THERE is an obvious need at the present time of correct teaching upon the subject of the Church. The Christian Minister who feels his responsibility in declaring the whole Counsel of God must often lament the prevailing ignorance on this subject, and be deeply impressed with the importance of giving to his people sound and full instruction concerning the "Gospel of the Kingdom," which it is his bounden duty to "preach" (St. Mark i, 14). Belief in the Church is fundamental. With the loss of the Church you may lose the faith which it enshrines. The Church is the "keeper and witness of Holy Writ" (Article xx), "the pillar and ground of the Truth" (1 Tim. iii, 15). The doctrine of the Church is an essential part of Christian teaching. The creed of Christendom, brief as it is, teaches us to say "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church," after we have said, "I believe in God," in "His only Son our Lord," and "in the Holy Ghost." The Church is the Body of which Christ is the Head. The saved through [9/10] Christ are "added to the Church" (Acts ii, 47). Upon the Church rests the responsibility, through Her Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, of their spiritual nurture, their growth in grace, their preparation for their heavenly felicity. It is our duty as well-instructed Christians and Churchmen to learn what the Church is, the Notes which distinguish it, its Authority, Orders, Polity and Government, that we may know and improve our privileges, and so attain through the Kingdom of Grace, a glorious entrance into the Kingdom of Glory.
And I cannot but think that a better knowledge of the Church would help us in resisting the rationalistic tendencies of the times. The old gross infidelity of the last and the beginning of the present century has indeed disappeared from among the intelligent classes. Except among the illiterate, you will find no admirers of such writers as Paine and other like despisers of God's revelation. But you will find instead a growing spirit of rationalism. It is defended by writers of no mean ability. It allies itself with science and philosophy. It is popularized in current literature, which abounds in unwarrantable assumptions, discrediting the Bible in its supposed relations to science, the authenticity of the Sacred Books, the substantial accuracy of Bible History. The uninstructed are asked to sit in judgment on questions in the solution of which trained abilities and the deepest research are necessary. Nothing is too sacred to be questioned. No authority is too high to be brought [10/11] into doubt and practical contempt. Man is infinitely exalted. The infallibility of reason is substituted for the infallibility of the Bible. All possible problems of nature and spirit, profane and sacred, are rashly decided. God in man, rather man himself, becomes man's Teacher, Guide and Saviour.
Such destructive theories are closely connected with the loss or the forgetfulness of the true idea of the Church. They can best be corrected by restoring to the Church its true position in our religious system and life, and its rightful authority in matters of faith. Historically, the Church is before the Bible. The Bible was not given and then the Church formed in accordance with its teaching. The Church must have been first, or there could have been no Sacred Scriptures. This is true in relation to both the Old and the New Testaments. The revelation of God could not have been spoken from the opening Heavens into the ear of the world. It was given to men called out of the world, to men prepared for it, to men who would obey and keep it and hand it on to the future. The Bible is made up of the supernatural history, and special divine teaching, of the Church, in the exigencies through which God led it. What, for example, are the Holy Gospels but memoirs of Christ compiled under the guidance of inspiration by witnesses, or companions of witnesses, of the events, a considerable time after the death of Christ, for the use of the Church which was already established and widely diffused, and [11/12] long familiar with the facts they record through the oral teaching of the Apostles? What are the Epistles but letters called forth by the needs of the times to individual Churches? What are "the Acts," but the Sacred History of the empowering of the Church in its Pentecostal gifts, and of the Apostolic labors and successes of its Ministers? Primarily, the Church itself is God's Revelation. The written Word is authoritative, as given to the Church, recorded for the Church, by the Church's Ministers; preserved by the Church, proclaimed by the Church, for the Church's nurture and sanctification. Remove from beneath it its "pillar and ground," and it could only be expected that the Edifice of Truth would fall. But give to the Church the place and authority that rightly belong to it, as Christ's own Institution, with its Ministry, sent and empowered by Him for their work, with Orders, Sacraments, Rites and Government, ordained by Him or having His approval; establish the claim of the Church to be heard with its authoritative testimony, amidst the din of human controversy and the vagaries and aimless searchings of doubt, and there will be, at least among Christians, little place for Scepticism. [Bishop McLaren's Catholic Dogma the Antidote to Doubt.] The new rationalistic Christianity will be no longer possible. Rationalistic attacks upon the Ministry, depreciation of the Episcopate and of its powers and prerogatives, denials of the Church's identity in history from the Apostles' times, are [12/13] alarming symptoms, and are hailed as welcome supports, of Infidelity.
