By Jesse B. Thomas, D. D., LL.D
THE "HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH"
I. Preliminary Caution as to Exegetic Bias.
1. From ecclesiastical environment. It must be borne in mind that, from the time of Constantine, the great body of New Testament interpreters have been themselves identified with an imperial, a national, a hereditary, or some other form of ecclesiastical organization which compelled them, if loyal, to find justification in the Scriptures of such larger organism than the local church. Consciously or unconsciously, the text of the New Testament has been in danger of being thus made a "nose of wax" through subtle ingenuity of exegesis in instinctive self-defense.
2. From theoretic exigencies created by persistence in traditional practices.
Dr. Hodge naively confesses, as we have seen, that "in order to justify the baptism
of infants, we must attain and authenticate such an idea of the church as that it shall include the children of believing parents." That is to say, that, having determined that infant baptism must, to use the Anglican phrase, "in anywise be retained in the church," it becomes necessary so to interpret the language of Scripture as to justify its retention.
In like manner Cardinal Newman frankly confesses that on finding certain practices of the Romish Church apparently at war with Scripture, naturally understood, he has invented a new meaning of the words, as a "hypothesis to escape a difficulty." All exegesis controlled by the purpose to reach a predetermined conclusion is thereby also predetermined to be arbitrary, if not willfully wrong in result. We have need to remind ourselves constantly of this tendency to partizan strabismus in reviewing the interpretations of others, and no less need to caution ourselves against falling into like error ourselves, since the temptation is one common to man. We can, at least, being conscious of the peril, strive the more earnestly to be candidly judicial in our inquiry.
II. Chief Premises Relied On. - All theorists who hold to the conception that the primary meaning of the word "church" in the New Testament is universal, rather than individual, rest upon the inference drawn from one, or both, of two closely allied assumptions. These are:
1. That the Christian Church and the Kingdom of Heaven are identical. If this assumption be correct, it follows, of course, that since the Kingdom is one and universal, the Church, its counterpart, must be the same. Whether the assumption is in fact justified by the teaching of the New Testament must remain to be later considered. Meantime, we may notice with what confidence the affirmation of identity is made, and glance at the circumstances which seem to have contributed to its acceptance as valid.
Meyrick, the writer of the article on the "church" in Smith's Bible Dictionary, settles the question thus categorically: "In Matthew 16:18, it is formally, as elsewhere virtually, affirmed that the Kingdom of Heaven and the Church are identical." Cremer, in his "New Testament Lexicon," with equal absoluteness declares that the
"application of the word (ekklesia) to the Church universal is primary, and that to the individual church secondary, as is clear from the Old Testament (Septuagint) use of the word, and from the fundamental statement of Christ in Matthew 16:18." In Carr's volume on "The Church and the Roman Empire" (one of the "Epochs of Church History" Series) the identity of the Church and the Kingdom is plainly supposed throughout as indisputable:
"The direction given to the advance of Christianity was clearly ruled by the term which describes it - the basileia, the Kingdom, the imperium of God. For although the spiritual aspect of the Kingdom was carefully defined and pressed, yet this term adopted by the Master and always prominent in the teaching of his apostles could not be used without a sense of comparison with the Roman Empire. In inscriptions and in all contemporary historians, such as Zosimus, Socrates or Sozomen, the Roman emperor was known as basileus, and the Greek for empire was basileia. In 1 Timothy 2:2 and in 1 Peter 2:17, the request (for prayer for 'kings') of course alludes to Claudius or Nero. . . .
"This thought (of possible rivalry) . . . explains the attitude of the civil power toward the Church - there was a point where persecution became a necessity - and it explains the magnificent courage of the Christian martyrs, and the far-reaching hopes and exalted confidence of great churchmen in every age.
"The very words of the Lord's Prayer carried in them the seeds of a revolution. No Roman magistrate could hear with perfect complacency that the words 'Thy kingdom come' (basileia) were uttered in a most sacred, and in some sense a secret, form of prayer every day by hundreds of thousands who formed part of what seemed to him to be an organized and dangerous conspiracy. . . .
"It (the instinctive sense of danger) had already appeared in the trial of Christ before Pilate: 'If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend' (John 19:12); and it appears in the trial of Paul before the politarchs of Thessalonica (Acts 17:7): 'These all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.' . . .
