Monday, May 26, 2008

Presbyterianism Pt.2/ Catechism Q6

"I. The first of these principles relates to the power and rights of the people. As to the nature of Church power, it is to be remembered that the Church is a Theocracy. Jesus Christ is its head; all power is derived from him; his Word is our written constitution. All Church power is, therefore, properly ministerial and administrative. Everything is to be done in the name of Christ and in accordance with his directions. The Church, however, is a self–governing society, distinct from the State, having its officers and laws, and therefore an administrative government of its own. The power of the Church relates—1. To matters of doctrine. She has the right to set forth a public declaration of the truths which she believes, and which are to be acknowledged by all who enter her communion—that is, she has the right to frame creeds or confessions of faith, as her testimony for the truth and her protest against error. And as she has been commissioned to teach all nations, she has the right of selecting teachers, of judging of their fitness, of ordaining and vending them forth into the field, and of recalling and deposing them when unfaithful. 2. The Church has power to set down rules for the ordering of public worship. 3. She has power to make rules for her own government, such as every Church has in its took of discipline, constitution, or canons, etc. 4. She has power to receive into fellowship, and to exclude the unworthy from her own communion.

Now, the question is, Where does this power vest? Does it, as Romanists and Prelatists affirm, belong exclusively to the clergy? Have they the right to determine for the Church what she is to believe, what she is to profess, what she is to do, and whom she is to receive as members and whom she is to reject? Or does this power vest in the Church itself—that is, in the whole body of the faithful? This, it will be perceived, is a radical question—one which touches the essence of things and determines the destiny of men. If all Church power vests in the clergy, then the people are practically bound to passive obedience in all matters of faith and practice, for all right of private judgment is then denied. If it vests in the whole Church, then the people have a right to a substantive part in the decision of all questions relating to doctrine, worship, order, and discipline. The public assertion of this right of the people, at the time of the Reformation, roused all Europe. It was an apocalyptic trumpet—that is, a trumpet of revelation, tuba per sepulchra sonans —calling dead souls to life; awakening them to the consciousness of power and of right—of power conveying right, and imposing the obligation to assert and exercise it. This was the end of Church tyranny in all truly Protestant countries. It was the end of the theory that the people were bound to passive submission in matters of faith and practice. It was deliverance to the captive; the opening of the prison to those who were bound; the introduction of the people of God into the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free. This is the reason why civil liberty follows religious liberty. The theory that all Church power vests in a divinely constituted hierarchy begets the theory that all civil power vests of divine right in kings and nobles; and the theory that Church power vests in the Church itself, and all Church officers are servants of the Church, of necessity begets the theory that civil power vests in the people, and that civil magistrates are servants of the people. These theories God has joined together, and no man can put them asunder. It was, therefore, by an infallible instinct the unfortunate Charles of England said, “No bishop, no king”; by which he meant that if there is no despotic power in the Church, there can be no despotic power in the State; or if there be liberty in the Church, there will be liberty in the State.

But this great Protestant and Presbyterian principle is not only a principle of liberty, it is also a principle of order—1. Because this power of the people is subject to the infallible authority of the Word; and, 2. Because the exercise of it is in the hands of duly–constituted officers. Presbyterianism does not dissolve the bands of authority, and resolve the Church into a mob. Though delivered from the autocratic authority of the hierarchy, it remains under the law to Christ. It is restricted in the exercise of its power by the Word of God, which bends the reason, heart, and conscience. We only cease to be the servants of men that we may be the servants of God. We are raised into a higher sphere, where perfect liberty is merged in absolute. As the Church is the aggregate of believers, there is an intimate analogy between the experience of the individual believer and of the Church as a whole. The believer ceases to be the servant of sin that he may be the servant of righteousness: he is redeemed from the law that he may be the servant of Christ. So the Church is delivered from an illegitimate authority, not that she may be lawless, but subject to an authority legitimate and divine. The Reformers, therefore, as instruments in the hands of God, in delivering the Church from bondage to prelates, did not make it a tumultuous multitude, in which every man was a law to himself, free to believe, and free to do what he pleased. The Church, in all the exercise of her power, in reference either to doctrine or discipline, acts under the written law of God as recorded in his Word.

But besides this, the power of the Church is not only thus limited and guided by the Scriptures, but the exercise of it is in the hands of legitimate officers. The Church is not a vast democracy, where everything is decided by the popular voice. “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (that is, of order), “as in all churches of the saints.” The Westminster Confession, therefore, expressing the common sentiment of Presbyterians, says: “The Lord Jesus Christ, as King and Head of his Church, hath therein appointed a government in the hand of Church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.” The doctrine that all civil power vests ultimately in the people is not inconsistent with the doctrine that that power is in the hands of legitimate officers—legislative, judicial, and executive—to be exercised by them according to law. Nor is it inconsistent with the doctrine that the authority of the civil magistrate is jure divino. So the doctrine that Church power vests in the Church itself is not inconsistent with the doctrine that there is a divinely appointed class of officers through whom that power is to be exercised. It thus appears that the principle of liberty and the principle of order are perfectly harmonious. In denying that all Church power vests exclusively in the clergy, whom the people have nothing to do but to believe and to obey, and in affirming that it vests in the Church itself, while we assert the great principle of Christian liberty, we assert the no less important principle of evangelical order.
It is not necessary to occupy your time in quoting either from the Reformed Confessions or from standard Presbyterian writers, that the principle just stated is one of the radical principles of our system. It is enough to advert to the recognition of it involved in the office of ruling elder.

Ruling elders are declared to be the representatives of the people. They are chosen by them to act in their name in the government of the Church. The functions of these elders, therefore, determine the power of the people: for a representative is one chosen by others to do in their name what they are entitled to do in their own persons; or rather, to exercise the powers which radically inhere in those for whom they act. The members of a State Legislature, or of Congress, for example, can exercise only those powers which are inherent in the people."

A.A. Hodge, Charles Hodge and A.A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith : With Questions for Theological Students and Bible Classes, With an appendix on Presbyterianism by Charles Hodge. Index created by Christian Classics Foundation., electronic ed. based on the 1992 Banner of Truth reprint., 400 (Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation, 1996).

Q:How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A:There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. (1 John 5:7, Matt. 28:19)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism : With Scripture Proofs., 3rd edition., Question 6 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

7 For there are three that testify:

New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update, 1 Jn 5:7 (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update, Mt 28:19 (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

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