You will not be surprised, therefore, that I should be requested by the clergy, observant of these things, and should feel it to be my duty, to explain and defend the nature, authority, government and perpetuity of the Church of Christ.
In entering upon this course of lectures, it is proper to say, that I shall attempt no discussion of the contradictory theories of the Church which are held by different Christian Bodies. I shall not directly, nor farther than the argument may require it, question the claims of any. Let all stand or fall to their own Master. It might be more interesting, and more forcibly impress the truth, to subject them all to a rigid criticism and test their claims by Scripture and History. But the vague and foolish charge of uncharitableness might be raised, and a spirit hostile to free inquiry be excited. Bigotry and prejudice among weak brethren might close their ears to the truth. I deem it better, therefore, and a due regard to brevity requires it, to confine myself to the positive setting forth of the facts and truth of the case.
After so long an introduction, as a justification of the course, and a statement of the spirit in which it will be conducted, I come directly to the subject of the present Lecture, which is, the Nature of the Church. And my purpose is to show that the Church is a permanent divine [13/14] Society, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. It is as such that we profess our belief in the Church in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. These, therefore, are the Notes, or Marks that distinguish it, by the Confession of all Churchmen in all ages.
The word means, etymologically, a body of men called out of the world, a selected assembly or Congregation. Historically, it is the people called out of heathenism, from worldly engrossments, from the slavery of sin, and who are born into the Christ-Kingdom, or organized into a society with Christ as their Lord and Head, receiving Him personally as their Redeemer and Saviour, giving Him their full allegiance, obeying His teaching, relying on His promises. They are called into this membership by the Church's Ministry and prevenient grace. They are each received in a Symbolic Rite, which is the mode of their initiation, the means of their new Birth (S. John iii, 5). They obtain privileges, and pledge obedience. They are in Covenant with God through Christ the Mediator, on the ground of His Redemptive work, through the human instrumentality of His Ministry. Responsive to His grace, they are confirmed therein, and the Spiritual gifts conferred by the laying on of Apostles' hands. And there is a further Sacrament of participation of the life of Christ crucified, of growth into Him, of nurture and sanctification. There is also therein the habitual pleading of Christ's sacrifice, and the public [14/15] and common worship, the hearing of God's word and its authoritative exhibition and application. The life of a Christian is not in individual isolation. It is a corporate life in Christ, in membership of His Body, the Divine Humanity, the medium of His Spirit working, in which with mind and heart responsive, he receives all Spiritual grace and blessing.
The Church presides over all the Christian's earthly course. She surrounds him and watches over him with all a mother's anxious care, and at last solemnizes over him the rites of Christian burial, in sure hope of the Resurrection of life. The Church in short is the Divine environment in which, if conformed thereto, he shall realize the perfection of his being in union with Christ, and at last the Redemption of body, soul and spirit in a blissful immortality.
The organized body of Christ's followers thus baptized into Him is the Church. It may be considered as local--a single congregation. It is a Church as having the Ministry, the due administration of the Sacraments and the preaching of the pure word of God. But the word is not commonly nor so properly used in this local sense. The Church is rather of a City, State or Nation, as the Church at Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, or Crete, or the Seven Diocesan Churches of Asia Minor. Or it may be the whole collective Body of Christ's people, distinguished by the marks assigned to it in the Creeds. Thus it is the [15/16] Kingdom which the prophet Daniel foretold would be inaugurated after the Assyrian, Medo-Persian and Grecian Empires should have passed away and the great Empire of Rome should be established: a Kingdom which the God of Heaven should set up and which should never be destroyed. This is the Kingdom which John Baptist announced as immediately at hand, which Jesus Himself began to preach in Galilee (St. Mark i, 14), and which He, its founder, compared to a grain of mustard seed, to leaven, etc., in His parables. So, too, for it is set forth and illustrated in varied language. It is the Body of Christ. It is a living Temple built up on the foundation of His doctrine. It is a vine with fruit-bearing branches. It is an army fighting and conquering under Jesus our King and the Captain of our Salvation. It is the institution built by Christ against which the gates of hell cannot prevail (S. Matt, xvii, 18). It is "the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the Truth."
