John Pearson (1613-1686) on the catholicity of the Church

John Pearson

 

John Pearson (1613-1686) was, without question, the preeminent Reformed divine in the Church of England after the Restoration. Pearson was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge (1661-1673), Master of Jesus College, Cambridge (1660-1662), Master of Trinity College, Cambridge (1662-1672), and Bishop of Chester (1673-1686). Widely esteemed in his day for his expertise in patristics and the oriental languages, he produced various theological works, but was particularly renowned for his Exposition of the Creed (first edition 1659), the standout systematic work in the Church of England during the later Stuart period.

Every Sunday, Christians around the world confess the Apostles’ Creed, and, in the ninth of its twelve articles, they confess the Church to be catholic. What is meant by this? Previously we have considered Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724) on the catholicity of the Church, and related excerpts from Matthew Poole (1624-1679) and Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713).  Below is Pearson’s explanation  (minus the lengthy marginal notes in Latin and Greek):

[T]he word Catholick, as it is not read in the Scriptures, so was it not anciently in the Creed […] but being inserted by the Church, must necessarily be interpreted by the sense which the most ancient Fathers had of it, and that sense must be confirmed, so far as it is consentient with the Scriptures. To grant then that the word was not used by the Apostles, we must also acknowledge that it was most anciently in use among the Primitive Fathers, and that as to several intents. For first, they called the epistles of S. James, S. Peter, S. John, S. Jude, the Catholick Epistles, because when the Epistles written by S. Paul were directed to particular churches congregated in particular cities, these were either sent to the churches dispersed through a great part of the world, or directed to the whole Church of God upon the face of the whole earth. Again, we observe the Fathers to use the word Catholick for nothing else but general or universal, in the ordinary or vulgar sense; as the Catholick resurrection is the resurrection of all men, the Catholick opinion, the opinion of all men. […]

When this title is attributed to the Church it hath not always the same notion or signification; for when by the Church is understood the house of God, or place in which the worship is performed, then by the Catholick Church is meant no more than the common Church, into which all such persons as belonged to that parish in which it was built were wont to congregate. For where monasteries were in use, as there were separate habitations for men, and distinct for women, so were there also churches for each distinct: and in the parishes, where there was no distinction of sexes as to habitation, there was a common Church which received them both, and therefore called Catholick.

Again, when the Church is taken for the persons making profession of the Christian Faith, the Catholick is often added in opposition to hereticks and schismaticks, expressing a particular Church continuing in the true Faith with the rest of the Church of God, as the Catholick Church in Smyrna, the Catholic Church in Alexandria [etc.].

Now seeing these particular Churches could not be named Catholick as they were particular, in reference to this or that city, in which they were congregated, it followeth that they were called Catholick by their coherence and conjunction with that Church which was properly and originally called so; which is the Church taken in that acceptation which we have already delivered. That Church which was built upon the Apostles as upon the foundation, congregated by their preaching and by their baptizing, receiving continued accession, and disseminated in several parts of the earth, containing within it numerous congregations all which were truly called churches, as members of the same Church; that Church I say, was after some time called the Catholick Church, that is to say, the name Catholick was used by the Greeks to signifie the whole. For seeing every particular congregation professing the name of Christ was from the beginning called a Church, seeing likewise all such congregations considered together were originally comprehended under the name of the Church, seeing these two notions of the word were different, it came to pass that for distinction’s sake at first they called the Church, taken in the large and comprehensive sense, by as large and comprehensive a name, the Catholick Church.

Although this seem the first intention of those which gave the name Catholick to the Church, to signifie thereby nothing else but the whole or universal Church, yet those which followed did signifie by the same that affection of the Church which floweth from the nature of it, and may be expressed by that word. At first they called the whole Church Catholick, meaning no more than the universal Church; but having used that term some space of time, they considered how the nature of the Church was to be universal, and in what that universality did consist.

As far then as the ancient fathers have expressed themselves, and as far as their expressions are agreeable with the descriptions of the Church delivered in the Scriptures, so far I conceive we may safely conclude that the Church of Christ is truly Catholick, and that the truly Catholick Church is the true Church of Christ, which must necessarily be sufficient for the explication of this affection, which we acknowledge when we say, we believe the Catholick Church.