"In this way Caesarism and Christianity
clashed. In this way the idea of the basileia worked itself out to the supremacy of the Church in the world. All that vast development which we lightly trace in these pages sprang from the thought which Jesus infused into this conception of a basileia. The possession of this imperial idea made church history what it was. . . .
"In this contest of rival powers, the two basileiai or imperia of Rome and the Church, which began their careers almost simultaneously, the Church won the victory. In a true sense, the 'kingdoms of the world' became 'the kingdom of Christ.'"
The origin of the idea in question, the identification of Church and Kingdom (or "empire," as it might properly have been rendered), thus seems to have been contemporaneous with the nominal Christianization of the Roman Empire. The earlier Christian writers know nothing apparently, as we have seen, of an actual world-church, and consequently nothing of its identity with the world-kingdom.
It is true that from the beginning there existed, among the Jews, the notion that Jesus, if he were the true Messiah, would set up an earthly kingdom. They tried to
"take him by force, and make him king." And the notion lingered among his disciples to the last, notwithstanding his protests. For even after his resurrection his disciples expressed the hope that he would again "restore the kingdom to Israel." But the establishment of the kingdom expected by them involved the forcible overthrow of the Roman Empire and building on its ruins. The establishment of churches by preaching occupied their immediate attention. Preaching was a thing to be done by them. The kingdom, on the other hand, was a distinct thing, to be the outcome of the Lord's personal return and victorious assault upon the existing world-power.
Until the time of Constantine, therefore, the "kingdom of God" was regarded as the foe and appointed destroyer by force, of the "kingdom of Caesar." But, with the conversion of Constantine, it dawned upon Eusebius and some of his contemporaries that the establishment of the Messianic reign, for which they had been waiting, was to be by the Christianization, and so by the absorption into itself, of the existing empire. Jewish as well as Gentile analogies suggested unification of earthly and heavenly
rule. For the Messianic King was to be a "priest upon his throne," and the Roman emperor was Pontifex Maximus as well as Imperator. The notions of universality of the "church" in world-range, and of its identity with the "kingdom" as a visible world-power, were thus twin-born. After this time only, the "holy church," of the Apostles' Creed became the "Holy Catholic Church." The church had been conceived of as the sphere of the bishop. This sphere, which was at first the local body, had gradually grown to comprehend dependent or affiliated bodies, until it had taken in a "diocese." Both Jewish and Gentile analogies now suggested the idea of a consolidated church-kingdom, of which the emperor should be the ecclesiastico-political head. The Jewish priestly organization had culminated in a high priest, as did the Roman in the Pontifex Maximus. The religious and the secular national life of the Romans were identical, as among the Jews; the priestly being, at the same time, a political office, controlled and paid by the state. The jus publicum was at the same time jus sacrum. Constantine was, by virtue of his imperial office, Pontifex Maximus of Rome. Why not also,
by virtue of the same secular headship of a Christian empire, the Pontifex Maximus of an imperial church? The idea was distinctly broached in the calling of the first "Ecumenical Council," and the decrees of that body, enforced by the legislation of the empire, for the first time blended "church" and "kingdom" into one. After this, only, the phrase "Holy Catholic Church" appeared in the Apostles' Creed, and the "Holy Roman Empire" took historic form. In the latter, the strife of pope and emperor issued at last in the establishment of the pope as Universal Sovereign and Pontifex Maximus, the assumed heir, by right of succession both to Peter and Augustus, as the world's ecclesiastic and secular head. The notions of universality of the "church" in extent, and of its identity with the "kingdom" as a visible world-power, were thus twin-born. The notion of universality and visibility had finally become so closely interwoven, and both so indissolubly associated with the Roman establishment, that the Augsburg Confession - the first Protestant formula - wholly ignored the term catholic in defining the church, returning to the earlier form, "the holy church." Luther, in his catechism,
satisfied himself with "the holy Christian church." It was not without reasonable justification, therefore, that Bossuet charged upon the Reformers the later invention of the notion of an "invisible catholic" church, as a device to preserve the idea of catholicity without its inevitable implication of external reality.
But we need not continue this preliminary inquiry further. It is plain that the demands of current imperial, national and hereditary ecclesiastical theory are of such a character as to make the retention of the notion of a Church universal necessary. It is plain that that notion has historically arisen in connection with the development of an actual ecclesiastical world-power. It is plain that this has always justified itself exegetically by confining itself solely to Jewish precedent, and to the Septuagint, in its search for a clue to the meaning of the word ecclesia . That this precommittal to a theory has exerted a certain strabismic pressure upon the exegetic eye may be independently inferred from the preposterous issue to which it has led. For it has compelled the absurd conclusion that the New Testament writers have almost uniformly
used the word, without notice, in a non-natural and presumably unsuspected sense.
