We were busy in our preceding article with the question relative the importance of membership in the true church, as advocated in the second period of the Church, 300-750 A.D. We noted that it was generally held that membership in this Catholic Church (not to be confused with the Roman Catholic. Church) was strictly necessary unto salvation. And, in connection with this question, we were busy with presenting a few quotations of Augustine which he wrote in his struggle with the Donatists. We will now continue with a few more of his quotations.
“And let anyone, who is led by the past custom of the Church, and by the subsequent authority of a plenary Council, and by so many powerful proofs from holy Scripture, and by much evidence from Cyprian himself, and by the clear reasoning of the truth, to understand that the baptism of Christ, consecrated in the words of the gospel, cannot be perverted by the error of any man on earth,—let such an one understand, that they who then thought otherwise, but: yet preserved their charity, can be saved by the same bond of unity. And herein he should also understand of those who, in the society of the Church dispersed throughout the world, could not have been defiled by any tares, by any chaff, so long as they themselves desired to be fruitful corn, and who therefore severed themselves from the same bond of unity without any cause for the divorce, that at any rate, whichever of the two opinions may be true,—that which Cyprian then held, or that which was maintained by the universal voice of the Catholic Church, which Cyprian did not abandon,—in either case they, having most openly placed themselves outside in the plain sacrilege of schism, cannot possibly b$ saved, and all that they possess of the holy sacraments, and of the free gifts of the one legitimate Bridegroom, is of avail, while they continue what they are, for their confusion rather than the salvation of their souls.”—end of quote. The reader will notice that the learned Church Father, in this quotation, literally declares that they who openly place themselves outside in the plain sacrilege of schism cannot possibly be saved, and that all that they possess of the holy sacraments and of the free gifts of the one legitimate Bridegroom is only of avail for their confusion rather than for the salvation of their souls. Hence, Augustine teaches here that there is no salvation outside of the communion of the Catholic Church which, we understand, must not be confused with the Roman Catholic Church as it bears that name today.
“Further, if we inquire more carefully what is meant by outside,” especially as he himself makes mention of the rock on which the Church is built, are not they in the Church who are on the rock, and they who are not on the rock, not in the Church either? Now therefore, let us see whether they build their house upon a rock who hear the words of Christ and do them not. The Lord Himself declares the contrary, saying, ‘Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken Him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock,’ and a little later, ‘Everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.’ If, therefore, the Church is on a rock, those who are on the sand, because they are outside the rock, are necessarily outside the Church. Let us recollect, therefore, how many Cyprian mentions as placed within who build upon the sand, that is, who hear the words of Christ and do them not. And therefore because they are on the sand, they are proved to be outside the rock, that is, outside the Church; yet even while they are so situated, and are either not yet or never changed for the better, not only do they baptize and are baptized, but the baptism which they have remains valid in them though they are destined to damnation.”—end of this quote. Hence, all they who are on the rock are in the Church, and they who are not on the rock are not in the Church either. And from this Augustine would conclude that all those are on the rock must be in the Church, that all those who are not in the Church are not on the rock, and that therefore they who are outside the Church are also necessarily outside of salvation. Hence, there is no salvation outside the Church. We may also note, in this quotation, that the Church Father declares that the baptism as administered by these schismatics must be considered valid. This is plain from the conclusion of the quotation.
A final quotation from Augustine reads as follows: “But in this world no one is righteous by his own righteousness,—that is, as though it were wrought by himself and for himself; but as the apostle says, ‘According as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.’ But then he goes on to add the following: ‘For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, being many, are one body in Christ.’ And according to this doctrine, no one can be righteous so long as he is separated from the unity of this body. For in the same manner as if a limb be cut off from the body of a living man, it cannot any longer retain the spirit of life; so the man who is cut off from the body of Christ, who is righteous, can in no wise retain the spirit of righteousness, even if he retain the form of membership which he received when in the body. Let them therefore come into the framework of this body, and so possess their own labors, not through the lust of lordship, but through the godliness of using them aright. But we, as has been said before, cleanse our wills from the pollution of this concupiscence, even in the judgment of any enemy you please to name as judge, seeing that we use our utmost efforts in entreating the very men of whose labors we avail ourselves to enjoy with us, within the society of the Catholic Church, the fruits both of their labors and of our own.”—end of quote. That the renowned Church father connects salvation with membership in the Catholic Church is also evident from this quotation. No one can be righteous as long as he is separated from the unity of the body. A limb that is cut off from the body of a living man cannot any longer retain the spirit of life. This is naturally true. It is also spiritually true. No man who is cut off from the body of Christ, who is righteous, can in any wise retain the spirit of righteousness. And therefore they must come into the “framework of this body,” and this body is the Church of God. Hence, salvation and church membership were inseparable.
