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The Church and Its Apostolic Ministry
A Course of Lectures delivered in St. Mark's Church, Denver, in January, 1887.

By John Franklin Spalding

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1887.

Lecture II. The Authority of the Church.

THE Church of Christ is a visible Society, divine in its origin and character, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Its founder is Jesus Christ. He is its Head. His Spirit is its life and sanctification. He gave it its Scriptures, instituted its Sacraments, appointed and qualifies its Ministers. The final cause or end of the Church is the regeneration and salvation of mankind. It is Holy, because endowed with the instrumentalities for making men holy. It is Apostolic, because built on the foundation of Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the head cornerstone. And other foundation, in doctrine, polity, organization, can no man lay, or any body of men, however excellent their character or their objects, than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ in His Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. It is Catholic, because not intended for a single nation or people, but for all; because it is the conserver and teacher of the whole Faith, which is adequate for the salvation of all; because it is comprehensive in character, not narrow and sectarian, and intended to embrace the whole family of God's elect children. It is One, because it is Christ's Body; because it was founded as [27/28] One, with one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Eph. iv, 5, 6), and "one hope," one end, one object in the world; because all its branches have the same essential organization, the same union with Christ, and the same Life.

Of all the notes of the Church none present any peculiar difficulty except that of Catholic unity. The facts seem to contradict the only theory that it is possible to deduce from the' Scriptures, or that is at all compatible with their teachings.

An illustration may, however, make the real unity of the Church clear to us: To understand how the visible Church is One, represent it to yourself as a goodly tree, "the goodly cedar of Apostolic and Catholic Christianity embodied in its Apostolic form and organization. The grain of seed planted by Christ has germinated. It has grown. It is firmly rooted in the soil. Its single trunk rises majestically towards the heavens. On every side its divergent branches spread abroad. Each multiplies into innumerable boughs, with branchlets, twigs, leaves and foliage, budding and bearing fruit. The root is the Faith of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Its trunk is Jesus Christ, God-man. Its main branches are represented in the twelve, in the results of their teaching and Apostolic labors, and St. Paul and his Apostolic associates and companions. It spreads forth in their successors and the [28/29] Churches they founded. On one side are Greece, Rome, Spain, Britain. On another are Egypt, Alexandria, Carthage. On another are Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople. In every direction branches shoot forth, all deriving their life from the root, all from the same great trunk. You will perceive that the tree is one, however many be the branches. They may grow far apart. There may be no direct interchange or immediate actual fellowship of branch with branch, and bough with bough. Yet all live by the same life. The same root bears and sustains them. They are all parts of one and the same tree. There may be limbs on the tree, of which one side is dead or decaying. Whole branches may lose their vitality. The life sap from the root may no longer circulate in them. Their foliage falls. Their fruit withers. They cease to be parts of the tree. They will fall off, if they are not pruned away. On another side parasite plants may gather. They live upon the tree, but their life comes not from it. They represent the Corruptions which cling to parts of the Church which are otherwise Catholic and Apostolical. Yet even here, so far as these branches live and flourish, they are true branches of the one Tree. Again, there may be branches widely different in their character. Some are large, some small, some gnarled and crooked, and without external grace; and others are thrifty, graceful and beautiful. They are one in the life by which they grow and flourish.

[30] The life of the branches is chiefly in the doctrines that relate to the person and work of Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost. It is but in small measure in usages or rituals, and only as these have life in them as being grounded in or conformable to Holy Scripture; it is not even in polity, except as it is Apostolical and so conserves the Apostolic Faith. I greatly doubt whether there was ever a necessity which would justify even a temporary abandonment of Episcopacy. And yet loyal members of the English Church and even the most strenuous asserters of the divine origin and authority of Episcopal Government, acknowledged the Continental Churches to be true branches of the Catholic Church, albeit in a measure defective, and cherished them as Christian Churches, and held for a time occasional communion with them. [Palmer on the Church. Chap. XII.] But this was on the ground of the belief that the loss of Episcopacy was temporarily unavoidable, but that it would be secured again in less troublous times, according to the hope and purpose more or less distinctly avowed, of the best of the reformers. [Haddon's Apostolic Succession, pp. 169-76.] It is different, however, when the abandonment of Episcopacy has been wilful; [Palmer. Chap. XIII.] when it is justified by no apparent necessity, when separation involves a gratuitous rending of the one Church of Christ. If you cut off a branch from the Apostolic Tree and plant it [30/31] in the soil, it may live and flourish for a time, it may grow and bear fruit, but it is no part of the original Tree. Such are man-made Churches for the conserving and propagating of, it may be godly and true, opinions.

