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Archive for the ‘Ecclesiology’ Category

​”The rise of sectarianism that has accompanied the Protestant movement is a dark and negative phenomenon. It manifested itself already at the beginning of the Reformation, but it has never flourished as it has in our age. New church after new church is established. In England there are already more than two hundred sects. In America they are innumerable. The differences have become so many and so insignificant that one cannot keep track of them. There are even voices arguing for a new discipline in theology itself devoted to the comparative history of church confessions. What is even more serious is that this sectarianism leads to the erosion and disappearance of church consciousness. There is no longer an awareness of the difference between the church and a voluntary association. The sense that separation from the church is a sin has all but disappeared. One leaves a church or joins it rather casually. When something or other in a church no longer satisfies us, we look for another without any pangs of conscience. The decisive factor turns out to be our taste. Exercise of discipline thus becomes virtually impossible; it loses its very character. What preacher is left who dares, in good conscience, except perhaps in extremely rare instances, to use the form for excommunication? The worst result of all this is that by breaking the unity of doctrine and the church, Christians do violence to the communion of saints, deprive themselves of the Spirit’s gifts of grace, by which  other believers labor to build up the saints, shut themselves up in their own circle, promote spiritual pride, strengthen Rome, and give the world occasion for scorn and mockery.”

-Herman Bavinck, “The Catholicity of Christianity and the Church”

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It is very common for professing Christians to draw a distinction between essentials and non-essentials in religion, and to infer that, if any fact or doctrine rightly belongs to the latter class, it must be a matter of very little import­ance, and may in practice be safely set at naught. The great bulk of men take their opinions on trust; they will not undergo the toil of thinking, searching, and reasoning about anything, and one of the most usual expedients adopted to save them the trouble of inquiry, and to turn aside the force of any disagreeable fact, is to meet it by saying, ”The matter is not essential to salvation; therefore we need give ourselves little concern on the subject.”

If the distinction here specified is safe, the inference drawn from it is certainly dangerous. To say that, because a fact of Divine revelation is not essential to salvation, it must of necessity be unimportant, and may or may not be received by us, is to assert a principle, the application of which would make havoc of our Christianity. For, what are the truths essential to salvation? Are they not these: That there is a God; that all men are sinners; that the Son of God died upon the cross to make atonement for the guilty; and that whosoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved? There is good reason for believing that not a few souls arc now in happiness, who in life knew little more than these—the first principles of the oracles of God—the very alphabet of the Christian system; and if so, no other Divine truths can be counted absolutely essential to salvation. But if all the other truths of revelation are unimportant, because they happen to be non-essentials, it follows that the Word of God itself is in the main unimportant; for by far the greatest portion of it is occupied with matters, the knowledge of which, in the case supposed, is not absolutely indispensable to the everlasting happiness of men. Nor does it alter the case, if we regard the number of fundamental truths to be much greater. Let a man once persuade himself that importance attaches only to what he is pleased to call essentials, what­ever their number, and he will, no doubt, shorten his creed and cut away the foundation of many controversies; but he will practically set aside all except a very small part of the Scriptures. If such a principle does not mutilate the Bible, it stigmatizes much of it as trivial. Revelation is all gold for preciousness and purity, but the very touch of such a principle would transmute the most of it into dross.

Read the entire treatise, Which is the Apostolic Church?, by Thomas Witherow, below. Or, listen to an audio version here.

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Listen to this classic work of Presbyterian church government written by London divines at the time of the Westminster Assembly. But fair warning: not for the faint of heart! But if you’re a thinker and would like to learn as you go, let me do the reading for you. [Project in progress.]

“Arguably the best biblical defenses of presbyterian ecclesiology and explanations of its polity were produced in the seventeenth century. Among these, none has a reputation better than an English work with the Latin title Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici, with the English subtitle The Divine Right of Church Government. In three successive editions, two of which were penned during the time that the Westminster Assembly met, ‘sundry’ London ministers laid out their case. In the first part of the book they demonstrate that there is a government of the church established and revealed by God. In the second part of the book they describe that government, explain its benefits to God’s people, and further develop the biblical and theological justifications for presbyterianism.

