Types in Hebrews - Appendix 4 - THE VISIBLE CHURCH


"The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same." - (Article 19). In the Churchman’s Theological Dictionary1 Canon Eden states the different views taken of the phrase, "the visible Church," in this sentence; and then, after noticing the fact "that there is no such thing on earth as the Catholic Church existing as one community," he suggests that perhaps the writer, "through mere oversight, translated Ecclesia Christi visibilis, the Church, when the evident meaning is a Church."
But if this phrase be in itself ambiguous, the fact of Cranmer’s authorship of the Article removes all doubt as to its meaning. And in the rest of the sentence there is no ambiguity whatever. It is not "the" but a (i.e. any) "congregation of faithful men." And to make this still more explicit it goes on to exclude the Greek and Roman Churches from the category of visible churches of Christ, thus vetoing the figment that the corporate position of blessing depends upon an historic sequence.2 Wherever "the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance" - there is "a visible Church of Christ." But where the Word of God is corrupted or discredited, or where Christian baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ousted by baptismal regeneration and the Mass, such a congregation, whether it be a Chapel or a Parish Church, is outside the pale.
In the case of the Reformers the "Church’s motherhood" declared itself by butchering the saints of God, and among "her resources to meet every religious need" were the torture chamber and the stake. And men who bought the truth at a terrible cost were not the men to sell it (Proverbs 23:23). But in these days the truth costs us nothing, and we are ready to barter it for plausible errors and venerable superstitions, in order to maintain a false peace and the semblance of unity.
To quote the Archbishops’ decision in the Incense case, "It was the purpose of the then rulers of the Church to put prominently forward the supremacy of the Bible." The conception of the Church which the Reformers thus repudiated is the root error of the apostasy. If that error be accepted, great and devout thinkers like J. H. Newman are prepared to believe the "blasphemous fable" of transubstantiation.3 And men who are not incarnate devils, but devout and kind-hearted human beings, will condone and approve the Church’s cruelties and crimes. "For no means came amiss to it, sword or stake, torture chamber, or assassin’s dagger. The effects of the Church’s working were seen in…the hideous crimes committed in His name" (Froude’s Council of Trent).
But, we shall be told, these crimes were the work of the Apostate Church in evil days now past. Yes, but what concerns us here is that if we accept the traditional, antichristian conception of "the Church,"4 they are not crimes at all. Moreover, as Froude so wisely says, "the principles on which it persecuted it still professes, and persecution will grow again as naturally and necessarily as a seed in a congenial soil." And ex hyp. the Romanisers are right in denouncing the Reformation as itself a "hideous crime"; and nothing but Protestant ignorance and British pride will make us adhere to the Churches of the Reformation, or the more modern organizations of Revival times.
"The Church to teach": how harmless and right it seems. And yet it is the germ of the error which (as Article 20 clearly shows) the Reformers meant to kill by insisting on the supremacy of the Bible, and claiming for the Christian the right to appeal to it, even against the teaching of the Church. Moreover, the Church is "a congregation of faithful men," not a college of teachers set over them. It is not the shepherds but the flock. "Every particular or national Church" necessarily possesses powers of a certain kind, but such powers are strictly limited (Article 34). And no "particular or national Church" is the Church. "Christ’s Holy Catholic Church" the Reformers defined to be "the whole congregation of Christian people dispersed throughout the whole world."5 What grand Christians those Reformers were!
And if the Reformation is becoming a spent force in this country, it is because modern Evangelicalism is enervated by the Romish conception of "the Church." "Which is the true Church?" This utterly false question accounts for every secession to Rome. And Evangelicalism no longer gives in bold plain words the answer the Reformers gave6 that no body on earth is "the Church" in the sense implied in the question. But Latin theology entirely ignores the failure of the Professing Church on earth,7 confounding it, as it always does, with the unity of the Body of Christ. And further, it always takes words spoken by the Lord to His Apostles as such, as though they were addressed to the Church of Christendom. "Who cares anything for any church save as an instrument of Christian good!" If all true Christians were animated by these bold words of Chalmers - one of the greatest "church-men" of the nineteenth century - and if they thought less of their Church and more of their Lord, true spiritual unity would become a reality in the sight of all men.