So much by way of recapitulation, and to show more clearly the nature of that unity which is a necessary mark or note of the Church. We are now prepared to advance to the next topic which belongs to our general subject. We are to speak now of the Authority of the Church.

Among those who take a low view of the Church, who look upon it as human and in no way divine, who regard it as only a voluntary Society, of which Christians may or may not, in their own discretion, become members, its authority is seldom thought of. It would, however, even then, have a human authority which would be real and binding. It would decide upon its own principles and their application. It would admit and exclude members. Everyone joining it must accept its obligations, and be called to account for any violation of its principles and rules. Every member, in a question of doubt, must yield his opinion to the decision of the Society. Its Constitution and principles must rule with all who have accepted them. The majority must govern the individual.

But the Church is not a voluntary Society, formed by men like-minded in opinion and agreeing in Faith. It stands on no earthly basis. It is for no temporal or earthly purposes. It is Christ's Institution. It is His [31/32] Incarnate Life extended; His Divine Humanity on earth. It is His Body. Or otherwise stated, it is the Association of men born into His Kingdom, chosen by Him, bound to Him and to each other in a covenant which He procured and of which He is the Mediator, having heavenly relationships, for ends which look forwards into eternity. It must, therefore, have an authority above that which it would have as a mere social organization--an authority which, like itself, is Divine. It must have powers vested in it for the purposes for which it exists. Otherwise it could not act. Its attempts at action, according to its principles, would be nugatory.

This point is of very great importance. I desire to make it perfectly clear. If it were merely a voluntary and secular institution, its action would be limited to the things of earth. Its powers would be only such as could be intrusted by those agreeing in its establishment; only such as belonged to its members as individuals, but which they consented to give up to the exercise of the body. It could govern only by previous consent. Every act looking beyond what was involved in the Compact would be attempted usurpation and would fail of its effect. It would have no right to proclaim the message: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not (disbelieveth) shall be damned" (S. Mark, xvi, 16). It would have no right, neither could it without profanity pretend, to offer eternal rewards nor threaten [32/33] eternal penalties. It could not claim to be the absolute, exclusive teacher of the Truth. It could not say: This Gospel of ours is the only Gospel. Every other Gospel is false. He who teaches any other is a deceiver. Let him be Anathama Maranatha (1 Cor. xvi, 22). If the Church be not Christ's own Church, if its authority be not from Him, an antagonistic Church with an antagonistic Gospel to His, might be conceived of, as having equal claim upon the reverence and submission of mankind.

No such impotent organization as could be made by man is the Church of the living God. When He chose and appointed His human instruments for the establishment of His Institution, He empowered them fully for their work. He addressed them in terms which on the lips of a man only would be nothing less than blasphemy. "All power is given to me in heaven and in earth." (S. Matt, xxviii, 18). "As my Father hath sent me even so send I you." (S. John xx, 21). Go ye, disciple all nations, "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I command you, and lo I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." (St. Matt, xxviii, 20). Never before were powers so magnificent, so general, so all-comprehending, so Divine, conferred upon mortal men. You will observe that these powers were given to the Apostles in their official capacity, to the Apostolic office as continuous. They were given to them as officers of the Church. They were given to the Church which acts in its Rulers. [33/34] They were given for all time. They were to be exercised by the Apostles and those who should succeed them in the Apostolate: for the objects for which they were given would require their constant exercise till the end of the dispensation. Jesus Christ is with His Church and "with His Ministers of Apostolic Succession" [Prayer in Institution Office.] through all the History of the Church, to make good to it the gift of powers with which He originally endowed it. "For lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."

It was in reference to a part of the same gift of power, to be continued in like manner, that He said to an Apostle on another occasion: "I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven" (St. Matt, xvi, 19), and again to all of the Apostles: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained" (S. John xx, 22, 23). And the Apostle Paul was authorized in the Great Commission, the Charter of the Church, which, though not spoken to him personally, was derived to him as to all the successors of the original twelve, and in their measure to all orders and ranks in the Church, to speak as he did by inspiration, of "the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth."