The most obvious and most general notion of this Catholicism consisteth in the diffusiveness of the Church, grounded upon the commission given to the builders of it, Go teach all nations, whereby they and their successors were authorized and empowered to gather congregations of believers, and so to extend the borders of the Church unto the utmost parts of the earth. The Synagogue of the Jews especially consisted of one nation, and the publick worship of God was confined to one country (Ps. 76:1-3; 147:29) […] The temple was the only place in which the sacrifices could be offered, in which the priests could perform their office of ministration; and so under the Law there was an enclosure divided from all the world besides. But God said unto his Son, I will give the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession (Mark 15:15). And Christ commanded the Apostles, saying, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature; that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). Thus the Church of Christ, in its primary institution, was made to be of a diffusive nature, to spread and extend itself, from the city of Jerusalem, where it first began, to all the parts and corners of the earth. From whence we find them in the Revelation, crying to the Lamb, Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by the blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Rev. 5:9). This reason did the ancient Fathers render why the Church was called Catholick, and the nature of the Church is so described in the Scriptures.

Secondly, they called the Church of Christ the Catholick Church, because it teacheth all things which are necessary for a Christian to know, whether they be things in heaven or things in earth, whether they concern the condition of man in this life, or in the life to come. As the Holy Ghost did lead the Apostles into all truth, so did the Apostles leave all truth unto the Church, which teaching all the same, may well be called Catholick, from the universality of necessary and saving truths retained in it.

Thirdly, the Church hath been thought fit to be called Catholick in reference to the universal obedience which it prescribeth; both in respect of the persons, obliging men of all conditions, and in relation to the precepts, requiring the performance of all the evangelical commands.

Fourthly, the Church hath been yet further called or reputed Catholick, by reason of all graces given in it, whereby all diseases of the soul are healed, and spiritual virtues are disseminated, all the works, and words, and thoughts of men are regulated, till we become perfect men in Christ Jesus.

In all these four acceptations did some of the ancient Fathers understand the Church of Christ to be Catholick, and every one of them doth certainly belong unto it. Wherefore I conclude that this Catholicism, or second affection of the Church, consisteth generally in universality, as embracing all sorts of persons, as to be disseminated through all nations, as comprehending all ages, as containing all necessary and saving truths, as obliging al conditions of men to all kind of obedience, as curing all diseases, and planting all graces, in the souls of men.

The necessity of believing the holy Catholick Church, appeareth first in this, that Christ hath appointed it as the only way unto eternal life. We read at the first, that the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:47), and what was then daily done, hath been done since continually. Christ never appointed two ways to heaven; nor did he build a Church to save some, and make another institution for other men’s salvation. There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12); and that name is no otherwise given under heaven than in the Church. As none were saved from the deluge but such as were in the Ark of Noah, framed for their reception by the command of God; as none of the first-born of Egypt lived, but such as were within those habitations whose doorposts were sprinkled with blood by the appointment of God for their preservation; as none of the inhabitants of Jericho could escape the fire or sword, but such as were within the house of Rahab, for whose protection a covenant was made; so none shall ever escape the eternal wrath of God, which belong not to the Church of God. This is the congregation of those persons here on earth which shall hereafter meet in heaven. These are the vessels of the Tabernacle carried up and down, at last to be translated into, and fixed in, the Temple.

Secondly, it is necessary to believe the Church of Christ which is but one, that being in it we may take care never to cast ourselves, or be ejected out of it. There is a power within the Church to cast those out which do belong to it; for if any neglect to hear the Church, saith our Saviour, let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican (Matt. 18:17). By great and scandalous offences, by incorrigible misdemeanours, we may incur the censure of the Church of God, and while we are shut out by them, we stand excluded out of heaven. For our Saviour said to his Apostles, upon whom he built his Church, whosoever’s sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosoever’s sins ye retain, they are retained (John 20:23). Again, a man may not only passively and involuntarily be rejected, but also by an act of his own, cast our or reject himself [out of the Church], not only by plain and complete apostasy, but by a defection from the unity of truth, falling into some damnable heresie, or by an active separation, deserting all which are in communion with the Catholick Church, and falling into an irrecoverable schism.

Thirdly, it is necessary to believe the Church of Christ to be holy, lest we should presume to obtain any happiness by being of it, without that holiness which is required in it. It is not enough that the end, institution, and administration of the Church are holy; but, that there may be some real and permanent advantage received by it, it is necessary that the persons abiding in the communion of it should be really and effectually sanctified. Without which holiness the privileges of the Church prove the greatest disadvantages, and the means of salvation neglected, tend to a punishment with aggravation. It is not only vain but pernicious to attend at the marriage-feast without a wedding garment, and it is our Saviour’s description of folly to cry, Lord, Lord, open unto us, while we are without oil in our lamps. We must acknowledge a necessity of holiness, when we confess that Church alone which is holy can make us happy.

Fourthly, there is a necessity of believing the Catholick Church, because except a man be of that he can be of none. For seeing the Church which is truly Catholick containeth within it all which are truly churches, whosoever is not of the Catholick Church, cannot be of the true Church. That Church alone which first began at Jerusalem on earth, will bring us to Jerusalem in heaven; and that alone began there which always embraceth the faith once delivered to the Saints. Whatsoever Church pretendeth to a new beginning, pretendeth at the same time to a new Churchdom, and whatsoever is so new is none. So necessary it is to believe the holy Catholick Church.

