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Art. 28 of our Confession of Faith reads: “We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it; maintaining the unity of the Church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them. And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves to this congregation, wheresoever God hath established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes were against it, yea, though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment. Therefore all those, who separate themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinances of God.” This is Art. 28, which has for its title: THAT EVERY ONE IS BOUND TO JOIN HIMSELF TO THE TRUE CHURCH.

Art. 29, speaking of the “Marks Of The True Church, And Wherein She Differs From The False Church,” reads as follows: “We believe, that we ought diligently and circumspectly to discern from the Word of God which is the true Church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church. But we speak not here of hypocrites, who are mixed in the Church with the good, yet are not of the Church, though externally in it; but we say that the body and communion of the true Church must be distinguished from all sects, who call themselves the Church. The marks, by which the true Church is known, are these: if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin: in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself. With respect to those, who are members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of Christians: namely, by faith; and when they have received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof. But this is not to be understood, as if there did not remain in them great infirmities; but they fight against them through the Spirit, all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion and obedience of our Lord Jesus .Christ, ‘in whom they have remission of sins, through faith in him.’ As for the false church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in his Word, but adds to and takes from them, as she thinks proper; she relieth more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those, who live holily according to the Word of God, and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry. These two Churches are easily known and distinguished from each other.”

What, then, is the Catholic view of the Church? According to Rome, the Church is simply a company of men externally bound together by the profession of the same Christian faith, communion of the same sacraments, and under the government of legitimate pastors, especially the pope. And, according to Rome, excluded from the Church are all professed unbelievers, all who do not partake of the sacraments, and all who do not recognize the pope. This is clearly set forth in what Rome published in the Fourth Session of the holy Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, which we now quote: “The eternal Pastor and Bishop of our souls, in order to continue for all time the life-giving work of his Redemption, determined to build up the holy Church, wherein, as in the house of the living God, all who believe might be united in the bond of one faith and one charity. Wherefore, before he entered into his glory, he prayed unto the Father, not for the Apostles only, but for those also who through their preaching should come to believe in him, that all might be one even as he the Son and the Father are one. As then he sent the Apostles whom VI had chosen to himself from the world, as he himself has been sent by the Father: so he willed that there should ever be pastors and teachers in his Church to the end of the world. And in order that the Episcopate also might be one and undivided, and that by means of a closely united priesthood the multitude of the faithful might be kept secure in the oneness of faith and communion, he set blessed Peter over the rest of the Apostles, and fixed in him the abiding principle of this twofold unity, and its visible foundation, in the strength of which the everlasting temple should arise, and the Church in the firmness of that faith should lift her majestic front to Heaven. And seeing that the gates of hell, with daily increase of hatred, are gathering their strength on every side to upheave the foundation laid by God’s own hand, and so, if that might be, to overthrow the Church: we, therefore, for the preservation, safe-keeping, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approval of the sacred Council, do judge it to be necessary to propose to the belief and acceptance of all the faithful, in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, the doctrine touching the institution, perpetuity, and nature of the sacred Apostolic Primacy, in which is found the strength and solidity of the entire Church, and at the same time to proscribe and condemn the contrary errors, so hurtful to the flock of Christ.”

The Protestant view of the Church is quite different.According to this view the Church consists essentially of the fellowship of all who are united by the bands of true faith. To the Church belong all the elect, of the past, of the present and of the future. The true Church on earth is invisible in as far as it is a spiritual fellowship. But it becomes manifest as the Church visible where the Word of God is purely preached, the sacraments are rightly and properly administered, and Christian discipline is maintained, All the believers are priests and not only the separate class of the clergy. Nevertheless, the Church functions through its daily ordained officebearers in the ministry of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of Christian discipline.

First of all, then, we would set forth the truth that the Church, according to the Protestant view, is the elect Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, the gathering of all the elect out of every nation, land, people and tongue. This is surely set forth in our Confessions, in the Heidelberg Catechism and also in the Thirty Seven Articles of our Confession of Faith. In Answer 54 of the Heidelberg Catechism we read that the “holy catholic church” is “a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith.” It is also for this reason that the Church, according to our Confessions, is an object of faith. We believe in a holy catholic church. Only faith can take hold of this confession. The Church cannot possibly be seen; as far as its essential reality is concerned, can be an object of faith alone. To this we will return in due time. And this same truth is also held before us in our Confession of Faith. This is surely set forth in Article 27 where we are told that the Church is a holy congregation of true Christian believers; that it hath been from the beginning of the world and will be to the end thereof; and also that it is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed over the whole world. And in Art. 29 the members of the Church are identified as follows: “With respect to those, who are members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of Christians: namely, by faith; and when they have received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof. But this is not to be understood, as if there did not remain in them great infirmities; but they fight against them through the Spirit, all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom they have remission of sins, through faith in him.” From these articles of our Reformed Confessions it is plain that the Protestant view of the Church, in the first place, is that the Church is the elect Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, consisting of all those chosen by God from before the foundation of the world, and gathered by the eternal Son of God, by His Spirit and Word, out of all nations and peoples and lands and tongues.

This view of the Church is also supported by other Protestant Confessions. The Second Helvetic Confession, in Chapter 17, which we quoted in its entirety, declares the following: “Forasmuch as God from the beginning would have men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4), therefore it is necessary that there always should have been, and should be at this day, and to the end of the world, a church—that is, a company of the faithful called and gathered out of the world; a communion, I say, of all saints, that is, of them who truly know and rightly worship and serve the true God, and Jesus Christ the Savior, by the Word of the Holy Spirit, and who by faith are partakers of all those good graces which are freely offered through Christ. These all are citizens of one and the same city, living under one Lord, under the same laws, and in the same fellowship of all good things; and the apostle calls them ‘fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God’ (Eph. 2:19); terming the faithful upon the earth saints (I Cor. 4:1), who are sanctified by the blood of the Son of God. Of these is that article of our creed wholly to be understood, ‘I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints.’ And, seeing that there is always but one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ (I Tim. 2:5); also, one shepherd of the whole flock, one head of this body, and, to conclude, one Spirit, one salvation, one faith, one testament, one covenant, it follows necessarily that there is but one church, which we therefore call catholic because it is universal, spread abroad through all the parts and quarters of the world, and reaches unto all times, and is not limited within the compass either of time or place.”

And the Westminster Confession has the following to say about the church, in Chapter XXV, I and 2: “The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof, and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all, The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (riot confined to one nation as before under the law) consists of all those, throughout the world, that profess the true religion, and of their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

—H.V.