On Churchless Evangelicals (Part 2)

If I have heard it once, I have heard it countless times: “I’m not a member of any local congregation. I’m a member of the invisible church.” When one hears this, one is tempted to agree with John Murray that it would be better not to speak of the invisible church. As tempting as it is—in face of Bedside Baptists and Prostrate Presbyterians—to reject the distinction between the visible and invisible church, we should resist the temptation. The cost is too high. Further, the abuse of this distinction by the ignorant or the willful is insufficient reason to discard it. The idea that one can be a member of the church invisible without being a member of a particular congregation reveals a profound confusion about what we mean when we speak of the church visible and invisible.

The church has two aspects, visible and invisible, but they are two aspects of the same body. In other words, ordinarily, there are no members of the church invisible who are not also members of the church visible, that is, an identifiable congregation of believers that bears the marks of a true church (the pure preaching of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the administration of church discipline).

Yes, it is possible for one, in extraordinary circumstances, to be a Christian apart from a congregation and the means of grace, but it is the exception that tests the rule. Lying in bed on the Sabbath, or shopping, or whatever one does in place of attending to the means of grace is not the same thing as being on a desert island or being crucified alongside our Savior.

Claiming membership in the church invisible without membership in a congregation is like claiming membership at 24-Hour Fitness without belonging to any particular branch.

“Do you belong to a gym?”

“Yes, I do. 24-Hour Fitness.”

“Great, which branch did you join?”

“Well, I haven’t actually joined any branch, but I like the commercials on TV and I identify with their approach to fitness.”

That is insane. If you have never walked into a particular branch of a gym and signed the papers and paid the fees, you are not a member. To test this claim, try to walk into your local 24-Hour Fitness gym on the basis of your claim to membership in “the invisible gym” or on the basis of your agreement with their approach.

By analogy, the church invisible is composed of those who are, have been, or shall be, members of a visible church. If you have never sworn membership vows and confessed a common faith with a congregation, you are not a member of the visible church; and if you are not a member of the church visible, by definition, you are not a member of the church invisible. The former is a prerequisite for the latter.

When we speak of the church invisible, we are speaking of that great congregation of the elect considered across time and space. It is a way of speaking of the holy catholic church, that church in all times and places. It is a way of speaking of the church considered in the past (Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, the Cappadocians, Augustine, Boethius, Gregory, Gottschalk, Bede, Lombard, Thomas, Bradwardine, Wycliffe, Luther, etc.), the church presently scattered across the globe, hidden from the world, and the church as it shall be in the future, until Christ comes. It transcends congregations and denominations, but is composed of elect who are members of congregations. It includes people from every tongue, tribe, and nation.

The visible church, on the other hand, is a particular collection of those who profess faith in Christ, who have been baptized in recognition of their status as covenant children or who have made profession of faith. The church visible is a mixed, disciplined assembly. This is an important difference from the church considered as invisible. The latter may be said to be composed only of the elect, but there have always been, as our older writers used to say, “hypocrites and reprobates” in the visible community. The visible church has always been made of Jacobs and Esaus. This is why Paul distinguished between Israel outwardly considered and Israel inwardly considered. Not everyone who is Israel outwardly-considered is Israel inwardly-considered (Rom 2:28). This is why our theologians, churches, and confessions distinguished between the covenant of grace considered externally and the covenant of grace considered internally.1

It is easy to show the foolishness of speaking about the church invisible in the way that so many do, as if it is possible to be an “invisible” Christian, as if it is possible to be a part of the church catholic without being part of the church visible and militant.2

To whom were the gospels written? They were written to local congregations in particular places. To whom were the epistles written? They were written to particular congregations in particular places. How does one write an epistle directly to the church of all times and places? They are God’s inspired, infallible, inerrant Word, but that Word was given by the Spirit, through human authors, in a particular time and place. The Word speaks to the church of all times and places, but it does so from a particular time and place. The only way to hear that Word, in its original setting, was to be in a congregation.

When Jesus instituted the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16), he gave them to officers (apostles) to whom he gave spiritual authority to bind and loose. When he instituted church discipline, he authorized particular congregations to confront sin, and to take steps to correct it (Matt 18). It is not possible to “tell it to the church” if, in this instance, “church” means “the church” considered in its invisible aspect. The background to the word “church” there is the Old Testament term for the visible covenant assembly gathered in formal session.

Further, the churches gathered occasionally to work together on common problems (Acts 15). That sort of action and the “decree” issued by the assembly would be impossible without the existence of particular, local congregations who sent delegates (including the Apostles!) to assemble together.

It was to visible congregations that our Lord entrusted the ministry of the Word (Matt 28; Acts 2, 10; 1 Tim; 2 Tim; Titus) and sacraments. The church invisible does not, by definition, observe sacraments. They are observed in congregations, with duly ordained ministers and elders. Jesus commanded us to administer baptism. He commanded us to observe the Lord’s Supper. The apostolic church did that, in congregations (1 Cor 11). They did not always get it right, but they did meet, they did worship, the Word was preached, the sacraments were administered, and discipline was observed (1 Cor 5). Particularity is essential to these acts.

It has been widely held by liberals and evangelicals alike that the model by which to interpret the New Testament and the early church is the Kerygma to Dogma model. In this model, the early church (apostolic and early post-apostolic) was a Spirit-led community that was completely spontaneous, without structure, without form, and without offices or officers. Only later was that Spirit-led spontaneity lost as the church gradually acceded to the idea that Jesus was not returning in their lifetime and that some formal structure would be necessary to the continuance of the church.

The evidence is overwhelming that the apostolic and early post-apostolic church was highly organized. For example, there is positive evidence of record keeping (membership lists) in the New Testament church. The problem in the daily distribution of bread in Acts 6:1 assumes some sort of record keeping of eligible widows. In 1 Timothy 5:9–16, Paul speaks explicitly about a list of names of Christian widows who were eligible for financial assistance from the church. He even lays out the qualifications to be on the list. If the church kept such lists for financial aid, can we reasonably assume that these widows were not on a membership roll? Moreover we cannot help but notice that again, Paul’s instructions regarding widows presupposes some sort of organized visible body of Christ who administered this aid to its members.

The evidence is that, however vital their expectation of Jesus’ return, they were organized and structured, with offices, officers, sacraments, and discipline. Read on its own terms, without contemporary, evangelical, individualistic anachronism (reading our time and practices back into theirs), there is every evidence that the New Testament church was a structured, visible, organized (and not a mere organism) institution.

We know where the early congregations were. We know what their circumstances were and we have some idea of what happened to them. For example, see Colin Hemer’s Letters to the Seven Churches, or Greg Beale’s Commentary on the Revelation, or Dennis Johnson’s, Triumph of the Lamb.3

If today’s evangelicals would follow the apostolic model, they should join themselves to a true church. To truly be an “evangelical,” one should be a “gospeler” (as the Puritans sometimes put it). The gospel is good news preached by preachers (Rom 10) who are ordained by Christ’s church to announce that message. It is an authorized message with authorized messengers in and to a congregation that is united together by a common faith and by a mutual submission to the Word and to the church. The faith is necessarily practiced in community, in congregation and not merely individually, separately, privately.

In part 3, we will discuss one more way in which evangelicals may be called “churchless.”

Notes

  1. See R. Scott Clark, “Baptism and the Benefits of Christ,” The Confessional Presbyterian 2, (2006): 3–19.
  2. See R. Scott Clark, “The Church: The Christ-Confessing Covenant Community.”
  3. Colin Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, The Biblical Resource Series (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000); Greg Beale, Revelation, New International Greek Testament Commentary (London: Paternoster Press, 1998); Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001).

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the Heidelblog in 2008.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here.


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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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140 comments

  1. Hello, Dr. Clark. This is Mike Spotts:., from OURC.

    This portion of your post interested me:

    “If you’ve never sworn membership vows and confessed a common faith with a congregation, you are not a member of the visible church and if you’re not a member of the church visible, by definition, you are not a member of the church invisible. The former is a prerequisite for the latter.”

    I have never sworn the membership vows at our fellowship because I am yet a Baptist (ignorant youngster? Too much Spurgeon!) and could not do so in good conscience. Meanwhile, I have not sought another fellowship because I know of none other which places such emphasis on the plain gospel, and practices sheer simplicity of liturgy, at least within distance of the bus. I may move out East this year, and if so will probably join a more like-minded congregation, but until then it appears I am visibly invisible?

    But alas, the purpose of my comment is actually to let you know that I have reviewed the microphone setup I use for pod casting:

    http://www.gratisaudio.com/2008/12/recording-equipment-we-recommend.html

    Thank you for your continued service to the Body, as wheat amongst the tares, to the glory of God.

    -Michael Spotts:.
    http://www.theopenlife.com

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the lead on the mic. I keep thinking that I should take up podcasting again but can’t find the time.

      I understand your predicament. You should meet with pastor Hyde to talk about Baptism or we can get together. You’re in a tough spot and I’m glad you feel a little tension between what is and what should be. We don’t want you or anyone to go anywhere else (that’s part 3) but we also don’t want anyone to continue to linger in an in-between state.

      The baptism discussion is a big one and important. Have you read pastor’s book on baptism? Have you read my paper on baptism or Dennis Johnson’s paper on baptism?

      Let’s talk before 2nd semester starts and I’m totally swamped again.

    • Does OURC practice confessional church membership? There are many Reformed churches where Baptists could gladly be admitted to full membership privileges.

      • Hi Riley,

        I think so but I’m at Escondido URC. Most URCs practice confessional church membership. Most American Presbyterian churches do not ask their members to hold to the confession as a condition of membership. There’s a chapter on this in RRC.

  2. “if you’re not a member of the church visible, by definition, you are not a member of the church invisible.”

    Sounds harsh. I guess the 7000 who did not bend the knee to Baal were not really part of the invisible church since they weren’t very visible. I guess the early Christians who were thrown out of the “visible” churches of the Jews were not part of the invisible church.

    And what of the Roman Catholics who say there is no ordinary means of salvation except through the Roman pontiff? Guess Protestants are out of luck because their visibility isn’t visible enough!

    Take care that your church arguments don’t become a two-edged sword.

    Vern

  3. Vern,

    You introduced the “too visible” criterion. As a matter of fact the confessional Protestants have always confessed that the true church is often “hidden.”

    As to the 7000 see the paper on the church linked above.

    I think you’ve misconstrued my reading of redemptive history.

    See also Belgic Confession Arts 28-29

  4. “there are no members of the church invisible who are not also members of the church visible, i.e. an identifiable congregation of believers that bears the marks of a true church (the pure preaching of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the administration of church discipline). ”

    That sounds nice and good in theory but what of the Churchless Evangelicals who are outside the sphere of NAPARC churches, those being the only ones that bear the marks of the true church?

  5. Hi Dr. Clark,

    Not too long ago, I was wondering why Presbyterian denoms call themselves “church” (e.g. PCA and OPC) while those in the Continental tradition tend to call their federations as “churches” (e.g. URCNA). After securing an online pdf copy of that wonderful work entitled “Jus Divinum” which defends the Presbyterian form of government (I haven’t read it entirely), I got the impression that the differences between the two in the naming of their communions have something to do with (minor) differences in the outworking of church government. Is this assessment correct?

    In the past, I skimmed an online series of articles about church government written by a local (Filipino) Reformed Baptist pastor in which he contends that nowhere do we find the Apostles planting denominations. The only examples, he says, we find are the planting of local churches. By that, he means independent or autonomous congregations. For him, the word “church” as used for Jerusalem or Antioch, etc. refers to single congregations. That sounded convincing to me at first until I read “Jus Divinum.” I am still studying this, but I do find strong Biblical support for the Presbyterian case for church government especially if we consider the Acts 15 synod. I find it quite difficult to think that the word “church” used for Jerusalem or for Antioch referred to single congregations only. I also consulted your paper on the Reformed doctrine of the church, and found the evidence you presented for reading “church” instead of “churches” in Acts 9:31 thought-provoking. But since “Just Divinum” defends the Presbyterian form of government, I was thinking whether those of the Continental tradition would defend church government in the same way Presbyterians did and still do. Am I missing something here? Any thoughts?

    I am following this series, and greatly benefiting from it. Thank you.

  6. “Some who are members of the invisible Church may never become members of the visible organization or may be shut out from it; and some who belong to the visible Church may be unbelievers and hypocrites and as such form no part of the body of Christ.” – Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine

  7. Vern,

    Interestingly, Luther, Calvin, and the other magisterial Reformers saw no conflict between their efforts to reform the Church and their adherence to the doctrine that there is *ordinarily* no membership in the invisible church apart from membership in the visible church. (See, for instance, Inst. 4.1.4-5.) The Reformers reformed existing, visible churches. They did not as individuals break away from the visible church in order to begin seperatist spiritualist movements like the Anabaptist “fanatics” (to use Calvin’s term) did.

