Monday, September 13, 2010

The Holy Catholic Church, Our Mother

Book IV of the Institutes is all about the church.  Even though we are saved through a faith in Christ, we still require external aids in keeping us from being sluggish in our faith.  The church provides some of these aids for us.  God has provided us with "'pastors and teachers' through whose lips he might teach his own; he furnished them with authority; finally, he omitted nothing that might make for holy agreement of faith and for right order."  Not only did God provide pastors and teachers, He also instituted the sacraments, "which we who have experienced them feel to be highly useful aids to foster and strengthen faith."  From now through the end of the year, we will be in Book IV and studying the church.  Calvin promises that we will be looking at "the church, its government, orders, and power; then the sacraments; and lastly, the civil order."

When we recite the Apostles' Creed, we say, "I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church..."  Calvin states that when we "profess to 'believe the church'", it "refers not only to the visible church (our present topic) but also to all God's elect" including the dead.  He makes an interesting note about the preposition "in".  He claims that the Apostles' Creed is to be understood as we "believe the church" not we "believe in the church".  We only believe in God.  We don't believe in the forgiveness of sins or in the resurrection of the body.

Just because someone is a member of the visible church does not mean that he is part of the invisible true church.  Calvin writes, "But because a small and contemptible number are hidden in a huge multitude and a few grains of wheat are covered by a pile of chaff, we must leave to God alone the knowledge of his church, whose foundation is his secret election."  It is not our place to judge whether or not someone in the church is among the elect, that is God's place alone.  We must do our best to remain united with all believers in the church.  Also, we must remember that all Christians are a part of the church.  There is only one church.  "The church is called 'catholic' or 'universal' because there could not be two or three churches unless Christ be torn asunder - which cannot happen!"  So let us remember when we see differences in beliefs with other Christians, that we are all part of the same body of Christ, therefore we should treat them accordingly.

The next article in the Creed is "the communion of saints."  This applies to both the visible and invisible church.  Calvin says about this, "If truly convinced that God is the common Father of all and Christ the common Head, being united in brotherly love, they cannot but share their benefits with one another."  We should be fully convinced that we are members of the church.  Our true faith and communion with other believers will keep us from falling even if the world gets turned upside-down.  "First, [the church] stands by God's election, and cannot waver or fail ant more than his eternal providence can.  Secondly, it has in a way been joined to the steadfastness of Christ, who will no more allow his believers to be estranged from him than that his members be rent and torn asunder."  Later he writes, "So powerful is participation in the church that it keeps us in the society of God."  Calvin touches on the subject of the elect and the reprobate within the visible church.  It is not our place to distinguish between the two, "but to establish with certainty in our hearts that all those who, by the kindness of God the Father, through the working of the Holy Spirit, have entered into fellowship with Christ, are set apart as God's property and personal possession; and that when we are of their number we share that great grace."

God is our Father.  The visible church is our mother.  "For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels."  We must be "pupils" in her school all our lives.  Finally, through the words of Isaiah, Joel, Ezekiel, a psalmist, and Solomon, Calvin demonstrates that it is "always disastrous to leave the church."  We should always be a part of the church.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.1.5-4.1.6


  1. I am a little confused--are you using the word "catholic" to denote the Roman Catholic denomination,or the universal nature of the church?

  2. This is referring to the universal church. Typically, Calvin will use "Roman" or other term to denote the Roman Catholic church, but reserves the word "catholic" for the entire church.

  3. Got it. I thought that had to be the case, but just wanted to be sure. Thanks! This is a great post, as I seem to meet a disturbing number of people who claim to love Christ won't attend a church because they feel they can worship Christ better without "organized religion." They bristle at the idea that scripture tells us we need each other.


Presbyterian Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf