Reformed Ecclesiology

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raderag

Puritan Board Sophomore
It seems to me that ecclesiology is probably doctrine with the most disagreement within the reformed community, and thus probably the root of many divisions. Certainly, I would expect there to be stark differences between Baptist, Presbyterians, and Anglicans, but it seems we are all over the board even within our own denominations. Now I am certainly no expert on this matter, and in fact my view has changed much over the last year. However, I am concerned that there may be some reformed people out there that have such a High view of the Church as to bind us to Trent. With that in mind, I would like some here to define some things.

What determines binding of councils, creeds, etc?
Does the Church, as the Pillar of Truth, set the standard for belief over ones personal understanding of scripture?
If the Church always supercedes understanding of scripture, then must we as Protestants use our personal view of scripture in picking sides? Or do we look for some kind of succession?
Are there differing standards for different groups of Christians, or do we take the average of the confessions (mind of the Church) as to be the definition of orthodoxy?.
If the councils bind us, aren't we forced to at least accept the 7th ecumenical council?
What is the Church?
Does authority or truth bind the Church councils?
Is it wrong for a church to decide to exclude part of a confession?
How important is original intent?

If important, can we as reformed Christians say that we believe in "baptism for the remission of sins" and yet deny baptismal regeneration? Any view of the contemporaries to the Nicene creed will show that is what they meant.

I don't know where I fall, but I wonder if some of us (me including) are not overreacting to the evangelical low church doctrine.

Consider some of these writings:

WCF:

Chapter XXV
Of the Church


V. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will.

JC Ryle:

http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/9170/RYLE2.HTM
It is a Church WHICH IS DEPENDENT UPON NO MINISTERS UPON EARTH, however much it values those who preach the gospel to its members. The life of its members does not hang upon Church-membership, or baptism, or the Lord's Supper - although they highly value these things when they are to be had. But it has only one Great Head - one Shepherd, one chief Bishop - and that is Jesus Christ. He alone, By His Spirit, admits the members of this Church, though ministers may show the door. Till He opens the door no man on earth can open it - neither bishops, nor presbyters, nor convocations, nor synods. Once let a man repent and believe the gospel, and that moment he becomes a member of this Church. Like the penitent thief, he may have no opportunity of being baptized; but he has that which is far better than any water-baptism - the baptism of the Spirit. He may not be able to receive the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper;but he eats Christ's body and drinks Christ's blood by faith every day he lives, and no minister on earth can prevent him. He may be ex-communicated by ordained men, and cut off from the outward ordinances of the professing Church; but all the ordained men in the world cannot shut him out of the true Church.
It is a Church whose existence does not depend on forms, ceremonies, cathedrals, churches, chapels, pulpits, fonts, vestments, organs, endowments, money, kings, governments, magistrates or any act of favor whatsoever from the hand of man. It has often lived on and continued when all these things have been taken from it. It has often been driven into the wilderness, or into dens and caves of the earth, by those who ought to have been its friends. Its existence depends on nothing but the presence of Christ and His Spirit; and they being ever with it, the Church cannot die.
Calvin: (remember that this is a polemic against Rome, and take that with a grain of salt).

http://www.the-highway.com/titlechurch_Calvin.html

As far as we are concerned, [b:22f825e4db] if one man, Noah, condemned all the men of his generation by his faith, there is no reason why a great crowd of unbelievers should move us from our position.[/b:22f825e4db] At the same time, I say that it is not only hardly a probable, but indeed an unjust and disgraceful, cause of a scandal when regard for men outweighs the Word of God. What then? Will the truth of God not stand unless we have been pleased to put our confidence in men? On the contrary, as Paul says, "Let man remain the liar that he is. Let those to whom God deigns to reveal himself, know that he is true" (Rom. 3:4). And we have already shown elsewhere why the majority of men are so reluctant about yielding themselves in obedience to God. Therefore, when the world shows such obstinacy it is by no means appropriate that our faith be directed according to the example of the multitude.

Anyway, I am not sure what to think yet, but would like some to weigh in on this.

[Edited on 3-1-2004 by raderag]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Protestant ecclesiology is a mess and always has been. That stems, I think, from its historical origins. Protetantsim started a movement of reformation and the magisterial reformers (Luther, Calvin, et al) did not originally intend to break away from the RC church organizationally. They wanted to reform the churches they had. Yet, they were kicked out and had to develop a view to support their continued separation and division.

The organizations were largely developed along ad hoc lines. There is plenty of writing about the Word and Sacraments, and sometimes dicipline as being the marks of a true congregation but very little meaningful about how these congregations should relate to one another.