  8. Vern,

    It may be that it “sounds harsh” if one is still working with an overemphasis on the invisible church to begin with. It also seems to me that, perhaps tangentially, what we’re up against is the pervading modern assumption that true religion really is finally a matter of personal preference. But if, with nary a protest from most civilians, gyms can balk at a yahoo off the street who claims he’s “at heart a real worker-outer and therefore should have access to all the benefits of the weight room,” it isn’t all that clear why those who claim to lay hold of the gospel yet never pay any dues should be given a pass.

    And something tells me I should probably duck if I were to go home and tell me wife that since we are “married in our hearts” that I’d like to carry on in an unconventional manner. I guess she’s just harsh that way.

  9. The subject here is justification by faith alone. To say you aren’t saved unless or until you join a visible church is *not* Reformation doctrine, and it goes without saying is not apostolic biblical doctrine.

    It also puts a naive (or worse) estimate on visible churches, including your own (which *I’m sure* is rigorously correct in every way).

    In his response to Sadoleto Calvin reminded the cardinal, when the cardinal repeatedly made the visible church the be all of salvation, of the biblical definition of church and it included the word ‘invisible.’ Read it for yourself:

    “Now, if you can bear to receive a truer definition of the Church than your own, say, in future, that it is the society of all the saints, a society which, spread over the whole world, and existing in all ages, yet bound together by the one doctrine, and the one Spirit of Christ, cultivates and observes unity of faith and brotherly concord. With this Church we deny that we have any disagreement. Nay, rather, as we revere her as our mother, so we desire to remain in her bosom.” – John Calvin, reply to Sadoleto

    *I.e.* the doctrine of the invisible church is *necessary* and seen to be so when a Christian is going up against the forces of anti-Christ of which Sadoleto was a representative, and Calvin didn’t hesitate to disabuse the cardinal of his notions of church in that famous exchange.

  10. Albert,

    1. I think you want “Jus Divinum” (divine right).

    2. My membership and ministerial credentials are in a federation of churches that speaks of “churches” and “broader assemblies” but I teach in a school where most of my colleagues speak of “the church” and “higher assemblies.” As a matter of practice there’s not a great difference. There’s a slightly different conception of “broader” v “higher.” In the latter conception the minister is delegated to the congregation by presbytery. In the former, the minister is a member of his own congregation and is delegated to classis and/or synod by his congregation.

    As to denominations being biblical, well, I couldn’t defend it from Scripture but it’s a fallen world. What are going to do? They arose out of particular historical circumstances. It’s an exigency. Is it sinful per se? I don’t know. Are there too many of them? Yes. Most of the proposals for getting rid of them are worse than the problem. One good solution is Bob Godfrey’s plan to unite around NAPARC by forming a sort of super denomination, within which the various existing groups would be allowed to retain their historical distinctives.

    Jackson,

    Re: the Berkhof quote. That’s why I distinguished between “ordinarily” and “extraordinary.” If you’re on a desert island or being crucified next to Jesus, that qualifies as extraordinary. (We don’t know that the thief on the cross wasn’t a rebellious member of some synagogue do we? Even so, he’s covered by the distinction). Are there true Christians floating around out there, without membership in a true church? Almost certainly. Should they be doing that? NO! Stop it! (to quote Bob Newhart). Should Christians be stealing, lying, or committing adultery? No! Stop it. If they go on doing it do we have a right to doubt their profession? Absolutely.

    No, the question here is not justification sola gratia et sola fide. There’s no question about that. You could do that to any third use of the law. If I write about adultery, you could say, “Well, if you’re justified sola gratia then…” No, the question is whether Jesus established a true church and whether Christians, those who are justified sola gratia et sola fide are found there or outside that church.

    You’ve quite misconstrued Calvin’s debate with Sadoleto! He wasn’t disputing the existence of a true church. He was disputing the identity of the true church. It was Calvin, after all, who gave us two marks of a true church. See Book 4 of the Institutes. Further, read the minutes of the company of pastors and see what happened to those who absented themselves from attendance to the means of grace. They were placed under church discipline. You cannot make Calvin into a churchless evangelical no matter how hard you try.

    My essay above is a defense of the proper use of the doctrine of the invisible church. Did you miss that? Did you read the essay or are you simply reacting to what you think I must have said?

  11. Vern,

    That 7,000 formed a congregation did they not or were they not part of a visible congregation? By NAPARC standards, that remnant would be bigger than probably two NAPARC denoms and as a congregation it would be a mega-church in our circles! Those 7,000 were certainly not “churchless evangelicals” wandering around on Sabbath justifying their sinful disobedience to Christ by appealing to the doctrine of the invisible church.

  12. Jonathan & Scott,

    The problem is that the Romanists can use your arguments better than you can. You are not part of the visible church in their estimation. They may be diplomatic about it, but you are really only “sects” in their view.

    So you are in violation of your own principle: not a member of the invisible church unless a member of the visible (Catholic) church.

    The examples of the 7000, plus the outcast Christians, plus the excommunication of Protestants from Rome, undermines both your principle as well as the Romanist principle.

    It’s already hard enough to get men to go to church (not so hard with women). The situation is not helped by adopting a view of the church that virtually guarantees increasing underpopulation in Reformed churches.

    Indeed, it seems some Reformed churches are doing everything in their power to reduce the size of their churches (strict RPW, anti-Christmas, exclusive psalmody, authoritarianism, etc.). They are becoming invisible churches by their own hand, thus making your principle somewhat academic in their case.

    Vern

  13. Well Vern,

    You’re preaching to the choir, as it were. My congregation in Kansas City met in a converted gas station. We were 40 people when I started and 40 when I left. We did all the church growth stuff. We tried doing without the RPW to a large degree. We did “the phone’s for you” and we did door-to-door evangelism, we did mercy ministry. We did contemporary music. We tried to be seeker sensitive and visitor friendly. In the UK I attended for about a year a small Reformed work and I’ve been preaching in small Reformed churches for 20+ years.

    When I went off to do my grad work and as I began to spend time reading classic Reformed theology I realized that some of what I’d been taught in sem wasn’t Reformed and much of what I had spent my last 6 years doing wasn’t Reformed and wasn’t compatible with Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

    In the two cases I mentioned above trying to do what the church growth people told us to do didn’t change anything. The only thing we lost was our identity. I sold my soul and what did I get for it? Zip. Nada. Bupkus. What’s the point?

    I was rebuked by our Reformed forefathers. I was rebuked by men who conducted worship services in hedge rows and who were burnt alive for the faith and practice that I was selling down the river for nothing. I was rebuked by their doctrine of the holiness of God. I was rebuked by their doctrine of worship. I was rebuked by their commitment to trusting the sovereignty and providence of God regardless of the outcome.

    You blithely cite the 7,000 but I’ve lived it and those old Reformed guys who rebuked me, well, they died for it.

    The only thing the Reformed Churches have to offer this world is a crucified Messiah raised on the third day. We have only our understanding of God’s Word that we have confessed together. The only salt we can offer to the evangelical soup is our theology, piety, and practice.

    Academic? I’ve seen the damage the the “church growth” movement causes. It turns people into commodities instead of letting them be sinful image bearers in need of Christ’s mercy and grace.

    Authoritarian? Where? Have you ever read the church order of the United Reformed Churches? It’s not possible. You’re talking through your hat.

    Make up your mind. Are you in favor of the 7,000 who bowed not the knee or aren’t you?

  14. ps. As I keep saying, the Reformed did not reject the idea that there was a “true church” in the world. They did reject the idea that Rome is the true church.

    I didn’t write the Belgic Confession. It’s the Belgic Confession, not Clark, that quotes Cyprian’s maxim, “Outside of the church there is no salvation.” Belgic Confession Art 28 begins:

    “We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition.”

    You and the Learned Beetle are barking at the Belgic Confession and the entire Reformed church, not me.

  15. Vern,

    Re your Romanist argument, it seems only to work if the Reformation never happened. That is a big “if.” And since the Word creates the church and not vice versa, the visible church is wherever the gospel is. If Paul is right–that if he or an angel preaches anything but the unfettered gospel let him be anathema–nobody gets to say they are the church just because they say so. In other words, the Romanist doesn’t have a leg to stand on, ergo neither does your counter-argument.

  16. >“If you’ve never sworn membership vows and confessed a common faith with a congregation, you are not a member of the visible church and if you’re not a member of the church visible, by definition, you are not a member of the church invisible. The former is a prerequisite for the latter.”

    This is false teaching. It is Romanist. It turns people away from the Word and the Spirit – the only things that regenerate – and towards clerics and ritual. This is what Rome does.

    In the quote from Calvin he was defining the Church for you *and he was not doing it academically — he was doing it in the face of anti-Christ himself.* I’m very aware of how Reformed Theology understands the visible, invisible church distinction. So was Berkhof, hence the quote by him above. Calvin did not hold to your paragraph quoted above. When you write the words “church invisible” you are referencing salvation itself. When you make salvation contingent on “sworn membership vows” and “member of a visible church” you are not vitiating justification by faith alone you are tossing it out the window.

    John Bunyan was a saved Christian. When an Anglican judge demanded to know why Bunyan didn’t attend his local church Bunyan responded that he didn’t see it commanded in Scripture. Bunyan knew Scripture.

  17. Zrim, the Romanist would simply say that YOU don’t get to say what the church is. THEY represent the true visible church, you see. So because you aren’t part of their visible church, you are not part of the invisible church. QED, says the Pope.

    Scott, I’m not defending the Mickey Mouseness of today’s evangelical churches. I’m simply saying that Reformed churches should beware of going too far away from evangelicalism, setting themselves up as better, more holy, or as an instructor of babes. There is pride lurking behind some of these attitudes.

    BTW, I have no idea what the “church growth” movement is, or what they teach. But I do know that you cannot ignore “marketing” completely. When I attended Jim Jordan’s church in the early 80’s, some people who had visited there said it was a cult. I was on the inside, so I didn’t see it that way. But those on the outside did, yet those are the ones that need to be reached, not those on the inside. That is, unless you want church growth to consist only of the congregation’s children, which is essentially how the Tyler church grew.

    I don’t know what the secret to church growth is, but surely preaching an authoritarian message (no invisible without visible, no salvation outside church) isn’t likely to have them flocking to your door. Being less legalistic and judgmental might work better, and has NT backing.

    Vern

  18. Dr. Clark,

    I’ll try to get to your papers this week. Thank you, especially for you (limited) time.

    My potential move, however, is predicated upon more than church membership, and extends to future employment and being closer to my loved ones, amongst other things.

    Talk to you soonish, Lord willing.

  19. But, Vern, that is my point: you are assuming the Romanist is correct. He isn’t.

    That would be like saying, “The gym owner, while he has kept a lot of the gym equipment strewn about but who has also re-vamped his property to be something more of an eatery, has said you are not a member of his gym because you work out across town instead of at his eatery, er, gym.”

    What gym? The last time anyone worked out there was a few years ago. I am not a member of his gym because it’s a burger joint with a lot of free weights and benchpresses all over the place.

  20. Jackson,

    When reading you I am left wondering whether you’ve ever read Calvin beyond simply the reply to Sadoleto.

    Some exerpts from Calvin for you to consider:

    “But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible Church, let us learn even from the simple term ‘mother’ how useful, indeed how necessary it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation.” (Inst. 4.1.4)

    “From this it follows that all who spurn the spiritual food, divinely extended to them through the hand of the church, deserve to perish in famine and hunger.” (Ibid.)

    “We should accordingly note three things here [concerning the power of the keys]. First, Whatever be the holiness which the children of God possess, it is always under the condition, that so long as they dwell in a mortal body, they cannot stand before God without forgiveness of sins. Secondly, This benefit is so peculiar to the Church, that we cannot enjoy it unless we continue in the communion of the Church. Thirdly, It is dispensed to us by the ministers and pastors of the Church, either in the preaching of the Gospel or the administration of the Sacraments, and herein is especially manifested the power of the keys, which the Lord has bestowed on the company of the faithful. Accordingly, let each of us consider it to be his duty to seek forgiveness of sins only where the Lord has placed it.” (Inst. 4.1.22)

    “Hence it follows, that strangers who separate themselves from the Church have nothing left for them but to rot amidst their curse. Hence, also, a departure from the Church is an open renouncement of eternal salvation.” (Commentary on Isaiah 33:24)

    Now, it’s fine if you want to take exception to Calvin’s doctrine of the visible Church on exegetical grounds. (We could have that discussion too if you’d like.) But it is quite another to say that it is “not Reformation doctrine” and “Romanist” when it is in fact the doctrine of Calvin, all the magisterial Reformers, and the entire Reformed Confessional tradition.

