The Church and the Sacraments. The Time of the Reformation Views on the Church. Formal Principle (cont’d)

Rome, therefore, contends that the Church, as an external and visible society, consisting of those who profess the Christian religion, united in communion of the same sacra­ments and subjection to lawful pastors, and especially to the Pope of Rome, is divinely appointed to be the infallible teacher of men in all things pertaining to faith and practice. Rome is qualified for this office of teacher because it pos­sesses the plenary (full) revelation of the truth in the written and unwritten (tradition) word of God and by the super­natural guidance of the Holy Spirit which has been vouch­safed to the bishops as official successors of the Apostles, too, to the Pope as the successor of Peter in his supremacy over the whole Church, and as vicar of Christ on earth. There is, as Hodge continues to remark, something simple and grand in this theory. Ii is surely wonderfully adapted to the tastes and wants of men. It relieves them of all personal responsibility. It makes things so easy. Everything is decided for them. Personal study and examination of the Scriptures is no longer necessary. All they need do is listen to and submit to the teachings and decrees of the Church. In this connection the question might arise whether it would not have been a great blessing had Christ instituted such an office in His Church and endowed a man with that in­fallible guidance of the Holy Spirit so as to be able to speak infallibly and unerringly with respect to all matters of doc­trine and walk? However, what positive purpose would this serve? We know that when Christ was on earth all people did not believe on Him. And when the apostles were still living and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit confirmed their authority, the Church was nevertheless distracted by heresies and schisms. We are all familiar, more or less, with the sinful conditions and practices that were rampant already in those days, as in the churches of Corinth, Galatia, etc. An outward and external conformity to what the Church may hold to be true cannot and does not reach and affect the heart. A perpetual body of infallible teachers would only result in an outward and rigid unity and con­formity. Besides, of course, we must not be wiser than God. It is simply a fact that the Lord has not willed to appoint such an official and infallible succession of the apostleship. It is His will that pastors and teachers be ordained, through the appointment of the Church, who will preach and teach the Word of the living God. And His way is surely always the best and the wise way.

Also the late Dr. H. Bavinck has expressed himself on this subject. Writing on the attributes of the Holy Scriptures in his Dogmatics, Vol. I, pages 420-422, he expresses himself, and we translate: “The doctrine of the affectiones S. Scr. (attributes of the Sacred Scriptures, H.V.) has devel­oped itself entirely out of the struggle against Rome and Anabaptism. In the confession of the inspiration and author­ity of Scripture there was agreement, but for the rest there was in the locus of Sacred Scripture a great difference be­tween Rome and the Reformation. The relation in which Rome had placed Scripture and church to each other was changed principally in the Reformation. With the church fathers and the scholastics the Scriptures still stood, at least in theory, far above the church and tradition; it rested in itself, was the normal rule for church and theology. Augustine reasons in such a way that the truth of the Holy Scriptures depends solely upon itself. All (including Bona-ventura, Bellarminus, etc., H.V.) were of the opinion that Scripture could be proved sufficiently to be truth out and by itself; the church with its tradition might be regula fidei (a rule of faith, H.V.), it was not fundamentum fidei (foundation of faith, H.V.). Scripture was that alone.

More and more, however, the church with its office and tradition began to assume an independent position in Rome and to receive authority next to the Holy Scriptures. At first the relation of both (church and the Scriptures, H.V.) was not further defined, but soon it demanded a better or clearer arrangement (eene betere regeling). And when the church continued to increase in power and self-sufficiency the authority of the Scriptures was more and more removed to the church. Various moments in history indicate the process by which the church exalted itself from a place underneath the Scripture to a place next to the Scripture, and finally to a place above Holy Writ. The question, which of the two, Scripture or the church, had the preeminence, was first clearly and consciously set forth at the time of the reform councils (reformatorische concilien, H.V.). In spite of the opposition of Gerson, d’Ailly, and especially of Nicolaas van Clemange, it was decided in favor of the church. Trent has sanctioned this over against the Reforma­tion. In the struggle against Gallicanism the question was more precisely stated and set forth, and in the Vaticanum of 1870 it was so resolved that the church was declared in­fallible. However, the subject of this infallibility is not the ecclesia audiens (the people of the church), nor the ecclesia docens (the teaching element of the church), nor even all the bishops as gathered in a council, but particularly the pope. And then again the pope not as private person, neither as bishop of Rome or patriarch of the West, but as the supreme shepherd of the entire church. It is true that he possesses this infallibility as the head of the church and not apart from the church, but yet he possesses it not by or with it (the church, H.V.), but above and in distinction from it. Even the bishops and councils share in this infallibility, not as separated from but only as in unity with and in subjection to the pope. He stands above all, and alone renders the church, tradition, the councils and canons or decrees infal­lible. Councils without the pope can err and have erred. The whole church, docens as well as audiens, is infallible only with and under the Roman pontiff. With this conception the whole relation of church and the Scriptures has been turned about. The church, or more concretely the pope, goes before and stands above the Scriptures. The infallibility of the pope renders the infallibility of the church, of the bishops and councils, and thus also of the Scriptures unnecessary.

