Friday, May 30, 2014

"Visible" Equivocation

The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government, written up by the Westminster Divines, says that "there is one general church visible, held forth in the New Testament."  Pretty much all Reformed people say that they agree with this.  However, the semi-congregationalist tendencies alive and well today in much Reformed thought and practice betray this central presbyterian idea.

When Reformed teachers say that they believe in "the visible church," this concept typically carries with it the idea of formal visibility.  Thus, organizations like Calvary Chapel or movements like the "house church" movement are often opposed on the grounds that they reject formal categories of the church, such as formal church membership.  Oversight and teaching is done in an informal way.  Reformed teachers often object that without formal membership there is no formal accountability.  In their thinking, to truly be a member of the visible church, one must submit in formal membership to a visible body of elders in a formal church congregation.  For this reason, many Reformed churches will deny communion to those who are not in formal membership in some established congregation, treating them as being outside the visible church.

And yet many of these same Reformed teachers see no problem with identifying the "one general church visible" not with any particular denomination but with the whole of the Reformed or evangelical Christian world.  In their view, the one universal visible church consists of many denominations independent from each other, such as the OPC, the PCA, the RCUS, the RPCNA, etc.  But here's the rub:  If the "one general church visible" consists of all the denominations in the Reformed or evangelical Christian world, then there is no "one general church visible" in a formal sense.  There are degrees of informal fellowship between the denominations, but there is no formal unity between the denominations making up one general formal body subject to mutually-binding councils.  Such formal unity exists within each denomination (at least the presbyterian denominations), but not between the denominations.  So if the "visible church" has intrinsically a formal dimension, as is implied in Reformed criticism of Calvary Chapel and the "house church" movements (informal fellowship not being considered enough to constitute the "visible church"), then the only possible conclusion is that these Reformed thinkers deny the existence of "one general church visible."  Instead, they have only "several particular church visibles."  (And those outside of the Reformed world who have a strong commitment to the idea of "one general church visible," like the Romanists, have noticed this inconsistency in modern Reformed thinking and often comment upon it.)

But this modern tendency to see the "visible church" as consisting of the entire world of evangelical or Reformed denominations is a perversion of classic Reformed thought, because it is a perversion of the historic presbyterian view of the nature of the church and of church government.  In historic presbyterianism, there is indeed "one general church visible," and so denominational division between true de jure churches is rejected as unthinkable.  When denominations are divided from each other, this implies a mutual rejection of each others' de jure legitimacy and authority as churches.  There can still be an informal recognition of the Body of Christ de facto between denominations, but not the Body of Christ de jure.

For more, see here and here.

UPDATE 3/10/15:  In the description of the recent Romanist apologetics book against Protestantism by Devin Rose entitled The Protestant's Dilemma, we read this description of Protestantism:

What if Protestantism were true? What if the Reformers really were heroes, the Bible the sole rule of faith, and Christ s [sic] Church just an invisible collection of loosely united believers?

Obviously, this shows once again the Romanist confusion over the what the Protestant doctrine of the church really is, a confusion made somewhat understandable by internal lack of clarity on the doctrine of the universality of the visible church within Reformed circles themselves these days, despite the clear testimony of the Reformed doctrinal standards that there is indeed one catholic visible church.

In the introductory statement from the editor in the most recent (March 2015) edition of Ordained Servant, a periodical for church officers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the editor makes this comment (this edition of Ordained Servant is devoted to the doctrine of church membership):

The modern world privileges informality with the mistaken idea that the informal is more authentic. So the written rolls of church membership and the vows to affirm the commitment of membership are seen as being unspiritual. This is a nineteenth-century Romantic ideal, not a biblical one, but cultural pressures persist, and the less people pay attention to their Bibles the easier world-conformity becomes.

And yet the denominationalist attitude within many Reformed circles today commits this very error--it denies any formal visible catholic church, and leaves us with only a bunch of visible particular churches or groups of churches (denominations) which have no formal governmental expression of their unity.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why Time Cannot Be Circular

Many cases for the existence of God make arguments for a First Cause who must be the ground of the existence of the universe.  Sometimes, part of the argument here involves pointing out that there is a logical absurdity in supposing that the past is infinite.  If the past is infinite, an infinite amount of time has already occurred as of now in the history of the universe.  But it is impossible to traverse an infinite, and so the past cannot be infinite.  (I won't go into more detail on this point right now.  For more on this, see the case for the existence of God in chapter three of my book, Why Christianity is True.)

One of the responses that is sometimes made to this argument is that perhaps time is circular rather than linear.  That is, instead of conceiving of time as a line with the present as a point along the line, the past as the part of the line in front of the present point, and the future as the part of the line after the present point, why not conceive of time as a circle, where you have a present point but if you go far enough ahead on the line from the present point you eventually come around again to that same point?  In this way, we can say that the timeline of history never had a beginning, thus avoiding the First Cause, without making the past infinitely long, thus avoiding the absurdity of an infinite past.

There are a number of problems with this argument, but what I want to focus on right now is the logical absurdity of the concept of circular time.  First of all, let's distinguish circular time from cyclical time.  Cyclical time, as I am defining it here, would be a linear timeline on which events repeat themselves.  That is, the same things happen over and over again.  While I don't think that history actually happens that way (at least not overall), there is nothing immediately logically absurd about such an idea.  Circular time, on the other hand, is the actual changing of the time-line into a time-circle, as I described above.  Here's one way of getting at this distinction:  Take a particular historical event, like my birth.  According to a cyclical time idea, where everything repeats itself again and again, we would say that I was born in the past and I will be born again in the future.  According to a circular time idea, on the other hand, we would say that I was born in the past and that I will be born for the first time in the future.  That is, in circular time, things don't happen over and over again (which is a linear concept); rather, they happen only once, but the past and the future are ultimately the same thing so that every single event is both past and future.

The logical problem with this idea is evident in what has already been said.  The circular time idea makes the past and the future the same thing.  But it is self-evident that they are not.  They are distinct by definition.  The past is "stuff that has already happened," while the future is "stuff that hasn't happened yet but will happen later."  They are fundamentally conceptually distinct concepts.  Therefore, any attempt to equate them results in the logical absurdity of saying that two things that are actually different are not actually different.  With regard to my birth event, the circular time theory ends up saying both that "I have been born already" and "I have not been born already" (for the latter proposition is necessarily implied in saying that "I will be born for the first time in the future").  Thus, the circular time idea involves unavoidable logical contradiction and therefore absurdity, and thus cannot be true.  (For more on why logical contradictions are absurd and cannot be true, see here.)  The concept of time, with its necessary distinction between past and future, is essentially and unavoidably linear.

Commentary on John Calvin on the Unity of the Church, Part II

Continued from Part I.

Our indulgence ought to extend much farther in tolerating imperfection of conduct. Here there is great danger of falling, and Satan employs all his machinations to ensnare us. For there always have been persons who, imbued with a false persuasion of absolute holiness, as if they had already become a kind of aerial spirits, spurn the society of all in whom they see that something human still remains. Such of old were the Cathari and the Donatists, who were similarly infatuated. Such in the present day are some of the Anabaptists, who would be thought to have made superior progress.

Others, again, sin in this respect, not so much from that insane pride as from inconsiderate zeal. Seeing that among those to whom the gospel is preached, the fruit produced is not in accordance with the doctrine, they forthwith conclude that there no church exists. The offence is indeed well founded, and it is one to which in this most unhappy age we give far too much occasion. It is impossible to excuse our accursed sluggishness, which the Lord will not leave unpunished, as he is already beginning sharply to chastise us. Woe then to us who, by our dissolute license of wickedness, cause weak consciences to be wounded! Still those of whom we have spoken sin in their turn, by not knowing how to set bounds to their offence. For where the Lord requires mercy they omit it, and give themselves up to immoderate severity. Thinking there is no church where there is not complete purity and integrity of conduct, they, through hatred of wickedness, withdraw from a genuine church, while they think they are shunning the company of the ungodly.

They allege that the Church of God is holy (Eph.5:26). But that they may at the same time understand that it contains a mixture of good and bad, let them hear from the lips of our Saviour that parable in which he compares the Church to a net in which all kinds of fishes are taken, but not separated until they are brought ashore. Let them hear it compared to a field which planted with good seed, is by the fraud of an enemy mingled with tares, and is not freed of them until the harvest is brought into the barn. Let them hear, in fine, that it is a thrashing floor in which the collected wheat lies concealed under the chaff, until, cleansed by the fanners and the sieve, it is at length laid up in the granary. If the Lord declares that the Church will labour under the defect of being burdened with a multitude of wicked until the day of judgement, it is in vain to look for a church altogether free from blemish, (Math. 13.)

They exclaim that it is impossible to tolerate the vice which everywhere stalks abroad like a pestilence. What if the apostle's sentiment applies here also? Among the Corinthians it was not a few that erred, but almost the whole body had become tainted; there was not one species of sin merely, but a multitude, and those not trivial errors but some of them execrable crimes. There was not only corruption in manners, but also in doctrine. What course was taken by the holy apostle, in other words, by the organ of the heavenly Spirit, by whose testimony the Church stands and falls? Does he seek separation from them? Does he discard them from the kingdom of Christ? Does he strike them with the thunder of a final anathema? He not only does none of these things, but he acknowledges and heralds them as a Church of Christ, and a society of saints. If the Church remains among the Corinthians, where envyings, divisions, and contentions rage; where quarrels, lawsuits and avarice prevail; where a crime, which even the gentiles would execrate, is openly approved; where the name of Paul, whom they ought to have honoured as a father, is petulantly assailed; where some hold the resurrection of the dead in derision, though with it the whole gospel must fall; where the gifts of God are made subservient to ambition, not to charity; where many things are done neither decently nor in order. If there the Church still remains, simply because the ministration of word and sacrament is not rejected, who will presume to deny the title of church to those to whom a tenth part of these crimes cannot be imputed? How, I ask, would those who act so morosely against present churches have acted to the Galatians, who had done all but abandon the gospel, (Gal. 1: 2,) and yet among them the same apostle found churches?

On the surface, it sounds like Calvin is making the bar of being a true church so low here that pretty much anyone could get in.  The toleration and open approval of perverse sexual sin, denial of the resurrection (and the whole gospel which depends on it), etc., do not take away the rightful name of "true church" from a body?  Surely these faults are not greater than those of the papists, all the liberal denominations today, etc., so are these all true churches?

And yet later on, Calvin will say that the Romanist church is not a true church, because it has opposed the gospel.  Therefore, I think we must understand Calvin's words here in a more refined sense.  A church does not lose the rightful title of "true church" simply because within it there is much corruption, so long as, constitutionally (or the practical de facto equivalent), it has not abandoned the Word of God.  In other words, if a church maintains the Word of God but is too lax in church discipline, this is a serious problem, and we ought to work hard for reform, but failure in discipline does not immediately cause a church to lose its position as a "true church."  So long as the church does not require sin, so long as errors and faults can be protested, so long as the church has not definitively taken an official stand against the truth, the church itself can still be said to be a pillar of truth even when it is lazy in fighting error.  But once things have gone so far that the church itself has abandoned its foundation in the Word of God and has institutionally embraced error, or it prevents conscientious protest against error and working towards reform, the church loses its status as a true church.