  21. Vern,

    I plead the Popeye defense, “I y’am what I y’am.” If “no salvation” ordinarily “outside the visible church” is authoritarian, then I guess I’m guilty as charged, but you’ve convicted the entire Reformation.

    Maybe your time in Jim Jordan’s uh, congregation, might have skewed your perspective on what counts as Reformed and Protestant?

    Have you read Calvin’s reply to Sadoleto? It’s pretty clear that Jackson hasn’t or if he has he’s completely misunderstood it. He’s making Calvin into an Anabaptist. That’s quite a trick.

  22. In the quote I gave Calvin refers to the *invisible* church as *mother.*

    “Now, if you can bear to receive a truer definition of the Church than your own, say, in future, that it is the society of all the saints, a society which, spread over the whole world, and existing in all ages, yet bound together by the one doctrine, and the one Spirit of Christ, cultivates and observes unity of faith and brotherly concord. With this Church we deny that we have any disagreement. Nay, rather, as we revere her as our mother, so we desire to remain in her bosom.”

    Notice where Calvin says: “With this Church we deny that we have any disagreement.”

    Also notice Calvin is talking strictly of visible/invisible church, whereas Dr. Clark above retreats to the Belgic Confession when pressed. These are two different subjects.

    Why is Calvin’s reply to Sadoleto significant? Because it is Calvin on the very ground of spiritual warfare, the very battleground itself, facing a representative of anti-Christ, with the lives and souls of an entire city (of Geneva) at stake.

    Your Calvin quotes are as decontextualized as all the other Calvin quotes you pull from your group cache when defending things like Federal Vision (yes, I know, you are of the “I am not Federal Vision, however…” camp).

  23. Zwingli said ritual water baptism was for stupid people who needed the visual. Exact words.

    Calvin in his 40th sermon on Ephesians echoed the same belief.

    Zwingli changed — for political reasons. Reasons having to do with tactics and necessary strategy in warfare as well.

    Calvin as well was not *just* a theologian, he was involved politically in a hallucinogenically violent war with the Beast Tyranny itself, which had most all the worldly power.

    Calvin made concessions in doctrine for necessary political and strategic reasons (and I believe his small and misunderstood part in the conviction and death of Servetus was a similar necessary concession in time of war), but he also let his audience know where he stood ultimately, because he was too honest not to.

    You see in documents like the reply to Sadoleto not only where Calvin stood, but how the only effective defense against anti-Christ was to be made.

    I heard the call that was effectual from the mouth of a preacher who broadcast the actual Word of God, but it wasn’t in a visible church. It was church nevertheless. Regeneration is effected by the Word and the Spirit, not buildings, clerics, and ritual. Calvin knew this (he *experienced* it). Calvin experienced being *born again*, and it wasn’t in a proper Protestant church. He was in a *visible church* his entire life and never heard the call. He heard the call from traveling Lutherans and from a Waldensian preacher who was later burned at the stake, and he heard that *in the man’s house.*

    Romanists call the world to be baptised all day and all night, *but they studiously buried the Word of God and kept it from people at the cost of torture and death.* Anti-Christ *knows* what regenerates, *and it is not ‘sacraments’ and clerics and buildings.

    Zwingli *knew this.* Calvin *knew this.* I don’t know what other foundational influence of the Reformation you want to claim other than those two gentlemen. There are reasons Lutheranism didn’t accomplish what Calvinism accomplish.

    You can’t know the history and context of the Reformation and make Calvin a Romanist in ecclesiology and sacramentology and an apostolic Christian in everything else.

  24. Jackson,

    If the Belgic Confession will not do, how about the 1559 French Confession, in which Calvin had a hand and of which he approved entirely. You’ll notice that the language is almost identical:

    “XXV Since we enjoy Jesus Christ only through the gospel, we believe that the order of the church, established by Christ’s authority, should be sacred and inviolable. Therefore, the church cannot exist without pastors, who are charged with teaching. When they are properly called and faithfully exercise their office, we should honor them and listen to them respectfully. Even though God does not need the aid of such subordinate means, it pleases God to sustain us in this way. Thus we detest all fanatics who wish to wipe out, as much as they can, the ministry, the preaching of the word of God, and the sacraments.

    XXVI We believe that no one should withdraw from the church, satisfied to be solitary. The whole community must preserve and sustain the unity of the church, submitting to common instruction and to the yoke of Christ. This should happen wherever Christ has established a true church order, even if the civil authority and its laws are hostile. All who do not participate in the church, or who separate themselves from it, deny the order established by God.

    XXVII At the same time we believe that it is appropriate to discern, carefully and prudently, what is the true church, for this designation has been abused too often. Following the word of God then, we say that the faithful community covenants to follow the word of God and the pure religion which derives from it, benefiting from this throughout its life. The faithful community advances constantly, growing and being confirmed in reverent awe of God. As the community strives to remain faithful, all within it are constantly in need of the remission of sins. Although we do not deny that some hypocrites and reprobates are found among the faithful, their malice cannot remove the title ‘Church.'”

    You will notice that the French Confession says exactly what the Belgic says. Both teach that there is a true visible church. Both contest the Roman claim to being the true visible church. Both teach the necessity of being united to a visible church.

    As to Calvin’s reply to Sadoleto,

    1. The dispute was about a visible congregation or several visible congregations in and roundabout Geneva. Sadoleto took the occasion of Calvin’s absence, wolf that he was, to try to seduce the Genevans back to the false church, as Calvin put it, “its whole purport substantially is to recover the Genevese to the power of the Roman Pontiff….”

    2. Calvin was conscious of writing, at the behest of the Genevans, in defense of the legitimacy of the congregations in Geneva or “Church of Geneva” as he put it. He wasn’t writing principally about the “invisible” church. This is evident enough from his discussion of “ecclesiastical revenues” of which the church invisible has none (and no one to collect them!)

    3. When he begins to contest the substance of Sadoleto’s argument, the first thing to which he turned was the visible, institutional church:

    “For if you admit it to be a fearful destruction to the soul, when, by false opinions, divine truth is turned into a lie, it now only remains for us to inquire which of the two parties retains that worship of God which is alone legitimate. In order that you may claim it for your party, you assume that the most certain rule of worship is that which is prescribed by the Church, although, as if we here opposed you, you bring the matter under consideration, in the manner which is usually observed in regard to doubtful questions. But, Sadolet, as I see you toiling in vain, I will relieve you from all trouble on this head. Your are mistaken in supposing that we desire to head away the people from that method of worshipping God which the Catholic Church always observed.”

    In short, the question for Calvin was not whether there is a true visible church to which one must adhere but what the identity of that church is.

    Calvin contested Sadoleto’s definition of the true church because it ignored the sola Scriptura principle: “When you describe it as that which in all parts, as well as at the present time, in every region of the earth, being united and consenting in Christ, has been always and every where directed by the one Spirit of Christ, what comes of the Word of the Lord, that clearest of all marks, and which the Lord himself, in pointing out the Church, so often recommends to us?”

    As I’ve been arguing over at De Regno Duabus (concerning the two kingdoms), from the Reformed POV, ultimately the Pope and the Anabaptists are in the same boat. Calvin said exactly that: “…or what similitude is there in appearance between the Pope and the Anabaptists?” He continues by arguing, as the Reformed always have, that the Word and the Spirit are always together but that both the Papist and the Anabaptist divide them. The papist does it via the supremacy of the church over the Word and via their own doctrine of continuing revelation and the Anabaptist does it via their paleo-Pentecostalist approach to Word and Spirit.

    Calvin argued that Rome lacked the marks of the true church: biblical doctrine, biblical sacraments, and discipline. This is exactly the teaching of the French Confession and of the Belgic Confession to which I happily “retreat.”

    As I say, you’ve completely misunderstood Calvin and have made him, against his will, into a churchless Anabaptist radical.

  25. Jackson,

    No one is saying that the Spirit is not free to operate where and how he will. John 3 makes that clear. Nevertheless, Deut 29 also makes clear that we’re obligated to live according to the revealed will not according to the secret operation of the Spirit or by our perceptions of providence.

    What God may do in his freedom is one thing. What we ought to do with our freedom is another.

    As to Zwingli and Calvin, you’re saying that they had no real interest in the sacraments? You’re kidding right?

  26. When Calvin begins to address the doctrine of the church specifically, he says, “I will not permit you, Sadolet, by inscribing the name of Church on such abominations, both to defame her against all law and justice, and prejudice the ignorant against us, as if we were determined to wage war with the Church. For though we admit that in ancient times some seeds of superstition were sown, which detracted somewhat from the purity of the gospel, still you know, that it is not so long ago since those monsters of impiety with which we war were born, or, at least, grew to such a size. Indeed, in attacking, breaking down, and destroying your kingdom, we are armed not only with the energy of the Divine Word, but with the aid of the holy Fathers also.”

    Calvin attacked Sadoleto for attempting to identify the church catholic with the Roman communion. He wasn’t denying or denigrating the visible church. This treatise is all about the legitimacy of visible Protestant communions.

    As to Calvin’s intentions, he was away from Geneva, in his blessed exile in Strasbourg, when he wrote this at the request of the Genevans. He had nothing personal at stake here. If you’re suggesting that his language about the sacraments (which is just above the section on the church) is mere political posturing, you’re quite mistaken. Calvin was quite devoted to the ministry of Word and sacraments. Anyone who knows the rudiments of Calvin’s life and ministry knows that.

  27. Jackson,

    1. In what way are those quotes decontextualized? Calvin is in those passages speaking of the importance of the visible church and its role in the salvation of believers. Are you saying this is not what he is speaking of? I’d challenge you to take a look at the references, in context, and provide a better “contextualized” option for me to consider.

    2. When have I *defended* the “Federal Vision”? Is it because I haven’t chosen to attack it at every opportunity and have some friends who identify with that particular “movement” that indicts me here? In point of fact, I am nothing but a confessional Presbyterian, a member in good standing of a PCA congregation for six years, and under care of a PCA presbytery which sees nothing in my theological positions that condradicts the doctrinal standards of my denomination in any way. So, it’s funny to hear accusations about my orthodoxy from someone I’ve never even met and who has the gall to sling such accusations behind the mask of anonymity.

    Out of curiosity, did you previously frequent “Greenbaggins” under the name “Robert K”? I detect some striking similiarites between you and that character.

  28. Zrim, you are missing the point. The Romanist says that neither you nor Calvin get to decide what the visible church is. When you and Calvin take it upon yourself to refuse to join the visible (Catholic) church, you are not part of the invisible church.

    Like I said, the Romanists (and Anglicans) have been using these arguments a lot longer than you guys. It’s pretty scandalous to hear Presbyterians mimicking the same arguments that are constantly thrown in the face of Protestants by Catholics. Remember, Romanists classify Presbyterians in the same category as anabaptists, Zwinglians, or whoever your favorite ecclesiastical whipping boy might be.

    They see FVists as little better than anabaptists, but at least on their way to the true visible church.

    Vern

  29. Vern,

    I’m with the Romanist that nobody may disavow himself from the visible mother church. But per Paul, nobody who has anathematized the gospel has the right to pronounce word one about the visible church: the Word creates the church, not vice versa. I realize this can be easy to lose sight of, and it may even seem as torturous as saying that the gospel is not lived but only believed. But it cannot be emphasized enough how absolutely vital such distinctions are.

    If it is to miss the point that it doesn’t matter how long those in principle error have been using arguments that indict themselves, then bring to me the biggest dunce cap you can find. To my admittedly dim lights, what is scandalous is not that an argument that is (erroneously) employed by Romanists is being (correctly) employed by Presbyterians, but that modernity goes down so deep for some Presbyterians they can’t see what is so basic to the NT (and the confessional tradition they claim, to say nothing of common sense) with regard to a believer’s posture toward the in/visible church. But if you’re right then marriage licenses really are “so many pieces of paper for the relationally insecure and immature.” Not that I am a culture warrior of any stripe, but do you really want to be making the case for fornication?

  30. But Zrim, the Romanists believe you HAVE disavowed yourself from the vislble mother church. I’m glad you believe the Word creates the church, but that’s the Protestant in you. But the principle of no invisible without visible is a reversal of that, and pretty unscriptural too, as per the examples I cited earlier.

    Scott, how would you turn the argument against them? They are using your own argument.