All the references to it in Holy Scripture prove that it is Divine and intended to be permanent. I am not speaking now of the Jewish Church of which the Christian is the antitype, the continuation, the development, and which every one who receives the Old Testament believes to have been Divine in its origin and divinely guided in its history. I am speaking of the Church of the New Covenant. It is founded by Christ. It is purchased by His Blood. It is vitalized and energized by [16/17] His Spirit. He ordained and appointed and qualifies its Ministry, and provides for their succession and perpetuation. He instituted its Sacraments, and gave for its guidance the Word of Truth. He intended it as the Spiritual Home of God's children, the School for their training, the instrumental means of their salvation. He intended, moreover, that the Church as His Body should represent Him in the world, should be through the Word and Sacraments the extension and perpetuation of His incarnate life, should continue the work which He "began to do and to teach" (Acts i, 1), and of which He laid the foundation in His Death. Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecostal gifts; that it should assimilate unto itself all that its leaven could penetrate; that it should be the conserver and teacher of all the Truth, the great instrument of civilization and progress, of the elevation, the social and individual improvement of men, and the regeneration of the world.
I need not assist you to make the inference at this point that this society is unique in character. Men may organize societies for good purposes, but they can be in no way identical with this society. Such societies may be formed for the circulation of the Scriptures and religious books, for the planting and support of missions, for the defense and propagation of particular doctrines, for the spread of what is deemed to be Christianity. But no such Society organized by good men, no aggregation of [17/18] such societies is the Church of Christ. In no respect can such an identity be predicated.
We come now to the Notes of the Church given in the Creeds. First, it is ONE. Christ, the Head, has not many Bodies, but one Body. It has many members, and all have not the same office, but they all contribute to the increase and usefulness of the Body. So the Vine is one. The Temple is one. Indeed, all the Scripture representations of the Church involve its Unity.
Since the Church has been broken into many schisms in the progress of its history, and as we see it to-day seems to be sadly divided, a distinction has been drawn between the Church, visible and invisible; and the Unity of which the Scriptures and the Creeds speak, is by some held to be true only of the latter. Such a distinction is clearly possible. It was made by many of the Reformers-and later Anglican Theologians. But they generally mean, by the Church invisible, the Church Expectant in Paradise, or Triumphant in Glory. With some, also, it signifies that secret, elect number known only to God, who will persevere unto the end, and who may be conceived of as one with the Church of the departed. They are a Church within the Church. They are those whose names are written in Heaven. Such theories may be consistent and unobjectionable, as held by the Philosophic theologian, if held only as theories. It must be said of them, however, that they are modern. They were [18/19] unknown till the sixteenth century. But it must not be supposed that any such ideal, invisible Church is the Church we read of in the New Testament. The Church to which we are "added" by Baptism is a definite organization, with definite officers and administrations, to whose keeping the Word of God is intrusted, to which promises are given with injunction of duties, which regularly meets for common worship and Christian instruction, and the pleading of the Sacrifice of Christ, which has powers of discipline, which is aggressive and Missionary in character, and has been often exposed to persecution. Such a Church cannot in the nature of the case be invisible. The invisible Church is only an idea. It cannot be an Institution in the world. It cannot have a history. It must be, therefore, the Visible Church that is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic throughout the world and in all ages. So much for the fact of its Unity. Its nature will be seen more fully from the other Marks that distinguish it.