They also object, that Paul sharply rebukes the Corinthians for permitting an heinous offender in their communion, and then lays down a general sentence, by which he declares it unlawful even to eat bread with a man of impure life, (1 Cor. 5: 11, 12.) Here they exclaim, If it is not lawful to eat ordinary bread, how can it be lawful to eat the Lord's bread?

I admit, that it is a great disgrace if dogs and swine are admitted among the children of God; much more, if the sacred body of Christ is prostituted to them. And, indeed, when churches are well regulated, they will not bear the wicked in their bosom, nor will they admit the worthy and unworthy indiscriminately to that sacred feast.  Here Calvin clearly affirms that errors and sins are not to be tolerated in the church.  The church is to exercise discipline against these offenses. But because pastors are not always sedulously vigilant, are sometimes also more indulgent than they ought, or are prevented from acting so strictly as they could wish; the consequence is, that even the openly wicked are not always excluded from the fellowship of the saints. This I admit to be a vice, and I have no wish to extenuate it, seeing that Paul sharply rebukes it in the Corinthians. But although the Church fail in her duty, it does not therefore follow that every private individual is to decide the question of separation for himself. I deny not that it is the duty of a pious man to withdraw from all private intercourse with the wicked, and not entangle himself with them by any voluntary tie; but it is one thing to shun the society of the wicked, and another to renounce the communion of the Church through hatred of them.

Those who think it sacrilege to partake the Lord's bread with the wicked are in this more rigid than Paul. For when he exhorts us to pure and holy communion, he does not require that we should examine others, or that every one should examine the whole church, but that each should examine himself, (1 Cor. 11: 28, 29.) If it were unlawful to communicate with the unworthy, Paul would certainly have ordered us to take heed that there were no individual in the whole body by whose impurity we might be defiled, but now that he only requires each to examine himself, he shows that it does no harm to us though some who are unworthy present themselves along with us. To the same effect he afterwards adds, "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself." He says not to others, but to himself. And justly; for the right of admitting or excluding ought not to be left to the decision of individuals. Cognisance of this point, which cannot be exercised without due orders as shall afterwards be more fully shown, belongs to the whole church. It would therefore be unjust to hold any private individual as polluted by the unworthiness of another, whom he neither can nor ought to keep back from communion.  We do not sin by association when we remain in a true church, even when that church is too lax in discipline and so allows in those it ought to keep out.  It is not our job (as individuals) to excommunicate people, but it is the church's job.  It is our job as individuals to judge between the true church and false churches and to embrace the former and shun the latter, but it is not our job to take the work of the true church away from it by attempting ourselves to impose the sentences which rightly belong to it.

Still, however even the good are sometimes affected by this inconsiderate zeal for righteousness, though we shall find that this excessive moroseness is more the result of pride and a false idea of sanctity, than genuine sanctity itself, and true zeal for it. Accordingly, those who are the most forward, and as it were, leaders in producing revolt from the Church, have, for the most part, no other motive than to display their own superiority by despising all other men. Well and wisely, therefore, does Augustine say, "Seeing that pious reason and the mode of ecclesiastical discipline ought specially to regard the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, which the Apostle enjoins us to keep, by bearing with one another, (for if we keep it not, the application of medicine is not only superfluous but pernicious, and, therefore, proves to be no medicine;) those bad sons who, not from hatred of other men's iniquities, but zeal for their own contentions, attempt altogether to draw away, or at least to divide, weak brethren ensnared by the glare of their name, while swollen with pride, stuffed with petulance, insidiously calumnious, and turbulently seditious, use the cloak of a rigorous severity, that they may not seem devoid of the light of truth, and pervert to sacrilegious schism, and purposes of excision, those things which are enjoined in the Holy Scriptures, (due regard being had to sincere love, and the unity of peace,) to correct a brother's faults by the appliance of a immoderate cure," (August. Cont. Parmen. cap. 1.) To the pious and placid his advice is, mercifully to correct what they can, and to bear patiently with what they cannot correct, in love lamenting and mourning until God either reform or correct, or at the harvest root up the tares, and scatter the chaff, (ibid. cap. 2.)

Let all the godly study to provide themselves with these weapons, lest, while they deem themselves strenuous and ardent defenders of righteousness, they revolt from the kingdom of heaven, which is the only kingdom of righteousness. For as God has been pleased that the communion of his Church shall be maintained in this external society, any one who, from hatred of the ungodly, violates the bond of this society, enter on a downward course, in which he incurs great danger of cutting himself off from the communion of saints.

Let them reflect, that in a numerous body there are several who may escape their notice, and yet are truly righteous and innocent in the eyes of the Lord. Let them reflect, that of those who seem diseased, there are many who are far from taking pleasure or flattering themselves in their faults, and who, ever and anon aroused by a serious fear of the Lord, aspire to greater integrity. Let them reflect, that they have no right to pass judgement on a man for one act, since the holiest sometimes make the moat grievous fall. Let them reflect, that in the ministry of the word and participation of the sacraments, the power to collect the Church is too great to be deprived of all efficacy, by the fault of some ungodly men. Lastly, let them reflect, that in estimating the Church, divine is of more force than human judgement.

Since they also argue that there is good reason for the Church being called holy, it is necessary to consider what the holiness is in which it excels, lest by refusing to acknowledge any church, save one that is completely perfect, we leave no church at all. It is true, indeed, as Paul says, that Christ "loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish," (Eph. 5: 25-27.) Nevertheless, it is true, that the Lord is daily smoothing its wrinkles and wiping away its spots. Hence it follows that its holiness is not yet perfect. Such, then, is the holiness of the Church: it makes daily progress, but is not yet perfect; it daily advances, but as yet has not reached the goal, as will elsewhere be more fully explained.

Therefore, when the Prophets foretell, "Then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more;" - "It shall be called, The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it," (Joel 3: 17; Isa. 35: 8,) let us not understand it as if no blemish remained in the members of the Church; but only that with their whole heart they aspire after holiness and perfect purity: and hence, that purity which they have not yet fully attained is, by the kindness of God, attributed to them. And though the indications of such a kind of holiness existing among men are too rare, we must understand, that at no period since the world began has the Lord been without his Church, nor ever shall be till the final consummation of all things. For although, at the very outset, the whole human race was vitiated and corrupted by the sin of Adam, yet of this kind of polluted mass he always sanctifies some vessels to honour, that no age may be left without experience of his mercy. This he has declared by sure promises, such as the following: "I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations," (Ps. 89: 3, 4.) "The Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his habitation. This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell," (Ps. 132: 13,14.) "Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever," (Jer. 31: 35, 36.)

On this head, Christ himself, his apostles, and almost all the prophets, have furnished us with examples. Fearful are the descriptions in which Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Habakkuk, and others, deplore the diseases of the Church of Jerusalem. In the people, the rulers, and the priests, corruption prevailed to such a degree, that Isaiah hesitates not to liken Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorrah, (Isa. 1: 10.) Religion was partly despised, partly adulterated, while in regard to morals, we every where meet with accounts of theft, robbery, perfidy, murder, and similar crimes. The prophets, however, did not therefore either form new churches for themselves, or erect new altars on which they might have separate sacrifices, but whatever their countrymen might be, reflecting that the Lord had deposited his word with them, and instituted the ceremonies by which he was then worshipped, they stretched out pure hands to him, though amid the company of the ungodly. Certainly, had they thought that they thereby contracted any pollution, they would have died a hundred deaths sooner than suffer themselves to be dragged thither. nothing, therefore, prevented them from separating themselves, but a desire of preserving unity. But if the holy prophets felt no obligation to withdraw from the Church on account of the very numerous and heinous crimes, not of one or two individuals, but almost of the whole people, we arrogate too much to ourselves, if we presume forthwith to withdraw from the communion of the Church, because the lives of all accord not with our judgement, or even with the Christian profession.

Then what kind of age was that of Christ and the apostles? Yet neither could the desperate impiety of the Pharisees, nor the dissolute licentiousness of manners which everywhere prevailed, prevent them from using the same sacred rites with the people, and meeting in one common temple for the public exercises of religion. And why so, but just because they knew that those who joined in these sacred rites with a pure conscience were not at all polluted by the society of the wicked?

If any one is little moved by prophets and apostles, let him at least defer to the authority of Christ. Well, therefore, does Cyprian say, "Although tares or unclean vessels are seen in the Church, that is no reason why we ourselves should withdraw from the Church; we must only labour that we may be able to be wheat; w e must give our endeavour, and strive as far as we can, to be vessels of gold or silver. But to break the earthen vessels belongs to the Lord alone, to whom a rod of iron has been given: let no one arrogate to himself what is peculiar to the Son alone, and think himself sufficient to winnow the floor and cleanse the chaff, and separate all the tares by human judgement. What depraved zeal thus assumes to itself is proud obstinacy and sacrilegious presumption," (Cyprian, lib. 3. Ep. 5.)

Let both points therefore, be regarded as fixed; first, there is no excuse for him who spontaneously abandons the external communion of a church in which the word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered; secondly, that notwithstanding of the faults of a few or of many, there is nothing to prevent us from there duly professing our faith in the ordinances instituted by God, because a pious conscience is not injured by the unworthiness of another, whether he be a pastor or a private individual; and sacred rites are not less pure and salutary to a man who is holy and upright, from being at the same time handled by the impure.

Their moroseness and pride proceed even to greater lengths. Refusing to acknowledge any church that is not pure from the minutes blemish, they take offence at sound teachers for exhorting believers to make progress, and so teaching them to groan during their whole lives under the burden of sins and flee for pardon. For they pretend, that in this way believers are led away from perfection.

I admit that we are not to labour feebly or coldly in urging perfection, far less to desist from urging it; but I hold that it is a device of the devil to fill our minds with a confident belief of it while we are still in our course. Accordingly, in the Creed forgiveness of sins is appropriately subjoined to belief as to the Church, because none obtain forgiveness but those who are citizens, and of the household of the Church, as we read in the Prophet, (Is. 33: 24.) The first place, therefore, should be given to the building of the heavenly Jerusalem, in which God afterwards is pleased to wipe away the iniquity of all who retake themselves to it. I say, however, that the Church must first be built; not that there can be any church without forgiveness of sins, but because the Lord has not promised his mercy save in the communion of saints. Therefore, our first entrance into the Church and the kingdom of God is by forgiveness of sins, without which we have no covenant nor union with God. For thus he speaks by the Prophet, "In that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow, and the sword, and the battle, out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely. And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgement, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies," (Hos. 2: 18, 19.) We see in what way the Lord reconciles us to himself by his mercy. So in another passage, where he foretells that the people whom he had scattered in anger will again be gathered together, "I will cleanse them from all their iniquity whereby they have sinned against me," (Jer. 33: 8.) Wherefore, our initiation into the fellowship of the Church is, by the symbol of ablution, to teach us that we have no admission into the family of God, unless by his goodness our impurities are previously washed away.