The powers of the Church are wholly Spiritual. They are such as can only belong to a purely Spiritual Society. Our Lord was a King, and His Church is a Kingdom. But [34/35] He explained to Pilate, on His trial for disloyalty to Caesar, "My Kingdom is not of this world" (St. John xviii, 36). The Church can have no civil power or authority. The Church of Rome, in claiming it, has degraded itself so far as it could, while preserving the marks of a true Church, into a secular and human government. So far as it has exercised civil jurisdiction it is indistinguishable from a State. It is now shorn of its temporal power, it is hoped, never again to be restored.

The Church cannot intermeddle in any matters belonging to the State. If the State should command what God has forbidden, or forbid what God has enjoined, the Church as such must not resist the enforcement of law. But her people must not for a moment hesitate to refuse obedience and to suffer the consequences when the alternative is to obey God or man (Acts iv, 19; v, 29).

The Church has nothing to do with politics, unless it can be shown that politics are in some way spiritual, and are part of the agencies for the saving of souls or the edification of believers. She has no right to interpret human laws, unless they concern her. She cannot lend her influence in favor of any party, nor assist in the election of candidates for civil office, nor soil her pure garments by improper contact with the concerns of this earthly sphere.

The Church and the State have separate provinces. They cannot conflict when each confines itself to its [35/36] proper action. They will then lend to each other a mutual support. The Church may ensure a nation's safety. The State must give to the Church its effectual protection. But the union of the two is unauthorized and harmful.

What, then, are the spiritual powers of the Church intrusted to it in the beginning, secured to it forever, and necessary to the due exercise of its functions and the fulfillment of its work? What are the things in which it hath authority?

I do not undertake to give a complete detailed enumeration. We may include all that is essential in the power of the Keys, including the power of Government and Discipline, the power to decree Rites and Ceremonies, and the power to declare and define the Faith.

1. The power of the Keys is so called, because its legitimate exercise is in the admission or exclusion of sinners to or from the privileges of the "State of Salvation." The origin of the expression is in our Lord's declaration to St. Peter on the ground of His confession of the Faith of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Rock on which the Church was to be builded: "I will give unto thee the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (S. Matt, xvi, 19)--a power which was conferred upon all the Apostles on subsequent occasions in the [36/37] same words, or words of the same import (St. Matt, xviii, 18; St. John xx, 22, 28), and which, though rightly considered as belonging to the Church, is to be exercised by its commissioned officers. It is the power to administer the Holy Sacraments, which carry with them, to worthy receivers, complete remission of sins. It is the power to determine upon the qualifications of admission into the Church with all its privileges, which involve eternal Salvation, and to judge of the offenses for which members may be cut off from Spiritual Communion and consigned to uncovenantcd mercy, and to pronounce sentence accordingly. The ambassadors of Christ, on behalf of the Church, are authorized to treat with sinners, to offer God's pardon to all who shall deserve it, to denounce God's threatenings upon all who shall render themselves obnoxious to it. And nothing is more certain than that whatsoever they do, as the agents of their Master and in conformity with His will, is ratified in heaven.

The Church is indeed governed by Jesus Christ, through the immediate agency of the Holy Ghost. But there was the necessity for human governors to represent Him. They are made by Jesus Christ His own vicegerents. Their authority is defined, their powers specified. They bear rule, and treat with men, and persuade and command them, in Christ's stead. It is, therefore, required that ye should "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls as they that must give account" (Heb. xiii, 17).

[38] Always and everywhere there would be need of discipline. There was much lawlessness even in the Apostles' times, and they so dealt with it as to leave us precedents and examples. We are living in an age and country in which there is an excessive development of individualism, the tendency of which is to undervalue authority, and to disparage the powers that are ordained and needful for the restraint of action based upon lawless opinions and unruly wills. Independency in Church government has much to answer for. Congregationalism in Parishes naturally leads to positions of insubordination towards the Diocese and the National Church. The General Convention is our supreme legislative authority. The Diocesan Council is subordinate, but has full powers in its sphere. The Parish is but a part of the greater whole. The Diocese makes the Parish and governs it. But the spirit of independency, which, in the Church, generally means disloyalty, tends to a reversal of this order. It assumes self-government, which is rebellion. It would set at defiance the laws which give it existence and under which, in due subordination, it is legitimate, and may be in the highest degree useful and beneficent. How often law-breakers justify themselves by denying the law or the legitimacy of the authority that should enforce it!