2. The Holiness of the Church needs but a word of explanation. It is not meant that all its members are inherently holy. The tares and the wheat grow together, not to be separated until the harvest. The Gospel net gathers in good and bad fishes. But the Church is Holy in origin, purpose and end. It is Holy because its Head is Holy. Its life is from the only Source of Holiness. All its instrumentalities for the fulfillment of its objects are Holy. The Holy Spirit is its vital breath and [19/20] inspiration. It is One in Christ in Whom it lives and Who is in it the hope of glory. The Scripture passages which directly and indirectly assert the Holiness of the visible Church are numerous and must be familiar to students of the Bible.
3. The Catholicity of the Church is less understood. The term "Catholic" was first applicable to the Church for this reason: The Jewish Church was national, it was intended only for the Jewish people. But the Christian Church was intended to embrace both Jews and Gentiles in one Body. It was to be general, universal. In this sense the Epistles of SS. James, Peter, Jude and John, written to Christians generally are called Catholic, or as our version has it, general Epistles. But in process of time "Catholic" came to mean very nearly the same as Orthodox. During the first five centuries, heresies arose and resulted in various schisms from the Church. The small or large, generally unorthodox bodies thus created, were Sects. They were split off from the Main Trunk. Each might preserve more or less of sound doctrine. Some might be substantially Orthodox. They might retain the Apostolic Ministry. But they had broken the Church's Unity, and Catholic designated the One Church, the Church in contradistinction to the sects which had severed themselves from its life, which, after a longer or shorter period, lost their vitality, became secularized, and merged into the world. The Catholic Church was the One Church throughout the world, [20/21] embracing many national Churches, each with its various Dioceses, all preserving with each other an unbroken communion and fellowship. The Church then in any country, town or city, in communion with the general undivided Church, would be the Catholic Church of the place, and the Faith held by it was the Catholic Faith. The schism between the East and West, which, because complete and final in the eleventh century, was the utter disruption of Catholic Unity. The Western Church, with Rome as the-centre and bond of Union, claimed exclusive Catholicity, while the Eastern Churches, reaching back to Apostolic times, and holding firmly the Catholic Faith, and under the government of the Apostolic Ministry, called themselves Orthodox and Catholic. The Reformation in the sixteenth century divided the West. The National Catholic Church of England reformed itself, declaring its independence of the Papacy. So did Sweden, and Denmark, and Switzerland, and Germany, but in the three latter the Apostolic Ministry, which had been deemed essential, could not be retained as was then generally supposed, without communion in what were felt to be corruptions, which were uncatholic and soul-destroying. The Catholic Faith, it was believed, could only be preserved by separation. The loss of the Episcopacy was deplored, but was regarded as only temporary. [See Palmer on the Church. Chap. XII., Sec. IV.] But the non-Episcopal Churches of the continent have been Catholic only so far as Orthodox in [21/22] Doctrine, and with the loss of the Episcopacy, Catholicity of Doctrine has been imperiled.
The crime of breaking the Unity of the Church lies chiefly at the door of Rome. The theory of Rome being the Mother and Mistress of all Churches and of the Pope's supremacy in all Christendom was uncatholic. It was unknown as a Dogma till the time of Hildebrand in the eleventh century. The additions to the Faith in the Creed of Pius IV, imposed on pain of Anathemas, were all uncatholic. Corruptions of practice, such as the sale of indulgences, were even harder to bear. The Reformation was necessary. It was in the air. It was inevitable. No fair-minded student of the History of those times can withhold his sympathy from Luther, Melancthon and other Reformers, especially in their early efforts at reform. The Eastern Churches, though not of the progressive races and lacking powers of self-propagation and Missionary life, we believe to be more Catholic in other respects than Rome which arrogates to itself the title. But by the Canons of Catholicity in the early Church, before the separation of the East and West, the Church of England and her daughter Churches of America and her colonies, are the most truly Catholic of all existing Churches.
The received doctrine of Catholicity has become considerably modified in the course of History. The Catholic Church in the general sense is the aggregate of Churches which hold the doctrines of the ancient Creeds and preserve [22/23] through unbroken succession of the Ministry, an Apostolic organization and historical identity with the primitive Church. An actual intercommunion must not be held as essential, so there be a willingness for such interchange and fellowship as soon as the causes which have interrupted it and rendered it for the time impossible, are removed. Thus, efforts have been made on the part of our own and the English Churches for intercommunion with the Churches of the East, which are believed by those who have most carefully examined the questions involved, to present no insuperable obstacles to the mutual recognition of brotherhood and the interchange of offices of love. Our own Church, through its College of Bishops, has recently laid down the essential conditions on which the members of Protestant Communions may return and be welcomed to Catholic Unity. It is deemed sufficient if they hold the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God, and the Catholic Faith of the Apostles' Creed and that, of Nicaea in their Catholic interpretation; the two Sacraments of the Gospel, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, administered duly in matter and form; and are willing to receive the historic Episcopate with all that is essential in it, which, of course, includes Confirmation, Ordination, and a moderate, canonical Episcopal regimen and superintendency. Less than these things could not be asked. They are the minimum of things deemed essential. Favorable responses will doubtless come in time. May the Lord [23/24] hasten the time, when they "all may be one, as Thou Father art in me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me" (S. John xvii, 21).
All are members of the Holy Catholic Church who have been baptized with water in the Name of the Holy Trinity. All Churches are Catholic in which the pure word of God is preached and the Sacraments administered according to Christ's ordinance, in all that is requisite or necessary to the same, by those who have been duly commissioned. There may be wide differences of usage and of ritual, and of theological opinions outside of the Faith, which is not of opinion merely, and a true Catholicity be in no wise put in jeopardy. Catholic never means "charitable," "liberal" or "latitudinarian."
Lastly, the Church is Catholic now as in primitive times in distinction from Sectarian. A Sect is, strictly speaking, a body which unduly magnifies some special doctrine for the sake of which it was led into separation, and which makes this doctrine a test of orthodoxy and a term of Communion. Often other important doctrines are left out of view. A true doctrine, held and emphasized without regard to the analogy of the Faith, may become almost, if not quite, a heresy. Sometimes the peculiarity of the Sect is simply a denial. There is something you must not believe, if you would become a member. You must not believe the Deity of Jesus Christ, if you would [24/25] join a Unitarian Society. You must not be a Calvinist, if you join the Body whose fundamental tenet is Free Will. If you would join any Sect of Baptists, you must not believe in infant Church membership. Catholic is comprehensive. A Church that is Catholic cannot exclude repenting sinners, trusting in Christ and professing to "believe all the articles of the Christian Faith as contained in the Apostles' Creed." The Catholic does not exalt non-essentials into fundamentals. A Catholic Church makes no new terms of Communion. It receives all who would be received by Christ. If any Church, as the Roman, does not do this, its Catholicity is so far imperfect. It stands on Sectarian ground. No Sect, as such, can be Catholic, for no Sect could embrace all true Christians. This comprehensive character is essential to true Catholicity.
Shameful, indeed, it is that true American Catholics should disown the name! Why should we concede to another Communion its exclusive use? Let us always claim and maintain our rightful heritage of Catholicity.
4. As to our last point a definition must suffice. The Church is Apostolic, as "continuing steadfastly in the Apostles' Doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers" (Acts ii, 43). The Doctrine of the Church as the Apostles received it, and as once for all delivered; fellowship in the organization which they established, as the Lord, before His ascension, taught them when "speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of [25/26] God" (Acts i, 4), and as His Spirit guided them, bringing His words to remembrance, and determining their application; participation of the Sacramental elements by which we feed upon His Body and Blood; and the public service of Common Prayer and Liturgy after Apostolic precept and example: these mark a Church's Apostolicity. I have detained you long, but less could not be said on such a subject.
In conclusion, I would remind you that the glory of a Churchman is in being truly a Christian. He may belong to a Church which is Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, and one with the Church which was gathered at Jerusalem, in an unbroken succession through the ages, and yet fail of Salvation at the last. He may belong to the narrowest and most heretical of Sects, or may be of a Church that is well nigh apostate, and yet be chosen of God to be crowned with those who "come up out of great tribulation." You belong to a Church which has every mark of the true Church of Christ. It is an exceedingly precious privilege. The results should be seen in your lives. It will all be in vain that you call yourselves Catholics, or by any other name that might seem to recommend you, if you are not in living union with Christ, and if you do not love and serve Him.