They thought that it was still to come (Luke xix. 11; xxiii. 42). He said that the final stage was yet in the future (Matt. vi. 10; Luke xxii. 18); but that it was actually among them (Luke xvii. 21), suffering violence (Matt. xi. 12); for He Himself had brought it (Luke xi. 20). They believed that it was a perquisite of their nation, to which they had an hereditary right. He assured them that it was His Kingdom (Matt. xiii. 41); that it would be taken from them (Matt. xxi. 43); and that the conditions of entry into it were not Jewish birth, but a New Birth (John iii. 5) and conversion (Matt. xviii. 3). In the Sermon on the Mount He described the character of its citizens (Matt. v.-vii.), and He devoted the parables of the Kingdom to insist now on its mixed and outward aspect (Matt. xiii. 1-32, 47-50), now on its hidden life (33, 45, 46). At last He was justified in identifying the Kingdom, so purified in idea, with His Church (Matt. xvi. 18, 19). It was to be a visible society ‘in,’ but ‘not of, this world’ ; not a Kingdom of heaven in the sense that its seat was solely there, but in the sense that it was from heaven and ‘not from hence’ (John xviii. 36), and its character heavenly.

Attempts are current to obscure the outward aspect of the Kingdom of heaven, and to question its connection with the Church. For this purpose the genuineness of Matt. xvi. 18, 19 is questioned, though without reason: and stress is laid on the fact that, in the Epistles, the Kingdom of God appears only on its inward side (Rom. xiv. 17; but cf. Col. i.12) or as a thing to be attained in the future (1 Cor. xv. 50). It is then added that the Church is merely the community of believers looked at as an institution; while the Kingdom of heaven, which our Lord made the kernel of the Gospel, is Christianity in its essence and spirit. Undoubtedly, the Kingdom of God stands for the whole sphere of the Divine Sovereignty, and is used sometimes for God’s rule over the world (Ps. xxii. 28) or in men’s hearts and wills (Ps. cxlv. 11), sometimes of His ultimate triumph (Matt. xxv. 34). It is therefore a larger conception than that of the Church : but the Church is the present manifestation of the Kingdom, and is thus closely connected with it. This connection, moreover, is not confined to one passage in the Gospel (Matt. xvi. 18, 19); for when S. Peter asked a question about forgiveness arising out of the precept upon Church discipline (Matt. xviii. 15-17), he was immediately answered with a parable about the Kingdom of heaven (xviii. 2335).

On the other hand, the ideal and spiritual aspect of the Church appears in the Epistles (1 Cor. iii. 16, 17), and is exactly that which is elaborated in the Epistle to the Ephesians side by side with its corporate organisation. Certainly the Christian community is usually spoken of in the Gospels as the Kingdom of God and in the Epistles as the Church; but there is no reason to suppose that the Apostles lapsed from our Lord’s spiritual idea of the Kingdom and discarded it for an inferior and materialised one when they spoke of the Church instead. Both Church and Kingdom have a double aspect, each having its organised life and its inward principles. But there is a solid reason for the substitution of ‘Church’ for ‘Kingdom’ as the usual name for the Christian community in Apostolic times. Ecclesia, like Logos, was a word which had a meaning for the Greek as well as for the Jew. To the Gentile as to Pilate (John xviii. 33-8) the name Kingdom of God would convey little or nothing. The Apostles, having the mind of Christ, were not at pains to quote Him. They boldly conveyed His teaching by using the word which their hearers would best understand.

The Gospels then, in what they tell us alike of our Lord’s plan and of the title which He used to describe His Church, tell us that He meant it to be the visible Church.


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