Having thus far explicated the first part of this article, I conceive every person sufficiently furnished with means of instruction, what they ought to intend, when they profess to believe the holy Catholick Church. For thereby everyone is understood to declare thus much: I am fully persuaded, and make a free confession of this, as of a necessary and infallible truth, that Christ by the preaching of the Apostles, did gather unto himself a Church consisting of thousands of believing persons, and numerous congregations, to which he daily added such as should be saved, and will successively and daily add unto the same unto the end of the world: so that by the virtue of his all-sufficient promise, I am assured that there was, hath been hitherto, and now is, and hereafter shall be so long as the sun and moon endure, a Church of Christ one and the same. This Church I believe in general holy in respect of the Author, end, institution, and administration of it; particularly in the members, here I acknowledge it really, and in the same hereafter perfectly, holy. I look upon this Church not like that of the Jews limited to one people, confined to one nation, but by the appointment and command of Christ, and by the efficacy of his assisting power, to be disseminated through all nations, to be extended to all places, to be propagated to all ages, to contain in it all truths necessary to be known, to exact absolute obedience from all men to the commands of Christ, and to furnish us with all graces necessary to make our persons acceptable, and our actions well-pleasing in the sight of God. And thus I believe the holy Catholick Church.

– John Pearson (1613-1686), An Exposition of the Creed, 4th edition (1676), p. 345-351

Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713): Rectifying the Papist idea of schism

Pierre Jurieu

Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713), a French Huguenot leader and grandson of the well-known Huguenot pastor Pierre Du Moulin, lived in extremely testing times. His lifetime was marked by great persecution of Protestants by Catholics in France. Like many other Huguenots, Jurieu ended up fleeing to the Netherlands, which at the time was a safe haven for Protestants in Europe, settling in Rotterdam, where he became pastor of the Flemish Walloon Church, the French-speaking Reformed Church in the Netherlands. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Catholic persecution of Protestants in France went rampant.

Four years later, in 1689, Jurieu published a work titled Lettres pastorales adressées aux fidèles de France qui gémissent sous la captivité de Babylon (Pastoral Letters addressed to the Faithful of France who are Groaning under the Captivity of Babylon), which was secretly circulated around France and elsewhere in Europe. The main thrust of these letters are an encouragement to Huguenots in France to persevere in the Reformed faith and not go back to the Catholic Church, offering many arguments and reasons not to do so. This was much easier said than done, of course, since their safety would have been secured if they were to return, and there were a host of persuasive polemical arguments from the Papists which convinced many Huguenots to return to the Roman Church. Throughout these letters, Jurieu addresses these polemical arguments, one of which we will consider below.

One of the stronger polemical arguments the Papists made, which convinced many Protestants to return to Rome, was that the Huguenots had broken away from the one and only true Universal Church, and that consequently they had excluded themselves from salvation.  In Letter 13 of Volume 1, there is a section in which Jurieu discusses this allegation and the Papist view of schism:

“[Breaking the unity of the Roman Church through schism] is a point which your converters [Papists who attempt to convert Huguenots back to Catholicism] continually repeat, and beat upon you. Schism, say they, is a hideous crime: schismatics are out of the Church; there is no salvation for them: and although the Church of Rome itself were corrupt, you ought not to break with her. Their modern writers who seem willing to soften the maxims of the Roman Church do nevertheless observe no measure on this subject, and on this point. They proceed so far as to maintain, that although it should be true that even the Church of Rome should be fallen into idolatry, we ought not to forsake her, and could not justly set up altar against altar…

They say, that even though the Church should fall into idolatry, we cannot be saved if we separate from it. And I say, although even the Church of Rome should have reason at the bottom, and were not idolatrous, and that we were out in our separation, we should not hazard our salvation by continuing as we are [i.e. by continuing as Protestants]. Men are everywhere well where they have Christianity and the marrow and substance of it; and it is a folly to imagine that the salvation of men depends upon the temper of their guides. It may be therefore that Luther and Calvin were mistaken, i.e. that the corruption of the Church of Rome was not great enough to oblige the faithful to go out of her: let us suppose that would have done better to leave things as they were, I do nevertheless maintain, that at this day you do not in any way hazard your salvation by continuing where they have placed you [i.e. in the Protestant Church]; because however it may be, you have Christianity in its integrity, you have it wholly pure and incorrupt. In every society where that is found, a man may be saved, after whatever manner it be formed. The idea which men have formed of schism for many ages past is the most false that can be imagined: but besides the falsehood of it, it is the most dangerous and cruel chimera that could be found. Every society would be Catholic Church to the exclusion of all others. The Church of Rome pretends thus far for herself. The Greek Church makes no less pretence thereto. He that goes out of this Church breaks the unity, and he that breaks it is no longer in the Church. Now, he who is no longer in the Church, is no longer in a state and way of salvation, whatever he say and whatever he do. Behold what they say; behold the chimera.