As an exquisite illustration of the ingenuity with which the language of Scripture may be manipulated to support a preconceived theory, and so to justify an existing institution, let us examine Dr. (afterward Cardinal) Newman's argument in three of his "Sermons on Subjects of the Day" (before referred to). In the first of these ("The Christian Church a Continuation of the Jewish") he contends from the words of Isaiah (37:31: "The remnant that is escaped from the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward") that the word "remnant," also emphasized elsewhere, implies an actual survival of the Jewish national organization without breach of continuity, passing over into the Christian Church.
In the second sermon ("The Principle of Continuity between the Jewish and Christian Churches") he builds upon Paul's language in Colossians 2:19-22, in which Christians are exhorted "to hold fast the Head," and warned against being entangled again by the "rudiments of the world," or subjecting themselves to "ordinances" fashioned after
"the precepts and doctrines of men." As these words were addressed to quondam heathen, it is inferred that they were meant to refer to and condemn the substitution of human for divinely appointed rites. The further inference follows that the "forms, rites and polity" of the Christian Church are divinely predetermined by the authoritative temple service, which must be taken as an inviolable "pattern."
In the third sermon ("The Christian Church an Imperial Power") the argument culminates in the claim that the fulfillment of prophecy requires the emergence into visibility of the Church as a world-power. Isaiah (2:2: "It shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountain, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it") is claimed to have foretold a local center of visible national aggregation and universal authority. That a literal world-dominion is expected to be established at this center, the words of Daniel are said to make indisputable. For he puts the "kingdom" which the "God of heaven" is to set up (Daniel 2:44) over against the distinctly identified
earthly kingdoms previously mentioned. That the "kingdom of heaven," referred to in the New Testament, is identical with that referred to in prophecy, and that it is classed among visible earthly powers, is further confirmed by the circumstance that our Lord chooses (Matthew 13:32) precisely the same symbol to describe it (a tree, in whose branches the fowl take refuge) which had been employed by Ezekiel (17:23) when referring to the coming heavenly Kingdom, and also (31:6) when pointing to the Assyrian Empire. Jeremiah's promise that David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel" (33:17), often repeated by Ezekiel and other prophets (Ezekiel declaring that David himself shall be "their prince forever" - 37:25), falls into line in support of the theory that the "Kingdom of heaven," otherwise called the "Christian Church," has been prophetically designated as a visible imperial world-power.
The application of this argument is quick and inevitable. The basileia which Christ transfers to Peter (Matthew 16:19) is not spoken of as yet to be inaugurated; for it is the already long-established kingdom of Israel, or which as heir and successor of
David he is the rightful possessor and donor.
The parallel reference to an ecclesia yet to be built on Peter naturally follows upon the allusion to "keys"; suggesting at once the familiar "key of the house of David," and leading on to the still more familiar Septuagint notion of ecclesia as describing the "house of Israel." If it be true that the ecclesia now referred to is in some sense a new structure, this is only because the "tabernacle of David" is conceived of, from one point of view, as having "fallen down" and is now to be rebuilt in accordance with the express promise of prophecy (Amos 9:11). The apostle James so understands it, as reported in Acts 16:15.
By such exegetical manoeuvres, unrivaled in astuteness, the Scripture has been made to buttress the blasphemous assumptions of the Papacy. The Church of Rome becomes thus the very "kingdom" which the "God of heaven" was to set up, out-topping all other earthly kingdoms; and such a miscreant, for instance, as Alexander Borgia, a perjurer, libertine, an assassin, becomes the heir and fulfiller of Messianic prophecy, and the divinely accredited "prince of the kings of the earth." When our Lord declares, ere he
leaves the earth, that "all power is given to him in heaven and in earth," it is only that He may indicate the plenitude of power of which Peter and his successors are to become the residuary legatees, custodians, and vehicle. Henceforth the Petrine throne becomes the visible counterpart of the "great white throne" in heaven, precisely as the seat of the imperial Caesar answers to that of the Capitoline Jove. So that it is no more illegitimate for a Pope to speak of himself as "alter deus" or as "filling the place of the true God on earth," than for a successor of Augustus to call himself "Divus Caesar." Invested with the triple crown of dominion over heaven, earth, and hell, and bearing the "two swords" of civic and ecclesiastic mastery, the sole "vicegerent of God on earth" may well laugh at the rival or independent claims of every other church or kingdom.