    Vern

  31. But Zrim, the Romanists believe you HAVE disavowed yourself from the vislble mother church.

    Is there an echo in here? So what, Vern? Blue Cross/Blue Shield still thinks I owe them money from an erroneous double charge on an urgent care visit. But I don’t. I have the receipt to prove it. When someone is flat wrong about what they believe then, well, you know the rest, right?

    But the principle of no invisible without visible is a reversal of that [the Word creates the church], and pretty unscriptural too…

    Ah. Nobody is saying that the invisible somehow magically evaporates when the visible is lean on perceptivity; that’s absurd, and, as you say, unbiblical. You know, smoldering wicks and mustards seeds and all that. If I up and leave my wife in every which way save filing for and achieving divorce, I am still married no matter how much I say I am not. The point isn’t that the invisible becomes non-existent, but that what I am guilty of is not visibly living in accord with the invisible substance of my vows. There’s good reason the Bible uses familial analogies.

  32. Vern,

    Exactly as the Belgic and French Confessions do. The true church is that church that preaches the pure gospel, administers the sacraments purely, and administers discipline (per Belgic 29).

    Rome is right that there is a true church, extra ecclesiam nulla salus est (ordinarily), but they are wrong to lay claim to being the true church. No true church can condemn the gospel as Rome did in 1547.

    The Reformed confessions have the highest view of the gospel AND the church. We don’t have to pick. We get both. It’s not an either/or proposition.

  33. Scott, your argument that Rome is wrong to lay claim to being the true church carries no weight with them. THEY are the visible church, in their view.

    The problem you guys have is that you’re looking down your noses at evangelicals who might not have a good church home and claiming they’re not part of the invisible church. The Romanists are making the same claim about YOU. Your so-called churches are not really churches in their view, and hence you are no better than the despised evangelicals.

    I’ve had this argument with Anglicans before, who look down their noses at PRESBYTERIANS. When they present THEIR visible church arguments, I ask them why they don’t take their own medicine and go back to Mother Rome. They could only say it was their Achilles’ heal. So they don’t mind trashing Presbyterians as sectarians, but refuse to see themselves as sectarians.

    Rome has no such problem in seeing them, as well as Presbyterians and evangelicals, as sectarians.

    So the issue is, once you’ve subsumed the invisible church under the visible, and eternal salvation is correlated with membership in the visible church, it’s extremely important to make sure you’re IN the visible church.

    But this sort of ecclesiasticism has no place for the 7000, or the early Christians, or even for the Protestant reformers, all of who were cast out of the visible church of their day.

    Vern

  34. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for the answers. I was referring to the “Divine Right of Church Government” (1844). Also, NAPARC is good. It obviously is a better alternative to both ecumenism, and being “non-denominational.”

    Michael’s situation is only a bit different than mine. I am in limbo state as well. I attend two churches on the Lord’s Day, a Reformed Baptist one in the morning and a Reformed paedo in the afternoon. This has been my situation after I left my former Pentecostal church. I left just this year (2007). I already told the pastors of these churches that I am still studying the arguments by both sides on the issue of baptism. But as I have mentioned, I am closer to the paedobaptist position.

    My situation is also made complicated by my experience. I have been baptized thrice. I received baptism as a Roman Catholic infant. I was dunked as a 9 year old in a youth camp (but I was not asked to profess my faith). Seven years later, I was dunked again. But as before, I was still an unbeliever during that time. For the Reformed Baptist, not one of these baptisms would be valid. So if I ever join the Reformed Baptist church, I would have to be (re-)baptized. At present then, I am “churchless.”

    • Albert Medina wrote: “I have been baptized thrice. I received baptism as a Roman Catholic infant. I was dunked as a 9 year old in a youth camp (but I was not asked to profess my faith). Seven years later, I was dunked again. But as before, I was still an unbeliever during that time. For the Reformed Baptist, not one of these baptisms would be valid. So if I ever join the Reformed Baptist church, I would have to be (re-)baptized.”

      I realize this post was from 2008 so Albert may never see this. Others will, however, some of them Baptists, so I’m responding.

      What you raise is the fundamental problem Baptists must answer. If baptism must follow profession (not “should,” but “must”), then we must be rebaptized every time we are not certain we were saved the last time we were baptized.

      There is ABSOLUTELY ZERO evidence for that in Scripture.

      The one and only example of rebaptism was the case of the disciples of John the Baptist who had never heard of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 19:1–6) That example is why Reformed churches rebaptize people who previously were not in Trinitarian churches. The most common examples of that today would be Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Unitarians. God is the prime agent in baptism, contra the Donatists who believed the efficacy of the sacraments depended on the worthiness of the minister, but when a baptism is not in a Trinitarian church, we can legitimately say that the person was not baptized into the Triune God.

      While an Arminian Baptist could, I suppose, consistently argue that people can lose their salvation and then must be rebaptized, I don’t see any way that a person who professes to be Reformed can do that. Even if a person teaches that baptism should follow profession, what ground is there for rebaptism?

      Those who describe themselves as “Reformed Baptist” occupy a “no man’s land.”

      To be consistent, such people must either accept that people who have been baptized out of custom whose profession was illegitimate should not be rebaptized, in which they no longer really believe in believers baptism, or they must accept the idea that baptism should be repeated anytime a previously baptized person has valid reason to believe he wasn’t converted, which is something for which there is no evidence in Scripture.

      I live in a community where the Reformed faith is almost unknown, and apart from Roman Catholics, Missouri Synod Lutherans, and a few (mostly small) mainline liberal churches, basically everybody practices believers baptism. The result is that repeated baptisms are common.

      Pointing out that there is no example of that in Scripture can create some “cognitive dissonance” for Bible-believing evangelicals who take Scripture very seriously and want to be ruled by the Word. Arguing with a Baptist for infant baptism is complicated and difficult. Arguing that rebaptism has no biblical warrant works better, and can create some serious “cognitive dissonance” when Baptists realize the unavoidable logical conclusions of their position, and lack of biblical support for rebaptism.

  35. Vern,

    Three things.

    1. For the 7,000 to really have left the visible church entirely, they would have had to set up camp outside Israel and forsake the feasts, laws, and sacrificial system that went with it. Is there any indication that they did this? Or is it rather than the Baal worshipers in Israel were the real forsakers of the visible church, and that the 7,000 were the ones who preserved it. I’d argue that the latter is actually the case, for as Zrim has already pointed out, the Word creates the Church, not vice versa.

    2. It really is not the case that the Reformers were “cast out of the visible church of their day.” The churches in Geneva, Wittenburg, Zurich, and other Protestant areas all remained quite visible. As I said earlier in this thread, the Reformers did not completely forsake and destroy the churches in their lands and establish entirely new ones. Rather, they reformed existing churches. They were, after all, protesting catholics, not sectarians, no matter how loud the papalists shout the contrary.

    The Reformers’ ecclesiological beef w/ Rome was not visible or not visible, it was rather what constitutes the visible. They located the visible church in the proclamation of the biblical Gospel and in the right administration of the sacraments. Rome located it in a hierarchical structure which had an ontological monopoly on apostolic succession. Our argument with Rome has never been about the ordinary necessity of the visible Church as such, but rather what exactly constitutes that Church. This is quite evident when one looks at the actual writings of the Reformers and the Protestant confessional tradition(s). To argue that the visible church is really not necessary is to hold a non-Protestant ecclesiology. This is fine as far as it goes, but you shouldn’t be surprised when those who are concerned to preserve historic Protestant ecclesiology don’t agree with you.

    3.

  36. The problem you guys have is that you’re looking down your noses at evangelicals who might not have a good church home and claiming they’re not part of the invisible church.

    Vern,

    You’re not listening. RSC has already freely admitted that there are scads of true believers wandering around without a visible home (or even cleaving to a false one). The point is that such believers should be bothered by this and seek a true church, not that they should doubt their eternal status or that anyone should be going around upturning inward stones: the invisible reality needs to be in accord with the visible manifestation.

    Let’s try more familial analogies. To justify their fornication, my daughter and her boyfriend tell me they love each other and are thus entitled to all the benefits of an adult relationship. Instead of impugning their declared love, I actually give it great benefit of the doubt, and I simply tell them that genuine love gets married; until then, they are behaving like children and their declared love grows more and more dubious with each passing day. Your protestations sound an awful lot like two kids saying I’m being an uptight father. But something tells me your parenting would sound a lot like mine. How is it any different when it comes to the in/visible church?

    Re the Rome thing, spouse 1 adulterates against spouse 2. Spouse 2 divorces spouse 1. Spouse 1 tells spouse 2 he/she has left the marriage. Spouse 2 says that the marriage was voided by the adultery, thus spouse 1’s accusations of spouse 2’s leaving are unjustified and ridiculous.

  37. >To argue that the visible church is really not necessary is to hold a non-Protestant ecclesiology.

    You’re not just saying the visible church is necessary (I agree, anywhere a Christian is spreading/proclaiming the Word of God you see the visible Church manifesting); you and Dr. Clark are saying a visible church is necessary for salvation itself. Dr. Clark is saying if you don’t become a member and attend a visible church you are not in the invisible Church. I.e. you are not saved.

    Justification by faith alone is the Protestant doctrine being thrown out the window.

  38. you and Dr. Clark are saying a visible church is necessary for salvation itself. Dr. Clark is saying if you don’t become a member and attend a visible church you are not in the invisible Church. I.e. you are not saved.

    Oy vey.

    Does anyone else on this side of the table feel like this:

  39. Zrim,
    Your analogy of the adulterating spouse doesn’t help you since Rome just plugs you into spouse 1. It comes down to final authority and Rome will say that yours is just a subjective hermeneutic and not part of the Church.

  40. GAS,

    It helps against Vern who wants to maintain that the larger argument cannot be made because Rome makes the same one. My point to him is that Rome lacks credibility in the first place. Confessional Presbyetrians can make the argument about the in/visible church because we haven’t anathematized the gospel. Adulterating spouses cannot charge fauthful ones with martial abandonment.

  41. Jackson (Robert K?),

    What you seem to refuse to recognize is that we distinguish between “ordinary” and “absolute” necessity. The Church is not *absolutely* necessary for salvation, but it is *ordinarily* necessary. There are exceptions to the rule of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus,” of course. But we do nevertheless confess, with the Westminster Assembly of Divines, that “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; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, *out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.*” (WCF 25.2)

  42. >What you seem to refuse to recognize is that we distinguish between “ordinary” and “absolute” necessity. The Church is not *absolutely* necessary for salvation, but it is *ordinarily* necessary.

    A distinction that makes your claim worthless. And your second sentence no Protestant disagrees with. When a Christian proclaims the Word of God the visible Church is manifesting and the call that is potentially effectual is being made. What is not biblical (or a Protestant doctrine) is to say that salvation depends on attendance and membership into a denomination, church building, etc. Our salvation and justification depends on faith alone. (There is a reason the great magisterial theologians of the Reformation and beyond kept repeating that justification by faith alone is the central doctrine of the faith. You see it attacked explicitly and subtly and every other way repeatedly. Sometimes, to speak charitably, unknowingly.)

  43. Robert K,

    The visible Church is wherever the Word is proclaimed and the sacraments celebrated according to the Lord’s command. *No Protestant* would say that, in ordinary circumstances, it is necessary that we be incorporated into this Church? Well then, was the Assembly of Divines not Protestant? Was Calvin not Protestant? We’re still waiting for your “contextualized” analysis of Calvin. We can add to this the ecclesiology of the Reformed confessions, starting with WCF 25.2.

  44. The visible Church is wherever the Word is proclaimed and the sacraments celebrated according to the Lord’s command.

    …and where discipline is rightly excercised. The third mark seems painfully relevant to this discussion.

    Jackson,

    Would it be enough to simply admit that the Reformational species you’re defending is the Radical Reformation?

  45. Zrim,
    If we were to map this out it may look something like this:

    Romanists: Objectivists

    Evangelicals: Subjectivists

    Reformed: Subjectivists-Objectivists

    Which points out why this is so difficult since only the Reformed seem to be dealing with the tension.

  46. Zrim,

    Very true.

    Probably a discussion for another day, but I would actually locate discipline as a function of the ministry of the Word, as I would the sacraments, so that, rightly understood, all three marks of the church are extensions of the ministry of the Word.

  47. Chapter 10 of the Westminster Confession of Faith nowhere mentions sacraments. Regeneration is what gets you into the invisible Church of which Christ is King. No, this is not anabaptist doctrine.

    Vern C. has made insightful, deadly on-the-mark comments in this thread. You all should read them. You are missing alot.