We must therefore rectify this idea of schism, according to the unity which we have given you. The unity of the Universal Church does not subsist within the bounds of one certain communion, nor in adherence to certain pastors, to the exclusion of all others: but in the unity of spirit, doctrine, sacraments, and evangelical ministry in general, i.e. of pastors declaring the truth of the Gospel. What must be done then to make a schism with respect to the Church Universal? He must renounce the Christian doctrine, the sacraments of the Church, and the Gospel ministry; that is to say, he must be an apostate or a heretic. But every society that goes out of another and greater society of which it was part, makes no schism with respect to the Church Universal, whilst it retains the doctrine, the sacraments, and the ministry of the Gospel: it goes not out of the Church because it carries the Church with it, and it carries the Church with it, because it carries Christianity with it. It carries, say I, the Church with it, in such a manner nevertheless, that it leaves it in the society which it leaves; for leaving true Christianity there, it leaves the true Church there also. And the advantage of being the Church, and of having Christianity, is a privilege which may be possessed entirely, and without prejudice to other Christian societies.”

Jurieu then goes on to distinguish between two kinds of schism: universal and particular schism. He defines universal schism as:

“the renunciation of the Universal Church, by renouncing her doctrine, sacraments, and ministry.”

In other words, universal schism is to break away from the Church entirely and become apostate or utterly heretical. He then defines particular schism as:

“when a man separates from a particular Church, be it for some point of doctrine, be it for some quarrel about discipline, be it for some personal differences of the guides among themselves.”

Jurieu mentions several such particular schisms throughout church history, arguably the greatest example being, of course, the schism between the Greek (Eastern Orthodox) and Latin (Roman Catholic) Churches in 1054. He also mentions schisms in the Latin Church during the later Middle Ages, that of Popes and Anti-Popes, the one seated at Rome and the other at Avignon. He then comes to the Reformation, which he classifies as one of these particular schism, and states:

“…in these last times a great schism has happened in the Latin Church, which is divided into three great bodies: the Papists, the Lutherans, and the Reformed.”

Jurieu argues that the problem with the Papist view of schism is that they confound these two kinds of schism, since they regard particular schisms (such as the Reformation) as universal ones, and hence consider such schismatics as apostates who are altogether excluded from salvation. He would go on to argue that though “peace is to be preferred before division,” nevertheless the separation was made “for reasons of some worth and value, i.e. because of corruption in doctrine and worship,” and since this corruption still persists in the Church of Rome, we therefore cannot return to her.

Johannes d’Outrein (1662-1722) on the Reformed Church

Johannes d'Outrein

Tonight I was reading through some sections of the catechism of Johannes d’Outrein (1662-1722), titled Een Korte Schets der Godlyke Waarheden (A Short Sketch of Divine Truths), and thought this excerpt was worth translating into English and sharing:

Question 11. Where is the true church now to be found?

Answer: In the congregation where the marks of the true church are found.

Question 12. What are these marks?

Answer: Where the pure preaching of God’s word is, and the Sacraments are administered according to the institution of Christ – there is the external (i.e. visible) congregation in which those who believe and are converted constitute the true Church.

Question 13. And which is presently this congregation?

Answer: The Reformed Church.

Question 14. Do you then exclude [those of] other convictions from the true church?

Answer: No, if they do not err in essential points, if there is [held among them] the justification of sinners before God, etc.

Question 15. What do you hold of the Roman Church?

Answer: That it is apostate [‘afvallig’ in the original Dutch] and a multitude of carnal confessors, who make up the beast which we see in Revelation chapter 13, etc.

Question 16. Do you then exclude all who belong to the Roman Church from the true Church and hence from salvation?

Answer: We would like to hope the best of such who are simple under Popery and trust in Christ and his merit, but those who know the depths of Satan and reject the true doctrine of the reconciliation of sinners to God through the blood of Christ alone, there we cannot see much good of expectation. See Is. 45:22-24; Jer. 17:5.

Question 17. If the Reformed Church is the true one, is the true church then entirely new, because where was the church before the Reformation?

Answer: The true church was then in the captivity of the Spiritual Babel and was greatly obscured, though at all times there were those who clung to the true doctrine. See Song of Songs 6:10; Rev. 14:6.

Question 18. Did our forefathers have reasons to separate themselves from the Roman Church?

Answer: Yes indeed, because it was then so bastardized in doctrine and morals that one could not remain in such a depraved Church without running into the greatest danger of his salvation.