Out of this Romish conception of the relation of the church and the Scriptures all the differences arise and flow forth, which exist in the doctrine of Scripture between Rome and the Reformation. They (these differences, H.V.) con­cern especially the necessity of the Holy Scriptures, the apocrypha of the Old Testament, the editio Vulgata, the in­terpretation of Scripture and of tradition. Formally this change in the relation of Scripture and church is revealed most clearly herein, that the new Romish theologians treat the doctrine of the church in the pars formalis (formal part) of the dogmatics. The church belongs to the principia fidei (principle of faith, H.V.). Even as what the Scriptures are for the Reformation, so the church, or really the pope is the formal principle, the fundamentum fidei, in the Romish conception”—end of quote from Bavinck.

The late Dr. H. Bavinck, therefore, maintains that, ac­cording to Rome, the pope stands above the Holy Scriptures and virtually renders the infallibility of the Word of God unnecessary. And this, to be sure, lies in the very nature of the case. No one, according to Rome, has the right to in­terpret the Word of God, to teach anything that is contrary to the “Mother Church.” The pope alone has the right, the ability to interpret the Word of God. Hence, all true under­standing of the Scriptures is completely dependent upon one man, the mortal who occupies the chair of Saint Peter. Besides, Tradition is of equal value with the Scriptures. And also here it is only the pope who can interpret them. None may even dare to dispute his findings. None may go to the Scriptures for instruction and comfort. The pope alone is the sole teacher of mankind.

The Reformation has changed all this. Every child of God has the right and the ability to interpret the Word of God. This is literally taught in I John 2:27, and we quote: “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” Of course, there is such a thing as denominationalism, denominational activity. The principle of the Reformation does not mean that everybody has the right in a particular church denomination to interpret the truth and teach it as contrary to the teachings of the particular church whereof he is a member. He may interpret the Word of God as he wishes, but then he must affiliate himself with those who are of similar persuasion. This is certainly the meaning of his baptismal vow. According to that baptismal vow he promises before God and His Church to see that his child or children shall, when come to the years of discretion, be in­structed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine as it is taught in his local Christian Church. If he departs from a certain teaching which is the official doctrine of his particular church, he certainly owes it to that church to reveal his grievances and make them known in the proper church and ecclesiastical way.

Finally, while busy with this subject, it would be well to call attention to Rome’s claim of the infallibility of the Church, that is, of the pope. It is clear that Rome’s con­ception or development of the doctrine of infallibility is founded upon the false assumption of the perpetuity of the Apostleship. In this connection we would quote at length from the Systematic Theology of Hodge, Vol. I, pages 138-150, in which this writer very clearly repudiates this claim of Rome. Unto that end Hodge shows the following: 1. Mod­ern prelates are not apostles. 2. Infallibility is founded on a false interpretation of the promise of Christ. 3. The doc­trine contradicted by facts. 3. The Arian apostasy. 4. The Romish evasion of this argument. 5. The Church of Rome rejects the doctrines of Augustine. 6. The Church of Rome now teaches error. 7. The Recognition of an infallible Church incompatible with either religious or civil liberty. We will now proceed with this quotation.

“As the first argument against the doctrine of Romanists as to the infallibility of the Church is, that it makes the Church of Rome to be the body to which the attributes, prerogatives, and promises of Christ to true believers be­long; the second is that it limits the promise of the teaching of the Spirit, to the bishops as successors of the Apostles. In other words, Romanists falsely assume the perpetuity of the Apostleship. If it be true that the prelates of the Church of Rome, or of any other church, are apostles, invested with the same authority to teach and to rule as the original mes­sengers of Christ, then we must be bound to yield the same faith to their teachings, and the same obedience to their commands, as are due to the inspired writings of the New Testament. And such is the doctrine of the Church of Rome.” The Lord willing, we will continue with this quotation in our following article.

H.V.