Are there 2 or 3 marks to the true church?

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Neogillist

Puritan Board Freshman
I have been reading Calvin's Institutes lately and realized that Calvin did not include Church discipline as a mark of the true church but only the preaching of the gospel, and the proper administration of the sacraments. However, both the Belgic Confession and the first Scotish Confession recognized three marks to the true church, including church discipline.

When my pastor preached on the subject a few months ago, he said that Calvin omitted church discipline as a mark in itself because he saw it as a necessary consequence of gospel preaching. Thus if a church truly preached the gospel, it would necessarily ensure proper discipline and accountability. Recently, there were also two articles that came up in the TableTalk magazine where again only two marks were identified, thus following Calvin's view. However, the author of one article (I think it was Mark Denver) saw that church discipline was included as part of the proper administration of the sacraments, such that the elders were responsible to withold the sacraments from unrepentant members. Another article in Tabletalk also came up more recently in the daily devotions, where only two marks were again identified, and I forget if they sought to incorporate the third mark as a sub-branch of the other two.

So my question to those of you reading this thread is: Can't we agree on how many marks qualify the true church? Are there two or three marks? If there are only two, then does church discipline fit as part of gospel preaching or as part of the sacraments? I personally prefer the view that the true church has three marks since 1) in incorporating church discipline as part of the sacraments, we are basically making an association that is really too tight. There is a lot more involved in church discipline than merely witholding the elements from unrepentant sinners. 2) If we incorporate church discipline as part of gospel preaching, we are not making it quite obvious enough since there is a big difference between preaching and ruling, one being the responsibility of the minister, the other of the elders. A local church may preach the gospel to its members and still fail to exercise discipline. On the other hand, I think Calvin purposefully omitted church discipline as part of the marks because it is virtually impossible for a local church to ensure that none of its members are involved in any public sin whatsoever, and it would be easy for some to leave the assembly on account of a minor offense by another member. Calvin was also probably trying to avoid the error of the Anabaptists who would refuse to worship in the presence of unbelievers.
 

matt01

Puritan Board Senior
I. The true preaching of the Word of God.
II. The right administration of the sacraments.
III. The faithful exercise of discipline.
 

moral necessity

Puritan Board Junior
I tend to agree with Calvin. I see the third as a mark of most social clubs and gatherings, and not able to stand on it's own apart from the other two, but only in correlation with them. Perhaps this is why Calvin did not emphasize it as a separete, individual mark.

Blessings!
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I do not think that these "marks" are criteria that we MUST have before we call an assembly a church.

They are ideals to head toward, not points to check off.

One problem of listing the proper administration of the sacraments as a mark of the church is the foolish attempt by Presbyterians and baptists both to call the other one not a true church because they differ at baptism.

Though they differ, the baptists and Presbyterians on this board I would venture to say, probably go to true churches even though some of them administer the "sacraments" wrongly.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
I puzzled over this one a few years ago too, since the WCF gives a slightly different three: 1. Gospel taught and embraced 2. Ordinances administered 3. Public worship performed.

By in large, it seems that the overall reformed community lists 1. Proper preaching of the word 2. Proper administration of the sacraments 3. Administration of discipline. Whether the third flows out of the first two doesn't matter much to me. Its total absence in so many churches does not bode well for the saints therein.

The latter listing comes from, help me out here, the Belgic Confession? I looked it up some time ago ...
 

Dearly Bought

Puritan Board Junior
The latter listing comes from, help me out here, the Belgic Confession? I looked it up some time ago ...
Belgic Confession, Article XXIX
The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in chastening of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.

I do not think that these "marks" are criteria that we MUST have before we call an assembly a church.

They are ideals to head toward, not points to check off.

One problem of listing the proper administration of the sacraments as a mark of the church is the foolish attempt by Presbyterians and baptists both to call the other one not a true church because they differ at baptism.

Though they differ, the baptists and Presbyterians on this board I would venture to say, probably go to true churches even though some of them administer the "sacraments" wrongly.

I respectfully disagree. The language of "true" and "false" churches certainly is provocative. However, I believe that it emphasizes the critical nature of these marks. The right administration of the sacraments is not a secondary, non-essential matter which can be ignored as one becomes part of a congregation. The sacraments "more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the Gospel" (Heidelberg Q. 66; e.g., Abraham's circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ, Rom. 4:11). Erroneous administration of the sacraments teaches an erroneous view of the Gospel.

I know that this isn't a popular statement that I'm about to make, but... it is sinful to administer the sacraments impurely. From my paedo-baptist perspective, it is sinful for the head of a household to fail to see the sign and seal of the covenant applied to his children. From a credo-baptist standpoint, it should rightly be sinful to apply the sign of professed faith to infant who cannot make a cogent profession.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Bryan:

If you are correct then you need to call all the Presbyterians on this board as members of false churches, which certainly is not the case.


Or you need to leave this board because this board consists of mostly members of false churches......


...how can you partake with unfruitful works of darkness such as paedobaptism!?
 

Julio Martinez Jr

Puritan Board Freshman
I do not think that these "marks" are criteria that we MUST have before we call an assembly a church.