Anyway, many of the questions you raise have only fuzzy answers, like issue involving disobedience to authority. Answering the question of when to disobey the church is as difficult as answering questions as to when to disobey parents or when to engage in civil disobedience.

I would say that the duty to obey the church and accept her teachings is much like that of a parent / child relationship. The Bible teaches in several places that children are to accept their parent's teaching. For example, Proverbs 1:8 reads: "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. 9 They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck."

Yet, the Bible also teaches that we should not listen to parents who lead us away from the Lord. I think the Westminster standards have about as good a balance as we can get. He is an excerpt from 31:2-3:

"II. It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word.

III. All synods or councils, since the Apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both."

Note that councils are to be obeyed not only because they are consonant with the Word, but also "for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word." Much like parents or the civil government.

Yet, like parents and the government, they can and do err. It is a very tough situation. The only infallible standard is the Bible.

Scott
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
BTW, the view that our relationship to the church is like a parent/child relationship is not original to me. You will see this in the Larger Catechism's discussion of the Fifth Commandment. Calvin, Augustine, and others also expressly recognized that the Bible expressly teaches that the organized church is our mother. Here is a quote from Calvin (Institutes, Bk. 4, par. 4) addressing the singificance of the Bible calling the visible church our mother (with God being the Father). Following Augustine and virtually the entire orthodox early church, Calvin affirms that there is no salvation outside of the visible church (which would, I think, make him very high church).

[/quote]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.[/quote]

[Edited on 3-1-2004 by Scott]

[Edited on 3-1-2004 by Scott]
 

raderag

Puritan Board Sophomore
[quote:d79c868179][i:d79c868179]Originally posted by Scott[/i:d79c868179]
BTW, here is a quote from Calvin (Institute, Bk. 4, par. 4) addressing the singificance of the Bible calling the visible church our mother (with God being the Father). Following Augustine and virtually the entire orthodox early church, Calvin affirms that there is no salvation outside of the visible church (which would, I think, make him very high church).

[/quote:d79c868179]

Did Calvin believe the Lutheran's were part of the True Church?
How did he define that?
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Yes, Calvin believed that Luther was part of the invisible church (which is what I understand you to mean by true church) .

Calvin followed the standard Word and sacrament formula typical of the Reformers. See his Institutes, Book 4 for more.
http://www.bible.org/docs/history/calvin/institut/httoc.htm

I think the formula in the Confession closely aligns with Calvin's thinking too. See chapters 25, and 30-31. If you want a quicker summary read, I think it is pretty close to Calvin's thinking.

http://www.opc.org/documents/WCF_text.html

Scott

[Edited on 3-1-2004 by Scott]
 

raderag

Puritan Board Sophomore
[quote:a7315507b9][i:a7315507b9]Originally posted by Scott[/i:a7315507b9]
Yes, Calvin believed that Luther was part of the invisible church (which is what I understand you to mean by true church) .

Calvin followed the standard Word and sacrament formula typical of the Reformers. See his Institutes, Book 4 for more.
http://www.bible.org/docs/history/calvin/institut/httoc.htm

I think the formula in the Confession closely aligns with Calvin's thinking too. See chapters 25, and 30-31. If you want a quicker summary read, I think it is pretty close to Calvin's thinking.

http://www.opc.org/documents/WCF_text.html

Scott

[Edited on 3-1-2004 by Scott] [/quote:a7315507b9]

Thanks, I have read much of the institutes, but I had never come across what he thougth about Lutherans (not Luther, my mistake).

Thanks alot.

BTW, what do you think about subscriptionism? That is that we should hold to the entire confession without exception.
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Subscriptionism? I am curious - how did that question arise in this thread?

Anyway, I am not a strict subscriptionist.
 

raderag

Puritan Board Sophomore
[quote:5e26566dff][i:5e26566dff]Originally posted by Scott[/i:5e26566dff]
Subscriptionism? I am curious - how did that question arise in this thread?

Anyway, I am not a strict subscriptionist. [/quote:5e26566dff]

It was part of my original set of questions.(oops, no it wasn't). Anyway, I meant it to be, and thought it was pertinent. I also asked about original intent and the Nicene creed.

[Edited on 3-1-2004 by raderag]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
I think we should either follow the original intent or deny it outright, instead of making it mean something different.

I think the WCF would agree that baptism is for the remission of sins. I also think that this does not contradict sola fide. See the current thread in the worship page on Peter Leithart's article on the sacraments as a means of grace. I list relevant parts of the Larger Catechism.

The Westminster standards affirm that baptism is a sacrament. A sacrament has two parts, an external element and the inward grace thereby signified. For baptism, remission of sins of the one of the things signified. That does not entail a Romish view of baptism and it does not deny sola fide. But it does mean, to use Westminster's terms, that baptism is "effectual to salvation."