How, then, does the Anglican theory differ from that of Rome, and on what modification in exegetical procedure does it rest? The answer may be prognosticated from the circumstances which attended and controlled the organization of the Church of England as an independent body. When Henry
VIII. abruptly cut the hawser which held his kingdom in tow of the Papacy, it went apart on its new voyage with its whole cargo of ritual, tradition, and ecclesiastico-civic polity theoretically unbroken. But a national church could no longer invidiously claim for itself an exclusive world-embracing jurisdiction. Instead of a single imperial headship, consequently, it became necessary to establish a multiple headship of the church, under the joint dominion of all Christian kings. This did not necessitate the abandonment of the traditional notion of literal continuity from the Jewish original. It was necessary only to substitute the college of Apostles, as Canon Fremantle luminously explains, for Peter alone. Were they not to "sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel"; and what could these "tribes" be if not the nations of Christendom, which make up at once the "Kingdom of Heaven," and the "Holy Catholic Church"? There is in England, as Canon Fremantle further affirms, no such thing as an "established church" (meaning thereby a worshiping body), but only an "established clergy." The nation is the church, the apostolic succession in which attaches
primarily to the sovereign as head, and only subordinately to prelates charged with supervision of its territorial segments. Hooker, accordingly, correctly affirmed that "there is not a man of the Church of England but the same man is a member of the commonwealth, nor any member of the commonwealth which is not also of the Church of England." And Hobbes, in his "Leviathan," rightly also maintained that, as God's accredited spokesman, the king had the power to establish an ultimate standard of right by his decree. Canon Curteis, in his Bampton Lectures, reasoning from the same premises, condemns as derelict any priest who allows a babe born within the limits of his bailiwick to remain unbaptized, no matter what may be the views or wishes of its parents. The word "bailiwick" is used advisedly; for the English "parish" is the civic as well as ecclesiastical unit of territorial partition for administrative purposes, and the local priest is as truly a civic official invested with power to enforce his claims therein as the sheriff. A recent writer of the same church (Winterbotham: "Kingdom of Heaven"), identifying kingdom and church after the traditional fashion, falls
into this curious strain of inferential comment; viz.:
"It is clear that the baptism of infants stands or falls with the parable of the dragnet, and the saying, 'Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.' Babies, as such, can only have to do with the kingdom so far as it is a net, including all within a certain area, without choice on their part, without moral discrimination on the part of the net." Bishop Moorhouse, of Manchester, in like manner, deprecates church discipline, on the basis of the parable of the tares, from which he derives the cautionary hint that exclusion may prevent the intrusive tares from being "converted into wheat."
The Anglican theory, then, is evidently a vigorous shoot from the old Romish stock of theoretic Jewish continuity, slightly variant in contour only because of a new exegetic element contributed by a different soil of circumstance.
Dr. Candlish (a Presbyterian, and therefore confronted by the express statement of the Westminster Confession that the "visible Church, which is also catholic and universal under the gospel, . . . is the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ"), in his lectures
on the "Kingdom of God" (1884), raises the question of identity thus:
"Is the notion of the Kingdom of God really different from that of the Church of Christ? Are not these just different names for the same thing? So it has often been assumed, and the terms have been used as synonyms, and discussions about the Kingdom of God or of Christ have often passed on, without explanation or argument for their identity, to conclusions about the Church. This has been very generally done, though in many different ways, from the time of Augustine until quite recently. Of late, however, the notions of the Church and the Kingdom have not only been distinguished, but, by some, entirely separated from each other; and it has been held to be of great doctrinal importance to maintain the distinction." He thereupon proceeds at some length to prove that the two are "not identical, as was assumed in former times." He cites many modern authorities as maintaining the distinction; such as Baumgarten, Auberlen, Delitzsch, Kurtz, Hoffman, Meyer, etc. (Fairbairn, a Congregationalist, defends the distinction earnestly in his "Studies in the Life of Christ," 111.)
But, while repudiating the unwarranted assumption of identity, Dr. Candlish accepts, without protest, a prior assumption which is equally arbitrary, without which the erroneous identification pointed out would have been impossible. For, of course, the notion of equivalence with a confessedly world-wide kingdom could not attach to a church which was not also reckoned world-wide. He takes it for granted, therefore, that the word "church" in the New Testament refers, presumptively, at least in all cases where the context does not forbid, to the "Church universal," and that this is its prevalent and normal sense.