Nor by remission of sins does the Lord only once for all elect and admit us into the Church, but by the same means he preserves and defends us in it. For what would it avail us to receive a pardon of which we were afterwards to have no use? That the mercy of the Lord would be vain and delusive if only granted once, all the godly can bear witness; for there is none who is not conscious, during his whole life, of many infirmities which stand in need of divine mercy. And truly it is not without cause that the Lord promises this gift specially to his own household, nor in vain that he orders the same message of reconciliation to be daily delivered to them. Wherefore, as during our whole lives we carry about with us the remains of sin, we could not continue in the Church one single moment were we not sustained by the uninterrupted grace of God in forgiving our sins. On the other hand, the Lord has called his people to eternal salvation, and, therefore, they ought to consider that pardon for their sins is always ready. Hence let us surely hold that if we are admitted and ingrafted into the body of the Church, the forgiveness of sins has been bestowed, and is daily bestowed on us, in divine liberality, through the intervention of Christ's merits and the sanctification of the Spirit.

To impart this blessing to us, the keys have been given to the Church, (Matth. 16: 19; 18: 18.) For when Christ gave the command to the apostles, and conferred the power of forgiving sins, he not merely intended that they should loose the sins of those who should be converted from impiety to the faith of Christ; but, moreover, that they should perpetually perform this office among believers. This Paul teaches, when he says that the embassy of reconciliation has been committed to the ministers of the Church, that they may ever and anon in the name of Christ exhort the people to be reconciled to God, (2 Cor. 5: 20.) Therefore, in the communion of saints our sins are constantly forgiven by the ministry of the Church, when presbyters or bishops, to whom the office has been committed, confirm pious consciences, in the hope of pardon and forgiveness by the promises of the gospel, and that as well in public as in private, as the case requires. For there are many who, from their infirmity, stand in need of special pacification, and Paul declares that he testified of the grace of Christ not only in the public assembly, but from house to house, reminding each individually of the doctrine of salvation, (Acts 20: 20, 21.)

Three things are here to be observed. First, Whatever be the holiness which the children of God possess, it is always under the condition, that so long as they dwell in a mortal body, they cannot stand before God without forgiveness of sins. Secondly, This benefit is so peculiar to the Church, that we cannot enjoy it unless we continue in the communion of the Church. Thirdly, It is dispensed to us by the ministers and pastors of the Church, either in the preaching of the Gospel or the administration of the Sacraments, and herein is especially manifested the power of the keys, which the Lord has bestowed on the company of the faithful. Accordingly, let each of us consider it to be his duty to seek forgiveness of sins only where the Lord has placed it. Of the public reconciliation which relates to discipline, we shall speak at the proper place.

But since those frantic spirits of whom I have spoken attempt to rob the Church of this the only anchor of salvation, consciences must be more firmly strengthened against this pestilential opinion. The Novatians, in ancient times, agitated the Churches with this dogma, but in our day, not unlike the Novatians are some of the Anabaptists, who have fallen into the same delirious dreams. For they pretend that in Baptism, the people of God are regenerated to a pure and angelical life, which is not polluted by any carnal defilements. But if a man sin after baptism, they leave him nothing except the inexorable judgement of God. In short, to the sinner who has lapsed after receiving grace they give no hope of pardon, because they admit no other forgiveness of sins save that by which we are first regenerated.

But although no falsehood is more clearly refuted by Scripture, yet as these men find means of imposition, (as Novatus also of old had very many followers,) let us briefly slow how much they rave, to the destruction both of themselves and others.

In the first place, since by the command of our Lord the saints daily repeat this prayer, "Forgive us our debts," (Matth. 6: 12,) they confess that they are debtors. Nor do they ask in vain; for the Lord has only enjoined them to ask what he will give. Nay, while he has declared that the whole prayer will be heard by his Father, he has sealed this absolution with a peculiar promise. What more do we wish? The Lord requires of his saints confession of sins during their whole lives, and that without ceasing, and promises pardon. How presumptuous, then, to exempt them from sin, or when they have stumbled, to exclude them altogether from grace? Then whom does he enjoin us to pardon seventy and seven times? Is it not our brethren? (Matth. 18: 22.) And why has he so enjoined but that we may imitate his clemency? He therefore pardons not once or twice only, but as often as, under a sense of our faults, we feel alarmed, and sighing call upon him.

And to begin almost with the very first commencement of the Church: the Patriarchs had been circumcised, admitted to a participation in the covenant, and doubtless instructed by their father's care in righteousness and integrity, when they conspired to commit fratricide. The crime was one which the most abandoned robbers would have abominated. At length, softened by the remonstrances of Judah, they sold him; this also was intolerable cruelty. Simon and Levi took a nefarious revenge on the sons of Sichem, one, too, condemned by the judgement of their father. Reuben, with execrable lust, defiled his father's bed. Judah, when seeking to commit whoredom, sinned against the law of nature with his daughter-in-law. But so far are they from being expunged from the chosen people, that they are rather raised to be its heads.

What, moreover, of David? when on the throne of righteousness, with what iniquity did he make way for blind lust, by the shedding of innocent blood? He had already been regenerated, and, as one of the regenerated, received distinguished approbation from the Lord. But he perpetrated a crime at which even the gentiles would have been horrified, and yet obtained pardon.

And not to dwell on special examples, all the promises of divine mercy extant in the Law and the Prophets are so many proofs that the Lord is ready to forgive the offences of his people. For why does Moses promise a future period, when the people who had fallen into rebellion should return to the Lord? "Then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations whither the Lord thy God has scattered thee," (Deut. 30: 3.)

But I am unwilling to begin an enumeration which never could be finished. The prophetical books are filled with similar promises, offering mercy to a people covered with innumerable transgressions. What crime is more heinous than rebellion? It is styled divorce between God and the Church, and yet, by his goodness, it is surmounted. They say, "If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again unto me, saith the Lord." "Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you; for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever," (Jer. 3: 1, 12.) And surely he could not have a different feeling who declares, "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth;" "Wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye," (Ezek. 18: 23, 32.) Accordingly, when Solomon dedicated the temple, one of the uses for which it was destined was, that prayers offered up for the pardon of sin, might there be heard. "If they sin against thee, (for there is no man that sinneth not,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captive unto the land of the enemy, far or near; yet if they shall rethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication unto thee in the land of them that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; and so return unto thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies which led them away captive, and pray unto thee towards their land, which thou gavest unto their fathers, the city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name: then hear thou their prayer and their supplication in heaven thy dwellingplace, and maintain their cause, and forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee," (1 Kings 8: 46-50.) Nor in vain in the Law did God ordain a daily sacrifice for sins. Had he not foreseen that his people were constantly to labour under the disease of sin, he never would have appointed these remedies.

Did the advent of Christ, by which the fulness of grace was displayed, deprive believers of this privilege of supplicating for the pardon of their sins? If they offended against the Lords were they not to obtain any mercy? What were it but to say that Christ came not for the salvation, but for the destruction of his people, if the divine indulgence in pardoning sin, which was constantly provided for the saints under the Old Testament, is now declared to have been taken away? But if we give credit to the Scriptures, when distinctly proclaiming that in Christ alone the grace and loving-kindness of the Lord have fully appeared, the riches of his mercy been poured out, reconciliation between God and man accomplished, (Tit. 2: 11; 3: 4; 2 Tim. 1: 9, 10,) let us not doubt that the clemency of our heavenly Father, instead of being cut off or curtailed is in much greater exuberance.

Nor are proofs of this wanting. Peter, who had heard our Saviour declare that he who did not confess his name before men would be denied before the angels of God, denied him twice in one night, and not without execration; yet he is not denied pardon, (Mark 8: 38.) Those who lived disorderly among the Thessalonians, though chastised, are still invited to repentance, (2 Thess. 3: 6.) Not even is Simon Magus thrown into despair. He is rather told to hope, since Peter invites him to have recourse to prayer, (Acts 8: 22.)

What shall we say to the fact, that occasionally whole churches have been implicated in the grossest sins, and yet Paul, instead of giving them over to destruction, rather mercifully extricated them? The defection of the Galatians was no trivial fault, the Corinthians were still less excusable the iniquities prevailing among them being more numerous and not less heinous, yet neither are excluded from the mercy of the Lord. Nay, the very persons who had sinned above others in uncleanness and fornication are expressly invited to repentance. The covenant of the Lord remains, and ever will remain, inviolable, that covenant which he solemnly ratified with Christ the true Solomon, and his members, in these words: "If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgements; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him", (Ps. 89: 30-33.) In short, by the very arrangement of the Creed, we are reminded that forgiveness of sins always resides in the Church of Christ, for after the Church is as it were constituted, forgiveness of sins is subjoined.

Some persons who have somewhat more discernment, seeing that the dogma of Novatus is so clearly refuted in scripture, do not make every fault unpardonable, but that voluntary transgression of the Law into which a man falls knowingly and willingly. Those who speak thus allow pardon to those sins only that have been committed through ignorance. But since the Lord has in the Law ordered some sacrifices to be offered in expiation of the voluntary sins of believers, and others to redeem sins of ignorance, (Lev. 4) how perverse is it to concede no expiation to a voluntary sin? I hold nothing to be more plain, than that the one sacrifice of Christ avails to remit the voluntary sins of believers, the Lord having attested this by carnal sacrifices as emblems.

Then how is David, who was so well instructed in the Law, to be excused by ignorance? Did David, who was daily punishing it in others, not know how heinous a crime murder and adultery was? Did the patriarchs deem fratricide a lawful act? Had the Corinthians made so little proficiency as to imagine that God was pleased with lasciviousness, impurity, whoredom, hatred, and strife? Was Peter, after being so carefully warned, ignorant how heinous it was to forswear his Master? Therefore, let us not by our malice shut the door against the divine mercy, when so benignly manifested.

I am not unaware, that by the sins which are daily forgiven to believers ancient writers have understood the lighter errors which creep in through the infirmity of the flesh, while they thought that the formal repentance which was then exacted for more heinous crimes was no more to be repeated than Baptism. This opinion is not to be viewed as if they wished to plunge those into despair who had fallen from their first repentance, or to extenuate those errors as if they were of no account before God. For they knew that the saints often stumble through unbelief, that superfluous oaths occasionally escape them, that they sometimes boil with anger, nay, break out into open invectives, and labour, besides, under other evils, which are in no slight degree offensive to the Lord; but they so called them to distinguish them from public crimes, which came under the cognisance of the Church, and produced much scandal. The great difficulty they had in pardoning those who had done something that called for ecclesiastical animadversion, was not because they thought it difficult to obtain pardon from the Lord, but by this severity they wished to deter others from rushing precipitately into crimes, which by their demerits would alienate them from the communion of the Church. Still the word of the Lord, which here ought to be our only rule, certainly prescribes greater moderation, since it teaches that the rigour of discipline must not be stretched so far as to overwhelm with grief the individual for whose benefit it should specially be designed (2 Cor. 2: 7,) as we have above discoursed at greater length.

