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by the Rev. H. C. G. Moule, M.A., Principal of Ridley Hall, and formerly Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Author of "Veni Creator: Thoughts on the Holy Spirit of Promise," etc.
Revised edition [[third edition, Feb., 1890]]
London: Hodder and Stoughton
27, Paternoster Row.


The Doctrine of the Church.

"That Church of Christ which we properly term His body mystical, can be but one; neither can that one be sensibly discerned by any man, inasmuch as the parts thereof are some in heaven already with Christ, and the rest that are on earth (albeit their natural persons be visible) we do not discern under this property whereby they are truly and infallibly of that body. Only our minds by intellectual conceit are able to apprehend that such a real body there is, a body collective, because it containeth a huge multitude; a body mystical, because the mystery of their conjunction is removed altogether from sense. Whatsoever we read in Scripture concerning the endless love and the saving mercy which God showeth towards His Church, the only proper subject thereof is this Church. Concerning this flock it is that our Lord and Saviour hath promised: ‘I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hands.’ They who are of this society have such marks and notes of distinction from all others as are not object unto our sense; only unto God, who seeth their hearts and understandeth all their secret thoughts and cogita- <202/203> tions, unto Him they are clear and manifest. All men knew Nathanael to be an Israelite. But our Saviour, piercing deeper, giveth further testimony of him than men could have done with such certainty as He did, ‘Behold indeed an Israelite, in whom there is no guile.’ If we profess, as Peter did, that we love the Lord, and profess it in the hearing of men … charitable men are likely to think we do so, as long as they see no proof to the contrary. But that our love is sound and sincere … who can pronounce, saving only the Searcher of all men’s hearts, who alone intuitively doth know in this kind who are His? And as those everlasting promises of love, mercy, and blessedness, belong to the mystical Church, even so on the other side when we read of any duty which the Church of God is bound unto, the Church whom this doth concern is a sensible known company. And this visible Church in like sort is but one… . Which company being divided into two moieties, the one before, the other since the coming of Christ, that part which since the coming of Christ partly hath embraced and partly shall hereafter embrace the Christian religion, we term as by a more proper name the Church of Christ… . The unity of which visible body and Church of Christ consisteth of that uniformity which all several persons thereunto belonging have, by reason of that one Lord, whose servants they all profess themselves; that one faith, which they all acknowledge; that one baptism, wherewith they are all initiated… . Entered we are not into the visible Church before our admittance by the door of baptism… . Christians by external profession they are all, whose mark of recognisance hath in it those things (one Lord, one faith, one baptism) which we <203/204> have mentioned, yea, although they be impious idolaters, wicked heretics, persons excommunicable, yea and cast out for notorious improbity… . Is it then possible that the self-same men should belong both to the synagogue of Satan and to the Church of Jesus Christ? Unto that Church which is His mystical body, not possible; because that body consisteth of none but only … true servants and saints of God. Howbeit of the visible body and Church of Jesus Christ, those may be, and oftentimes are, in respect of the main parts of their outward profession… . For lack of diligent observing the difference, first between the Church of God mystical and visible, then between the visible sound and corrupted, sometimes more, sometimes less; the oversights are neither few nor light that have been committed." (Hooker, Eccl. Polity, iii. 1.)

We quote this classical passage as introductory to an outline of the doctrine of the Church, mainly because in it a singularly representative theologian states a distinction essential, as we believe, to just opinions on that doctrine. The Church as an organized society, open to human observation, is to be distinguished from the Church as a spiritual organism, living with a life whose secret and limits are fully known only to God, and whose manifestation is by faith, hope, and love (above, p. 129). The importance of the passage does not stop here. In respect of the Church as visible, it both describes it as one, so that its division by discordant polities is an accident, contrary to its ideal; and also it states with Scriptural moderation the essential marks (notes) of its oneness. (See further, p. 210.)