Question 19. But the Reformed Church is now also much deteriorated; does one for this reason also have no reason to separate oneself from it, as the Labadists do?

Answer: By no means, because 1) The deterioration is not so general, so that there are still many who serve God in truth. 2) The doctrine of truth is confessed purely among us, and as long as this happens there is no reason for separation. 3) One must also take care that that does not apply to us which is stated in Isaiah 65:5: ‘Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou’.”

– Johannes d’Outrein (1662-1722), Een Korte Schets der Godlyke Waarheden, Chapter XX (Of the Christian Church)

John Calvin (1509-1564) on submission to ecclesiastical authority

220px-John_Calvin_2

The early church father Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200-258) once said: “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother.” John Calvin (1509-1564) picks up on this phrase in his treatment of the Church, and in particular with regard to submission to ecclesiastical authority. In our day and age where consumerism and individualism, among other factors, lead to a general reluctance to submit to divinely ordained authority (if not outright anarchy), these words are quite prophetic:

“…by the faith of the gospel Christ becomes ours, and we are made partakers of the salvation and eternal blessedness procured by him. But as our ignorance and sloth (I may add, the vanity of our mind) stand in need of external helps, by which faith may be begotten in us, and may increase and make progress until its consummation, God, in accommodation to our infirmity, has added such helps, and secured the effectual preaching of the gospel, by depositing this treasure with the Church. He has appointed pastors and teachers, by whose lips he might edify his people (Eph. 4:11); he has invested them with authority, and, in short, omitted nothing that might conduce to holy consent in the faith, and to right order. In particular, he has instituted sacraments, which we feel by experience to be most useful helps in fostering and confirming our faith…

I will begin with the Church, into whose bosom God is pleased to collect his children, not only that by her aid and ministry they may be nourished so long as they are babes and children, but may also be guided by her maternal care until they grow up to manhood, and, finally, attain to the perfection of faith. What God has thus joined, let not man put asunder (Mark 10:9): to those to whom he is a Father, the Church must also be a mother…

…let us learn, from her [the visible church’s] single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels (Mt. 22:30). For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars…

But let us proceed to a full exposition of this view. Paul says that our Saviour ‘ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:10-13). We see that God, who might perfect his people in a moment, chooses not to bring them to manhood in any other way than by the education of the Church. We see the mode of doing it expressed; the preaching of celestial doctrine is committed to pastors. We see that all without exception are brought into the same order, that they may with meek and docile spirit allow themselves to be governed by teachers appointed for this purpose. Isaiah had long before given this as the characteristic of the kingdom of Christ, ‘My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever’ (Isa. 59:21). Hence it follows, that all who reject the spiritual food of the soul divinely offered to them by the hands of the Church, deserve to perish of hunger and famine. God inspires us with faith, but it is by the instrumentality of his gospel, as Paul reminds us, ‘Faith cometh by hearing’ (Rom. 10:17). God reserves to himself the power of maintaining it, but it is by the preaching of the gospel, as Paul also declares, that he brings it forth and unfolds it. With this view, it pleased him in ancient times that sacred meetings should be held in the sanctuary, that consent in faith might be nourished by doctrine proceeding from the lips of the priest. Those magnificent titles, as when the temple is called God’s rest, his sanctuary, his habitation, and when he is said to dwell between the cherubims (Ps 32:13, 14; 80:1), are used for no other purpose than to procure respect, love, reverence, and dignity to the ministry of heavenly doctrine, to which otherwise the appearance of an insignificant human being might be in no slight degree derogatory. Therefore, to teach us that the treasure offered to us in earthen vessels is of inestimable value (2 Cor. 4:7), God himself appears and, as the author of this ordinance, requires his presence to be recognised in his own institution. Accordingly, after forbidding his people to give heed to familiar spirits, wizards, and other superstitions (Lev. 19:30, 31), he adds, that he will give what ought to be sufficient for all—namely, that he will never leave them without prophets. For, as he did not commit his ancient people to angels, but raised up teachers on the earth to perform a truly angelical office, so he is pleased to instruct us in the present day by human means. But as anciently he did not confine himself to the law merely, but added priests as interpreters, from whose lips the people might inquire after his true meaning, so in the present day he would not only have us to be attentive to reading, but has appointed masters to give us their assistance. In this there is a twofold advantage. For, on the one hand, he by an admirable test proves our obedience when we listen to his ministers just as we would to himself; while, on the other hand, he consults our weakness in being pleased to address us after the manner of men by means of interpreters, that he may thus allure us to himself, instead of driving us away by his thunder. How well this familiar mode of teaching is suited to us all the godly are aware, from the dread with which the divine majesty justly inspires them.