They are ideals to head toward, not points to check off.

One problem of listing the proper administration of the sacraments as a mark of the church is the foolish attempt by Presbyterians and baptists both to call the other one not a true church because they differ at baptism.

Though they differ, the baptists and Presbyterians on this board I would venture to say, probably go to true churches even though some of them administer the "sacraments" wrongly.

Buddy, you sound like a liberal. Are you a liberal?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I do not think that these "marks" are criteria that we MUST have before we call an assembly a church.

They are ideals to head toward, not points to check off.

One problem of listing the proper administration of the sacraments as a mark of the church is the foolish attempt by Presbyterians and baptists both to call the other one not a true church because they differ at baptism.

Though they differ, the baptists and Presbyterians on this board I would venture to say, probably go to true churches even though some of them administer the "sacraments" wrongly.

Buddy, you sound like a liberal. Are you a liberal?



NOTE TO SELF: Whenever someone starts out a sentence with the word "Buddy" know that they will say something that buddies don't usually say.





Most Baptists are true Christians who congregate in true churches. Most Presbyterians are true Christians who congregate in true churches.

To say that the right administration of the sacraments is an absolute necessity for a church to be a true church than either ALL the Presbyterians or ALL the Baptists are members of false churches.




True Churches can be irregular or errant and still not be invalid.
 

Dearly Bought

Puritan Board Junior
Bryan:

If you are correct then you need to call all the Presbyterians on this board as members of false churches, which certainly is not the case.


Or you need to leave this board because this board consists of mostly members of false churches......


...how can you partake with unfruitful works of darkness such as paedobaptism!?

Actually, I am a paedo-baptist. My wife and I have just completed our last church membership course and are about to be examined by the elders for membership in an RCUS congregation.

Most Baptists are true Christians who congregate in true churches. Most Presbyterians are true Christians who congregate in true churches.

To say that the right administration of the sacraments is an absolute necessity for a church to be a true church than either ALL the Presbyterians or ALL the Baptists are members of false churches.




True Churches can be irregular or errant and still not be invalid.

Again, I must respectfully disagree here. Please understand that I am not saying that all the Baptists on this board are not true Christians. There may be hypocrites in true churches and true believers in false churches. The point is that it is spiritually dangerous to be part of a false church. Apparently errantly partaking in the Lord's Supper ended up killing some in the Corinthian congregation (1 Cor. 11:29-30). How much more dangerous is an entire congregation errantly administering the sacraments!

(I'm not saying that Baptists should die or something like that. Most of my good friends and family are Baptist. I was, until recently. I'm trying to make a point concerning how serious this matter really is.)
 

Mushroom

Puritan Board Doctor
In point of fact, Pergs is not a liberal per se. I believe he is actually a Nazi. :rofl:

Man! That's just getting to be too easy! :p
 

Neogillist

Puritan Board Freshman
I do not think that these "marks" are criteria that we MUST have before we call an assembly a church.

They are ideals to head toward, not points to check off.

One problem of listing the proper administration of the sacraments as a mark of the church is the foolish attempt by Presbyterians and baptists both to call the other one not a true church because they differ at baptism.

Though they differ, the baptists and Presbyterians on this board I would venture to say, probably go to true churches even though some of them administer the "sacraments" wrongly.

Yes, Pergy, I do not consider credo-baptism to be an abuse of the sacraments. I think it was transubstantiation that Calvin found too sacrilegeous to consider the Roman church as a true church. That is why he listed the proper administration of the sacraments as a mark. Calvin did consider the Lutheran Church as a true church even if they differed on their view of the sacraments. He even called Luther an apostle. I think we also ought to do likewise.

As for the Anabaptists, Calvin did not view them as a true church but rather as a collection of sectaries because they sought to separate themselves and work independently rather than reform the church. Providentially, I think they had the effect of attracting the persecution of the Roman Church and thus divert it from the Lutheran and Calvinistic branches. Although I have not quite come to there yet, I don't think Calvin viewed credo-baptism as a sacrilege unlike transubstanciation. You can easily tell when you read him, because when he comes across something sacrilegeous, he does not shy away from using perjorative names against his foes. I think the Presbyterians and Reformed went beyond him somewhat.

However, we should still consider the three marks as good indicators of the true church as Christ told Peter he was giving him the keys of the Kingdom with the power to bind and loose in regard to doctrine. Consequently, we must respect the historical development of the church, along with Scriptures, and not simply try to find "prooftexts" for everything we do or believe unlike Bible-thumbers (fundamentalists) do.
 
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Julio Martinez Jr

Puritan Board Freshman
RE: Pergamum

In order for someone to say that there isn't "marks" for a true church--to me and many Presbyterians and baptists that I know--that person is a liberal. Regardless of what denomination a person holds, he will always have some form of government (and part of that government also includes when and where the word is to be preached, and the method in which the sacraments are administered). It just makes absolutely no sense to say that there isn't a ruling stick for hashing out the true church. I agree with Calvin with his marks, but I would honestly add proper church government.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
In order for someone to say that there isn't "marks" for a true church--to me and many Presbyterians and baptists that I know--that person is a liberal. Regardless of what denomination a person holds, he will always have some form of government (and part of that government also includes when and where the word is to be preached, and the method in which the sacraments are administered). It just makes absolutely no sense to say that there isn't a ruling stick for hashing out the true church. I agree with Calvin with his marks, but I would honestly add proper church government.