How much the ministry of the word and sacraments should weigh with us, and how far reverence for it should extend, so as to be a perpetual badge for distinguishing the Church, has been explained; for we have shown, first, that wherever it exists entire and unimpaired no errors of conduct, no defects should prevent us from giving the name of Church; and, secondly, that trivial errors in this ministry ought not to make us regard it as illegitimate. Moreover, we have shown that the errors to which such pardon is due, are those by which the fundamental doctrine of religion is not injured, and by which those articles of religion, in which all believers should agree, are not suppressed, while, in regard to the sacraments, the defects are such as neither destroy nor impair the legitimate institution of their Author.  Note that the errors in doctrine that are to be tolerated in a church (in the sense that they do not cause it to lose its delineation as a "true church") are those "by which the fundamental doctrine of religion is not injured, and by which those articles of religion, in which all believers should agree, are not suppressed" (emphasis added).  What are those articles of religion in which all believers should agree?  Surely all the doctrines clearly taught in Scripture are doctrines all believers should agree upon, for to do otherwise is to violate the command of God who has commanded us to believe all that he has taught.  No believer is permitted to ignore or reject the clear teachings of God's Word.  Therefore, the false doctrines that can be tolerated in a true church are best understood as doctrines that are not clearly revealed in Scripture, as we saw earlier.  Since these doctrines are not clearly revealed in Scripture, believers should tolerate differences of opinion regarding them, without "perverseness of dogmatising."  Also, what defects in the sacraments are to be tolerated?  Only those that don't destroy or impair "the legitimate institution of their Author."  That is, they don't get in the way of the fundamental integrity of the sacraments.  Would denying baptism to the children of believers, for example, violate the fundamental integrity of that sacrament?  Surely it would, for it surely violates the fundamental integrity of baptism to deny it to an entire class of people to whom God says to administer it.  How about making baptism nothing more than an outward testimony of repentance while denying that it is a seal and means of grace?  Surely this too violates its fundamental nature.    But as soon as falsehood has forced its way into the citadel of religion, as soon as the sum of necessary doctrine is inverted, and the use of the sacraments is destroyed, the death of the Church undoubtedly ensues, just as the life of man is destroyed when his throat is pierced, or his vitals mortally wounded. This is clearly evinced by the words of Paul when he says, that the Church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone," (Eph. 2: 20.) If the Church is founded on the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, by which believers are enjoined to place their salvation in Christ alone, then if that doctrine is destroyed, how can the Church continue to stand? The Church must necessarily fall whenever that sum of religion which alone can sustain it has given way. Again, if the true Church is the pillar and ground of the truth," (1 Tim. 3: 15,) it is certain that there is no Church where lying and falsehood have usurped the ascendancy.  Again, Calvin indicates that when the doctrines and practices of Scripture are fundamentally rejected or mutilated, this means the death of the church.  We no longer have a true church.  This is perilous to the salvation of those who thus reject or pervert God's Word, for who can do this with impunity?  But is Calvin saying that it is absolutely impossible that anyone perverting Scriptural doctrine can be saved?  Later on, he will nuance his comments here in his discussion of the papists (which starts just below).

Since this is the state of matters under the Papacy, we can understand how much of the Church there survives. There, instead of the ministry of the word, prevails a perverted government, compounded of lies, a government which partly extinguishes, partly suppresses, the pure light. In place of the Lord's Supper, the foulest sacrilege has entered, the worship of God is deformed by a varied mass of intolerable superstitions; doctrine (without which Christianity exists not) is wholly buried and exploded, the public assemblies are schools of idolatry and impiety. Wherefore, in declining fatal participation in such wickedness, we run no risk of being dissevered from the Church of Christ. The communion of the Church was not instituted to be a chain to bind us in idolatry, impiety, ignorance of God, and other kinds of evil, but rather to retain us in the fear of God and obedience of the truth.

We need not retain communion with the Romanist church, because it has violated the doctrine and practice of the Word of God and so has ceased to be a true church.

They, indeed, vaunt loudly of their Church, as if there was not another in the world; and then, as if the matter were ended, they make out that all are schismatic who withdraw from obedience to that Church which they thus depicts that all are heretics who presume to whisper against its doctrine, (see sec. 5.) But by what arguments do they prove their possession of the true Church? They appeal to ancient records which formerly existed in Italy, France, and Spain, pretending to derive their origin from those holy men, who, by sound doctrine, founded and raised up churches, confirmed the doctrine, and reared the edifice of the Church with their blood; they pretend that the Church thus consecrated by spiritual gifts and the blood of martyrs was preserved from destruction by a perpetual succession of bishops. They dwell on the importance which Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origin, Augustine, and others, attached to this succession, (see sec. 3.)

How frivolous and plainly ludicrous these allegations are, I will enable any, who will for a little consider the matter with me, to understand without any difficulty. I would also exhort our opponents to give their serious attention, if I had any hope of being able to benefit them by instruction; but since they have laid aside all regard to truth, and make it their only aim to prosecute their own ends in whatever way they can, I will only make a few observations by which good men and lovers of truth may disentangle themselves from their quibbles.

First, I ask them why they do not quote Africa, and Egypt, and all Asia, just because in all those regions there was a cessation of that sacred succession, by the aid of which they vaunt of having continued Churches. They therefore fall back on the assertion, that they have the true Church, because ever since it began to exist it was never destitute of bishops, because they succeeded each other in an unbroken series. But what if I bring Greece before them? Therefore, I again ask them, Why they say that the Church perished among the Greeks, among whom there never was any interruption in the succession of bishops - a succession, in their opinion, the only guardian and preserver of the Church? They make the Greeks schismatic. Why? because, by revolting from the Apostolic See, they lost their privilege. What? Do not those who revolt from Christ much more deserve to lose it? It follows, therefore, that the pretence of succession is vain, if posterity do not retain the truth of Christ, which was handed down to them by their fathers, safe and uncorrupted, and continue in it.

In the present day, therefore, the pretence of the Romanists is just the same as that which appears to have been formerly used by the Jews, when the Prophets of the Lord charged them with blindness, impiety, and idolatry. For as the Jews proudly vaunted of their temple, ceremonies, and priesthood, by which, with strong reason, as they supposed, they measured the Church, so, instead of the Church, we are presented by the Romanists with certain external masks, which often are far from being connected with the Church and without which the Church can perfectly exist. Wherefore, we need no other argument to refute them than that with which Jeremiah opposed the foolish confidence of the Jews, namely, "Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord are these," (Jer. 7: 4.) The Lord recognises nothing as his owns save when his word is heard and religiously observed. Thus, though the glory of God sat in the sanctuary between the cherubim, (Ezek. 10: 4,) and he had promised that he would there have his stated abode, still when the priests corrupted his worship by depraved superstitions, he transferred it elsewhere, and left the place without any sanctity. If that temple which seemed consecrated for the perpetual habitation of God, could be abandoned by God and become profane, the Romanists have no ground to pretend that God is so bound to persons or places, and fixed to external observances, that he must remain with those who have only the name and semblance of a Church (Rom.9:6).  Rome has "only the name and semblance of a Church."

This is the question which Paul discusses in the Epistle to the Romans, from the ninth to the twelfth chapter. Weak consciences were greatly disturbed when those who seemed to be the people of God not only rejected, but even persecuted the doctrine of the Gospel. Therefore, after expounding doctrine, he removes this difficulty, denying that those Jews, the enemies of the truth, were the Church, though they wanted nothing which might otherwise have been desired to the external form of the Church. The ground of his denial is, that they did not embrace Christ. In the Epistle to the Galatians, when comparing Ishmael with Isaac, he says still more expressly, that many hold a place in the Church to whom the inheritance does not belong, because they were not the offspring of a free parent. From this he proceeds to draw a contrast between two Jerusalems, because, as the Law was given on Mount Sinai, but the Gospel proceeded from Jerusalem, so many who were born and brought up in servitude confidently boast that they are the sons of God and of the Church; nay, while they are themselves degenerate, proudly despise the genuine sons of God. Let us also, in like manner, when we hear that it was once declared from heaven, "Cast out the handmaid and her son," trust to this inviolable decree, and boldly despise their unmeaning boasts. For if they plume themselves on external profession, Ishmael also was circumcised: if they found on antiquity, he was the first-born: and yet we see that he was rejected. If the reason is asked, Paul assigns it, (Rom. 9: 6,) that those only are accounted sons who are born of the pure and legitimate seed of doctrine.

On this ground God declares that he was not astricted to impious priests, though he had made a covenant with their father Levi, to be their angel, or interpreter, (Mal. 2: 4;) nay, he retorts the false boast by which they were wont to rise against the Prophets, namely, that the dignity of the priesthood was to be held in singular estimation. This he himself willingly admits: and he disputes with them, on the ground that he is ready to fulfil the covenant, while they, by not fulfilling it on their part, deserve to be rejected. Here, then, is the value of succession when not conjoined with imitation and corresponding conduct: posterity, as soon as they are convicted of having revolted from their origin, are deprived of all honour; unless, indeed, we are prepared to say, that because Caiaphas succeeded many pious priests, (nay, the series from Aaron to him was continuous,) that accursed assembly deserved the name of Church. Even in earthly governments, no one would bear to see the tyranny of Caligula, Nero, Heliogabalus, and the like, described as the true condition of a republic, because they succeeded such men as Brutes, Scipio, and Camillus. That in the government of the Church especially, nothing is more absurd than to disregard doctrines and place succession in persons.

Nor, indeed was any thing farther from the intention of the holy teachers, whom they falsely obtrude upon us, than to maintain distinctly that churches exist, as by hereditary right, wherever bishops have been uniformly succeeded by bishops. But while it was without controversy that no change had been made in doctrine from the beginning down to their day, they assumed it to be a sufficient refutation of all their errors, that they were opposed to the doctrine maintained constantly, and with unanimous consent, even by the apostles themselves. They have, therefore, no longer any ground for proceeding to make a gloss of the name of Church, which we regard with due reverence; but when we come to definition, not only (to use the common expression) does the water adhere to them, but they stick in their own mire, because they substitute a vile prostitute for the sacred spouse of Christ.  They "substitute a vile prostitute for the sacred spouse of Christ." That the substitution may not deceive us, let us, among other admonitions, attend to the following from Augustine. Speaking of the Church, he says, "She herself is sometimes obscured, and, as it were, beclouded by a multitude of scandals; sometimes, in a time of tranquillity, she appears quiet and free; sometimes she is covered and tossed by the billows of tribulation and trial." - (August. ad Vincent. Epist. 48.) As instances, he mentions that the strongest pillars of the Church often bravely endured exile for the faith, or lay hid throughout the world.

In this way the Romanists assail us in the present day, and terrify the unskilful with the name of Church, while they are the deadly adversaries of Christ. Therefore, although they exhibit a temple, a priesthood, and other similar masks, the empty glare by which they dazzle the eyes of the simple should not move us in the least to admit that there is a Church where the word of God appears not. The Lord furnished us with an unfailing test when he said, "Every one that is of the truth hearth my voice," (John 18: 37.) Again, "I am the good shepherds and know my sheep, and am known of mine." "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." A little before he had said, when the shepherd "putteth forth his own sheep he goes before them, and the sheep follow him; for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers," (John 10: 14, 4, 5.) Why then do we, of our own accord, form so infatuated an estimate of the Church, since Christ has designated it by a sign in which is nothing in the least degree equivocal, a sign which is every where seen, the existence of which infallibly proves the existence of the Church, while its absence proves the absence of every thing that properly bears the name of Church? Paul declares that the Church is not founded either upon the judgements of men or the priesthood, but upon the doctrine of the Apostles and Prophets, (Eph. 2: 20.) Nay, Jerusalem is to be distinguished from Babylon, the Church of Christ from a conspiracy of Satan, by the discriminating test which our Saviour has applied to them, "He that is of God, hears God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God," (John 8: 47.)

In short, since the Church is the kingdom of Christ, and he reigns only by his word, can there be any doubt as to the falsehood of those statements (cf. Jer.7:4) by which the kingdom of Christ is represented without his sceptre, in other words, without his sacred word?

Since the Romanist church has abandoned God's Word and refused to hear and obey God's voice in it, they have ceased to be a true church, and we are justified in rejecting them and refusing to pay them the obedience due to the true church.

As to their charge of heresy and schism, because we preach a different doctrine, and submit not to their laws and meet apart from them for Prayer, Baptism, the administration of the Supper, and other sacred rites, it is indeed a very serious accusation, but one which needs not a long and laboured defence.

The name of heretics and schismatics is applied to those who, by dissenting from the Church, destroy its communion. This communion is held together by two chains, viz., consent in sound doctrine and brotherly charity. Hence the distinction which Augustine makes between heretics and schismatics is, that the former corrupt the purity of the faith by false dogmas, whereas the latter sometimes, even while holding the same faith, break the bond of union, (August. Lib. Quaest. in Evang. Matth.)

Calvin, like Augustine, distinguishes between heresy and schism.  Heretics divide the church by false doctrine, while schismatics divide the church even if they also may hold to true doctrine.

But the thing to be observed is, that this union of charity so depends on unity of faith, as to have in it its beginning, its end, in fine, its only rule. Let us therefore remember, that whenever ecclesiastical unity is commended to us, the thing required is, that while our minds consent in Christ, our wills also be united together by mutual good-will in Christ. Accordingly, Paul, when he exhorts us to it, takes for his fundamental principle that there is "one God, one faith, one baptism," (Eph. 4: 5.) Nay, when he tells us to be "of one accord, of one mind," he immediately adds, "Let this mind be in you which has also in Christ Jesus," (Phil. 2: 2, 5;) intimating, that where the word of the Lord is not, it is not a union of believers, but a faction of the ungodly.

Ecclesiastical union requires unity in faith/doctrine.  Where the doctrine of the Word of God is rejected, there should be no unity, but we should reject the false church.  (Note, again, that for Calvin there are only two possible legitimate states of affairs regarding church relationships--full union and communion between true churches, and true churches divided from false churches.  The popular semi-congregationalist idea going around today in many Reformed circles, that it is sometimes legitimate for there to be multiple independent true denominations, is completely foreign and contrary to Calvin's thought.)

Cyprian, also, following Paul, derives the fountain of ecclesiastical concord from the one bishopric of Christ, and afterwards adds, "There is one Church, which by increase from fecundity is more widely extended to a multitude, just as there are many rays of the sun, but one light, and many branches of a tree, but one trunk upheld by the tenacious root. When many streams flow from one fountain, though there seems wide spreading numerosity from the overflowing copiousness of the supply, yet unity remains in the origin. Pluck a ray from the body of the sun, and the unity sustains no division. Break a branch from a tree, and the branch will not germinate. Cut off a stream from a fountain, that which is thus cut off dries up. So the Church, pervaded by the light of the Lord, extends over the whole globe, and yet the light which is everywhere diffused is one," (Cyprian, de Simplicit. Praelat.) Words could not more elegantly express the inseparable connection which all the members of Christ have with each other.  The connection between all the members of Christ is so necessary that they are "inseparable" from each other. We see how he constantly calls us back to the head. Accordingly, he declares that when heresies and schisms arise, it is because men return not to the origin of the truth, because they seek not the head, because they keep not the doctrine of the heavenly Master.

Let them now go and clamour against us as heretics for having withdrawn from their Church, since the only cause of our estrangement is, that they cannot tolerate a pure profession of the truth. I say nothing of their having expelled us by anathemas and curses. The fact is more than sufficient to excuse us, unless they would also make schismatics of the apostles, with whom we have a common cause. Christ, I say, forewarned his apostles, "they shall put you out of the synagogues," (John 16: 2.) The synagogues of which he speaks were then held to be lawful churches.  Note how Calvin here uses the term "lawful" in the same way he often uses the word "true."  That is, a "true" church is a "lawful" church. Seeing then it is certain that we were cast out, and we are prepared to show that this was done for the name of Christ, the cause should first be ascertained before any decision is given either for or against us. This, however, if they choose, I am willing to leave to them; to me it is enough that we behaved to withdraw from them in order to draw near to Christ.

The place which we ought to assign to all the churches on which the tyranny of the Romish idol has seized will better appear if we compare them with the ancient Israelitish Church, as delineated by the prophets. So long as the Jews and Israelites persisted in the laws of the covenant, a true Church existed among them; in other words, they by the kindness of God obtained the benefits of a Church. True doctrine was contained in the law, and the ministry of it was committed to the prophets and priests. They were initiated in religion by the sign of circumcision, and by the other sacraments trained and confirmed in the faith. There can be no doubt that the titles with which the Lord honoured his Church were applicable to their society. After they forsook the law of the Lord, and degenerated into idolatry and superstition, they partly lost the privilege. For who can presume to deny the title of the Church to those with whom the Lord deposited the preaching of his word and the observance of his mysteries? On the other hand, who may presume to give the name of Church, without reservation, to that assembly by which the word of God is openly and with impunity trampled under foot - where his ministry, its chief support, and the very soul of the Church, is destroyed?

What then? (some one will say;) was there not a particle of the Church left to the Jews from the date of their revolt to idolatry? The answer is easy. First, I say that in the defection itself there were several gradations; for we cannot hold that the lapses by which both Judas and Israel turned aside from the pure worship of God were the same. Jeroboam, when he fabricated the calves against the express prohibition of God, and dedicated an unlawful place for worship, corrupted religion entirely. The Jews became degenerate in manners and superstitious opinions before they made any improper change in the external form of religion. For although they had adopted many perverse ceremonies under Rehoboam, yet, as the doctrine of the law and the priesthood, and the rites which God had instituted, continued at Jerusalem the pious still had the Church in a tolerable state.  While the Northern Kingdom of Israel fundamentally corrupted its essential worship, Judah, at least for a time, kept what we might call its "constitutional" integrity, even while, in practice, they engaged in much erroneous thinking and practice.  I think that Calvin here is hinting at the same distinction he mentioned earlier when he was discussing how much lack of discipline ought to be tolerated in a church before declaring it a false church.  So long as it remains in principle or constitutionally committed to following God's Word, it can still be regarded as a true church even if it has many problems and even scandals.  But once it institutionally turns against God's Word, it can no longer be regarded as a true church.  Of course, there are nuances to this distinction that require further elaboration. In regard to the Israelites, matters which, up to the time of Ahab, had certainly not been reformed, then became worse. Those who succeeded him, until the overthrow of the kingdom, were partly like him, and partly (when they wished to be somewhat better) followed the example of Jeroboam, while and without exceptions were wicked and idolatrous. In Judea different changes now and then took place, some kings corrupting the worship of God by false and superstitious inventions, and others attempting to reform it, until, at length, the priests themselves polluted the temple of God by profane and abominable rites.

Now then let the Papists, in order to extenuate their vices as much as possible, deny if they can, that the state of religion is as much vitiated and corrupted with them as it was in the kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam. They have a grosser idolatry, and in doctrine are not one whit more pure, rather perhaps they are even still more impure. God, nay, even those possessed of a moderate degree of judgement, will bear me witness, and the thing itself is too manifest to require me to enlarge upon it.

When they would force us to the communion of their Church, they make two demands upon us - first, that we join in their prayers, their sacrifices, and all their ceremonies; and, secondly, that whatever honour, power, and jurisdiction, Christ has given to his Church, the same we must attribute to theirs.

In regard to the first, I admit that all the prophets who were at Jerusalem, when matters there were very corrupt, neither sacrificed apart nor held separate meetings for prayer. For they had the command of God, which enjoined them to meet in the temple of Solomon, and they knew that the Levitical priests, whom the Lord had appointed over sacred matters, and who were not yet discarded, how unworthy soever they might be of that honour, were still entitled to hold it, (Exod. 29: 9.) But the principal point in the whole question is, that they were not compelled to any superstitious worship, nay, they undertook nothing but what had been instituted by God.

But in these men, I mean the Papists, where is the resemblance? Scarcely can we hold any meeting with them without polluting ourselves with open idolatry. Their principal bond of communion is undoubtedly in the Mass, which we abominate as the greatest sacrilege. Whether this is justly or rashly done will be elsewhere seen, (see chap. 18; see also Book 2, chap. 15, sec. 6.) It is now sufficient to show that our case is different from that of the prophets, who, when they were present at the sacred rites of the ungodly, were not obliged to witness or use any ceremonies but those which were instituted by God.

But if we would have an example in all respects similar, let us take one from the kingdom of Israel. Under the ordinance of Jeroboam, circumcision remained, sacrifices were offered, the law was deemed holy, and the God whom they had received from their fathers was worshipped; but in consequence of invented and forbidden modes of worship, everything which was done there God disapproved and condemned. Show me one prophet or pious man who once worshipped or offered sacrifice in Bethel. They knew that they could not do it without defiling themselves with some kind of sacrilege. We hold, therefore, that the communion of the Church ought not to be carried so far by the godly as to lay them under a necessity of following it when it has degenerated to profane and polluted rites.

Separation from Rome in worship is justified on the same grounds as separation from the the worship of the ancient Northern Kingdom of Israel:  In both cases, the worship of God has been unavoidably polluted with idolatrous practices, making it impossible to righteously participate in it.

With regard to the second point, our objections are still stronger. For when the Church is considered in that particular point of view as the Church, whose judgement we are bound to revere, whose authority acknowledge, whose admonitions obey, whose censures dread, whose communion religiously cultivate in every respect, we cannot concede that they have a Church, without obliging ourselves to subjection and obedience.  When we think of the church as that institution that has authority--that is, as a lawful church with lawful authority--we cannot grant the name of "church" to the Roman church without having to be in subjection to them in obedience.  This is because, as Calvin argued earlier, true, lawful churches have true, lawful officers and church courts which justly demand our submission, and communion with them is necessarily required.  So in order to justify a refusal of submission to their authority and a refraining from being in communion with them, we must deny them the name of a lawful church. Still we are willing to concede what the Prophets conceded to the Jews and Israelites of their day, when with them matters were in a similar, or even in a better condition. For we see how they uniformly exclaim against their meetings as profane conventicles, to which it is not more lawful for them to assent than to abjure God, (Isa. 1: 14.) And certainly if those were churches, it follows, that Elijah, Micaiah, and others in Israel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and those of like character in Judah, whom the prophets, priests, and people of their day, hated and execrated more than the uncircumcised, were aliens from the Church of God. If those were churches, then the Church was no longer the pillar of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), but the stay of falsehood, not the tabernacle of the living God, but a receptacle of idols. They were, therefore, under the necessity of refusing consent to their meetings, since consent was nothing else than impious conspiracy against God.