Having called attention to the doctrine of the Church, during the Second Period, 300-750 A.D., particularly as pertaining to the visible or invisible character of the Church, we noted that this question was inseparably connected with the Donatist controversy, the greatest controversy during the early days of the Church of God in the new dispensation. And we also noted that salvation was not considered possible outside of the Catholic Church, the Church of God as it existed universally during that time. The Donatists were condemned, not because they taught heretical doctrines, but because they had withdrawn themselves, schismatically, from the Church of God in the midst of the world.
Another aspect of the doctrine as taught during this second period is the development of the episcopacy. We have already called attention, in preceding articles, to the fact that the form of Church government from the time of the apostles until the Reformation was episcopal and not Presbyterian. This does not mean that the form of church government during the time of the apostles was episcopal. We need not doubt that it was Presbyterian during the early days of the apostles. The Presbyterian form of church government is the control of the government of the church in the hands of the “presbyters,” or elders. This, we understand, does not dispose of classical and synodical authority. For, in the first place, also our classical and synodical gatherings are constituted of representations from the consistories of the various churches. Hence, classical and synodical authority is never to be identified or confused with the episcopal form of church government. And, secondly, the Presbyterian form of church government, also as maintained in our Protestant Reformed Churches, has never denied the fact that, in the life of a denomination, a classical or synodical decision does not have binding power. There are examples in the history of our churches which verify this. In June of 1950 the consistory of what was the Protestant Reformed Church of Hamilton, Canada, decided that such members should be accepted into the fellowship of the church there who promised to submit to further instruction in our Protestant Reformed truth and who also promised that they would not agitate. This decision the consistory never enforced. In October, at the meeting of Classis East, this matter appeared before the classis. And the classis decided that the consistory of Hamilton must enforce that decision. Except for one dissenting vote by an elder of our Chatham church at that time this decision was unanimous. That means that the Revs. Blankespoor, Kok, Knott, and others voted in favor of that decision. Do these men wish to deny the binding character of that decision? They realize, do they not, that this decision was such that the Protestant Reformed Church of Hamilton, to remain within the fellowship of the Protestant Reformed Churches, was compelled to pursue one of two courses: either protest against this decision to the synod, or enforce it. And if, upon protesting to the synod, they would fail to carry their point at the synod, then they would be compelled, if they wished to remain within the fellowship of our churches, to abide by the decision which was taken at the sessions of Classis East in October of 1950. It seems to me that even the mention of this is superfluous. And then there is that other case in the history of our churches in which the Reverend B. Kok was involved, and which case, I understand, was mentioned at the court trial in Grand Rapids which granted our church in Grand Rapids the right to our name and the property. Hence, we have never denied the binding power of classical and synodical decisions. And we need not doubt that the type of church government at the time of the apostles was undoubtedly Presbyterian in form. The apostles, we read in Acts 14:23, ordained elders in every church, and there is nothing in Scripture to warrant the conclusion that the ruling power over the churches was in the hands of a bishop, It is, therefore, a remarkable phenomenon that, whereas the form of church government was Presbyterian in form at the time of the apostles, and the Church, beginning at the Reformation, recognizes the Presbyterian form of church government to be in harmony with the Word of God, the episcopal form of church government should characterize the life of the Church of God in the new dispensation from the time of the apostles to the period of the Reformation. It is truly remarkable that this episcopal form of church government should characterize the Church of God for about fifteen hundred years. This phenomenon is surely worthy of a little investigation.