Those who think that the authority of the doctrine is impaired by the insignificance of the men who are called to teach, betray their ingratitude; for among the many noble endowments with which God has adorned the human race, one of the most remarkable is, that he deigns to consecrate the mouths and tongues of men to his service, making his own voice to be heard in them. Wherefore, let us not on our part decline obediently to embrace the doctrine of salvation, delivered by his command and mouth; because, although the power of God is not confined to external means, he has, however, confined us to his ordinary method of teaching, which method, when fanatics refuse to observe, they entangle themselves in many fatal snares. Pride, or fastidiousness, or emulation, induces many to persuade themselves that they can profit sufficiently by reading and meditating in private, and thus to despise public meetings, and deem preaching superfluous. But since as much as in them lies they loose or burst the sacred bond of unity, none of them escapes the just punishment of this impious divorce, but become fascinated with pestiferous errors, and the foulest delusions. Wherefore, in order that the pure simplicity of the faith may flourish among us, let us not decline to use this exercise of piety, which God by his institution of it has shown to be necessary, and which he so highly recommends. None, even among the most petulant of men, would venture to say, that we are to shut our ears against God, but in all ages prophets and pious teachers have had a difficult contest to maintain with the ungodly, whose perverseness cannot submit to the yoke of being taught by the lips and ministry of men.  This is just the same as if they were to destroy the impress of God as exhibited to us in doctrine. For no other reason were believers anciently enjoined to seek the face of God in the sanctuary (Ps. 105:4) (an injunction so often repeated in the Law), than because the doctrine of the Law, and the exhortations of the prophets, were to them a living image of God. Thus Paul declares, that in his preaching the glory of God shone in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). The more detestable are the apostates who delight in producing schisms in churches, just as if they wished to drive the sheep from the fold, and throw them into the jaws of wolves. Let us hold, agreeably to the passage we quoted from Paul, that the Church can only be edified by external preaching, and that there is no other bond by which the saints can be kept together than by uniting with one consent to observe the order which God has appointed in his Church for learning and making progress.”

– John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.i.1, 4, 5

Johannes Wollebius (1589-1629), Heinrich von Diest (1595-1673), and Johann Heinrich Alsted (1588-1638) on the difference between a heretic and a schismatic

Johannes Wollebius

Facebook, if used moderately, is a great tool not only for interacting with others in general, but particularly to discuss theology with fellow Christians around the world. Many of the theologians I’ve come to love I’ve learnt of via Facebook through the posts and links of others, and it has often been a medium to share the gems I myself have found in my reading. That being said, Facebook has often been the site of many – often ugly – arguments and infighting between fellow Christians, which is utterly unfortunate. Some even go out of their way to post something controversial in order to provoke debate and controversy. While debate in itself is not a bad thing, often things get out of hand, and I’ve seen people calling others “heretics” based on the slightest difference of views. Now, I’m not a flag-bearer for ecumenism, and certainly a spade should be called a spade and heresies should be rebutted when they do appear, but we must be careful to distinguish between a heretic and a schismatic. In this regard, Johannes Wollebius (1589-1629) helps us out by stating the difference between the two, in his Compendium Theologiae Christianae, I.XXVII.1:

“Heretics are those who persistently, against the demonstrating light of truth, defend some dogma which directly or by a necessary consequence overthrows the foundation of Christian faith.”

He goes on:

 “I. Not every error makes a heretic.

There may be error against the foundation [of the faith] like that of the Arians and Marcionites, who denied, the former the deity, and the latter the humanity, of Christ; or concerning the foundation, as the papists err in teaching transubstantiation, by which the truth of the human nature of Christ is taken away; or error by addition to the foundation, which errors are by Paul called hay, wood, etc. (1 Cor. 3:12).

II. The following make a heretic: (1) an error against the foundation [of the faith] or concerning the foundation, (2) conviction, (3) contumacy [i.e. rebellion against orthodox doctrine].

III. A schismatic is one who, although holding to the foundation of the faith, departs from some rite of the church, rashly or because of ambition.”

Heinrich Heppe (1820-1879) quotes two other Reformed theologians in his Reformed Dogmatics who say the exact same thing (p. 669):

Heinrich von Diest

“A schismatic is one who while preserving the faith’s foundation departs from some rite of the Church or from a received doctrine or, for some other reason, from the Church. A heretic is one, who convulsing the foundations of faith either directly or by inevitable inference gives persistent battle on behalf of his heresy.”

– Heinrich von Diest (1595-1673), Theologia Biblica, p. 429

Johann Heinrich Alsted

“A heretic differs from a schismatic. – The former errs in the doctrine and substance of faith, the schismatic in accessories. – The heretic corrupts the purity of faith by false dogma, the schismatic disrupts the bond of fraternal association.”