Now to examine the subject as presented in Scripture. The word Ecclesia (lit., company, or <204/205> assembly, called out) is common in Old Testament Greek. In the Pentateuch it is frequent for the Assembly of Israel, Israel as "called out" (from tents and work) to meet before God. Elsewhere it often means any assembly, more or less sacred. In the New Testament it occasionally means an "assembly other than Christian (Acts xix. 32, 39, 41). Very often it means the Christians of a district, town, or even household, regarded as "called out" of the unbelieving world, associated, and organized (e.g., Acts viii. 1, xiii. 1, xv. 41; Rom. xvi. 1, 4, 5, 16; 1 Cor. i. 2, iv. 17; Gal. i. 2, 22 ; Phil. iv. 15 ; Philem. 2; Rev. i.-iii. passim, xxii. 16). Less often it means Christians of every place, or rather irrespective of place; one ideal assembly or society, "called out" from the world to Christ (e.g. Matt. xvi. 18, xviii. 3; Acts xx. 28; 1 Cor. x. 32, xii. 23, xv. 9; Gal. i. 13; Eph. i. 22 and always, Phil. iii 6; Col. i. 18, 24; 1 Tim. iii. 15; and ? Heb. xii. 23). In many of these latter places the word seems to keep to the sphere of the visible and temporal; meaning the total of accredited Christians, irrespective of locality. In some places, and especially in Ephesians, it rises to a higher sphere, and means that ideal which is also in this matter the ultimate real; the company, society, organism, of which in full spiritual reality Christ is vital Head, and which shall be His Body and His Bride in glory. That a man may belong to a Church, or the Church, as organized within human observation, and not to the Church in the supreme tense, is plain from e.g. Acts viii. 21; Rom. viii. 9; 2 Cor. xiii. 5.

The distinction thus noticed by Hooker lies in the nature of the case. Union with Christ, if union indeed, is by the Spirit (p. 132). But it is possible <205/206> to be within Christian organization and yet to be devoid of the Spirit (see the texts last quoted); so it was with Simon at Samaria (Acts viii.). But no register at all dependent on human observation can infallibly exclude such names from the Christian roll. And if but one such name is upon it, the coincidence of the Church as visible with the Church as spiritually real is not perfect. On the other hand, the guardians of the register have no right normally to exercise such an excluding power as would even seem to claim supernatural insight into the man’s inner union or disunion with Christ. Within limits, certainly, scrutiny must be applied to protect the privileges of membership from scandalous misuse. But no such scrutiny can ever claim to go infallibly, by its nature, to "the thoughts and intents of the heart."

This principle is illustrated by Rom. ii. 25-29, where a distinction is drawn between the "Jew" who is such by the register of (divinely ordered) circumcision and the "Jew" who is such "inwardly." This bears à fortiori on the case of the Christian Church. For the community of Israel had more to do, at least on the surface, with merely external tests of membership than the community of the Christian Church has. The Jewish Church was, from one point of view, a nation, as capable of census as any other; a society in which physical pedigree was highly important. Yet even in its case, with a view to ultimate realities, Scripture recognizes the difference of nominal and real, visible and not (humanly) visible; an Israel fully recognized by God, narrower than the Israel lawfully recognized by man. À fortiori the limits of a Community which is lifted above tests of pedigree and nationality, and <206/207> whose watchwords are Christ, the Spirit, faith, saintship, must admit such differences. There must be Christians and Christians, Church and Church, Body and Body, Vine and Vine; not opposed camps, but gravely different aspects of one word.

This distinction was stated strongly by St Augustine. In his De Doctrinâ Christianâ (iii. 32) he discusses with general approval a book, by one Tichonius, The Seven Rules for clearing up Scripture mysteries, and writes: "The second rule is that ‘Concerning the Lord’s twofold Body.’… He should have said, ‘Concerning the Lord’s true and mingled Body’ or ‘true and feigned Body,’ or the like. For not only eternally, but now, hypocrites are not to be described as being with Him, however they may seem to be in His Church… Often the Scripture, turning from one party to speak of another, seems to be still speaking of the first, as if the two made one Body, by reason of their temporal commingling and equal share in sacraments." The distinction thus drawn was strongly insisted upon in the Reformation theology. See, e.g., Bishop Ridley (Works, Parker Society, pp. 126-7):— "That Church which is His Body and of which Christ is the Head standeth (consisteth) only of living stones and true Christians, not only outwardly in name and title, but inwardly in heart and in truth. But forasmuch as this Church … as touching the outward fellowship, is contained within that great house [2 Tim. ii. 20], and hath, with the same, outward society of the sacraments and ministry of the Word, many things are spoken of that universal Church (which St Augustine calleth the mingled Church) which cannot be truly understood but only of that purer part of the Church." <207/208>

If this is true,—and it lies in the nature of the case,—the greatest care is needed in the use of the sacred word Church, lest claims should be made for the outward organization, even in its original and truest form, which ought to be made only for the spiritually living organism.

