Sunday, June 1, 2008

Presbyterianism Pt. 4/ Catechism Q8

There can, therefore, be no doubt that Presbyterians do carry out the principle that Church power vests in the Church itself, and that the people have a right to a substantive part in its discipline and government. In other words, we do not hold that all power vests in the clergy, and that the people have only to listen and obey.
But is this a scriptural principle? Is it a matter of concession and courtesy, or is it a matter of divine right? Is our office of ruling elder one only of expediency, or is it an essential element of our system, arising out of the very nature of the Church as constituted by God, and therefore of divine authority?

1. This, in the last resort, is, after all, only the question, whether the clergy are the Church, or whether the people are the Church. If, as Louis XIV. said of France, “I am the State,” the clergy can say, “We are the Church,” then all Church power vests in them, as all civil power vested in the French monarch. But if the people are the State, civil power vests in them; and if the people are the Church, power vests in the people. If the clergy are priests and mediators, the channel of all divine communications, and the only medium of access to God, then all power is in their hands; but if all believers are priests and kings, then they have something more to do than merely passively to submit. So abhorrent is this idea of the clergy being the Church to the consciousness of Christians, that no definition of the Church for the first fifteen centuries after Christ was ever framed that even mentioned the clergy. This is said to have been first done by Canisius and Bellarmine. 39Romanists define the Church to be, “Those who profess the true religion, and are subject to the Pope.” Anglicans define it as, “Those who profess the true religion, and are subject to prelates.” The Westminster Confession defines the visible Church, “Those who profess the true religion, together with their Children.” In every Protestant symbol, Lutheran or Reformed, the Church is said to be the company of faithful men. Now, as a definition is the statement of the essential attributes or characteristics of a subject; and us, by the common consent of Protestants, the definition of the Church is complete without even mentioning the clergy, it is evidently the renunciation of the radical principle of Protestantism—and of course, of Presbyterianism—to maintain that all Church power vests in the clergy. The first argument, therefore, in support of the doctrine that the people have a right to a substantive part in the government of the Church, is derived from the fact that they, according to the Scriptures and all Protestant Confessions, constitute the Church.

2. A second argument is this: All Church power arises from the indwelling of the Spirit; therefore those in whom the Spirit dwells are the seat of Church power. But the Spirit dwells in the whole Church; and therefore the whole Church is the seat of Church power.

The first member of this syllogism is not disputed. The ground on which Romanists hold that Church power vests in the bishops, to the exclusion of the people, is that they hold that the Spirit was promised and given to the bishops as a class. When Christ breathed on his disciples, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained”; and when he said, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”; and when he further said, “He that heareth you heareth me”; and, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world”; they hold that he gave the Holy Ghost to the apostles, and to their successors in the apostleship, to continue unto the end of the world, to guide them into the knowledge of the truth, and to constitute them the authoritative teachers and rulers of the Church. If this is true, then, of course, all Church power vests in these apostle–bishops. But, on the other hand, if it is true that the Spirit dwells in the whole Church; if he guides the people as well as the clergy into the knowledge of the truth; if he animates the whole body, and makes it the representative of Christ on earth. so that they who hear the Church hear Christ, and so that what the Church binds on earth is bound in heaven; then, of course, Church power vests in the Church itself, and not exclusively in the clergy.40
If there be anything plain from the whole tenor of the New Testament, and from innumerable explicit declarations of the Word of God, it is that the Spirit dwells in the whole body of Christ; that he guides all hits people into the knowledge of the truth; that every believer is taught of God, and has the witness in himself, and has no need that any should teach him, but the anointing which abides in him teaches him all things. It is, therefore, the teaching of the Church, and not of the clergy exclusively, which is ministerially the teaching of the Spirit, and the judgment of the Church which is the judgment of the Spirit. It is a thoroughly antichristian doctrine that the Spirit of God, and therefore the life and governing power of the Church, resides in the ministry, to the exclusion of the people.

When the great promise of the Spirit was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, it was fulfilled not in reference to the apostles only; it was of the whole assembly it was said, “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Paul, in writing to the Romans, says—“We, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having, therefore, gifts differing according to the grace given unto us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching.” To the Corinthians he says—“To every one is given a manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit.” To the Ephesians he says—“There is one body and one Spirit; but unto every one is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” This is the uniform representation of Scripture. The Spirit dwells in the whole Church—animates, guides, and instructs the whole. If, therefore, it be true, as all admit, that Church power goes with the Spirit, and arises out of his presence, it cannot belong exclusively to the clergy.

3. The third argument on this subject is derived from the commission given by Christ to his Church: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” This commission imposes a certain duty, it conveys certain powers, and it includes a great promise. The duty is to spread and to maintain the gospel in its purity over the whole earth; the powers are those required for the accomplishment of that object—that is, the power to teach, to rule, and to exercise discipline; and the promise is the assurance of Christ’s perpetual presence and assistance. As neither the duly to extend and sustain the gospel in its purity, nor the promise of Christ’s presence, is peculiar to the apostles as a class, or to the clergy as a body, but as both the duty and the promise belong to the whole Church, so also of necessity do the powers on the possession of which the obligation rests The command, “Go, teach all nations,” “Go, preach the gospel to every creature,” falls on the ear of the whole Church; it wakens a thrill in every heart. Every Christian feels that the command is addressed to a body of which he is a member, and that he has a personal obligation to discharge. It eves not the ministry alone to whom this commission was given; and therefore it is not to them alone that the powers which it conveys belong.

4. The right of the people to a substantive part in the government of the Church is recognized and sanctioned by the apostles in almost every conceivable way. When they thought it necessary to complete the college of apostles, after the apostasy of Judas, Peter, addressing the disciples—the number being about an hundred and twenty—said: “Men and brethren, of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed . . . and they gave forth lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Thus, in this most important initiatory step, the people had a decisive voice. So, when deacons were to be appointed, the whole multitude chose the seven men who were to be invested with the office. When the question arose as to the continued obligation of the Mosaic law, the authoritative decision proceeded from the whole Church. “It pleased,” says the sacred historian, “the apostles and elders, with the whole Church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch.” And they wrote letters by them after this manner: “The apostles, and elders, and brethren (οι αποστολοι και οι πρεσβυτεποι και οι αδελφοι ), send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia.” Acts 15:22,23. The brethren, therefore, were associated with the ministry in the decision of this great doctrinal and practical question. Most of the apostolic epistles are addressed to churches—that is, the saints or believers of Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, and Philippi. In these epistles the people are assumed to be responsible for the orthodoxy of their teachers, and for the purity of church members. They are required not to believe every spirit; but to try the spirits—to sit in judgment on the question whether those who came to them as religious teachers were really sent of God. The Galatians are severely censured for giving heed to false doctrines, and are called to pronounce even an apostle “anathema” if he preached another gospel. The Corinthians are censured for allowing an incestuous person to remain in their communion: they are commanded to excommunicate him, and afterwards, on his repentance, to restore him to their fellowship. These, and other cases of the kind, determine nothing as to the way in which the power of the people was exercised; but they prove conclusively that such power existed. The command to watch over the orthodoxy of ministers and the purity of members was not addressed exclusively to the clergy, but to the whole Church. We believe that, as in the synagogue, and in every well–ordered society, the powers inherent in the society are exercised through appropriate organs. But the fact that these commands are addressed to the people, or to the whole Church, proves that they were responsible, and that they had a substantive part in the government of the Church. It would be absurd in other nations to address any complaints or exhortations to the people of Russia in reference to national affairs, because they have no part in the government. It would be no less absurd to address Roman Catholics as a self–governing body. But such addresses may well be made by the people of one of our States to the people of another, because the people have the power though it is exercised through legitimate organs. While, therefore, the epistles of the apostles do not prove that the churches whom they addressed had not regular officers through whom the power of the Church was to be exercised, they abundantly prove that such power vested in the people; that they bad a right and were bound to take part in the government of the Church and in the preservation of its purity.

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., 404 (Simpsonville SC: Christian Classics Foundation, 1996).

Q:How doth God execute his decrees?
A:God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism : With Scripture Proofs., 3rd edition., Question 8 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).


RHEA said...


This question confuses me a little...what is meant by "executing his decrees"???

Alan said...

Sorry been on vacation visiting friends and family up north before the move south in two weeks, my is it that close already? Anyway, I am heading back home today, 06/06/08, and will answer your question when I get there.