But it ought to have occurred to him that this proposition needs proof as urgently as the one whose overhasty acceptance he has condemned. For the term "universal" is not explicitly applied to the Church by any New Testament writer; there is no hint in any reference to a local church that it is part of any such body; and the idea of universality is distinctly excluded, as Dr. Candlish himself admits, in an overwhelming majority of instances. Dr. Hort, in a recently published critical study of the subject in his "New Testament Ecclesia," concludes
that the word nowhere suggests a broader reference than to the local body (aside from our Lord's allusion in Matthew 16:18), except in the brief Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. Dr. Candlish goes even further in conceding that the broader meaning is not to be found in the Gospels, but in the two Epistles named alone. The word occurs but thirteen times in these Epistles, the local limitation being explicit in two of these at least. There remain, then, less than a dozen, out of considerably more than a hundred instances of its occurrence, in which the universal sense is claimed even possibly to be the fit one. To attempt to settle the proper meaning of a word upon the authority of a doubtful ten per cent., as against that of an explicit ninety per cent, of actual usage, is surely a headlong procedure.
Modern scholarship strongly inclines, as we have seen, to treat the traditional identification of the "church" and the "kingdom" as erroneous. It proposes a return to the text of the New Testament to determine exegetically "in what way these terms are related to each other." This is tantamount to an admission that scholars have erred as to the normal meaning of one or the other
of the words involved (basileia and ecclesia). But the confusing error can not have arisen in connection with the former of these two words: there is no dispute as to the characteristics or universality of the "kingdom." Nor could it arise in connection with the latter, when understood in the local sense indisputably fastened upon it in the majority of the cases in which it occurs: for in this sense it is clearly not coextensive with the former. It is only when the additional sense of universality is attached to ecclesia, and this sense is made primary, that the possibility of confusion begins. It is at this point, therefore, that caution is especially necessary in attempting an independent inquiry as to the intended force of the words in the New Testament.
It is plain, then, that the conception of the New Testament Church as universal in extent, in so far as it is based upon the identity of Church and Kingdom, can not be traced further back than the so-called Ecumenical Council of Nicea and the assumed consolidation of church and empire under Constantine. But there remains another conception supposed to justify the conception of the Church as a unit, world-wide in range. It is
2. That the Christian Church is a literal prolongation of the Israelitish. Sayford, in Hastings' Bible Dictionary, under the title "Church," summarizes the Scriptural data on which this theory rests, as follows:
There was "a church within the Jewish nation to which Paul alludes as the 'Israel of God' (Galatians 6:16). It is singled out from the nation by Paul's words, 'Not all they which are of Israel are Israel' (implying that some of them are - Rom. 9:6): these are the 'remnant according to the election of grace' 'in this present time' (Romans 11:16-24)."
To the same effect says Dr. Chas. Hodge ("Church Polity," 59-67): "The Protestant distinction between the Church visible and invisible, nominal and real, is that which Paul makes between 'Israel after the flesh' and 'Israel after the Spirit.' . . . It is to be remembered that there were two covenants with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other his spiritual descendants were constituted a church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people.
. . . When Christ came, 'the commonwealth' was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The church remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessing on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. . , . The church is, therefore, in its essential nature, a body of believers, and not an external society, requiring merely external profession as the condition of membership."
But this definition, being of the invisible Church, is necessarily applicable only to the ideal and not the actual body. It must be supplemented, or rather replaced, accordingly, by Dr. Hodge's own definition of the visible or actual Church - the New Testament church which we are seeking ("Syst. Theol.," III., 547-558):
"1. The invisible church is a divine institution.
"2. The visible church does not consist exclusively of the regenerate. Our Lord compares his external kingdom, or visible church, to a field in which tares and wheat grow together.
"3. The commonwealth of Israel was the church.
"4. The church under the new dispensation continues identical with that under the old."
It is obvious that this, and not the other definition, must be resorted to, as he himself immediately adds, to "authenticate such an idea of the church as that it shall include the children of believing parents." Now, the invisible Church is not an "institution" at all. The only institution bearing that name is, therefore, continuous with the Old Testament institution, the Israelitish church, or Abrahamic race. Cremer, accordingly, bases his claim that the primary meaning of the word is universal, chiefly on the fact that ekklesia in the LXX. (qahal in the Hebrew) designated the "people of Israel collectively," and that in the New Testament it must correspondingly refer to the people of God collectively, since they constitute the new Israel.