On the other hand it is plain, both from Scripture and the reason of the case, that the external aspect of the Church is a thing of high sacredness and importance. If from one point of view the Christian community is (in the full truth of those terms) "the blessed company of all faithful people," known to their Lord and Head as truly "His" (Rom. viii. 9; 2 Tim. ii. 19), from another point it is meant to be a visible Society, combined for work and witness in the actual human world. As such, we find it from the very first (below, p. 217) possessing ordained officers, and external order however simple, and ordinances outward and visible connected with entrance on membership and maintenance of it (p. 236). And we find repeated warnings and appeals to the members to be loyal to the society; to avoid division, and all that leads to it—whether insubordination or arrogance (see, e.g., Heb. xiii. 17; 1 Pet. v. 1-5). All this leaves quite untouched the ruling truth of the purely spiritual secret and bond of the life of the true Church. But it does solemnly emphasize the claims of visible order. That order is a thing not indeed of the first rank, yet next to the first. Can it be doubted that the work of the Church for God in the world would have its "freest course" and influence if it were never forgotten on the one hand that "he is a Christian which is one inwardly," and on the other that the collision and friction of rival polities con- <208/209> tradicts the idea of the visible Church, and most gravely obstructs its mission? The Christian who recollects these principles amidst actual circumstances will never venture to unchurch a Christian community, confessing the truth of God in Christ, because it is not organized on what he thinks the ideal model, and so far diverges from or even collides with his own community. But he will not acquiesce in this state of things as right, as best. He will never put true order before true creed and true life; but he will never despise true order. He will revere it as an ordinance of God, while he remembers that an institution may be divinely sanctioned which yet in divine order and proportion may need, in a measure, or for a season, to give way to divine commandments of a yet higher kind. See in illustration the language of the prophets about the divine sacrificial ritual (e.g. 1 Sam. xv. 22); and cp. Mark ix. 38-40.

The Christian in this attitude of thought will pray and lawfully seek for a healthful re-union of visible Christendom, now so deplorably broken by discrepant and competing organizations. He will value highly the witness of history (p. 228) to the truth of any claims of apostolicity in an organization. Meantime he will be reasonably sure that, at this date, no re-union can hope to be not merely feasible but just where concessions are all on one side. And he will recognize in many organizations which he holds to be imperfect yet the presence of enough of the ideal often to command his reverence, and at least enough of the divine institution of order to be immeasurably better than anarchy. And he will always qualify his claims by remembering that the true unity of the true Church is in its <209/210> inmost essence spiritual. Each true member is in direct and vital contact with the glorious Head, through faith, by the Spirit. The worst and deepest schism is after all that which slights that holy bond. And thus reverent loyalty to order, to the order held to be divinely sanctioned, will yet not lead down into definitions of the Church which contradict its inmost nature. Firm convictions about the rule will yet see the justness of even large exceptions. The man may be an Episcopalian, by the maturest results of thought and enquiry, and may consistently wish to see a genuine (not exaggerated) Episcopacy universal; yet he will heartily recognize and honour the Church position of his Presbyterian, or Independent, or Baptist, or Methodist, brethren. He will prize the divine blessings of Sacraments,and pray that they may be everywhere revered and used, and yet will see in the saintly "Friend" a true member of the eternal Head, and so of the true Body. He will love, and seek for, not only the precious unity of Christian love, but its lawful counterpart in a temperate uniformity of Christian order; yet he will never suffer the claims of the latter to break the antecedent and more sacred bond of the former.