– Johann Heinrich Alsted (1588-1638), Theologia Scholastica Didactica, p. 689

Based on this distinction, we can’t go around calling anyone who differs from us in the least detail a heretic. Heppe points out that, despite the Lutheran Church being regarded as schismatic by Reformed dogmaticians, yet “the kinship in faith of the two Protestant confessions was acknowledged.”

Therefore, friends, let us be careful who we call heretics. From a Reformed perspective, though Lutherans and Baptists, for example, differ from us in some respects (and not that these differences are mere trifles!), yet they do not overthrow the faith in doing so, since the foundation of the faith is still upheld by them. On this basis, the fraternal bond is preserved.

William Perkins (1558–1602) on the efficacy of the Sacraments

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In his polemical work A Reformed Catholic, William Perkins (1558–1602) discusses the differences between Reformed and Roman Catholic theology, arguing that the Reformed are the “true catholics”. In the nineteenth chapter, he discusses the Reformed view of the efficacy of the sacraments:

THE NINETEENTH POINT: OF THE EFFICACY OF THE SACRAMENTS.

Our consent.

Conclus. I. We teach and believe that the sacraments are signes to represent Christ with his benefits unto us.

Conclus. II. We teach further, that the Sacraments are indeede instruments whereby God offereth & giveth the fore-said benefits unto us. Thus far we consent with the Romane Church.

The difference.

The difference betweene us stands in sundry points. First of all, the best learned among them teach, that Sacraments are physical instruments, that is, true and proper instrumental causes, having force and efficacy in them to produce and give grace. They use to express their meaning by their comparisons: When the scrivener takes the pen into his hand and writes, the action of writing comes from the pen, moved by the hand of the writer: and in cutting of wood or stone, the division comes from the sawe, moved by the hand of the work-man: even so the grace (say they) that is given by God, is conferred by the Sacrament it selfe. Now we for our parts hold, that Sacraments are not physical, but mere voluntary instruments. Voluntary, because it is the will and appointment of God, to use them as certaine outward means of grace. Instruments; because when we use them aright according to the institution, God them answerably confers grace from himselfe. In this respect only take we them for instruments and no otherwise.

The second difference is this: They teach that the very action of the minister dispensing the sacrament as it is the worke done, gives grace immediately, if the parties be prepared: as the very washing or sprinkling of water in baptisme, and the giving of bread in the Lords Supper: even as the orderly moving of the pen upon the paper by the hand of the writer causeth writing. We hold the contrary: namely, that no action in the dispensation of a Sacrament conferreth grace as it is a worke done, that is, by the efficacy and force of the very sacramental action it selfe, though ordained of GOD: but for two other ways. First, by the signification thereof. For God testifies unto us his will and good pleasure partly by the word of promise, and partly by the sacrament: the signes representing to the eyes that which the word doth to the eares: being also types and certaine images of the very same things, that are promised in the word, and no other. Yea, the elements are not general and confused, but particular signes to the several communicants, and by the virtue of the institution: for when the faithful receive the signes from God by the hands of the Minister, it is as much as if God himselfe with his own mouth should speak unto them severally, and by name promise to them remission of sins. And things said to men particularly, do more affect, and more take away doubting, than if they were generally spoken of an whole company. Therefore signes of grace are as it were an applying and binding of the promise of salvation to every particular believer: and by this meanes, the oftner they are received, the more they helpe our infirmity, & confirme our assurance of mercy.

Againe, the Sacrament confers grace, in that the signe thereof confirmes faith as a pledge, by reason it hath a promise annexed to it. For when God commands us to receive the signes in faith, & withal promiseth to the receivers to give the thing signified, he bindes himselfe, as it were in bond unto us to stand to his owne word; even as men bind themselves in obligations, putting to their hand and seales, so as they cannot go backe. And when the signes are thus used as pledges, & that often, they greatly increase the grace of God; as a token sent from one friend to another, renewes and confirmes the persuasion of love.

These are two principal ways whereby the Sacraments are said to confer grace, namely, in respect of their signification, and as they are pledges of Gods favour unto us. And the very point here to be considered is, in what order and manner they confirme. And the manner is this: The signes and visible elements affect the senses outward and inward: the senses convey their object to the minde, the minde directed by the holy Ghost reasoneth on this manner, out of the promise annexed to the sacrament: He that useth the elements aright, shall receive grace thereby: but I use the elements aright in faith & repentance, saith the mind of the believer: therefore shall I receive from God increase of grace. Thus then, faith is confirmed not by the worke done, but by a kind of reasoning caused in the minde, the argument or proofe whereof is borrowed from the elements, being signes and pledges of Gods mercy.

The third difference. The Papists teach that in the Sacrament by the worke done, the very grace of justification is conferred. We say no: because a man of yeares must first believe and be justified; before he can be a meete partaker of any sacrament. And the grace that is conferred, is only the increase of our faith, hope, sanctification, &c.