  48. Vern,

    I’m just a minister. I can’t make the evangelicals care, but I can preach and teach and trust the Spirit to do his work. They might not care, but, as you keep reminding us, God has his 7,000 out there.

  49. Jackson/Robert K,

    But I didn’t ask you about WCF chapter 10, I asked you about 25.2, along with Calvin’s Institutes 4.1.4, 22, and his commentary on Is. 33.24.

  50. And Vern C. is saying the ‘no invisible without the visible’ is bad doctrine whether it is Roman Catholics or Reformed saying it. Then he is saying, in that little realm of bad doctrine the RCs have you beat.

    And I will add that when you define the faith in terms of church buildings and attendance and membership you will inevitably default to pining in the direction that is over the Tiber. Afterall, it is all about churches. Why be satisfied with this stripmall space that used to be a Karate school which is now our Reformed Church when there are cathedrals in existence?

    Zwingli and Calvin say: get the Word of God into you. Regeneration is effected, when it is, by the Word and the Spirit. Not church buildings, clerics, and ritual. They would add: justification by faith alone means something in all this.

    Zwingli and Calvin both made it their main activity to proclaim the Word of God publicly and complete. They knew it was this and only this that made the call that was potentially effectual.

    Again: Roman Catholics called people to come to be baptized all day and all night, but they buried and burned the Word of God and they tortured and murdered any who would bring the Word of God to people. Anti-Christ knows that regeneration is the main enemy (to anti-Christ), and he knows it is effected, when it is, by the Word and the Spirit and not church buildings, ritual, and clerics.

  51. ‘Invisible Church’ is synonymous with salvation.

    If you are in the invisible Church you are justified and saved.

    This is an issue of soteriology, not ecclessiology.

    This is about justification by faith alone, not ‘sacraments’ and ‘church discipline.

    This is also foundationally about the Word proclaimed, *in the world*, not to the chorus.

  52. Jackson/Robert K,

    Just so we’re clear, you’re the only one who has brought “buildings” and “rituals” into the picture here. No one but you has mentioned “buildings” once, and if you are disparagingly labeling the proclamation of the biblical Gospel and the regular observation of the sacraments insituted by Christ himself, then I’ll gladly where the label of “ritualist.”

  53. Jonathan…

    You are defending false doctrine. To say you aren’t in the invisible Church unless you vow membership to and attend a denomination/church/etc. is a statement of soteriology, and it is *false teaching.* Allow Protestant doctrine to teach you. It was won at great cost. Justification by faith alone is the foundation of that doctrine.

    You can call me and other Protestant Christians all the names in the book (try to out do Counter-Reformation Jesuits if you like), but it won’t change the fact that justification by faith alone means just that. And when one is in the invisible Church one is justified and saved, full stop (as Dr. Clark likes to say). That is a matter of regeneration by the Word and the Spirit (read that chapter 10 of the Westminster Confession of Faith.)

  54. Scott,

    Your retelling of your personal history in church growth thinking was very encouraging, thank you.

    To me, the problem, Scott, is in your statement, “if you’ve never sworn membership vows and confessed a common faith with a congregation, you are not a member of the visible church and if you’re not a member of the church visible, by definition, you are not a member of the church invisible. The former is a prerequisite for the latter.”

    I thought it was the other way around. To be an (adult) member of the visible church you must have a credible profession that you already belong to the invisible church. Your above statement makes it sound like church membership is necessary for justification, which I know you do not mean. Later, in talking about the third use of the Law, church membership is presented in the realm of sanctification. Maybe it would be clearer if you said something like, “barring extraordinary circumstances, if you refuse to identify with a local body of believers and submit yourself to the spiritual oversight of church officers, there is no credible evidence that you are a member of the invisible church.” That I can accept. Is this what you are saying, or more?

    Todd

    • Todd,

      I don’t think we disagree much. If someone tells me, “I’m a member of the church invisible,” but they have no membership in a visible church and if they are impenitent about it, then we have a right to doubt the claim by such a one to be a Christian.

      Who should think of themselves as Christians? Those who are members, in good standing, of a true, visible congregation (see pt 3) or those who are not? Obviously it is the former.

      If we’re discussing a convert who came to faith extraordinarily, outside the visible church, well we admit him after instruction and examination and upon profession of faith and in so doing we’re making regular and irregular situation.

      Ordinarily we expect folks to be under the ministry of the gospel and, in that circumstance, to come to faith. I am comfortable with your paraphrase.

  55. Bobby K.,

    No. Allow Protestant doctrine to teach you: regeneration by the Word and the Spirit takes place ordinarily through the ministry of the Word in the Church. To reject the ministry of the Church is to reject the means instituted by Christ to work faith and life among his elect by the Spirit. This is why Calvin would say that “all who spurn the spiritual food, divinely extended to them through the hand of the church, deserve to perish in famine and hunger”, and “a departure from the Church is an open renouncement of eternal salvation.” It is also why Westminster could say that outside the visible church there is “no ordinary possibility of salvation”.

    Were Calvin and the Westminster divines Protestant or were they not? If they were, then how do you explain those statements? If they were not, then what is your definition of the term “Protestant”? Perhaps they were just confused?

    Please, Jackson/Robert, explain to me how the Westminster divines could believe and teach both that the visible church is *not* ordinarily necessary for salvation, as *you* say, and at the same time that there is ordinarily no salvation apart from the visible church, as *they* say in WCF 25.2? Please, explain to me how Calvin could teach *both* that we receive forgiveness of sins *apart from* the ministry of the church, as *you* say, and at the same time, that we have no hope of any forgiveness *apart from* the visible church, as *he* says in Inst. 4.1.4. Are Calvin and the Assembly of divines simply dishonest, confused, crypto-papists? Please, explain this all to me, because it has me quite perplexed.

  56. >“barring extraordinary circumstances, if you refuse to identify with a local body of believers and submit yourself to the spiritual oversight of church officers, there is no credible evidence that you are a member of the invisible church.”

    So much for the priesthood of all believers.

    How about this: fear God, don’t fear man; value the Word of God as your authority and not the word of man; show good faith and good will towards fellow Christians (actually have all that emanating from your heart by the grace of God), and there is a good chance you are a born again believer. “Submitting” to “spiritual oversight of church officers” aside.

    (Submitting to spiritual oversight of church officers? I’m a prophet, a priest, and a king. I answer to my King above me. And I live up to it. Why does this frighten so many who self-identify as Protestant?)

  57. >regeneration by the Word and the Spirit takes place ordinarily through the ministry of the Word in the Church.

    Entertain the possibility you don’t know regeneration or how it is effected. If you think people have to walk into a church to receive the call that is potentially effective it explains alot regarding why Reformed churches are such tidy little clubs, and the legacy of Calvin is so twisted within them.

    Again, as stated above: the proclamation of the Word of God happens *in the world*, not to the chorus. Jesus sent His disciples out into the world, not into a nearby building to slap each other on the back and smoke first century cigars.

  58. Jonathan said, “Or is it rather than the Baal worshipers in Israel were the real forsakers of the visible church, and that the 7,000 were the ones who preserved it.”

    Vern: The 7000 represent the invisible church, for the reason that the “visible” church (the majority of Israelites) had forsaken the covenant, torn down the altars, and killed the prophets with the sword. (1 Ki. 19:14.) See also the case of Obadiah, who had hidden a hundred prophets from Jezebel. (1 Ki. 18.) You guys seem to have a very peculiar notion as to what visibility means. People who hide in caves are not visible.

    Jonathan: “It really is not the case that the Reformers were “cast out of the visible church of their day.” The churches in Geneva, Wittenburg, Zurich, and other Protestant areas all remained quite visible.”

    Vern: But this is a Protestant interpretation. Catholics did not accept the validity or “visibility” of the Protestant churches.

    Jonathan: “As I said earlier in this thread, the Reformers did not completely forsake and destroy the churches in their lands and establish entirely new ones. Rather, they reformed existing churches. They were, after all, protesting catholics, not sectarians, no matter how loud the papalists shout the contrary.”

    Vern: But the idea that the Protestants were reforming catholics and not sectarians is a self-evaluation by Protestants. Catholics do say, both quietly and loudly, that Protestants are sectarians, heretics, rebels, and forsakers of the visible church.

    Jonathan: “The Reformers’ ecclesiological beef w/ Rome was not visible or not visible, it was rather what constitutes the visible….To argue that the visible church is really not necessary is to hold a non-Protestant ecclesiology….”

    Vern: No one is arguing that the visible church isn’t necessary, but necessary in what sense? Necessary for sanctification, for spiritual renewal, yes, but not necessary for salvation. Too borrow a phrase, the “visible” church is not necessary for the being of the Christian, but for the well-being of the Christian. And sometimes, even then spiritual well-being may actually require a REMOVAL from the “visible” church (the 7000, the early Christians, Protestants).

    The issue of visible or not visible understates the problem. Rather, the claim was that no invisible without the visible. The examples I cited undercut that claim. Moreover, the Romanists believe no invisible without the visible (Catholic) church. Protestants who accept the idea of no invisible without the visible have given away most of the store, for as Jackson said, “in that little realm of bad doctrine the RCs have you beat.” The Protestant principle is rather, no visible without the invisible. And the converse is not true in too many cases to be a valid principle.

    For a good review of the subject, see Kevin Reed’s essay, “Imperious Presbyterianism,” at http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=254

    Kevin attended the Tyler church for a time, and I remember him being very depressed about the authoritarianism he saw there. My main area of disagreement with him is in our respective evaluations of the covenanters. In my opinion, the covenanters were the intolerant presbyterians of the day and were just as eager to impose their ecclesiology on England as were the Anglicans. Presbyterians in both Scotland and England wouldn’t listen to Cromwell or Milton’s call for toleration, and they paid the price for it.

    Vern

  59. From the linked article:

    “Years ago, I encountered a professing Presbyterian who denied the distinction between the visible and the invisible church. This man subsequently apostatized and embraced Roman Catholicism, which is certainly nearer to his conception of the church.

    Now, I doubt there are many professing Presbyterians who, if pressed, are willing to completely abandon the distinction between the professing visible church and the invisible church of the elect. Nevertheless, there is one aspect of the Romanist view of the church which seems to be finding currency among contemporary Presbyterians, although in a slightly modified form. It is a position which defines the visible church in terms of the officers of the church.”

  60. Vern,

    1. Yeah, I do hold a Protestant interpretation of the Reformation. Guilty as charged.

    2. Yeah, I do hold a Protestant interpretation of the work of the Reformers. Guilty as charged.

    3. Did I forget to mention the fact that we’re talking about “ordinary” necessity?

    4. I’ve never denied the fact that the individual is more foundational than the visible. The invisible is absolutely necessary, while the visible is only ordinarily necessary, and even then secondarily so.

    5. For a good review of the subject, see book four of Calvin’s Institutes, followed by WCF ch. 25.

    I appreciate your interaction, Vern, but I shall now bow out of this particular discussion. It ceased being a productive one long ago.

  61. Todd,

    Maybe it’s the dad in me, but the fornication analogy always seems to click. If my daughter tries to justify her fornication with her boyfriend on the grounds that they truly love each other, I am not so much inclined to doubt their inward affections as demand that said invisible affections must be in accord with the visible manifestation of marriage. The longer they tarry the more I doubt the authenticity of their inward claim. In the same way that nobody believes only married people truly love each other, church membership doesn’t beget justification. Marriage nurtures true love and church membership nurtures true faith.

    The slippery task seems to be getting clear relationships which are by nature those that at once have a necessary priority of order and are mutually reciprocal.

  62. Albert,

    Dr. Clark,

    It is best to think that you’ve been baptized once. The Baptists and the paedobaptists disagree over whether the first or the second was valid but a baptism can only be accomplished once, but I know what you mean to say.

    I hope you will choose to identify with the historic catholic and Reformed church, with father Abraham and with the covenant promises made to him and to us, that God is a God to us and to our children.

    Blessings.

  63. “(Submitting to spiritual oversight of church officers? I’m a prophet, a priest, and a king. I answer to my King above me. And I live up to it. Why does this frighten so many who self-identify as Protestant?)”

    Jackson,

    What do you do with I Thess. 5:12 and Hebrews 13:17?

    Todd

  64. Zrim,

    I don’t totally disagree with the analogy as long as we are very careful. A marriage ceremony is understood in our culture to be a sign and statement of lifelong commitment. I don’t think most evangelicals understand church membership this way in their relationship with God, rightly or wrongly. I think many of Vern’s concerns are valid. For example, there are thousands upon thousands of genuine believers who attend churches that do not really emphasize formal membership. Yet they attend regularly, give in the offerings, and listen to the oversight. I think the language of formal membership is too restrictive. That’s why I like the language of identity with the people of God in local congregations. This would be a natural result of a converted heart; a desire to identify with God’s people, be taught the Bible, take the Supper, use their gifts to help the body, etc…I don’t want to go beyond that.

