Edwin Sandys on the three marks of the church

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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Funny that missions and evangelism is never mentioned as part of being the true church from most reformed writers. They always mention discipline, however, such that many reformed churches nowadays rush to discipline but do not similarly rush to train and send missionaries with the same zeal.

In short, I believe this 3-part formulation of what constitutes a true church is sub-biblical. I tried to defend it in the past, but not anymore. It is all like Plato defining a man as a featherless biped and Diogenes throwing a plucked chicken at him. Let me be your Diogenes.

Similarly the sacraments being properly administered also gives us ground to accuse either paedobaptists or credobaptists of not being a true church due to improper administration of baptism. But we all know that there are both true Baptist and true Presbyterian churches.

So, again, the simple 3-point formula for what defines a church is simply flawed. A Church is where true believers are gathered intentionally as a body in the name of Christ for the purpose of worship. This, of course, too, is a deficient definition for with it how do we distinguish between a church and a bible study group.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
As it happens, I think that you are correct to note that the simplistic manner in which the three marks are sometimes discussed can be misleading. The Westminster Confession lists the profession of true religion as the defining mark of the church, as in that is what is necessary to the being of the church. The administration of the sacraments and the exercise of church discipline are better seen as marks pertaining to the well-being of the church.

This understanding of the marks is the only one that corresponds with scripture, because, otherwise, it is hard to make sense of Paul (to cite but one biblical example) regarding the Galatians and Corinthians as true churches notwithstanding major corruptions and irregularities in doctrine and discipline.

I know of people who have taken the three marks to such an extreme that they believed that any irregularity or deficiency in relation to the three marks rendered a congregation or denomination a false church. This sort of purity spiralling quickly gets ugly.

Funny that missions and evangelism is never mentioned as part of being the true church from most reformed writers.

Evangelism is implied in the first mark. You can hardly have the pure preaching of the word of God without it.

They always mention discipline, however, such that many reformed churches nowadays rush to discipline but do not similarly rush to train and send missionaries with the same zeal.

You are always complaining about churches covering up certain scandals. Now you are complaining that they are too zealous to administer discipline. You cannot have your cake and eat it at the same time. Mission and evangelism are important, but it is not the church's only duty. If it were, then why did Paul tell the Corinthians to expel the incestuous man when they could have just concentrated on missions instead?
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
As it happens, I think that you are correct to note that the simplistic manner in which the three marks are sometimes discussed can be misleading. The Westminster Confession lists the profession of true religion as the defining mark of the church, as in that is what is necessary to the being of the church. The administration of the sacraments and the exercise of church discipline are better seen as marks pertaining to the well-being of the church.

This understanding of the marks is the only one that corresponds with scripture, because, otherwise, it is hard to make sense of Paul (to cite but one biblical example) regarding the Galatians and Corinthians as true churches notwithstanding major corruptions and irregularities in doctrine and discipline.

I know of people who have taken the three marks to such an extreme that they believed that any irregularity or deficiency in relation to the three marks rendered a congregation or denomination a false church. This sort of purity spiralling quickly gets ugly.



Evangelism is implied in the first mark. You can hardly have the pure preaching of the word of God without it.



You are always complaining about churches covering up certain scandals. Now you are complaining that they are too zealous to administer discipline. You cannot have your cake and eat it at the same time. Mission and evangelism are important, but it is not the church's only duty. If it were, then why did Paul tell the Corinthians to expel the incestuous man when they could have just concentrated on missions instead?

Daniel, you wrote:

"You are always complaining about churches covering up certain scandals. Now you are complaining that they are too zealous to administer discipline."

The two things are not mutually exclusive. Let me explain.

Almost all the scandals I have been complaining about have been failures of the church leadership, not the average congregant. Sure, church members get drunk or miss church for sleeping too late or get caught up in addictions. I believe many of these things should be dealt with gently to help the struggling member forward rather than punish and penalize.

What I have been complaining about is primarily the sins of the pastorate and eldership. Pastors abusing children. Or in some cases, several churches have disciplined women who have divorced their husband for abuse. In one case mentioned on the PB here was when the wife divorced her child abuser husband and then her church then disciplined HER, but not him (this was the Village Church case with Matt Chandler). In another case, the eldership of a church sent an emailed rebuke to members of their church for "gossip" for sharing court transcribes of the trial of a child abusing pastor that they had shielded (transcripts are public records).

Many times church discipline is used as a tool to hide or silence opposition to pastoral abuse. My complaints rest primarily upon elders abusing their role. This happens often among some streams of the reformed (such as Reformed Baptists).

One of the ways churches have covered up scandals is through discipline, example, being disciplined for the sins of "gossip" or "sowing discord" which really just means disagreeing with the church leadership, who then leverage discipline to control the dissident.

In many cases discipline is wrongly applied and it aids those in power who are the corrupt ones, and they yield the discipline as a means to silence the congregants. This is called spiritual abuse and I believe it happens a lot among our sort of churches.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
@Pergamum - thanks for your reply. Yes, I have seen many of the same things when church discipline has been abused by those in power.

It is not that I disagree entirely with Edwin Sandys, but I have long been dissatisfied with succinct definitions of what makes up the Church and I am trying to think this through further. For instance, in my jungle area, at what point do the little congregations of villagers throughout my region get to be considered a church instead of a preaching post? If I am trying to plant churches throughout my jungle region, how do I know when I have accomplished that? It is not entirely clear to me.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
I agree with Pergy. I have seen so much Adultery, Divorce, and Family Stealing from the Pulpit it has created a sad dark spot in my soul. At the same time I also recognize the need for better discipleship and outreach that is under proper authority and Gospel preaching. In America we live under a hyper outreach (supposed) mentality though. It is more likened to syncretism (user friendly) in my estimation instead of good Gospel outreach and Church planting under authority around the whole world, including our neighborhoods and the Nations. So maybe the three marks are excellent. They just might need to be understood a bit more clearer.

The true church hath her marks whereby she is known: The Gospel truly preached, The sacraments sincerely ministered, discipline duly executed.
 
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PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
For instance, in my jungle area, at what point do the little congregations of villagers throughout my region get to be considered a church instead of a preaching post? If I am trying to plant churches throughout my jungle region, how do I know when I have accomplished that? It is not entirely clear to me.


Pergy, In a Congregational setting, where a group is autonomous and associations are not encouraged, isn't that up to the people involved to decide?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Pergy, In a Congregational setting, where a group is autonomous and associations are not encouraged, isn't that up to the people involved to decide?

I am working with a Papuan denomination. Existing churches get associated into the denomination and under their care. They say they are a hybrid of Congregational-Presbyterian. Every church in the country must also be registered under one of the approved Christian denominations. Our denomination classifies new frontier works either as preaching posts or as congregations. In my village it is a congregation and we administer the ordinances, but some remote posts look a bit more rudimentary throughout the region.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
@ Pergy
That is a bit more sturdy in my estimation. I know I am not fit for your work. It would have killed me and the work died. The Lord keep you old friend and give you wisdom. I have admired biographies such as C. T. Studd and Hudson Taylor over the years. It may not be as black and white as I want to see things. At the same time I loved Jus Divinum Regiminis when I read it over a decade ago.
 
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