"Notes" of the (visible) Church.—Article XIX., "Of the Church," states the "notes," or testmarks, [1] thus: "The visible Church of Christ is a congregation (cœtus) of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly (rectè) ministered, according to Christ’s ordinance, in all things that of necessity are requisite to the same." The earliest comment <210/211> on this (Rogers, 1586) runs: "The Lord … only knoweth them that are His. For to man the Church of Christ is partly invisible, and visible partly. The invisible are all the elect, who be or shall be either in heaven triumphing or on earth fighting … not because the men be not visible, but for that their faith … Godward is not perfectly known unto us." Hooker’s "notes" of corporate visible unity have been given above (p. 203). Field (Dean of Gloucester temp. James I.), in his treatise Of the Church (ii. 2), gives the notes of the "true (visible [2]) Catholic Church" to be (a) "the entire profession of those supernatural verities which God hath revealed in Christ His Son; (b) the use of such holy ceremonies and sacraments as He hath instituted … to serve as provocations to godliness, preservations from sin, memorials of the benefits of Christ, warrants for the greater security of our belief, and marks of distinction to separate His own from strangers; (c) an union or connexion of men in this profession and use of the sacraments, under lawful pastors and guides, appointed, authorized, and sanctified, to lead them in the happy ways of eternal salvation." Pearson (Of the Creed, pp. 339-350) cautiously but clearly distinguishes in the Church those who are "efficaciously called, justified, and sanctified," and says of others that they have "no true internal communion with the members and Head (of the Church)," "the congregation of those persons here on earth which shall hereafter meet in heaven;" and he finds the notes of the organized Church in (a) agreement in one faith; (b) observance of the <211/212> same sacraments; (c) expectation of one heaven; (d) sympathy in one mind and love; (e) use of one discipline and government. "As there is no Church where there is no order, no ministry, so where the same order and ministry is, there is the same Church."

It will be observed that none of the writers here quoted explicitly lays down episcopal government as a "note" of the Church, though Pearson seems to approach the position. It was certainly not made a "note" by the leading Anglicans of cent. xvii., as a class (see further below, p. 231). On the other hand, all the great leaders of Reformed Christendom, cent. xvi., xvii., set high and reverent value on Church order as a principle, whatever their views were about details of system.

The word Catholic (Univesal) applied to the Church, appears first in Ignatius (early cent. ii.), in the famous sentence (Ep. to Smyrna, c. 8), "Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." A little later, the contemporary account of Polycarp’s martyrdom speaks of "all the sojourning-bodies (paroikiai) in every place of the holy and Catholic Church." Later, the term is very frequent. Athanasius (cent. iv.), says that the Church is called Catholic "because it is diffused universally (katholou) in the world." The first notion of the word was plainly local diffusion; Christians combined in a way irrespective of territorial limits. It glided not unnaturally from this to mean also "orthodox" as against heretical; with regard to the central body of professing Christians, holding the primary revealed truths, as against numerous divergent or rival bodies. It certainly referred to consent about revealed truth more prominently than to uniformity of polity. <212/213>

The claim of the Papal Church is to be, in her own words ("Creed of Pius IV.," 1568), "the holy Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church, Mother and Mistress (magistra) of all Churchs." Her Trent Confession of Faith, the "Creed of Pius IV.," is "the true Catholic faith, outside which no man can be saved." No assertions can be more completly met by historical and scriptural disproof than these. [3]

Before quitting the subject of Catholicity, we quote the following weighty words: "The early Christian fathers often urged the name and authority of the Church Catholic against heretics. The thoughtful student will, however, perceive a very important distinction between our position and theirs, which may materially affect, not the truth and point of their assertions, but their application to the changed circumstances of the Church. We have arrayed against us the bulk of the Western Church, which has overlaid, added to, and corrupted the ancient faith, and abandoned the rule of faith in Scripture. We are severed by almost as serious differences from the varied sections of the Eastern Church. And there have grown up amongst us communities of Christians differently organized, and often opposing our action, and yet for the most part readily acknowledging the same creeds and doctrinal articles. There is no parallel to this state of things in antiquity… . Ignatius might truly say (Ep. ad Trall., c. 3), speaking of the three orders of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, ‘Apart from these there is no Church.’ … Apart from them there might be Jew, Heathen, or Gnostic, but not the Church. <213/214> But to take these sayings of old, and to force their application dogmatically to a condition of the Church of which the venerable martyr had not the faintest glimpse, must surely be unjust to his memory, and untrue to the facts" (Boultbee, Exposition of the Articles, pp. 160, 161).