    Todd

  65. Todd,

    I understand what you are saying, and I appreciate your concerns for not wanting to go too far and flirt with making membership effectual, etc. But, respectfully, I think that hesitancy is a fear just this side of over-realized. I’d hate to say don’t worry so much, but don’t worry so much.

    If you like the fornication analogy, let me keep going with it. If your daughter pled the case that she and her boyfriend did everything you and your wife do which all would agree are the marks of true love but stopped short of actually getting married, would you be satisfied? If she explained that formal marriage doesn’t create true love she’d be right. But you would be right to explain that isn’t your point, that she’s worrying too much about what you are claiming formal marriage implies. It is odd to me that most of us (I hope) know how to think through issues surrounding fornication, but get all turned around when it comes to church membership; everybody wants to lament the loose sexual practices of our culture, yet go relatively limp when it comes to church membership. Again, I’m no culture warrior, but the irony here is…interesting.

  66. >What do you do with I Thess. 5:12 and Hebrews 13:17?

    What do you read when you read those verses? Some read: “Yes, people must look up to me! People must submit to me!” Did you know there are people who read those verses and have those reactions? Is that what the Bible is teaching there? Is not the Bible referring to the Word of God? Hebrews 13:7 puts 17 in context (and any Protestant who has gone up against inane Roman Catholic apologists who use this verse as their chief weapon to draw souls into their Beast church knows this or should know this). In our era of the history of redemption we all have the Word of God. We don’t need to be fed it by others like a bird to chicks in a nest. That is an academic model, and the faith is not academic.

    A group of Christians is a group of kings. Of prophets, priests, and kings. Any in the group who have yet to attain to understanding of on-the-mark biblical doctrine will naturally look for and find sound sources to learn from (we do it from books as well, when I learn from the works of Thomas Boston I am learning from that Christian). What Paul is telling you is *make sure it is coming from the Word of God and not man.* If you think he is saying anything else you don’t understand the faith at a foundational level.

    I could throw down those verses and say to you “Submit to me.” What is your defense against that? Asking me if I am ‘ordained’ by some institution (accredited or not)? That is not a biblical response. Your defense is to respond like a king to a king. What do you know, brother? Is it given warrant by Scripture?

    Is that submitting? No that is equals learning from equals. With the Word of God acting as foundational and necessary standard. We all submit to the Word of God.

    The priesthood of all believers means something. It is obviously the most neglected – and silently despised – Reformation doctrine by people who love to lord it over people, or who inanely think: “Well, I can understand doctrine and practice, but *these* other people, they are not capable.” No, all Christians are capable and are supposed to stand on their own in their understanding and will (God’s will) and conscience. Getting there, getting real understanding, is not a matter of submission to man but to the Word of God and the King of kings.

  67. Jackson,

    You did a good job explaining how people misuse texts such as I Thess 5:12 and Hebrews 13:17 for their own power and glory, but you didn’t really deal with the actual texts. Both texts talk about people who have some sort of spiritual leadership. Obviously their only legitimate authority is to declare the Word of God, but that is legitimate authority. And if, in the NC, we do not need to be fed by ministers, why did Christ tell Peter to feed his sheep, and why Eph 4:11 and following about God giving pastors and teachers to the church, and why the pastoral epistles? You seem so caught up with the potential misuses of these ideas that you fail to see them plainly in Scripture. Maybe you have just had too many bad experiences to know the blessing that servant-like, caring, skillful, Christ-centered spiritual leadership is to the Christian soul. By the way, included in this submission is the submitting ourselves to one another in the body, not only to the leadership (Eph 5:21)

    Todd

  68. You missed the last three paragraphs:

    “I could throw down those verses and say to you “Submit to me.” What is your defense against that? Asking me if I am ‘ordained’ by some institution (accredited or not)? That is not a biblical response. Your defense is to respond like a king to a king. What do you know, brother? Is it given warrant by Scripture?

    Is that submitting? No that is equals learning from equals. With the Word of God acting as foundational and necessary standard. We all submit to the Word of God.

    The priesthood of all believers means something. It is obviously the most neglected – and silently despised – Reformation doctrine by people who love to lord it over people, or who inanely think: “Well, I can understand doctrine and practice, but *these* other people, they are not capable.” No, all Christians are capable and are supposed to stand on their own in their understanding and will (God’s will) and conscience. Getting there, getting real understanding, is not a matter of submission to man but to the Word of God and the King of kings.”

    It’s a practical matter, Todd. How do you deal with me telling you to submit to me? Who is Paul talking about? A clerical hierarchy? No? Then what? Ordained ministers? Ordained by whom? Institutions? Who ordained the institutions. We see how academics engage in the unbiblical practice of respecting persons if they have some degree from an institution similar to their own degree. We see how much they tolerate from fellow academics. These are not people Paul is talking about.

    If you have understanding others don’t it will be discerned, and it goes without saying that the Word of God is the standard for that understanding. Nobody had to force people to come and listen to Spurgeon or to value Boston’s works.

    The priesthood of all believers is a ‘hard doctrine’ for many Christians to accept. It doesn’t make it any less biblical.

  69. >1Th 5:12 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;

    ‘know them.’ This is discernment. This is not a statement of submitting to authority that has been appointed over you. Know them. Have discernment for those among you who have understanding of the Word of God, being Bereans all the while.

    ‘over you in the Lord.’ What can that mean to a Christian other than understanding? Considering we are told by Paul to ‘know them’ it would follow. And this happens like all discernment happens, uncoerced, descent of the dove. Discernment.

    Practically speaking, as well, Paul was speaking to a people who didn’t have the Word of God complete in convenient printed volumes. There are different eras in the history of salvation and this fact effects biblical teaching on ecclesiology most of all, which is why the Word of God is not as clear on matters of ecclesiology as it is on matters of soteriology and so on. The most on-the-mark Reformed theologians differ on matters of ecclesiology for a reason. Warrant is given for it in Scripture.

    So you look at it practically. We can see in history how the Beast uses verses and passages to draw souls into darkness and bondage. Protestants know better. We understand the verses and passages as the Holy Spirit gives us discernment to understand them. Clericalism/sacerdotalism is not in the Word of God. Jesus Himself said he hated it.

    You’re a born again Christian? You are a prophet (you have the Word of God and you have access to the very throne of God in prayer), you are a priest (you have ability to forgive so as to be forgiven by God, and you have ability to make of yourself a living sacrifice), and you are a king (you have ability to exercise command over your inner being as the King of kings exercises command over you; and you have the strength and legal standing to *fear/revere God only and not man* which is what a king does).

  70. Jackson,

    Again, you are creating unnecessary straw men (not that those kind of people aren’t out there.) No one forces anyone to come and listen to men, or to submit. Submission is a voluntary act, from the heart, and it is under the condition, only if the leadership declare what my conscience believes is the Word of God can I submit. That’s why our vows in the OPC contain the phrase, “in the Lord” when dealing with submission to church leadership. How did the church know who Paul was speaking about in I Thess 5 and Hebrews 13? Obviously for those passages to make any sense, the people must have had some way of knowing who were over them in the Lord, or those passages are meaningless. You can argue whether ordination or a ritual designates such men, but that’s a different discussion. And you did not answer my question of why Eph 4:11 ff, pastoral epistles, especially I Tim 4:14-16, as well as Acts 20:28. Please don’t tell me how these texts are abused, rather explain them to me.

    Thanks,

    Todd

  71. >Obviously for those passages to make any sense, the people must have had some way of knowing who were over them in the Lord, or those passages are meaningless.

    As stated in a previous comment they had the Word of God. And they had understanding of it, which is discerned just the same way you discern one theologian has understanding where another doesn’t. Heb. 13:7.

    >No one forces anyone to come and listen to men, or to submit. Submission is a voluntary act, from the heart,

    So what is your complaint? What is bothering you? What is bothering you goes against what you are saying. You are bothered that there are Christians who are not “submitting themselves to church officers.”

    You have to know your own smell. If people come they come. If they don’t… Deal with it. Look at yourself. Smell yourself. Ask others to smell you and be honest with you.

    You may hold to things other Reformed Christians find abhorrent. You may write off portions of the Westminster Confession of Faith thinking you are very well in your rights to do it whereas other Reformed Christians find you to be downgrading that confession. Know your own smell. If people come they come.

    You may have given up things that were fought and died for by the reformers, and that other Reformed Christians will not compromise on.

    If you are a leader of a church and you have real understanding people will come to your church. Maybe not in great numbers (because real understanding itself may not have a large audience in any given era of the history of redemption), but you will be rare and will get people to be drawn towards you.

    Beyond that you have nothing to complain about.

  72. Jackson,

    Who’s complaining? You said we don’t need anyone to feed us because we have the Word. I asked you how then to understand Acts 20:20, I Tim 4, etc…
    I’ll wait for your answer.

    Todd

  73. >And you did not answer my question of why Eph 4:11 ff, pastoral epistles, especially I Tim 4:14-16, as well as Acts 20:28. Please don’t tell me how these texts are abused, rather explain them to me.

    God leaves us with no shortage of good teachers. We have all the on-the-mark teachers – or a good many of them – that have existed even if we count the written word.

    Eph 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
    Eph 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

    This happens without trying. One Christian teaches other people (Christian or not) naturally in many ways. It happens. God makes it happen. Teachers are so from the Holy Spirit, not from institutions or attaining positions of leadership in churches or institutions.

    Teaching and pastoring is happening everywhere all the time. Do you know things people around you don’t know? Teach them if you are at all able. Do you see people doing things against their best interests? Pastor them the best you are able.

    The fact is you don’t learn doctrine by passively sitting in a pew listening to a sermon. That is not how God’s own get understanding of the Word of God. You learn by actively applying yourself to the Word of God yourself and to the writings of teachers who have gone before you. You don’t reinvent the wheel. We don’t live in the first century. In the first century I am the first to be sitting at the feet of anyone with any connection to the apostles (or the apostles themselves) – any with the Word of God itself – and learning from them. That is not our situation in this era of the history of redemption.

    1 Tim. 4:14-16 is the same as above. If you’ve got understanding you just do and Christians will come to learn from you. Calvin didn’t ask people to come to him to learn the “pure doctrine” as he said in his preface to his commentary on the Psalms. In fact he resisted it. It just happened. (And I doubt any hands were laid on him. But you know what? The Holy Spirit came *into him.* That’s what happens with regeneration.)

    Acts 20:28 the same. In fact I’m surprised you’d cite that verse.

    “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

    “over which the Holy Ghost hath made you…”

  74. So Jackson,

    It seems you are not arguing against the need for teachers and those who admonish you in the NC, but arguing against ordination, institutions, etc… to designate as such. Is this accurate?

    Todd

  75. >You said we don’t need anyone to feed us because we have the Word.

    Todd, I think you know you took my metaphor of a bird feeding chicks in a nest and twisted it to say I don’t think we need teachers. Those who read the verses you first cited and who see them to say “People must submit to me!” are the ones who consider Christians to be eternal chicks in a nest, and they inevitably are the one’s, by the way, who do what Paul warns against regarding “the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;”.

  76. >It seems you are not arguing against the need for teachers and those who admonish you in the NC, but arguing against ordination, institutions, etc… to designate as such. Is this accurate?

    Basically, I have to say no, it is not accurate. Because this thread is on more subjects than your summation, hence what I’ve written has been written inside a much bigger context than what your summation gets at.

    We are obviously not just talking about obvious things like the need for teachers (including the Holy Spirit, by the way), and the limits of institutions and what they produce.

  77. I am talking of Christians standing like the men and women of God that they are. Of standing like the prophets, priests, and kings that they are. The priesthood of all believers and what that entails.

    I fear there will be very few warriors for Christ’s army when the time comes. There will be many found like those in Bunyan’s narrative sitting at the gates of heaven, waiting for permission from men for when they can enter, and getting embarrassed and upset when they witness the Christian in full armor who forces his way through the gates into Heaven to the audible cheering of the Christians in heaven itself.

  78. Jackson,

    I have never read those verses and thought “people must submit to me” I read those verses and think – thank you God, for gifting others in the knowledge of the Word and care for my soul to help me in my understanding of Scripture, and to admonish me when I need it. Also, as a minister, use me to teach and help others in the faith. What’s the problem?