Scott
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
BTW, I visited Redeemer PCA several years ago (when it was new) and liked it very much. How is it doing?

I am not real far away (3-4 hours) - I am in the Fort Worth area.

Scott

[Edited on 3-1-2004 by Scott]
 

rembrandt

Puritan Board Sophomore
[quote:4dc8561bc0]high church[/quote:4dc8561bc0]

Okay, Iv'e heard this term used a couple times, mainly in reference to strict liturgical practice. But you used it in reference to salvation within the church. What does "high church" refer to?
 

raderag

Puritan Board Sophomore
[quote:6b34b6a9fb][i:6b34b6a9fb]Originally posted by Scott[/i:6b34b6a9fb]
I think we should either follow the original intent or deny it outright, instead of making it mean something different.

I think the WCF would agree that baptism is for the remission of sins. I also think that this does not contradict sola fide. See the current thread in the worship page on Peter Leithart's article on the sacraments as a means of grace. I list relevant parts of the Larger Catechism.

The Westminster standards affirm that baptism is a sacrament. A sacrament has two parts, an external element and the inward grace thereby signified. For baptism, remission of sins of the one of the things signified. That does not entail a Romish view of baptism and it does not deny sola fide. But it does mean, to use Westminster's terms, that baptism is "effectual to salvation."

Scott [/quote:6b34b6a9fb]

Hey Scott, I have read the WCF on baptism, but have not been able to harmonize the two views in my mind. Perhaps, I am reading some of the wrong Church Fathers? Anyway, I am pretty new to Baptism as a Sacrament, so I'll trust you know what you are saying. Thanks for your help.
 

raderag

Puritan Board Sophomore
[quote:1211f0aa22][i:1211f0aa22]Originally posted by Scott[/i:1211f0aa22]
BTW, I visited Redeemer PCA several years ago (when it was new) and liked it very much. How is it doing?

I am not real far away (3-4 hours) - I am in the Fort Worth area.

Scott

[Edited on 3-1-2004 by Scott] [/quote:1211f0aa22]

We have planted 3 churches now (one Spanish speaking). Sadly, Paul Haun was called to plant a new church in Tennessee. Also, we are still looking for permanent facilities. It has been a blessing to have so many in the pulpit that are great theologians such as Sinclair Ferguson and others. So, we are doing well, but need prayer.
 

raderag

Puritan Board Sophomore
[quote:f32fabfd1b][i:f32fabfd1b]Originally posted by rembrandt[/i:f32fabfd1b]
[quote:f32fabfd1b]high church[/quote:f32fabfd1b]

Okay, Iv'e heard this term used a couple times, mainly in reference to strict liturgical practice. But you used it in reference to salvation within the church. What does "high church" refer to? [/quote:f32fabfd1b]

It can mean liturgy, but mostly it means that the doctrine holds a high regard for the church in setting doctrine as well as the idea that salvation is found in the Church. This hardly does justice to the term, but I think captures the basic idea. Roman Catholics would be the highest as they believe their tradition is infallible.
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Brett:

Here is a quote from Calvin that you may find helpful. He is addressing Ephesians 5:26, which "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word . . ." Calvin rightly understand the reference to water to be baptism.

[/quote]Others again suppose that too much importance is given to the sign, by saying that baptism is the washing of the soul. Under the influence of this fear, they labor exceedingly to lessen the force of the eulogium which is here pronounced on baptism. But they are manifestly wrong; for, in the first place, the apostle does not say that it is the sign which washes, but declares it to be exclusively the work of God. It is God who washes, and the honor of performing it cannot lawfully be taken from its Author and given to the sign. But there is no absurdity in saying that God employs a sign as the outward means. Not that the power of God is limited by the sign, but this assistance is accommodated to the weakness of our capacity. Some are offended at this view, imagining that it takes from the Holy Spirit a work which is peculiarly his own, and which is everywhere ascribed to him in Scripture. But they are mistaken; for God acts by the sign in such a manner, that its whole efficacy depends upon his Spirit. Nothing more is attributed to the sign than to be an inferior organ, utterly useless in itself, except so far as it derives its power from another source.
Equally groundless is their fear, that by this interpretation the freedom of God will be restrained. The grace of God is not confined to the sign; so that God may not, if he pleases, bestow it without the aid of the sign. Besides, many receive the sign who are not made partakers of grace; for the sign is common to all, to the good and to the bad alike; but the Spirit is bestowed on none but the elect, and the sign, as we have said, has no efficacy without the Spirit. The Greek participle kaqari>sav, is in the past tense, as if he had said, "After having washed." But, as the Latin language has no active participle in the past tense, I chose rather to disregard this, and to translate it (mundans) washing, instead of (mundatam) having been washed; which would have kept out of view a matter of far greater importance, namely, that to God alone belongs the work of cleansing.[/quote]