But the Church cannot give place to the despisers of her authority and disturbers of her peace. A sound public opinion may do much to restrain the disloyal and the [38/39] insubordinate. But if the purity and good order of the Church demand the discipline of offenders, the power vested in the Church for this purpose must be evoked, however loud may be the outcry against it, and however the enforcement of the law may be denounced. They who bear rule, no more than they who teach, can be man-pleasers. The Apostles did not fear the powers of this world when called upon to denounce or to judge and punish the evil doers. St. Paul, "with the power of Jesus Christ" delivered an offender "unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh" (1 Cor. v, 5). Alexander, the coppersmith, did him much evil and he denounced against him the Divine judgment "in the day of the Lord" (2 Tim. iv, 14). Hymeneus and Alexander made shipwreck concerning the Faith and he "delivered them unto Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme" (1 Tim. i, 20). Diotrephes set himself up against the Apostle of love, taking advantage doubtless of his mild and gentle rule, because "he loveth to have pre-eminence." Wherefore the Apostle, who, when aroused by a just occasion, had still something of the spirit of a Son of Thunder, adds this scathing condemnation, which has forever doomed this selfish, self-sufficient egotist and all like him in the Church: "If I come I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words, and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them (would if he could cast them) out of the Church" (3 S. John 9, 10).

[40] 2. The Church hath also power to decree Rites and Ceremonies, which shall be binding on all her members. This power can now be exercised only by the General or National Church. It is only in things of local concernment that the local Parochial Church may act, such as the number and times of public service, special offerings and methods of beneficence. As instances in which the Church of the Province or Nation may rightly exercise this power> always in such ways as are conservative of the Catholic Faith, are the following: The imposing of a Liturgy and set forms of Common Prayer, and the offices for Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage and Burial; the consecration of Churches; the institution of Ministers, etc., and the setting forth of rules or laws regulating the performance of Divine Service and the various offices that are necessary. Things, in themselves indifferent, may be prescribed, and being prescribed, they cease to be indifferent. Such are Ecclesiastical Vestments, the Sign of the Cross, etc.

It has been maintained by some sectarians that the claim of such power is usurpation, Holy Scripture affording in all such things an infallible guide. But in practice they have not been able to conform to their principles. They have invariably adopted rites, usages, ceremonies without precedent or rule of Scripture. There was never a Sect in Christendom which did not actually bind its members and guide their consciences in matters of this sort. And hence among intelligent people the objections to such claim of authority are now generally withdrawn.

[41] The directions of Scripture are manifestly insufficient for the uniform conduct of public worship. They are always general: "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. xiv, 40). The Church alone can decide for the individual what is decent and orderly. What confusion would result if each wore left to his own taste or judgment! What perplexing varieties of ^gesture, posture, dress and ornaments! Full liberty of individual choice would run into license, proving that it ought to be restrained. Authority in all such matters belongs to the Church. She has always claimed it, and her claim must be accorded. She is the rightful judge of what is proper and edifying. We must submit with glad mind to her reasonable decrees.

3. We come finally to the authority of the Church "in Controversies of Faith," and in determining what is to be believed as the teaching of the Holy Bible.

We must, first of all, ask this question: How is it that we have the Holy Scriptures? They were written by the Church's leaders, prophets, evangelists, apostles, by inspiration of God. They were given to the Church. They were put by the Church to their present use. They were separated by the general mind of the Church from the numerous spurious writings, of which some are extant. It was settled and determined without conferences or canons that the Books we receive were canonical and authoritative. Subsequently this general agreement was confirmed by the unanimous [41/42] voice of her Councils. It is a mischievous error of fact that prevails in some quarters that the Council of Laodicea or any other Council gathered together a vast mass of writings, all purporting to be Apostolic, and by its authority separated the inspired from the uninspired, the true from the false. The Councils stamped as canonical the writings of which there had been no doubt, or no reasonable doubt, in the Church (Article vi, last clause). The Church, by general consent, put her imprimatur upon these Sacred Books which she believed to be the Word of God. She has sedulously kept, and handed on and propagated the Word as intrusted to her. She has translated it into the vernacular of the people to whom she gives it. All English speaking Christians receive the Bible in the version set forth by authority of the Church of England. This is to us the Church's Bible.