    Todd

  79. “I fear there will be very few warriors for Christ’s army when the time comes. There will be many found like those in Bunyan’s narrative sitting at the gates of heaven, waiting for permission from men for when they can enter, and getting embarrassed and upset when they witness the Christian in full armor who forces his way through the gates into Heaven to the audible cheering of the Christians in heaven itself.”

    Okay, we should probably stop here. It’s getting too strange for me – I don’t think I can penetrate the way you think.

  80. I saw also, that the Interpreter took him again by the

    hand, and led him into a pleasant place, where was builded

    a stately palace, beautiful to behold; at the sight of

    which Christian was greatly delighted; he saw also, upon

    the top thereof, certain persons walking, who were clothed

    all in gold.

    Then said Christian, May we go in thither?

    Then the Interpreter took him, and led him up towards the

    door of the palace; and behold, at the door stood a great

    company of men, as desirous to go in, but durst not. There

    also sat a man at a little distance from the door, at a

    table-side, with a book and his inkhorn before him, to take

    the name of him that should enter therein; he saw also,

    that in the doorway stood many men in armour to keep it,

    being resolved to do the men that would enter what hurt and

    mischief they could. Now was Christian somewhat in amaze.

    At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed

    men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance come

    up to the man that sat there to write, saying, “Set down my

    name, Sir”:[40] the which when he had done, he saw the man

    draw his sword, and put an helmet upon his head, and rush

    toward the door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with

    deadly force: but the man, not at all discouraged, fell to

    cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received

    and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him

    out, he cut his way through them all (Acts 14:22), and

    pressed forward into the palace, at which there was a

    pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of

    those that walked upon the top of the palace, saying- “Come

    in, come in; Eternal glory thou shalt win.”

    So he went in, and was clothed with such garments as they.

    Then Christian smiled and said, I think verily I know the

    meaning of this.

    -John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

  81. The Bunyan passage tends to sting.

    (That’s why he wrote it.)

    There are many related subjects interweaving in this thread, and the Bunyan passage is very relevant.

  82. >What was Bunyan’s view of the visible church? Wikipedia doesn’t say much except to say he was opposed to the Quakers.

    I’ve never read a work on Bunyan’s overall theology, though what I have come across he reminds me of Pink after he came to covenant, Federal Theology. In one work Bunyan makes clear water baptism is not some kind of entrance into the visible church; and he considers these verses to describe the universal Church (saying the reference to baptism in the verse is a reference to regeneration effected by the Holy Spirit, not water baptism):

    Eph 4:4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
    Eph 4:5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
    Eph 4:6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

  83. In what sense is the church “necessary” for salvation? Obviously not in the sense that the church itself saves (a blasphemous and heretical notion!). (Only Christ saves, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from works, including the “work” of church membership.) But in the sense that Christ has entrusted to His visible church the objective, external means by which the elect are brought to justifying faith (especially the Word, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”) and preserved in faith (by the Word, sacraments and prayer).

    The reason there is no “ordinary” possibility of salvation outside of the visible church (as the historic Reformed confessions so clearly affirm) is because Christ has entrusted the objective means of salvation (gospel Word and sacraments) to the visible church, not to the parachurch or to unaccountable, self-appointed preachers or para-church “ministries.” The Word (especially as it is preached) is the objective means the Spirit ordinarily uses in conferring salvation (for faith cometh by hearing the Word); and faith is the subjective means by which the sinner receives and rests upon Christ alone as He is offered to us in the Word. So there is no contradiction between a proper (biblical-reformational) conception of there being “no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the church” (on the one hand), and justification by faith alone (on the other hand). (Keep in mind as well that “salvation” is a broader term than “justification,” for the salvation package includes not only justification, but also regeneration, effectual calling, conversion, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and ultimately glorification.)

    Is a sinner automatically and irreversibly justified before God the moment he hears and receives the gospel with faith in Christ alone? Even if such a sinner is not a member of the visible church at the moment of his conversion? Absolutely yes! But if a sinner claims to be justified by faith in Christ but has no desire to be united to his brothers and sisters in the visible fellowship of Christ’s true church, do we have warrant for questioning the genuineness of such a sinner’s professed faith? Again, absolutely yes! No one here is teaching that we are justified by faith PLUS church membership. At the same time, those who are justified are also sanctified and desire to live in obedience to God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. True justifying faith bears fruit in obedience. Stubbornly insubordinate “believers” who are unteachable and unwilling to submit to godly leadership in the visible church (as commanded in places such as Heb. 13:17) – such submission involving some form of church membership – demonstrate that they are unregenerate and hence lacking in justifying faith. “Believers” who go the “unchurch” route and become “self-feeders” (or perhaps join the large ranks of disconnected, serial church-hoppers) are either ignorant of their scriptural duty to be connected to a visible expression of the Body of Christ, or they are hypocrites and frauds who need to be called to repentance.

    • Geoff – Interesting, I’ve generally not heard of “self-feeder” as describing someone who has left the visible church. Rather, I’ve thought of it as describing believers in a visible church who desire deeper exposure to Scripture, and its consequent doctrine and theology, but who don’t sufficiently receive the normal means of grace in the typical practices of a church, whether that be preaching or small groups or something else. The latter describes my own current situation, which I hope won’t go on forever! Let’s just leave it at that but I wanted to call out the differences in how that term is defined.

  84. This notion that you have to go to church every Sunday and receive some kind of means of grace or lose your salvation sounds so awfully Pelagian to me. I grew up in a Pelagian church too, so I ought to know. They literally taught that if you miss one Sunday service you have lost your salvation and will go to hell unless you make a public confession of sin (i.e. because to them missing a service is a sin) before the church up front. What you are saying is not yet that extreme, but you seem to be headed in that general direction. You are making church attendance a work one must do to maintain their salvation.

    • Jose,

      Who argued “you have to go to church every Sunday and receive some kind of means of grace or lose your salvation”?

      Anyone who argued such a thesis would be Pelagianizing (or Federal Visionist)! You’re not suggesting that I wrote anything like that are you? I’ve spent much of the last 13 years writing, preaching, teaching, and working against this very sort of notion. You couldn’t have spent more than 30 seconds on the HB and come to any such conclusion:

      http://heidelblog.net/category/federal-vision/

      In the Westminster Standards, the British Reformed churches confessed that God administers his salvation through the “due use of ordinary means” namely the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the holy sacraments. They did not see any tension between a high view of ordinary means and justification by grace alone, through faith alone.

      To be Reformed is to have a biblically realistic view of sin, a high view of free, sovereign grace, and a high view of the visible church in which God administers salvation (Romans 10). Was Paul Pelagianizing when he reminded the Roman Christians that God uses preachers? Was Hebrews Pelagianizing when it teaches that we ought not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as some are in the habit of doing? I think not!

      Was the Westminster Assembly Pelagianizing when they confessed, in ch. 25:

      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; and of their children:and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

      3. Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.

      or the Belgic Confession, when it says, in Art. 28

      We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition.

      I doubt it, since the Synod of Dort, which met to repudiate Pelagianism in the Reformed church, endorsed and adopted this very confession.

      Evidently, they didn’t see the problem.

  85. “Was Paul Pelagianizing when he reminded the Roman Christians that God uses preachers? Was Hebrews Pelagianizing when it teaches that we ought not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as some are in the habit of doing?”

    Perhaps not; but what you are saying is quite different. (And let me point out, in the Pelagian church in which I was raised that verse “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together” was interpreting as meaning “not missing even one service” which is how they pulled off the trick of damning you to hell for missing even one.)

    But what you are saying is not just you should go to church and hear the preaching and observe the sacraments. What you are saying is that those who attend but don’t become official “members” are, what, unsaved? I’m unclear what exactly you are arguing. But it seems you are saying that if you are attending but have not vowed the membership vows, like say Michael Spotts in the first comment who says he can’t vow them because of differences of belief regarding paedobaptism and believer’s baptism, then what, are you saying that a person in this position is unsaved as in never was saved or will lose their salvation? What are the consequences you are saying happen to one who attends but doesn’t make the membership vows? I think its unclear and from what you’ve said so far it can be interpreted as Pelagianism.

    • Jose,

      Jesus and the apostles did not simply go about preaching and leave it at that. They established a visible church. They empowered that visible church with real, subordinate, ministerial authority. Did you read the long-ish paper on the church that I’ve linked in the article(s)?

      http://rscottclark.org/2012/07/the-church-the-christ-confessing-covenant-community/

      Please read it. It might help.

      From the beginning of redemptive history God has always had a visible people. In the New Covenant there is still a visible people. The book of Hebrews was written to a visible covenant community, who were being tempted to turn away from Christ and to go back to types and shadows. Some of them had stopped attending. Twice in the Hebrews (at least) he tells them (e.g. ch 13) to submit to the leaders of the congregation. Timothy and the other pastors, who followed the apostles were instituted by Paul. Here’s an intro to Hebrews. We’re doing an audio commentary on the whole book. Here is the first episode in this series.

      We need to confess both the end (glorification of God and the salvation of the elect) AND the means (preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments).

      Salvation is by grace and justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone but the preaching of that message is authorized by the church and delivered by her officers. Both…and.

      We don’t stay in by works or even cooperation with grace. That would be Pelagianizing. We stay in grace alone! Sanctification is by grace. Yet, in his grace, God works in us to bend our wills (that’s the language of the Synod of Dort) and to work in us sanctification and enable us to respond to his grace. That gracious process of sanctification happens by divine intention in the church not just “out there” somewhere in isolation from the body of Christ.

      Was it Pelagianizing when God delivered his church out of Egypt as a community? No. Was there salvation outside Noah’s ark? Was that Pelagianizing? No. Those are stark acts of sovereign grace administered in a community, i.e., in the visible, instituted church.

  86. I would add that in what you quote from Westminster above, and in the Belgic confession as well, I don’t see your concept of membership there.

    Take he Belgic for instance: “We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition.”

    Where does that say you are unsaved if you don’t vow membership vows yet do attend the congregation?

    • Jose,

      Those documents were adopted by churches! Those who wrote them all had churches with membership. They weren’t meant to be de-contextualized and revised.

      The Kirk of Scotland had membership before, during, and after the assembly. Same for the Dutch Reformed Churches and the Belgic. The Synod of Dort adopted a church order which stipulates adherence to the Belgic as a condition of membership.

      Please read the paper linked above and then come back with questions. I can’t type it out all over again question by question. Take a look at the Church Order of Dort too.

      In the Reformed and Presbyterian churches children were baptized into the congregation and were instructed in the faith. When they were old enough to make profession (as early as 10 in Geneva) they did so and then were admitted to communion as members.

      They were baptized members (visibly) and then communicant members, on profession of faith. In the paper I linked above I give some biblical evidence for church membership.

      Matt Chandler lists some evidence at Nine Marks.

  87. The apostle Paul’s prayer for the saints who were being built up in the Lord together in the Ephesian church –

    Ephesians 1:
    18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

    The visible, locatable church is where God has deposited the fullness of Christ to be administered and known by those whom He has redeemed.

    • I think you mistake the issue. Many churches have been little mini police states or pockets of martial law. People have been turned off. And no I’m not talking about people who left because they want to live immoral lives. In some cases, quite the opposite. People who live moral lives are attacked and treated as heretics for not being as low brow as the rest of the congregation in some churches. The cult leaders control every aspect of life, to the point of banning things like drinking coffee in some churches. When a person escape from this, they may be very reticent to go through vows of membership and sort of put themselves in slavery to another little despotic regime of elders. They may want to attend the congregation, but not enroll in the surveillance of the police state. Not because they have anything truly wrong to hide (like adultery or drunkeness or the like) but because they don’t need to constantly be picked at over non-essentials they way most church leaders love to do.

      • Jose,

        If you read the Belgic Confession, you’ll see that we addressed your objection in 1561 (Art 28). Take a minute please and read the Belgic.

        We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church—for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.”

        …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.

        Not every entity or organization that calls itself a church (see part 3 of the series tomorrow) is a “church.” Not every organization has the marks a true church.

        Any organization or congregation that is abusive of its members probably lacks the 3rd mark of a church: discipline. One reason why Reformed churches are accountable to other congregations and to broader assemblies is to prevent abuse. Members of Reformed churches have a right to complain against their elders, ministers, and deacons if there are abuses. If the local body fails then they may complain or appeal to a broader assembly. I have seen that process at work and I’ve seen churches reformed according to God’s Word through following Matt 18 on a broader level.

        Take a look at the essay on the doctrine of the church. It has a section on Matt 16.