We may add that in almost every great instance of secession from the main organization it will be found that part of the cause was the neglect, or repression, of some great principle of life or order on the part of the main body or its representative authorities.

Meanwhile we reassert none the less earnestly that a temperate uniformity of polity is the true counterpart of the inner unity of the true Church. May He who is able "hasten it in its time," and in His way.

Authority of the (visible) Church. Two English Articles (XX., XXXIV.) are devoted to this subject. In them, and by the nature of the subject, the authority discussed takes two directions: doctrine, and order, including order of worship. The question of authority in doctrine is practically that of authority in interpretation of Scripture. This we have briefly discussed already (pp. 7, 8). It may be enough to repeat here that the authority of the Church as an Interpreter is (a) real, such that the individual should treat it with deep reverence; (b) not ultimate, so that it can silence the individual’s appeal to Scripture by anything other than Scripture. This latter principle may of course be gravely misapplied, to excuse or assert the wildest claims of individual ignorance, folly, or pride. But the misapplication must be met, not by denial of the principle, but by adjustment of it to other principles. And <214/215> undoubtedly the Church, as an organized community, has the right (which is also the most grave responsibility to God) of making terms of external communion, and of denying outward privileges of membership to persons refusing certain articles. This right must, however, be exercised under recollection of the overruling truths of the spiritual nature of the true Church (p. 202), and the immediate connexion of each of its true members with the Head, and the inalienable right of that Head to "know," in His own sense, "them that are His." The full recognition of the constitutional rights of the visible Church (in its total or in a substantive "branch") is one thing; the assertion that those rights will always be rightly exercised is another. And history bears conclusive witness to the fact that the visible Church has no gift of inerrancy; certainly not until all its members are "ruled by the Spirit and Word of God." Christendom owes great blessings to the early ecumenical Councils, particularly to Nicæa and Chalcedon, where in God’s providence the truth of Christ’s Person, gathered from the Scripture, was affirmed and published with an authority which gave it in time universal currency. But ecumenical Councils have contradicted each other. And of none of them can it be said that it was, in its actual constitution, an ideal representation of the visible Church.

The Church of England (Art. XX.), while asserting the rights of the visible Church, is still more careful to limit their exercise constitutionally, under the divine supremacy of Scripture. She nowhere claims for herself, or the whole Church visible, the right of either interpreting Scripture by a mere dictum, or of adding anything to Scripture as de <215/216> fide. Only that which is laid down in Scripture, or lawfully to be proved by it (Art. VI.), (not by even the Church’s mere word about it), is to be believed as "of faith." Even a general Council must be overruled by this principle (Art. XXI.), if need be.

As regards order of worship, the exercise of authority is a manifest right (and responsibility) of the visible Church, within the limits (given in Articles XX., XXXIV.) that nothing be ordered "contrary to God’s Word written," and that "all things be done to edifying." It is remarkable that the New Testament, as compared with the Old, is nearly silent as to the procedure of public worship. This fact, along with the great general principle of order, so amply recognized in the New Testament, indicates that rules of Christian worship are, as things sacred but secondary, committed in a large measure to the Church’s discretion. Usages of worship are thus not necessarily unscriptural, anti-scriptural, merely because they are not prescribed or described in the holy Scriptures.

Some valuable statements on this subject will be found in those sections of the Introduction to the English Prayer Book headed "Concerning the Service of the Church" (1549), and "Of Ceremonies" (1552). <216>


[1] A Church may possess all the "notes" of reality while not all the conditions of ideality.

[2] He is careful to distinguish the visible and invisible aspects of the Church, as Hooker had done.

[3] See the Rev. R.C. Jenkins, Romanism, an Examination of the Creed of Pius IV., a mass of learning in a small compass; and Dr. G. Salmon, Infallibility of the Church.


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