For this same reason, should any one acknowledge those meetings of the present day, which are contaminated by idolatry, superstition, and impious doctrine, as churches, full communion with which a Christian must maintain so far as to agree with them even in doctrine, he will greatly err. For if they are churches, the power of the keys belongs to them, whereas the keys are inseparably connected with the word which they have put to flight. Again, if they are churches, they can claim the promise of Christ, "Whatsoever ye bind," &c.; whereas, on the contrary, they discard from their communion all who sincerely profess themselves the servants of Christ. Therefore, either the promise of Christ is vain, or in this respect, at least, they are not churches. In fine, instead of the ministry of the word, they have schools of impiety, and sinks of all kinds of error. Therefore, in this point of view, they either are not churches, or no badge will remain by which the lawful meetings of the faithful can be distinguished from the meetings of Turks.

The Romanist church is not a true church, because to call them a "true church" would imply a moral requirement to be in "full communion" with them, and it would imply that they have the "power of the keys" (that is, lawful ecclesiastical authority that must be submitted to).  (Again, we see that Calvin would not recognize the modern idea of "denominationalism," where it is deemed at some times acceptable to give the title of "true church" or "lawful church" to a body while remaining out of full communion with that body [such as by remaining denominationally separate from them] and not submitting to their authority [by not allowing them to share in the mutually-binding, collegial authority of the whole church, such as is manifested in the binding decrees of lawful councils--for Calvin's view of councils, see chapter 9].)

Still, as in ancient times, there remained among the Jews certain special privileges of a Church, so in the present day we deny not to the Papists those vestiges of a Church which the Lord has allowed to remain among them amid the dissipation. When the Lord had once made his covenant with the Jews, it was preserved not so much by them as by its own strength, supported by which it withstood their impiety. Such, then, is the certainty and constancy of the divine goodness, that the covenant of the Lord continued there, and his faith could not be obliterated by their perfidy; nor could circumcision be so profaned by their impure hands as not still to be a true sign and sacrament of his covenant. Hence the children who were born to them the Lord called his own, (Ezek. 16: 20,) though, unless by special blessing, they in no respect belonged to him. So having deposited his covenant in Gaul, Italy, Germany, Spain, and England, when these countries were oppressed by the tyranny of Antichrist, He, in order that his covenant might remain inviolable, first preserved baptism there as an evidence of the covenant; - baptism, which, consecrated by his lips, retains its power in spite of human depravity; secondly, He provided by his providence that there should be other remains also to prevent the Church from utterly perishing. But as in pulling down buildings the foundations and ruins are often permitted to remain, so he did not suffer Antichrist either to subvert his Church from its foundation, or to level it with the ground, (though, to punish the ingratitude of men who had despised his word, he allowed a fearful shaking and dismembering to take place,) but was pleased that amid the devastation the edifice should remain, though half in ruins.

Therefore while we are unwilling simply to concede the name of Church to the Papists we do not deny that there are churches among them. The question we raise only relates to the true and legitimate constitution of the Church, implying communion in sacred rites, which are the signs of profession, and especially in doctrine.  Here we have a very important distinction.  The Romanist church cannot be called a "true church," in the sense of having "a true and legitimate constitution . . . implying communion in sacred rites . . . and especially in doctrine."  That is, they are not a lawful church.  In another sense, however, they can be called a church, in that they retain certain characteristics of the church.  (See below.) Daniel and Paul foretold that Antichrist would sit in the temple of God, (Dan. 9: 27; 2 Thess. 2: 4;) we regard the Roman Pontiff as the leader and standard-bearer of that wicked and abominable kingdom. By placing his seat in the temple of God, it is intimated that his kingdom would not be such as to destroy the name either of Christ or of his Church. Hence, then, it is obvious, that we do not at all deny that churches remain under his tyranny; churches, however, which by sacrilegious impiety he has profaned, by cruel domination has oppressed, by evil and deadly doctrines like poisoned potions has corrupted and almost slain; churches where Christ lies half-buried, the gospel is suppressed, piety is put to flight, and the worship of God almost abolished; where, in short, all things are in such disorder as to present the appearance of Babylon rather than the holy city of God. In one word, I call them churches, inasmuch as the Lord there wondrously preserves some remains of his people, though miserably torn and scattered, and inasmuch as some symbols of the Church still remain - symbols especially whose efficacy neither the craft of the devil nor human depravity can destroy. But as, on the other hand, those marks to which we ought especially to have respect in this discussion are effaced, I say that the whole body, as well as every single assembly, want the form of a legitimate Church.  The Romanist church is not a "true church"--that is, a "legitimate" church--because they have perverted the true doctrine of Christ found in his Word and therefore do not have the marks of the true church.  However, in another sense, they are a true church, in the sense that "the Lord there wondrously preserves some remains of his people, though miserably torn and scattered, and inasmuch as some symbols of the Church still remain - symbols especially whose efficacy neither the craft of the devil nor human depravity can destroy."  That is, there are true Christians, true members of the people of God, in the Romanist church, and also the Romanist church has retained some true doctrine and some symbols of the church (such as the sacraments) through which God still works to nourish his people who are there.  Despite the corruption, the Body of Christ still lives within the Romanist institution.

Calvin here makes basically the same distinction I have drawn in a number of places using the terms de facto and de jure.  (See here and here, for example)  I described this distinction in the latter cited article in this way:  "The church de facto refers to the actual existence of the church throughout the world. Wherever there are those who profess the true religion, and where the Body of Christ is maintained, there we have, in fact, the Body of Christ, the church. There is no doubt but that the Body of Christ, de facto, can exist in a multiplicity of denominations. The church de jure, on the other hand, refers to the church as formally recognized and as being properly and legally constituted. The two are not coextensive."

Is there salvation outside of the de jure church?  Calvin says that there is not, but he also indicates that in a sense there can be.  There is no salvation outside the de jure church in the sense that complete commitment to the doctrines clearly taught in the Word of God is required for salvation.  No command in the Word of God is optional.  No command can be rejected with impunity.  To reject any clear doctrine of Scripture is to reject God and thus forfeit salvation.  However, Calvin earlier cited Augustine who noted that there are "many sheep without" the visible church (as well as "many wolves within"), and here, while denying that the Romanist church (whether as a whole or in any single congregation) is a true (that is, a lawful, or de jure) church, he also acknowledges that the true people of God remain in it and that the means of grace are still operating in it (implying clearly that salvation is possible in it).  The resolution, presumably, is that while no doctrine of Scripture can be rejected with impunity, yet due to the fallen condition of this world it often comes to pass that through various hindrances (ignorance, confusion, lack of opportunity, etc.) true sheep of Christ are prevented from being a part of the de jure church in various ways or in other ways go astray to some degree.  They are still the sheep of Christ, and so the church de facto is present with them, but they lack the legitimate, de jure form of the true church because they institutionally deviate from God's Word in various ways; and therefore while we acknowledge them and presumably maintain informal fellowship with them as much as possible, we cannot formally unite with their ecclesiastical institutions as if they were true de jure churches.

Commentary on John Calvin on the Unity of the Church, Part I

I have pasted below a selection from John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, chapters 1-2, translated by Henry Beveridge in 1599, found at the website of the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics.  Interspersed within the selection is a commentary of my own attempting to bring out some of Calvin's views regarding the authority and unity of the church that I think are particularly useful to bring out today in light of certain trends in modern Reformed circles that are contrary to Calvin's thought (and for which I think Calvin provides a good, biblical, and historic Reformed corrective).

In the last Book, it has been shown that 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 much 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. For seeing we are shut up in the prison of the body, and have not yet attained to the rank of angels, God, in accommodation to our capacity, has in his admirable providence provided a method by which, though widely separated, we might still draw near to him.

Wherefore, due order requires that we first treat of the Church, of its Government, Orders, and Power; next, of the Sacraments; and, lastly, of Civil Government; - at the same time guarding pious readers against the corruptions of the Papacy, by which Satan has adulterated all that God had appointed for our salvation.

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. This was true not merely under the Law, but even now after the advent of Christ; since Paul declares that we are the children of a new, even a heavenly Jerusalem, (Gal. 4: 26.)

When in the Creed we profess to believe the Church, reference is made not only to the visible Church of which we are now treating, but also to all the elect of God, including in the number even those who have departed this life.  Here is the classic distinction between the "invisible" and the "visible" church. And, accordingly, the word used is "believe," because oftentimes no difference can be observed between the children of God and the profane, between his proper flock and the untamed herd. The particle "in" is often interpolated, but without any probable ground. I confess, indeed, that it is the more usual form, and is not unsupported by antiquity, since the Nicene Creed, as quoted in Ecclesiastical History, adds the preposition. At the same time, we may perceive from early writers, that the expression received without controversy in ancient times was to believe "the Church," and not "in the Church." This is not only the expression used by Augustine, and that ancient writer, whoever he may have been, whose treatise, De Symboli Expositione, is extant under the name of Cyprian, but they distinctly remark that the addition of the preposition would make the expression improper, and they give good grounds for so thinking. We declare that we believe in God, both because our mind reclines upon him as true, and our confidence is fully satisfied in him. This cannot be said of the Church, just as it cannot be said of the forgiveness of sins, or the resurrection of the body. Wherefore, although I am unwilling to dispute about words, yet I would rather keep to the proper form, as better fitted to express the thing that is meant, than affect terms by which the meaning is ceaselessly obscured.

The object of the expression is to teach us, that though the devil leaves no stone unturned in order to destroy the grace of Christ, and the enemies of God rush with insane violence in the same direction, it cannot be extinguished, - the blood of Christ cannot be rendered barren, and prevented from producing fruit. Hence, regard must be had both to the secret election and to the internal calling of God, because he alone "knoweth them that are his," (2 Tim. 2: 19;) and as Paul expresses it, holds them as it were enclosed under his seal (Eph.1:13), although, at the same time, they wear his insignia, and are thus distinguished from the reprobate. But as they are a small and despised number, concealed in an immense crowd, like a few grains of wheat buried among a heap of chaff, to God alone must be left the knowledge of his Church, of which his secret election forms the foundation. Nor is it enough to embrace the number of the elect in thought and intention merely. By the unity of the Church we must understand an unity into which we feel persuaded that we are truly ingrafted. For unless we are united with all the other members under Christ our head, no hope of the future inheritance awaits us.  Salvation is dependent upon our communion in the invisible church.

Hence the Church is called Catholic or Universal, (August. Ep. 48,) for two or three cannot be invented without dividing Christ; and this is impossible. All the elect of God are so joined together in Christ, that as they depend on one head, so they are as it were compacted into one body, being knit together like its different members; made truly one by living together under the same Spirit of God in one faith, hope, and charity, called not only to the same inheritance of eternal life, but to participation in one God and Christ. For although the sad devastation which everywhere meets our view may proclaim that no Church remains, let us know that the death of Christ produces fruit, and that God wondrously preserves his Church, while placing it as it were in concealment. Thus it was said to Elijah, "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel," (1 Kings 19: 18.)

The invisible church is one.  There cannot be "two or three" because Christ cannot be divided.

