Monday, September 20, 2010

Comparing the True and the False Church

The Reformers were accused by the Roman church of being a false church. They were accused of being schismatics who were breaking up the church. We know that they were not trying to break up the church, but return the church to being focused on the Word instead of man and tradition. Calvin defines a true church as being one that (1) preaches the Word and administers the sacraments and (2) that "it is not so weakened by trivial errors as not to be esteemed lawful." He goes on to say, "as soon as falsehood breaks into the citadel of religion and the sum of necessary doctrine is overturned and the use of the sacraments is destroyed, surely the death of the church follows."

Calvin turns his attention to the Roman church. He writes, "The foulest sacrilege has been introduced in place of the Lord's Supper. The worship of God has been deformed by a diverse and unbearable mass of superstitions. Doctrine (apart from which Christianity cannot stand) has been entirely buried and driven out. Public assemblies have become schools of idolatry and ungodliness." By separating from this false church is not breaking from the unity of Christ. The Roman claim is that theirs is the true church because of an unbroken succession of bishops. Calvin asks the question if the churches in Asia, Africa, and Egypt are not part of the universal church since they cannot establish an unbroken succession of bishops. Then he asks why the Greek church is not considered by the Romans part of the true church since they also can prove an unbroken chain. Calvin's point is that this claim by the Roman church is not proof of it being the true church, but only the preaching of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments prove whether or not a church is true.

The ancient Jews were reprimanded by Ezekiel and Jeremiah for boasting of their temple, ceremonies, and priestly functions. They were not praising God, but their own false show of religiousness. The Romanists were guilty of the same sin. They built glorious cathedrals, engaged in fancy mass ceremonies, and honored what the priests performed, but forgot about true religion in the meantime. Calvin writes, "For the Lord nowhere recognizes any temple as his save where his Word is heard and scrupulously observed." He gets back to the Roman claim of succession by stating, "But especially in the organization of the church nothing is more absurd than to lodge the succession in persons alone to the exclusion of teaching." Augustine and other church fathers were concerned with the succession of right teaching, not the succession of bishops.

The true church only exists where God's Word is found. Calvin says this about the Roman church: "Therefore, although they put forward Temple, priesthood, and the rest of outward shows, this empty glitter which blinds the eyes of the simple ought not to move us a whit to grant that the church exists where God's Word is not found." We all acknowledge that the church is Christ's Kingdom. Christ reigns by His Holy Word. Calvin calls it a lie to imagine Christ ruling His kingdom apart from His scepter, His most Holy Word.

The Romans claim that we are heretics and schismatics. Augustine defined both of these terms in this way: "heretics corrupt the sincerity of the faith with false dogmas; but schismatics, while sometimes even of the same faith, break the bond of fellowship." Calvin explains that church unity requires both that our minds agree in Christ, but also that our wills should be "joined with mutual benevolence in Christ." Paul encourages this unity when he writes, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism;" (Ephesians 4:5, New King James Version). However, even though unity is called for by Paul and others, Calvin writes, "apart from the Lord's Word there is not an agreement of believers but a faction of wicked men."

Cyprian also wrote much about the unity of the church. He compares the church to a tree or a stream. If you break off a tree limb, that limb cannot live. If you cut off the source of a stream, it dries up. But he also "declares that heresies and schisms arise because men return not to the Source of truth, seek not the Head, keep not the teaching of the Heavenly Master." Calvin then says that the reformers have been cast out from the Roman church, not that they left the church. He writes, "I forbear to mention that they have expelled us with anathemas and curses - more than sufficient reason to absolve us, unless they wish to condemn the apostles also as schismatics, whose case was like our own. Christ, I say, forewarned his apostles that they would be cast out of the synagogues for his name's sake."

Tomorrow's reading: 4.2.7-4.2.12

No comments:

Post a Comment

Presbyterian Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf