3 Marks or 1? Does Westminster soften the Belgic Confession?

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Philip A

Puritan Board Sophomore
I am following the developments in these threads with much interest:

3 marks of a true church: Lutheranism as a test case

and

Reformed Reaction to CT Cover Story

The Belgic Confession sets forth the three marks of the true church:

Article 29, Paragraph 3:
The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church-- and no one ought to be separated from it.

Westminster says:

WCF Chapter XXV, Paragraph 2
The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children; and is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ; the house and family of God, through which men are ordinarily saved and union with which is essential to their best growth and service.

Tonight I came across this section from James Bannerman:

The Church of Christ, Vol. 1, pp 60-61
Other things, such as sacraments and ordinances, the minisitry, and the outward administration of the Church, are not essential to it, but only accidental; they are necessary for it's wellbeing, but not for its being... The only true and infallible note or mark of a church of Christ is the profession of the faith of Christ.

There is a difference in this respect, and not an undesigned or unimportant one [between Westminster and the XXXIX articles (and, by extention, the Belgic Confession - PA)]... The Westminster Confession limits the definition of a Church to the profession of the true religion, as the one essential mark of the true church.

So then:

1) Is Bannerman correct, historically speaking? Is this a later take on the intent of the WCF, or is this representative of the original intent of the Westminster Divines?

2) Bannerman grounds his argument in the distinction between the esse and the bene esse of the church. When did this distinction originate? Did the earlier reformers make this distinction as well, or did it originate in Bannerman's time?

3) Is BC 29:3 answering a different question than WCF 25:2? The phrase from the BC "By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church-- and no one ought to be separated from it" seems to suggest that perhaps the question it was formulated to answer was "how do I know if the church I am in is a true church?" This is a different question than "is the independent/baptist/presbyterian church down the street a true church?" Does this distinction stand, and if so, does this help to reconcile the WCF with the BC? Or do they even need to be reconciled?

:detective: :book2:
 

Arch2k

Puritan Board Graduate
In discussions I have had with my pastor on this issue, it seems that the BC is concerning itself with a true church vs. a false church whereas the WCF is concerning itself with a church that is "more or less pure."

As for Bannerman's quote, that might throw a wrench in it, but I do not know.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
This may be what is going on; as to Bannerman, he represents the Presbyterian view accurately as reflected in Rutherford, Gillespie, the English Presbyterians, et al regarding the being vs well being of a true church (hard to speak of the being vs well being of a false church certainly).
Originally posted by Jeff_Bartel
In discussions I have had with my pastor on this issue, it seems that the BC is concerning itself with a true church vs. a false church whereas the WCF is concerning itself with a church that is "more or less pure."

As for Bannerman's quote, that might throw a wrench in it, but I do not know.
 

AdamM

Puritan Board Freshman
I think the Cromwellian context in which the Westminster Standards were written is reflected in their treatment of the subject. In Cromwell's England you get for the first time the idea that all trinitarian protestants should peacefully co-exist with each other, so the Wstds emphasis upon profession of faith being esse, with ecclesiology and sacraments being bene esse fits well into that framework.

[Edited on 9-26-2006 by AdamM]
 

Archlute

Puritan Board Senior
Originally posted by Bernard_Marx
Perhaps the question here is "How can anything be more or less pure?"

Perhaps in the same way that a question asked can be more or less antagonistic...
 
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