Moreover this article of the Creed relates in some measure to the external Church, that every one of us must maintain brotherly concord with all the children of God, give due authority to the Church, and, in short, conduct ourselves as sheep of the flock. And hence the additional expression, the "communion of saints;" for this clause, though usually omitted by ancient writers, must not be overlooked, as it admirably expresses the quality of the Church; just as if it had been said, that saints are united in the fellowship of Christ on this condition, that all the blessings which God bestows upon them are mutually communicated to each other. This, however, is not incompatible with a diversity of graces, for we know that the gifts of the Spirit are variously distributed; nor is it incompatible with civil order, by which each is permitted privately to possess his own means, it being necessary for the preservation of peace among men that distinct rights of property should exist among them. Still a community is asserted, such as Luke describes when he says, "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul," (Acts 4: 32;) and Paul, when he reminds the Ephesians, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling," (Eph. 4: 4.) For if they are truly persuaded that God is the common Father of them all, and Christ their common head, they cannot but be united together in brotherly love, and mutually impart their blessings to each other.

It is an absolute duty that we remain united to the "external"--that is, to the "visible"--church.  Believers have an absolute duty to respect the authority of the church, to be united with each other in brotherly communion, to share their gifts with each other in the one body, etc.  It is impermissible for true believers to be out of visible communion with one another.

Then it is of the highest importance for us to know what benefit thence redounds to us. For when we believe the Church, it is in order that we may be firmly persuaded that we are its members. In this way our salvation rests on a foundation so firm and sure, that though the whole fabric of the world were to give way, it could not be destroyed. First, it stands with the election of God, and cannot change or fail, any more than his eternal providence. Next, it is in a manner united with the stability of Christ, who will no more allow his faithful followers to be dissevered from him, than he would allow his own members to be torn to pieces. We may add, that so long as we continue in the bosom of the Church, we are sure that the truth will remain with us.

Lastly, we feel that we have an interest in such promises as these, "In Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance," (Joel 2: 32; Obad. 17;) "God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved," (Ps. 46: 5.) So available is communion with the Church to keep us in the fellowship of God. In the very term, communion, there is great consolation; because, while we are assured that every thing which God bestows on his members belongs to us, all the blessings conferred upon them confirm our hope.

But in order to embrace the unity of the Church in this manner, it is not necessary, as I have observed, to see it with our eyes, or feel it with our hands. Nay, rather from its being placed in faith, we are reminded that our thoughts are to dwell upon it, as much when it escapes our perception as when it openly appears. Nor is our faith the worse for apprehending what is unknown, since we are not enjoined here to distinguish between the elect and the reprobate, (this belongs not to us, but to God only,) but to feel firmly assured in our minds, that all those who, by the mercy of God the Father, through the efficacy of the Holy Spirit, have become partakers with Christ, are set apart as the proper and peculiar possession of God, and that as we are of the number, we are also partakers of this great grace.

But as it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church, let us learn, from her 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, (Matth. 22: 30.) For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars. Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and Joel testify, (Isa. 37: 32; Joel 2: 32.) To their testimony Ezekiel subscribes, when he declares, "They shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel," (Ezek. 13: 9;) as, on the other hand, those who turn to the cultivation of true piety are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem. For which reason it is said in the psalm, "Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation; that I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance," (Ps. 106: 4, 6.) By these words the paternal favour of God and the special evidence of spiritual life are confined to his peculiar people, and hence the abandonment of the Church is always fatal.

There is no salvation out of the visible church.

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 comes 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 cherubim, (Ps. 132: 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. For this end, especially, as I have observed, believers were anciently enjoined under the Law to flock together to the sanctuary; for when Moses speaks of the habitation of God, he at the same time calls it the place of the name of God, the place where he will record his name, (Exod. 20: 24;) thus plainly teaching that no use could be made of it without the doctrine of godliness. And there can be no doubt that, for the same reason, David complains with great bitterness of soul, that by the tyrannical cruelty of his enemies he was prevented from entering the tabernacle, (Psalm 89.) To many the complaint seems childish, as if no great loss were sustained, not much pleasure lost, by exclusion from the temple, provided other amusements were enjoyed. David, however, laments this one deprivation, as filling him with anxiety and sadness, tormenting, and almost destroying him. This he does because there is nothing on which believers set a higher value than on this aid, by which God gradually raises his people to heaven.

God has given pastors to his people, and we are required to learn from their preaching, to be trained by them.

For it is to be observed, that he always exhibited himself to the holy patriarchs in the mirror of his doctrine in such a way as to make their knowledge spiritual. Whence the temple is not only styled his face, but also, for the purpose of removing all superstition, is termed his footstool, (Psalm 132: 7; 99: 5.) Herein is the unity of the faith happily realised, when all, from the highest to the lowest, aspire to the head. All the temples which the Gentiles built to God with a different intention were a mere profanation of his worship, - a profanation into which the Jews also fell, though not with equal grossness. With this Stephen upbraids them in the words of Isaiah when he says, "Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the Prophet, Heaven is my throne," &c., (Acts 7: 48.) For God only consecrates temples to their legitimate use by his word. And when we rashly attempt anything without his order, immediately setting out from a bad principle, we introduce adventitious fictions, by which evil is propagated without measure.

It was inconsiderate in Xerxes when, by the advice of the magians, he burnt or pulled down all the temples of Greece, because he thought it absurd that God, to whom all things ought to be free and open, should be enclosed by walls and roofs, as if it were not in the power of God in a manner to descend to us, that he may be near to us, and yet neither change his place nor affect us by earthly means, but rather, by a kind of vehicles, raise us aloft to his own heavenly glory, which, with its immensity, fills all things, and in height is above the heavens.

Moreover, as at this time there is a great dispute as to the efficacy of the ministry, some extravagantly overrating its dignity, and others erroneously maintaining, that what is peculiar to the Spirit of God is transferred to mortal man, when we suppose that ministers and teachers penetrate to the mind and heart, so as to correct the blindness of the one, and the hardness of the other; it is necessary to place this controversy on its proper footing.

The arguments on both sides will be disposed of without trouble, by distinctly attending to (1) the passages in which God, the author of preaching, connects his Spirit with it, and then promises a beneficial result; or (2), on the other hand, to the passages in which God, separating himself from external means, claims for himself alone both the commencement and the whole course of faith.

(1) The office of the second Elias was, as Malachi declares, to "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers" (Mal. 4: 6.) Christ declares that he sent the Apostles to produce fruit from his labours, (John 15: 16.) What this fruit is Peter briefly defines, when he says that we are begotten again of incorruptible seed, (1 Pet. 1: 23.) Hence Paul glories, that by means of the Gospel he had begotten the Corinthians, who were the seals of his apostleship, (1 Cor. 4: 15;) moreover, that his was not a ministry of the letter, which only sounded in the ear, but that the effectual agency of the Spirit was given to him, in order that his doctrine might not be in vain, (1 Cor. 9: 2; 2 Cor. 3: 6.) In this sense he elsewhere declares that his Gospel was not in word, but in power, (1 Thess. 1: 5.) He also affirms that the Galatians received the Spirit by the hearing of faith, (Gal. 3: 2.) In short, in several passages he not only makes himself a fellow-worker with God, but attributes to himself the province of bestowing salvation, (1 Cor. 3: 9.)

(2) All these things he certainly never uttered with the view of attributing to himself one iota apart from God, as he elsewhere briefly explains. "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but (as it is in truth) the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe," (1 Thess. 2: 13.) Again, in another place, "He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles," (Gal. 2: 8.) And that he allows no more to ministers, is obvious from other passages. "So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase," (1 Cor. 3: 7.) Again, "I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me," (1 Cor. 15: ]0.) And it is indeed necessary to keep these sentences in view, since God, in ascribing to himself the illumination of the mind and renewal of the heart, reminds us that it is sacrilege for man to claim any part of either to himself.

Still every one who listens with docility to the ministers whom God appoints, will know by the beneficial result, that for good reason God is pleased with this method of teaching, and for good reason has laid believers under this modest yoke.

The judgement which ought to be formed concerning the visible Church which comes under our observation, must, I think, be sufficiently clear from what has been said. I have observed that the Scriptures speak of the Church in two ways. Sometimes when they speak of the Church they mean the Church as it really is before God - the Church into which none are admitted but those who by the gift of adoption are sons of God, and by the sanctification of the Spirit true members of Christ. In this case it not only comprehends the saints who dwell on the earth, but all the elect who have existed from the beginning of the world. Often, too, by the name of Church is designated the whole body of mankind scattered throughout the world, who profess to worship one God and Christ, who by baptism are initiated into the faith; by partaking of the Lord's Supper profess unity in true doctrine and charity, agree in holding the word of the Lord, and observe the ministry which Christ has appointed for the preaching of it. Note that the members of the visible church "profess unity in true doctrine and charity" and "observe the ministry which Christ has appointed."  They are not to exist in separation from each other, and the true ministry is to be recognized by all of them.  This implies one, visible, organic body with official officers. In this Church there is a very large mixture of hypocrites, who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance: of ambitious avaricious, envious, evil-speaking men, some also of impure lives, who are tolerated for a time, either because their guilt cannot be legally established, or because due strictness of discipline is not always observed.

Definitions of the "invisible" and "visible" church.

Hence, as it is necessary to believe the invisible Church, which is manifest to the eye of God only, so we are also enjoined to regard this Church which is so called with reference to man, and to cultivate its communion.

Accordingly, inasmuch as it was of importance to us to recognise it, the Lord has distinguished it by certain marks, and as it were symbols. It is, indeed, the special prerogative of God to know those who are his, as Paul declares in the passage already quoted, (2 Tim. 2: 19.) And doubtless it has been so provided as a check on human rashness the experience of every day reminding us how far his secret judgements surpass our apprehension. For even those who seemed most abandoned, and who had been completely despaired of, are by his goodness recalled to life, while those who seemed most stable often fall. Hence, as Augustine says, "In regard to the secret predestination of God, there are very many sheep without, and very many wolves within," (August. Hom. in Joan. 45.) For he knows, and has his mark on those who know neither him nor themselves. Of those again who openly bear his badge, his eyes alone see who of them are unfeignedly holy, and will persevere even to the end (Matt.24:13) , which alone is the completion of salvation.

We cannot know who the true elect are.  There are many sheep without and many wolves within the visible church.  Thus, while communion with the visible church is an absolute duty and is not optional, and therefore communion with the visible church is necessary for salvation (for those who would reject it are rejecting God), yet at the same time it is also the case that those outside the formal visible church can end up being saved by the secret working of God's grace.  Here, Calvin may have in mind those of the elect who have not yet been brought to receive the gospel and to unite with the visible church.  Later on, when he discusses the Roman church, he will bring in other aspects of this principle.  Union with the visible church is required, and thus cannot be willingly rejected without forfeiting salvation, but sometimes extra-ordinary circumstances occur in which the "wondrous workings" of God's grace (as Calvin will put it later) can bring salvation to those who are not in full communion with the legitimate visible church.  More on this later.