Hey Buddy! :p

So you're calling me a liberal too?


The right administration of the sacraments - if they are a mark of a "true church" - must be discussed further. There are degrees of rightness or wrongness.

Presbyterians and Baptists are both true churches. But when baptism becomes not merely wrong due to the wrong mode (sprinkling...) but due to the wrong intent (baptismal regeneration) you may have a point.

Those reformers were writings against Rome primarily.






An interestinglink. True doctrine is THE mark of the true church:

The Marks of a  True church The scholastic Reformer takes to task what constitutes a true church distinguished form counterfeit

XX. Although the dispensation of the word and sacraments are good and gifts to the church, still they are no less its marks since the one is not opposed to the other: as in earthly things, possession and use of these is the mark of a transferred ownership, nor moreover does it cease to be a fruit or a good. Thus the word is a mark of the covenant made by God with the church (as its authentic instrument, sealed with the seals of the sacraments, from the lawful dispensation of which the richest fruits redound to the possessors).
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
If we accept and push for these 3 or 4 marks of a true church it should be said that these marks are not a checklist whereby if a church lacks one of the marks then they are automatically changed from "True Church" status to "False Church" status.

These marks are ideals. EVERY church fails at some point.

The biggest factor is whether the Sheep hear the voice of the Shephard.

If two or three are gathered in His name, then Christ is in their midst. This is a Christian assembly - yet, this is far from complete because this assembly may lack church officers. Through God's grace they add on more and more complete clothing and become more and more complete as churches.
 

Neogillist

Puritan Board Freshman
In order for someone to say that there isn't "marks" for a true church--to me and many Presbyterians and baptists that I know--that person is a liberal. Regardless of what denomination a person holds, he will always have some form of government (and part of that government also includes when and where the word is to be preached, and the method in which the sacraments are administered). It just makes absolutely no sense to say that there isn't a ruling stick for hashing out the true church. I agree with Calvin with his marks, but I would honestly add proper church government.

Since when is church government now also a mark of the true church? Are you going to re-invent Reformed theology? Like I said, the debate is as to whether there is 2 marks, including the right administration of the sacraments and the preaching of the Word, or if there is a third mark which is church discipline. Now Calvin who was obviously in agreement with both the presbyterial form of church government (the only proper and biblical form) and also a strong proponent of proper church discipline did not see fit to add more to those two rules. My question here is, are those two marks sufficient as some theologians say, or do we need to recognize a third mark as mentioned by the Belgic Confession and the first Scottish Confession. For instance, day 12 of this month's Tabletalk discusses the two marks and adds: 'Though inseparably linked to the sacraments, sometimes we make special mention of church discipline as the third mark of the church (1 Cor. 5).'

I personally think that the 2-marks system is sufficient as Calvin himself thought. The WCF adds proper worship as a third mark, while the Belgic Confession adds discipline as a third mark, but both commonly hold to the two marks that Calvin recognized. Adding more marks is not necessary since they simply fall within the scope of the first two marks recognized, either within the preaching of the Word (the doctrine of the church) or the sacraments. Now the doctrine of the church obviously includes proper church government since all the doings of the church are ultimately submitted to Christ and His Word, thus there is no need to add church government as a third or fourth mark.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I've always considered it to be three marks. But depending on the context in which you put it, you could couple the middle one (the administration of the sacraments) with either the first (the preaching of the Word) or the third (discipline), since it does overlap both of these.

It's really only one mark, since all three have to be done together, since any one of them alone doesn't really tell you that a church is true. If one of the three is missing or improperly administered, then it is very likely that the other two are not right either, even though they might seem so for a while.
 

JonathanHunt

Puritan Board Senior
Ok... so if a church preaches the gospel, administers the 'sacraments' (I say Ordinances) and exercises church discipline, and yet none of the members or the pastor are regenerate - is it a true church?

You'll say its a silly question, but I believe the most fundamental mark of a true church has been taken for granted.
 

Julio Martinez Jr

Puritan Board Freshman
Ok... so if a church preaches the gospel, administers the 'sacraments' (I say Ordinances) and exercises church discipline, and yet none of the members or the pastor are regenerate - is it a true church?

You'll say its a silly question, but I believe the most fundamental mark of a true church has been taken for granted.

It is presumed that those who partake of the covenant blessings (word and sacrament) are regenerate. It is requisite before entering into the debate. The answer is most vehemently no! If the members are not truly regenerate, then it is not a true church. However, Calvin wrote in his commentary on 1 Peter that we can only assume verifiability of Christian duty by the fruits and profession. That is why we have examinations of the laity and a more stringent examination of the clergy. The presbyters can't actually know who the church really is the way God knows the church. They only have visible signs, which help determine the distinction between the visible and invisible church. Good enough?
 
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