Our reasons.

Reason I. The word preached and the sacraments differ in the manner of giving Christ and his benefits unto us: because in the word the spirit of God teacheth us by a voice conveyed to the minde by the bodily eares: but in the sacraments annexed to the word, by certaine sensible and bodily signes viewed by the eye. Sacraments are nothing but visible words and promises. Otherwise for the giving it selfe they differ not. Christ himselfe saith, that in the very word, is eaten his owne flesh, which he was to give for the life of the world: and what can be said more of the Lords supper? Augustine saith, that believers are partakers of the body & blood of Christ in baptisme: and Hierome to Edibia, that in baptisme we eate and drinke the body and blood of Christ. If thus much may be said of baptisme, why may it not also be said of the word preached? Againe, Hierome upon Ecclesiastes saith, It is profitable to be filled with the body of Christ, and drinke his blood, not only in mystery but in knowledge of holy Scripture. Now upon this it followes, that seeing the worke done in the word preached, confers not grace, neither doth the worke done in the sacrament confer any grace.

Reason II. Matth. 3. 11. I baptize you with water to repentance: but he that commeth after me is stronger than I—, he shall baptize you with the holy Ghost and with fire. Hence it is manifest that grace in the sacrament proceedes not from any action in the sacrament: for John though he do not disjoine himselfe and his action from Christ and the action of his spirit, yet doth he distinguish them plainely in number, persons, and effect. To this purpose Paul, who had said of the Galathians, that he travelled of them and begat them by the Gospel, saith of himselfe, that he is not any thing, not only as he was a man, but as he was a faithful Apostle: thereby excluding the whole Evangelical ministery, whereof the Sacrament is a part, from the least part of divine operation, or efficacy in conferring of grace.

Reason III. The blessed Angels, nay the very flesh of the Son of God hath not any quickening virtue from it selfe; but all this efficacy or virtue is in and from the Godhead of the Son: who by meanes of the flesh apprehended by faith, deriveth heavenly and spiritual life from himselfe to the members. Now if there he no efficacy in the flesh of Christ, but by reason of the hypostatical union: how shall bodily actions about bodily elements confer grace immediately?

Reason IV. Paul, Rom. 4. stands much upon this, to prove that justification by faith is not conferred by the sacraments. And from the circumstance of time he gathereth that Abraham was first justified, & then afterward received circumcision, the signe and the seale of his righteousness. Now we know, that the general condition of all sacraments is one & the same, and that baptisme succeeded circumcision. And what can be more plaine than the example of Cornelius, Act. 10. who before Peter came unto him, had the commendation of the feare of God, and was indued with the spirit of prayer: and afterward when Peter by preaching opened more fully the way of the Lord, he & the rest received the holy Ghost? And after all this they were baptized. Now if they received the holy Ghost before baptisme, then they received remission of sins, and were justified before baptisme.

Reason V. The judgement of the ancient Church. Basil, If there be any grace in the water, it is not from the nature of the water, but from the presence of the Spirit. Hierome saith, Man gives water, but God gives the holy Ghost. August. saith, Water toucheth the body, and washeth the heart: but he shows his meaning else-where. There is one water (saith he) of the sacrament, another of the spirit: the water of the Sacrament is visible, the water of the spirit invisible. That washeth the body, and signifieth what is done in the soule; By this the soule is purged and healed.

Object.Remission of sins, regeneration, and salvation, is ascribed to the sacrament of baptisme, Act. 16. Eph. 5. 26. Gal. 3. 27. Tit. 3. 5Ans. Salvation and remission of sins is ascribed to baptisme and the Lords supper, as to the word; which is the power of God to salvation to all that believe: & that, as they are instruments of the holy Ghost to signify, seale, and exhibite to the believing minde the foresaid benefits: but indeede the proper instrument whereby salvation is apprehended, is faith, & sacraments are but props of faith furthering salvation two ways: first, because by their signification they helpe to nourish and preserve faith: secondly, because they seale grace and salvation to us: yea God gives grace and salvation when we use them well: so be it we believe the word of promise made to the sacrament, whereof also they are seales. And thus we keepe the middle way, neither giving too much, nor too little to the Sacrament.

Carl Trueman on theological priorities

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Food for thought:

“It is not only the less doctrinally informed areas of evangelicalism that have been impacted by the priorities of Oprah and company. Ask yourself this: if my church put on a conference about how to have a great Christian marriage and fulfilled sex life, would more or fewer people attend than if we did one on the importance of the incarnation or the Trinity? The answer to that question allows an interesting comparison between the priorities of the church today and that of the fourth and fifth centuries.”

– Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, p. 37