    • Jose ,

      Consider that possibly you may be letting your negative experience of belonging to a church color what it means belong to a local church. Without my going into detail, at one period of my life I spent about 15 years apart from any church membership. This was after an experience of intense commitment to a church that had many of the characteristics you are talking about. But… I was losing out. I was jaded. And I was convinced my remaining outside of a local church was justified… Yes, even Scripturally justified.

      Treading water as an individual Christian is another way of just gradually losing ground as a Christian. That’s what I came to realize. I was brought back to finally become a member in a church, a church that had many flaws, a church that I didn’t fully agree with. And my Lord was the moving force in my decision. I again came to accept the truth that I was saved to be in the church in this life, to be joined with other Christians, rubbing shoulders, iron sharpening iron, struggling with other’s imperfections as I struggled with mine. Part of what was missing in my individual trek.

      I’m no longer in that church as God continued to lead me to seek and find. And I found a church home… not a perfect church. Far from it. And as a result I’m again learning what it means to grow in real life in a church with real brothers and sisters who confess the gospel of free forgiveness for sinners in Christ. And I’m learning again what it means to commit, i.e. love others who are not loveable, just like me.

      Jose, don’t write off the local churches. Together they make up the many cities on this earth where Christ dwells among his saints for their edification, gradually being built up into a holy temple of the Lord. It ain’t easy, but it’s worth it.

  88. Jose writes: “Where does that say you are unsaved if you don’t vow membership vows yet do attend the congregation?”

    GW: Of course, no one here is saying that we are saved by faith plus vowing membership vows. Certainly we are justified by faith alone. But the point is that true faith bears fruit in obedience. If you are saved then God will have sovereignly worked within your soul a desire to obey the moral commands of Scripture. One of those commands is found in Hebrews 13:17, which reads: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (ESV)

    Jose, are you obeying this command to obey your spiritual leaders? (In Scripture such leaders include those called to the ministry of the Word, variously described as “presbyters,” “bishops,” “pastors,” etc.) Who are your spiritual leaders? Who is your pastor? Who are your elders? And how can you regard them as such unless you are in some sense a member of the local church where they lead? Indeed, how can this command be obeyed without some form of accountable, responsible church membership? (Answer: It can’t. Those who are not members of a visible local church are living in direct disobedience to this command of God’s Word, whether they do so knowingly or unknowingly.) To illustrate: If I am a member of a particular local church, then my “leaders” are the pastor and elders of my local church, not the ministry team of the church down the street where I hold no official membership. Furthermore, how can loving church discipline be exercised against unrepentant sinning members (as Jesus commands His church to do in places like Matt. 18:15-20) unless there actually is membership from which someone can be excommunicated. (Without church membership there is no excommunication; indeed, without church membership church discipline is a meaningless concept.)

    • How can this “command” be followed without some form of apostolic sucession to demonstrate who the valid “leaders” are? The Reformation forever demolished any such notion as this. It is Sola Scriptura, not Sola Eldertura.

      • Jose,

        There is apostolic succession but not of the sort that Rome imagines. The succession is spiritual and doctrinal and moral. Rome thinks it’s essentially magic. It isn’t. Those churches that confess the apostolic faith are successors. Those ministers who preach the apostolic gospel are successors. The Reformation debate wasn’t whether Christ established a church in the earth but which church, the evangelical or Roman.

      • Jose,

        Have you actually read Calvin’s Institutes, book 4? He has a lengthy discussion of these questions and he quite disagrees with you and he was an important part of the Reformation!

    • But no church has every doctrine right. How much percent does your church have to be right for it to be a valid “apostolic succession”? Would you acknowledge any Pentecostal elders as being valid leaders that must be obeyed? What then, for instance, of someone who is willing to attend your congregation, but does not believe you are perfectly right about baptism for instance?

  89. “The gospel is good news preached by preachers (Rom. 10) who are ordained by Christ’s church to announce that message. It’s an authorized message with authorized messengers in and to a congregation that is united together by a common faith, by mutual submission to the Word and to the church.”

    This sounds like the theory of apostolic succession. One reason evangelicals have abandoned the idea is obvious. To make it work, you’ve got to demonstrate an unbroken succession, which nobody can do. The Catholics can’t do it, so obviously Protestants can’t either.

    • Yes, there is an unbroken succession. Christ said, “the gates of hell will not prevail against it” and “Lo, I will be with you always” and “I will be a God to you and to your children.” These are covenant promises that cannot be broken. The church has been, in history, more or less pure (WCF) but it has always been. The gospel has sometimes been obscured by error and folly but it has always been.

    • The promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against it, applies only to the invisible church. “The gospel has sometimes been obscured by error and folly but it has always been”; it has almost always been obscured by the visible church but it has always been clear in the invisible church.

      • So, you are the reason I’m writing these posts! You think you have magic spectacles allowing you to see the “invisible church” apart from the visible! What’s it like to have that power?

        The Reformers, as I’ve demonstrated from the Belgic, find the invisible church IN the visible. The distinction simply means that not every baptized member of the church visible is united by grace alone, through faith alone, to Christ. The church invisible cannot ordinarily be found outside the visible church. That’s the universal testimony of the church catholic since the 3rd century at least when Cyprian said, “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus est (outside of the church, there is no salvation). The church to which he referred was the visible church and the Belgic (1561) and the Westminster Confession (1647-48) agree with him and either quote him or paraphrase him, as I’ve demonstrated.

        There isn’t a single 16th or 17th-century Reformed theologian who agrees with your view. Your’s is an American, modern, individualist view. It’s more akin the views espoused by Anabaptists in the 1520s than it is to that of Luther, Calvin, Bucer et al.

        When Jesus said “tell it to the church” he wasn’t speaking about the church invisible. The very command presupposes a visible community.

        I’m sorry that you had a bad time in congregation. That happens a lot. We have lots of visitors to the HB who’ve been abused and I’m sensitive to that. I’m sympathetic. Abuse of an institution does not invalidate the institution. Jesus gave the keys to an office not to a ghost. Paul commanded Timothy to preach to a congregation. Peter speaks of elders in a congregation. The epistles were written to congregations made up of real, live, tangible, actual sinners.

  90. Jose wrote: “How can this “command” be followed without some form of apostolic sucession to demonstrate who the valid “leaders” are? The Reformation forever demolished any such notion as this. It is Sola Scriptura, not Sola Eldertura.”

    GW: Jose, I asked if you were obeying Hebrews 13:17 (which is a clear imperative/command binding upon believers under the new covenant), and I asked who your “leaders” are. You answer by avoiding the questions and changing the subject, throwing up smoke and mirrors with an irrelevant reference to apostolic succession and a clever (though ignorant) diversion in your reference to “Sola Eldertura.” Jose, I’m not trying to be mean here, but it is clear to everyone here who has even a basic understanding of how the Reformers thought about both Sola Scriptura and the doctrine of the visible church that you understand neither. Reformation sola scriptura is not the same thing as the American revivalistic hyper-individualistic “solo scriptura” (me and my Bible and the Holy Spirit in my prayer closet, all alone and with no need for the institutional church) which you seem to advocate. Sorry, but your interpretation of the Reformation and of the thinking of the Reformers is anachronistic and just plain wrong.

    So, let me try again (and this time please try to answer the questions): (1) Are you obeying the command of Hebrews 13:17? And, (2) Who are your spiritual leaders?

    • “So, let me try again (and this time please try to answer the questions): (1) Are you obeying the command of Hebrews 13:17? And, (2) Who are your spiritual leaders?”

      This tactic is the same sort of tactic a Campbellite would use with you on Acts 2:38 or some other passage that you don’t take all that seriously because you give at least lip service to justification by faith alone whereas they reject it. “How can you claim to believe Scripture is inerrant” the Campbellite would say “when you deny that baptism is required for the remission of sins and must be preceded by repentance like Peter says in Acts 2:38.” I’m not going to play tit-for-tat with your churchianity mainwashing tactics. Go argue with a Campbellite if you want to use Campbellite tactics.

    • Its not that “church is lame.” Really its the inconsistency of the doctrine taught there. Justification is by faith alone you preach; and then you try to control every aspect of everyone’s life, and you heap on them a bunch of ceremonial works and quotas for church attendance. You only pretend to believe in justification by faith alone; you guys in churchianity are actually all Pelagians, even in the Reformed churches, if not especially in the Reformed churches. You think you are earning your salvation by church attendance and observing the Eucharist and so on. You think you are earning brownie points with God. The Pelagian stinch wafts off of you like stink off a skunk. Who would want to come listen to such “ministers of the word” who can’t even figure out that they’ve added a slew of works onto faith alone and become worksists? All visisble churches, it seems also always become worksists and ceremonialists, because all they can judge people by are their works, church attendence and communion observance and so on, and all they exist for is to judge everyone and Lord it over God’s heritage. Faith alone means no local church is required. Its not faith + local church; its faith alone.

  91. Jose wrote: “All visisble churches, it seems also always become worksists and ceremonialists, because all they can judge people by are their works, church attendence and communion observance and so on, and all they exist for is to judge everyone and Lord it over God’s heritage.”

    GW: Wow, for one who is so opposed to judgmentalism you seem to make some rather sweeping, harsh (and, I might add, unjust) judgments about those of us who frequent here on the Heidelblog. Because we hold to the Reformers’ view of the visible church, you uncharitably judge us and slanderously accuse us of being “worksists” and “ceremonialists” and “Pelagians” who are guilty of “churchianity.” You slanderously (and wrongly) accuse us of being damnable heretics who reject sola fide (a totally false and ignorant accusation on your part). In doing this you violate the ninth commandment and manifest a lack of love for your internet neighbors. The fruit of the Spirit includes love, and love believes the best about others. Are you displaying such love here, Jose? Why the bitterness? Why the irrational anger at people (like me) whom you’ve never even met and don’t even really know? I suggest you may need to go back and take the log out of your own eye before continuing to expose your folly and ignorance on this public forum.

    Jose wrote: “This tactic is the same sort of tactic a Campbellite would use with you on Acts 2:38 or some other passage that you don’t take all that seriously because you give at least lip service to justification by faith alone whereas they reject it. “How can you claim to believe Scripture is inerrant” the Campbellite would say “when you deny that baptism is required for the remission of sins and must be preceded by repentance like Peter says in Acts 2:38.” I’m not going to play tit-for-tat with your churchianity mainwashing tactics. Go argue with a Campbellite if you want to use Campbellite tactics.”

    GW: I assure you I’m not trying to pull any nefarious “tactic” on you. This is an uncharitable judging of motives on your part (more judgmentalism which you accuse us of). I’m simply bringing the Scriptures to bear upon your expressed opinions. I want to know how you understand Hebrews 13:17, and have tried to get at that by asking you if you are obeying that commandment (which is binding upon you, whether you like it or not), and who your spiritual leaders are. Instead of addressing that passage in its context, you divert attention to Acts 2:38 and accuse me of Campbellite tactics.

    So, once again, I’ll give you another opportunity to answer these two specific questions: (1) Are you obeying the command of Hebrews 13:17? And, (2) Who are your spiritual leaders?

    And if you aren’t willing to answer them, may I ask why? Do you believe you are exempt from the command of Heb. 13:17? What makes you so special?

    • Wow, Jose, what un-Christian attitudes you display in your comment, especially making false accusations about people you don’t know. Unfortunately, you’ve illustrated the point of the original blog post.

  92. Wow…Jose..wow… I was part of a confessional church that abused its sheep and had a very FV-ist view on church membership and by God’s grace I ‘escaped’ and went to another confessional reformed church that taught me grace. In the natural world MEN are sinners and there are some horrible churches but the doctrines of which these men speak, especially Dr. Clark, are biblical and Dr. Clark is a ‘champion’ (imho) in defending the doctrines of grace, helping to train and teach men to lead their sheep ever so gently.

    You cannot wholesale accuse the reformed world–it’s sin, sinners, (forgive me), YOUR sin, too, the devil and BAD doctrine which informs behavior–which are your enemies…

    May the Lord open your eyes to His Grace and the JOY of being in the Communion of Saints, worshipping corporately! Mother Church is where one can be loved, taught and protected. Pray for God’s help in freeing you and providing a real church home. I will.

  93. Jose – are you the Jose who left the church I serve last year at this time here in Hartford, CT?

    Dr. Scott, Geoff Willour, others –

    Jose is another reason to reject “true church” theory. He’s likely been a part of a grossly disobedient church. So too Jack Miller above, and it was Reformed. The Scriptural judgment on churches is not true/false but obedient/disobedient. The evidence is simple and perspicuous.

    None of us wants to intentionally separate the Spirit from the Word and stuff Him in a 16th C bag, feathers and all. But unintentionally, we are all susceptible to stuff Him somewhere other than Scripture.

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