[Edited on 3-2-2004 by Scott]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
[/quote]
Hey Scott, I have read the WCF on baptism, but have not been able to harmonize the two views in my mind. Perhaps, I am reading some of the wrong Church Fathers? Anyway, I am pretty new to Baptism as a Sacrament, so I'll trust you know what you are saying. Thanks for your help. [/quote]

By reconcile the two views, I think you mean a sacramental view of baptism and sola fide.

This is how I reconcile it (and I think this the the teaching of the Bible as summarized in the Westminster Standards). God changes people into new creations through faith in His Son. It is by faith alone that we are justified before God. This faith is implanted, strengthened, and increased by the Holy Spirit. It is not a fruit of the natural man. So, for example, Paul says that faith is a gift. Eph. 2. When Peter confessed Christ, Jesus said that he was blessed and this belief was not something that came from man, but God. Matt. 16.
The Holy Spirit does not work to implant, strengthen, and increase the faith in some abstract way. Rather, He works through what our confession terms "means of grace," which under the New Covenant are the Word, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and prayer. To understand "means of grace," think of God's grace as a reservoir of water with pipes connected to it. If you want water you must open the pipes. If you want God's grace you must access His means of grace.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the means of grace that makes them efficacious (i.e. do what they are supposed to do). For example, consider the Word of God. Paul says that men cannot be saved without the preaching of the Word.
. . . 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
Rom. 10:13-14. The preaching of the Word is one of God's means of grace. Yet, it only saves people if the Holy Spirit enlightens their minds. The natural man can read or hear the Word preached and yet learn nothing. This is taught throughout the Bible. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 2.

Yet, when the Spirit opens minds and hearts, God uses the scriptures to work His grace. The same thing is true with baptism. The presence of the Spirit gives baptism its grace. Like the gracious blessing of the Word, God's gracious blessing from baptism does not come through something apart from faith but rather the Spirit works in baptism to strengthen and increase faith. It is this faith alone that justifies us.

Does that make sense?

Scott
 

raderag

Puritan Board Sophomore
[quote:5143b1a037]

By reconcile the two views, I think you mean a sacramental view of baptism and sola fide.
[/quote:5143b1a037]

Sorry, I wasn't very clear. I mean to reconcile the Nicean view of Baptismal regeneration, in light of writings at the time of the Nicene creed, and the WCF. The sola Fide and sacramental view are no problem for me; I can even reconcile the Lutheran view, but I don't agree with it.

[quote:5143b1a037]
This is how I reconcile it (and I think this the the teaching of the Bible as summarized in the Westminster Standards). God changes people into new creations through faith in His Son. It is by faith alone that we are justified before God. This faith is implanted, strengthened, and increased by the Holy Spirit. It is not a fruit of the natural man. So, for example, Paul says that faith is a gift. Eph. 2. When Peter confessed Christ, Jesus said that he was blessed and this belief was not something that came from man, but God. Matt. 16.
The Holy Spirit does not work to implant, strengthen, and increase the faith in some abstract way. Rather, He works through what our confession terms "means of grace," which under the New Covenant are the Word, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and prayer. To understand "means of grace," think of God's grace as a reservoir of water with pipes connected to it. If you want water you must open the pipes. If you want God's grace you must access His means of grace.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the means of grace that makes them efficacious (i.e. do what they are supposed to do). For example, consider the Word of God. Paul says that men cannot be saved without the preaching of the Word.
. . . 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
Rom. 10:13-14. The preaching of the Word is one of God's means of grace. Yet, it only saves people if the Holy Spirit enlightens their minds. The natural man can read or hear the Word preached and yet learn nothing. This is taught throughout the Bible. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 2.

Yet, when the Spirit opens minds and hearts, God uses the scriptures to work His grace. The same thing is true with baptism. The presence of the Spirit gives baptism its grace. Like the gracious blessing of the Word, God's gracious blessing from baptism does not come through something apart from faith but rather the Spirit works in baptism to strengthen and increase faith. It is this faith alone that justifies us.

Does that make sense?

Scott [/quote:5143b1a037]

Yes it does. Sorry to make you type so much for the wrong question. I will be clearer next time.

[Edited on 3-2-2004 by raderag]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Brett:

Don't worry about my typing. I just cut and pasted that from some notes I wrote for a Sunday School lesson on Genesis 1.

Scott
 
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