Turretin: The True Church Has Always Existed

I. Although from what has been said in the preceding question concerning the obscurity of the church, it is easy to answer the proposed question (for if the church can sometimes be so obscured and concealed as to the nowhere conspicuous on the earth—which our opponents themselves acknowledge concerning the times of antichrist—why can we not say that our church certainly existed, but it was latent and obscured?) Because they do not cease to press us over and over again with this question in order to prove that our church did not exist at all at that time. Since it cannot be shown where it was, it was thus a novelty and of recent origin. We must see what reply must be given to such a postulate.

II. However, here before all things it must be observed: (1) that by our church (or the Reformed Church) is not meant that which by express title and notion was distinguished from other assemblies, but which by consanguinity and profession of the same doctrine as to articles of faith and true ecclesiastical communion was the same with hours of today. (2) The true and catholic doctrine is here to be distinguished from discipline, and ceremonies from dogmas, and in the dogmas the questions and maxims of the schools; or the private opinions of doctors are are to be distinguished from the necessary articles of faith to be embraced by the common faith of the church. Again, among those things which the church prescribes, some are of divine right (which are absolutely necessary to faith and salvation, in which the essence of Christianity consists); others are of positive right (which are in indeed useful, but nevertheless so that nothing prohibits their being changed and reconstructed in the progress of time).

III. Before we answer the question, however, the absurdity and unfairness of the demand must be marked. First, it supposes a false hypothesis, which is the prime error (πρωτον ψευδος) of our opponents. Once this is denied and overthrown, whatever is built upon it must necessarily fall in like manner—namely, that the true church ought always to exist in the world with perpetual splendor. Since we have in the preceding question proved this to be most false and it is evident that there are times like that of Elijah in which the church lies hidden and is withdrawn from the sight of men, in vain are we asked to show where our church was. For it could lie hidden without splendor and prominence.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 18.10.1–3

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