Chris Coldwell’s new edition of this classic work will prove a most welcome addition to the Presbyterian minister’s or even church member’s bookshelf. The entire book was addressed to people who were not yet persuaded regarding the merits of presbyterian church government. It hardly needs to be said that such an audience has only expanded in the Christian world and that many people could benefit from understanding a principled form of church government rather than ones where leaders (or members) make it up as they go along. This critical edition is almost a third longer than earlier abridged versions. It offers David Noe’s translations of Latin material and a thoughtful introduction. The edition also evidences Coldwell’s careful editorial work and successful sleuthing, in some cases solving puzzles that have stumped historians for centuries. Editor, subscribers, and publisher are to be thanked for this invaluable scholarly contribution.” 

— Chad Van Dixhoorn, editor of The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly 1643–1652

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Read the entire chapter from William Cunningham’s Historical Theology: A Review of the Principal Discussions in the Christian Church Since the Apostolic Age (1863). Or, listen to the audio here.

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While reading through a dissertation treating confessional subscription among Presbyterians prior to the Adopting Act of 1729, I came across a discussion of the English Presbyterian Daniel Wilcox. Apparently, the influence of Enlightenment thinking regarding authority and toleration was infiltrating English Presbyterians at that time in a big way, and even Arianism began to rear its ugly head. If I’m not mistaken, this would be the caldron from which Unitarianism basically took over Presbyterianism in England.

During this intermediate period, Wilcox published a short justification for confessions and the practice of confessional subscription. Very interestingly, he puts it in the form of a catechism! Just recorded it, which you can access here.

And the original text is here:

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hodler_-_das_gebet_in_der_kathedrale_saint-pierre_in_genf_-_1882As always, Master Calvin states matters insightfully and with grace of style in speaking of the value of catechisms widely published:

“First, In this confused and divided state of Christendom, I judge it useful that there should be public testimonies, whereby churches which, though widely separated by space, agree in the doctrine of Christ, may mutually recognize each other. For besides that this. tends not a little to mutual confirmation, what is more to be desired than that mutual congratulations should pass between them, and that they should devoutly commend each other to the Lord? With this view, bishops were wont in old time, when as yet consent in faith existed and flourished among all, to send Synodal Epistles beyond sea, by which, as a kind of badges, they might maintain sacred communion among the churches. How much more necessary is it now, in this fearful devastation of the Christian world, that the few churches which duly worship God, and they too scattered and hedged round on all sides by the profane synagogues of Antichrist, should mutually give and receive this token of holy union, that they may thereby be incited to that fraternal embrace of which I have spoken?”

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“Let there be no strife between us and you, for we are brethren (Gen. 13:7, 8): and is not the Canaanite and the Perizzite yet in the land?  O let it not be told in Gath, nor published in the streets of Ashkelon. Let it not be said, that there can be no unity in the Church without Prelacy.  Brethren I charge you by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that ye awake not nor stir up Jesus Christ till he please (Song. 2:7); for his rest is sweet and glorious with his well-beloved.  It shall be no grief of heart to you afterward, that you have pleased others as well as yourselves, and have stretched your principles for accommodation in church government, as well as in worship, and that for the Church’s peace and edification; and that the ears of our common enemies may tingle, when it shall be said, “The Churches of Christ in England have rest, and are edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the joy of the Holy Ghost are multiplied (Act 9:31).”  Alas how shall our divisions and contentions hinder the preaching and learning of Christ, and the edifying one another in love!  Is Christ divided? says the apostle.  There is but one Christ, yea the head and the body make one Christ, so that you cannot divide the body without dividing Christ.  Is there so much as a seam in all Christ’s garment?  Is it not woven throughout from the top to the bottom? Will you have one half of Israel to follow Tibni, and another half to follow Omri?  O brethren, we shall be one in heaven, let us pack up differences in this place of our pilgrimage, the best way we can. Nay, we will not despair of unity in this world. Hath not God promised to give us one heart and one way (Jer. 32:39, Ezek. 11:19)? and that Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim, but they shall flee upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the East, they shall spoil them of the East together (Isa. 11:13, 14)?  Has not the Mediator (whom the Father hears always) prayed that all his may be one?  Brethren, it is not impossible, pray for it, endeavor it, press hard toward the mark of accommodation. How much better is it that you be one with the other Reformed Churches, though somewhat straitened and bound up, than to be divided though at full liberty and elbow room? Better is a dry morsel and quietness therewith, than a house full of sacrifices with strife (Prov. 17:1).”

– George Gillespie (1613-1648)

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