I may remark, in passing, that the distinguished textual critic and exegete, Dr. Hort - to whose book on the subject reference has been and will be later made - entirely repudiates this rendition of the word
qahal and its Greek synonym ekklesia. The Hebrew word, he says, "is derived from an obsolete root, meaning to call or summon, and its resemblance to the Greek kaleo naturally suggested to the Septuagint translators the word ekklesia, derived from kaleo (rather than ekkaleo) in precisely the same sense. . . . There is no foundation for the widely spread notion that ekklesia means a people or a number of individual men called out of the world of mankind. . . . The original calling out is simply the calling of the citizens of a Greek town out of their houses, by the herald's trumpet, to summon them to the assembly; and Numbers 10:1-7 shows that the summons to the Jewish assembly was made in the same way ('Make thee two trumpets of silver . . . and thou shalt use them for the calling of the congregation,' etc.). So that the term, in either language, referred to a local assembly only."
It will be observed that the Roman Catholic theory also maintains like continuity of the Christian with the Israelitish church. Cardinal Newman entitles one of his sermons, as we have seen, "The Christian Church a Continuation of the Jewish." But while the Calvinistic theorist finds the line
of continuity in the Abrahamic covenant and race lineage, the Romanist emphasizes rather the Davidic, with its promises of perpetual royal succession.
The reflex influence of circumstance upon exegesis is especially conspicuous when we come to Calvin and the Presbyterian bodies that sprang from his teaching. Having determined that infant baptism must "in any wise be retained in the church," but being also irrevocably committed to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Calvin was obliged to forego the traditional defense of infant baptism on the basis of baptismal regeneration, and to abandon the passage in which that doctrine had confidently entrenched itself (John 3:5). Deprived of this stronghold, he could find no refuge to fall back upon except the Abrahamic covenant, which, if accepted as literally perennial, would take in the children of the direct stock, and also all the offspring of members of the household who had been "bought with money" (as the General Assembly was obliged to decide when the matter was brought up in this country). But as "every man that is circumcised is a debtor to do the whole law," according to Paul, it
would appear that Calvin, having allowed his wheel to be caught by a single point in the rut of Jewish continuity, was unable to extricate himself from its entire and despotic mastery. A revived Jewish theocracy, therefore, emerged into form in Geneva, which assumed to blend the civic and religious at every point, regulating the diet and bedtime of the citizens, delivering the disobedient child over to the "secular arm" for punishment, and purging Servetus of heresy by fire. Although bitterly opposed to prelatic despotism, Calvin found in the "elders of Israel" a precedent for the establishment of a body of "ruling elders" who, in the person of the aristocracy of Geneva, the Huguenot leaders of high blood in France, and the "lords of the congregation" in Scotland, took over to a lay syndicate all the centralized power before vested in pope or king. The theocracy of New England, the normal outgrowth of the Calvinistic scheme, was justly satirized by one of its victims long after as a transfer of tyranny from the "lord bishops" to the "lord brethren." It is obviously necessary, under this theory, to maintain the literal identity of the Christian Church as a national body, with the Israelitish organization.
Presbyterian writers on the subject, with almost unbroken uniformity, begin their history of the Christian Church with an account of the commonwealth of Israel; proceeding without recognized gap to treat the events that followed Pentecost as only a new phase of an old thing. That Stephen in his address (Acts 7:38) speaks of a "church in the wilderness" is seized upon, sometimes, as conclusive in the premises. Dr. Hodge, in his discussions, does not scruple to say explicitly that "the Church under the new dispensation is identical with that under the old."
All theories holding to a literal Church universal thus turn back to the Old Testament to justify that conception. In Cardinal Newman's sermon above referred to, only two out of twenty-five Scriptural citations made are from the New Testament.
It remains, now, to examine the New Testament itself to find in how far this assumption of dependence on the Old Testament is justified. It is worth while to inquire whether the distinctively Christian Church had appeared before Christ, its supposed founder, and to judge from his own language and that of his authorized spokesmen,
the Apostles, what was their notion of it as indicated in their recorded words.
This inquiry ought, as far as is practicable, to be purely and impartially exegetic in character. To such an inquiry let us next turn.
More on Jesse Thomas
Baptist History Homepage