And whence did we learn the Faith of Christ? We did not first study the Scriptures and find it therein. Had we attempted to do so, in our self-sufficiency we might have found doctrines widely different from the truth. The Scriptures might have been made to teach us, simply what we had held before, and confirmed our ignorant prepossessions. The Bible is, indeed, the Rule of Faith. Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the Faith or be thought [42/43] requisite or necessary to salvation (Article vi). But how are we to know what the Bible teaches? How is it to be interpreted? "How can I understand except some one should guide me?" (Acts viii, 31). Without some guide or other, every individual might have his own doctrine. Private interpretation, without the helps provided and accessible, would lead to infinite diversities of belief. In the nature of the case the Church which preserves for us the Bible must teach us its truths, and explain, enforce, and apply them.

They who disclaim such guides always possess and use them. They are found in Confession of Faith and Catechisms, and even in the systems and treatises of theologians. Exclaim as they will against traditional interpretation and belief, they are not independent of them. Think of the potency of the traditional influence of the teachings of St. Augustine, or Thomas Aquinas, or Calvin, or Luther! Thus evident it is that people do not generally derive their views of Christian truth directly from the Scriptures, but from parental training, from their Pastors and masters, and the general associations of the school of religious thought in which they are born and educated.

The guides we follow are the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, having the authority of the undisputed General Councils and of the universal assent of Christendom. Subsidiary to these, but of the highest force and efficacy, are the various offices of the Book of Common Prayer. The [43/44] Church Catechism is set forth for the express purpose of teaching authoritatively the essential truth and the chief principles of the Gospel to the susceptible minds and hearts of youth. The great Divines and Doctors of the Church have given their more or less authoritative elucidations and interpretations of these documents, and shown how all their teachings rest upon or are conformable to Holy Scripture. Whatever men may say, they do not get their religion from the Bible only. They get it from the traditions of the school of religious thought about them, and their religious associations, and afterwards confirm it by the Scriptures, and these are read with the help of interpreters who are supposed to have authority. This illustrates the reasonableness of appealing to the authority of the Church in determining the essential meaning of the Bible. The Church is divinely constituted the religious teacher of her children. She must have authority to teach or she cannot preach, nor take cognizance of heresy, and exercise her powers of discipline in the condemnation of error. Without such authority the Church cannot be "the keeper and witness of Holy Writ" and "the pillar and ground of the Truth."

The Church cannot impose new articles of Faith. Theology is not like a natural science, to which new truths are added as they are discovered or generalized from facts before unknown. The entire Faith was delivered to the Church once for all. There is doubtless a true doctrine of [44/45] development, but not, as Newman held, by accretion of additions. Nothing can be evolved which was not first involved. Nothing can be developed which was not in the original seed or germ. What was involved in the original deposit has been brought out more distinctly and more clearly apprehended, through conflict with error and varying circumstances requiring new applications. As Bishop Butler suggests, "the whole scheme of Scripture is not yet fully understood." "It is not at all incredible that it should contain many truths as yet undiscovered." [Analogy, Part II, Chap. III.] At the same time, it must be held with Tertullian, that what is new in Theology is not true. Novelty and neology mean much the same thing, and are too often synonymous with heresy. The testimony of the Church as to what in all ages and everywhere has been believed for truth is to be received as decisive--"quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, creditum est." The voice of a local Church is not enough. A National Church can decide only for its members. The Church in a particular age may have been in partial error, or have left some truths in practical abeyance. "As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith" (Article xix). But the Supreme Authority under Christ is in General Councils and universal consent.

[46] We conclude with two practical reflections. The first is the obvious duty to "hear the Church" (St. Matt, xviii, 17). Do not set up your own private opinion as authoritative. Seek the truth earnestly, but in humility and deference to a wisdom superior to your own. Be devout, humble, prayerful learners in the School of Christ. Stand in those relations wherein the promises and the covenant are yours. Herein you may surely grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, for herein you are taught of God.

Finally, you have in the Church all needful guarantees of sound instruction. We do not ask you to believe this or that because some distinguished divine has discovered it or proved it by argument. We do not ask you to rely on our own individual thoroughness of research or subtlety of argumentation. We only ask your assent to the fundamental verities taught by the Church herself, the source of which is in Revelation and which have been "always and everywhere" received in the Church. Your faith is that of "the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the Truth," and in this Faith you may stand secure, whatever the controversies and vagaries of religious opinion around you.

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