On the other hand, foreseeing that it was in some degree expedient for us to know who are to be regarded by us as his sons, he has in this matter accommodated himself to our capacity. But as here full certainty was not necessary, he has in its place substituted the judgement of charity, by which we acknowledge all as members of the Church who by confession of faith, regularity of conduct, and participation in the sacraments, unite with us in acknowledging the same God and Christ.

Here are the qualifications of those who would be recognized as members of the visible church.  They are united together by "confession of faith, regularity of conduct, and participation in the sacraments."

The knowledge of his body, inasmuch as he knew it to be more necessary for our salvation, he has made known to us by surer marks.

Hence the form of the Church appears and stands forth conspicuous to our view. Wherever we see the word of God sincerely preached and heard, wherever we see the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there we cannot have any doubt that the Church of God has some existence, since his promise cannot fail, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them," (Matth. 18: 20.)

Here are the marks of the true visible church:  the Word of God sincerely preached, and the sacraments rightly administered.

But that we may have a clear summary of this subject, we must proceed by the following steps: - The Church universal is the multitude collected out of all nations, who, though dispersed and far distant from each other, agree in one truth of divine doctrines and are bound together by the tie of a common religion. In this way it comprehends single churches, which exist in different towns and villages, according to the wants of human society, so that each of them justly obtains the name and authority of the Church; and also comprehends single individuals, who by a religious profession are accounted to belong to such churches, although they are in fact aliens from the Church, but have not been cut off by a public decision.

The catholic (universal) church (visible) consists of all visible believers who unite in the true doctrines of the true religion.  The catholic church is divided up into separate congregations, which all are rightly called churches and have ecclesiastical authority.  Individual members of the church are members of these congregations.

There is, however, a slight difference in the mode of judging of individuals and of churches. For it may happen in practice that those whom we deem not altogether worthy of the fellowship of believers, we yet ought to treat as brethren and regard as believers on account of the common consent of the Church in tolerating and bearing with them in the body of Christ. Such persons we do not approve by our suffrage as members of the Church, but we leave them the place which they hold among the people of God, until they are legitimately deprived of it.

With regard to the general body we must feel differently; if they have the ministry of the word, and honour the administration of the sacraments, they are undoubtedly entitled to be ranked with the Church, because it is certain that these things are not without a beneficial result. Thus we both maintain the Church universal in its unity, which malignant minds have always been eager to dissever, and deny not due authority to lawful assemblies distributed as circumstances require. 

We have said that the symbols by which the Church is discerned are the preaching of the word and the observance of the sacraments, for these cannot any where exist without producing fruit and prospering by the blessing of God. I say not that wherever the word is preached fruit immediately appears; but that in every place where it is received, and has a fixed abode, it uniformly displays its efficacy. Be this as it may, when the preaching of the gospel is reverently heard, and the sacraments are not neglected, there for the time the face of the Church appears without deception or ambiguity; and no man may with impunity spurn her authority, or reject her admonitions, or resist her counsels, or make sport of her censures, far less revolt from her, and violate her unity, (see Chap. 2 sec. 1, 10, and Chap. 3. sec. 12.) For such is the value which the Lord sets on the communion of his Church, that all who contumaciously alienate themselves from any Christian society, in which the true ministry of his word and sacraments is maintained, he regards as deserters of religion. So highly does he recommend her authority, that when it is violated he considers that his own authority is impaired.

Here we see Calvin's strong emphasis on the absolute duty of ecclesiastical unity.  Whenever we come across a true visible church, recognized by true preaching and administration of the sacraments, we have an absolute duty to remain in communion with her.  We are absolutely forbidden to "revolt from her, and violate her unity," or to "spurn her authority, or reject her admonitions, or resist her counsels, or make sport of her censures."  It is never permissible to be out of communion with a true visible church, or to spurn the ecclesiastical authority of such a body.

Calvin clearly rejects the idea of "denominationalism"--that it is sometimes permissible for true visible churches to be out of communion with each other and to refuse to submit to each others' authority.  The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) today exist in denominational separation from each other.  They are not in formal communion, and they do not submit to each other in mutually-binding councils.  Within each of these denominations, members are under sessions, sessions are united under presbyteries, and presbyteries are united under a common General Assembly; but between the denominations, there is no such formal unity, only an occasional working together.  Calvin would have seen such separation as necessarily implying that the OPC and the PCA reject each other as being true visible churches (with some nuance--see Calvin's discussion of the papists further down), for such separation is unthinkable between true churches.

For there is no small weight in the designation given to her, "the house of God," "the pillar and ground of the truth," (1 Tim. 3: 15.) By these words Paul intimates, that to prevent the truth from perishing in the world, the Church is its faithful guardian, because God has been pleased to preserve the pure preaching of his word by her instrumentality, and to exhibit himself to us as a parent while he feeds us with spiritual nourishment, and provides whatever is conducive to our salvation. Moreover, no mean praise is conferred on the Church when she is said to have been chosen and set apart by Christ as his spouse, "not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing," (Eph. 5: 27,) as "his body, the fulness of him that fillets all in all," (Eph. 1: 23.) Whence it follows, that revolt from the Church is denial of God and Christ. Wherefore there is the more necessity to beware of a dissent so iniquitous; for seeing by it we aim as far as in us lies at the destruction of God's truth, we deserve to be crushed by the full thunder of his anger. No crime can be imagined more atrocious than that of sacrilegiously and perfidiously violating the sacred marriage which the only begotten Son of God has condescended to contract with us.

Wherefore let these marks be carefully impressed upon our minds, and let us estimate them as in the sight of the Lord. There is nothing on which Satan is more intent than to destroy and efface one or both of them - at one time to delete and abolish these marks, and thereby destroy the true and genuine distinction of the Church; at another, to bring them into contempt, and so hurry us into open revolt from the Church. To his wiles it was owing that for several ages the pure preaching of the word disappeared, and now, with the same dishonest aim, he labours to overthrow the ministry, which, however, Christ has so ordered in his Church, that if it is removed the whole edifice must fall. How perilous, then, nay, how fatal the temptation, when we even entertain a thought of separating ourselves from that assembly in which are beheld the signs and badges which the Lord has deemed sufficient to characterise his Church!  Again we see that for Calvin, separation from a true visible church or between true visible churches is an utterly unthinkable and abominable sin. We see how great caution should be employed in both respects. That we may not be imposed upon by the name of Church, every congregation which claims the name must be brought to that test as to a Lydian stone. If it holds the order instituted by the Lord in word and sacraments there will be no deception; we may safely pay it the honour due to a church: on the other hand, if it exhibit itself without word and sacraments we must in this case be no less careful to avoid the imposture than we were to shun pride and presumption in the other.

There are true churches and false churches.  A true church must be honored as such by us, but a false church must be rejected by us.

When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognise a church in every society in which both exists our meaning is that we are never to discard it so-long as these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults.

Nay, even in the administration of word and Sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. For all the heads of true doctrine are not in the same position. Some are so necessary to be known, that all must hold them to be fixed and undoubted as the proper essentials of religion: for instance, that God is one, that Christ is God, and the Son of God, that our salvation depends on the mercy of God, and the like. Others, again, which are the subject of controversy among the churches, do not destroy the unity of the faith ; for why should it be regarded as a ground of dissension between churches, if one, without any spirit of contention or perverseness in dogmatising, hold that the soul on quitting the body flies to heaven, and another, without venturing to speak positively as to the abode, holds it for certain that it lives with the Lord? The words of the apostle are, "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you," (Phil. 3: 15.) Does he not sufficiently intimate that a difference of opinion as to these matters which are not absolutely necessary, ought not to be a ground of dissension among Christians? The best thing, indeed, is to be perfectly agreed, but seeing there is no man who is not involved in some mist of ignorance, we must either have no church at all or pardon delusion in those things of which one may be ignorant, without violating the substance of religion and forfeiting salvation.

Here, however, I have no wish to patronise even the minutest errors, as if I thought it right to foster them by flattery or connivance; what I say is, that we are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists, and keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord. Meanwhile, if we strive to reform what is offensive, we act in the discharge of duty. To this effect are the words of Paul, "If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace," (1 Cor. 14: 30.) From this it is evident that to each member of the Church, according to his measure of grace, the study of public edification has been assigned, provided it be done decently and in order. In other words, we must neither renounce the communion of the Church, nor, continuing in it, disturb peace and discipline when duly arranged.

Calvin here acknowledges that a church can be a true church even though it is not perfect.  He will discuss moral scandal below, but in these paragraphs he speaks of errors in doctrine and in the administration of the sacraments.  He makes a distinction between doctrine that is necessary to be known, essential to salvation, in which the "safety of piety consists," and doctrine that is not such, doctrine that is "the subject of controversy among the churches."  While in the essential matters the church is to be completely intolerant of error, in these lesser matters of doctrine the church is to tolerate diversity.  It is to avoid "any spirit of contention or perverseness in dogmatising."

In our modern age which has become accustomed to "latitudinarianism"--the idea that only the central or most important doctrines of the Bible are to be insisted upon by the church while the less important doctrines can be left to various opinions--it may seem that Calvin is endorsing a latitudinarian way of thinking here.  But I suspect that this is to misread what he means.  Notice that the "lesser doctrines" that Calvin allows diversity over are to be held by all without any "perverseness in dogmatising."  No individual or church is to insist that his opinion is the only right way to believe and to judge others on the basis of it.  These issues are to be looked at as not entirely decided, as unclear.  But how can we treat any revealed doctrine of God's Word as unimportant or obscure?  If God's Word teaches something, surely we are to believe it and insist upon it.  I think the best reading of what Calvin is talking about here is that these "lesser doctrines" are not less important but clear teaching of God's Word but are rather matters on which God's Word does not speak clearly.  Since God's Word does not speak clearly on them, we should not be dogmatic about them or make them a cause of division in the church.

This attitude is essentially different from the latitudinarian attitude which holds that among the clear teachings of Scripture there are doctrines that we can basically ignore or not insist upon in our church life.  Calvin seems simply to be saying, rather, that we are not to insist upon our own opinions and make these grounds for division without the clear warrant of God's Word.  But those doctrines that are clearly revealed in God's Word are essential and necessary for salvation, in the sense that God requires us to believe them, and we cannot disobey God's commands without danger of his wrath.  If we live in unrepentant rebellion against anything that God has commanded, no matter how "important" or "unimportant" we may deem it relative to other commands of God, we cannot expect salvation, for we have cut ourselves off from Christ by rejecting his Word.  (Does this mean that all those who reject any doctrine of Scripture, even in ignorance or in extraordinary extenuating circumstances, cannot be saved?  I don't think that Calvin would say this.  His position on this is, I think, further clarified when he discusses the papists below.)

If our reading of Calvin is correct, he gives no sanction to those who would have the church unite by "agreeing to disagree" about some "less important" Scriptural doctrines.  There is to be toleration with regard to reasonably disputed opinions upon which God's Word does not speak clearly, but with regard to the clear teaching of God's Word the basis for unity is agreement in doctrine.  (Some modern Reformed people practice a non-latitudinarian attitude within their own denominations while exercising latitudinarianism between denominations as those denominations enjoy an acceptance of each other as true churches without full formal unity.  But this simply adds the sin of schism to the sin of latitudinarianism.)

Continued in Part II.