Westminster on the Church

Chapter 25 (1).  The catholic or universal Church which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof …

(2) The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, and of their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

(4) This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

(5) The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error, and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there will always be a Church on earth, to worship God according to his will.

Chapter 30 (1). The Lord Jesus, as King and Head of his Church, hath therein appointed a government, in the hand of Church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.

(2) To these officers, the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed, by virtue whereof, they have power respectively to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the gospel, and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.

Chapter 31 (3). It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith and cases of conscience, to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God apponted thereunto in his Word.

(4) All synods or councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice; but to be used as a help in both.

Chapter 1 (10). The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

3 thoughts on “Westminster on the Church

  1. Good question. Part of the problem of relegating questions of church government to the non-essentials, which shouldn’t get in the way of friendly relations and evangelistic efforts etc, is that it means the whole doctrine of the church gets pushed out of view. James Walker’s chapter on the Church in ‘The Theology and Theologians of Scotland’ contains some gentle but firm criticism of the then-current state of thinking. And the concept of church discipline itself is probably not terribly clear to many people, ruling elders or not (myself included). Some denominations might be too lax, and others too harsh, and everyone is probably inconsistent.

    AA Hodge’s comment is, “In view of two unquestionable facts — (a) to forgive sin is an incommunicable attribute of God and Christ; (b) God has given to no class of men the factulty of absolutely discriminating the good from the bad — it follows that the Church power of opening and shutting, of binding and loosing … is purely ministerial and declarative. Church censures declare simply what is, to the best of their knowledge, in the opinion of the church officers pronouncing them, the mind and will of Christ in the case. And they have direct binding effect only in so far as the relation of the person censured to the visible Church is concerned. They can have effect upon the relations of the censured to God and to Christ only in so far as they represent the will of Christ in the case, and because they do.”

    I also wonder how many people make conscience of receiving the decisions of church courts with reverence and submission, because of these courts’ real power to make decisions. Things about the church being real at all seems maybe a lost conviction – the reality of a divine call to the ministry, that the office of the ministry is divinely instituted, that the communion of the saints is real, and professing faith in a congregation is a real participation in a real fellowship with real obligations.

    What do you think? can you give an elder’s perspective?


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