Chapter 26: Of the Church

  1. The universal (or catholic) church may be called invisible with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace. It consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ its head. The church is the spouse [bride], the body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.1

1 Heb 12.23; Col 1.18; Eph 1.10, 22-23; Eph 5.23, 27, 32

  1. All people throughout the world who profess the faith of the gospel, and obedience to God by Christ according to the gospel, who do not destroy their own profession by any errors undermining gospel fundamentals or by unholy conduct, are and may be called visible saints.2 All particular [individual and local] congregations ought to be constituted of such people.3

2 1Cor 1.2; Acts 11.26 3 Rom 1.7; Eph 1.20-22

  1. The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error.4 Some have degenerated so much that they cease to be churches of Christ and become synagogues of Satan.5 Nevertheless, Christ always has had a kingdom in this world, and forever shall have until the world’s end, made up of those who believe in him and profess his name.6

4 1Cor 5; Rev 2 and 3 5 Rev 18.2; 2Thes 2.11-12 6 Mt 16.18; Ps 72.17; Ps 102.28; Rev 12.17

  1. The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church. In him, by the appointment of the Father, all power [authority] is invested [conferred] in a supreme and sovereign manner for the calling, institution, order and government of the church.7 The Pope of Rome can in no sense be the head of the church; rather, he is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, who exalts himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God. The Lord shall destroy him with the brightness of his coming.8

7 Col 1.18; Mt 28.18-20; Eph 4.11-12 8 2Thes 2.3-9

  1. In executing this power with which he is entrusted, the Lord Jesus calls out of the world to himself, through the ministry of his Word, by his Spirit, those who are given to him by his Father.9 He calls them so that they might walk before him in all the ways of obedience which he prescribes to them in his Word.10 He commands those called in this way to walk together in particular societies or churches for their mutual edification [building up],11 and properly to carry out that public worship which he requires of them while in the world.

9 Jn 10.16; Jn 12.32 10 Mt 28.20 11 Mt 18.15-20

  1. The members of these churches are saints by calling,12 and they visibly manifest [display] and give evidence of [demonstrate] their obedience to the call of Christ in and by their profession and their life. They also willingly consent [agree] to walk together according to the appointment [direction and instruction] of Christ, giving themselves up to the Lord and to one another by the will of God, professing their subjection to the ordinances [directives and commands] of the gospel.13

12 Rom 1.7; 1Cor 1.2 13 Acts 2.41-42; Acts 5.13-14; 2Cor 9.13

  1. To each of these churches gathered in this way, according to the mind of Christ declared in his Word, the Lord has given all the power and authority which is in any way necessary to carry out that order [form or pattern] of worship and discipline which he has instituted for them to observe, together with commands and rules for the proper and right exertion and execution of that power.14

14 Mt 18.17-18; 1Cor 5.4-5 with 5.13; 2Cor 2.6-8

  1. A particular church so gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members. The officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church called and gathered in this way are bishops [overseers] or elders, and deacons. They are appointed for the peculiar [distinctive or exclusive] administration of ordinances, and the execution of the power or duty with which Christ entrusts them or to which he calls them. This pattern is to be continued to the end of the world.15

15 Acts 20.17, 28; Phil 1.1

  1. The way appointed by Christ for calling any person fitted [qualified] and gifted by the Holy Spirit to the office of bishop [overseer] or elder in a church is that he must be chosen to that office by the common consent and vote of the church itself.16 Such a man must be solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with the laying on of hands of the eldership of the church,17 if there are any elders already appointed. A deacon also must be chosen by the consent and vote of the church, and set apart by prayer, and the same laying on of hands.18

16 Acts 14.23 17 1Tim 4.14 18 Acts 6.3, 5-6

  1. The work of pastors is constantly to give attention to the service of Christ, in his churches, in the ministry of the Word and in prayer, watching out for their souls, as those who must give an account to him.19 It is therefore incumbent [an obligation or liability] on the churches to whom they minister, not only to give them all due [proper] respect, but also to impart to [provide for] them a share of all their good things according to their ability.20 This is so that they may have a comfortable [easily sufficient] income without becoming entangled in secular concerns21 and may also be capable of exercising hospitality toward others.22 This is required both by the law of nature and by the express order of our Lord Jesus, who has ordained that those who preach the gospel should live [earn their living] from the gospel.23

19 Acts 6.4; Heb 13.17 20 1Tim 5.17-18; Gal 6.6-7 21 2Tim 2.4 22 1Tim 3.2 23 1Cor 9.6-14

  1. The bishops [overseers] or pastors of the churches have an obligation to be diligent and urgent in preaching the Word by virtue of their office. Nevertheless, the work of preaching the Word is not confined exclusively to them. Others also gifted and fitted [qualified] by the Holy Spirit for the work, and approved24 and called by the church, may and ought to carry it out.

24 Acts 11.19-21; 1Pt 4.10-11

  1. All believers are bound [obligated] to join themselves to particular [individual and local] churches when and where they have opportunity to do so. All who are admitted to the privileges of a church are also under the censures [corrections] and government of that church, according to the rule of Christ.25

25 1Thes 5.14; 2Thes 3.6, 14-15

  1. If church members have been in any way offended, and have performed the duty required of them towards the person by or at whom they are offended, they ought not to disturb [disrupt] any church order or absent themselves from the assemblies of the church or the administration of any ordinances because of that offence with or against any of their fellow members. Rather, the offended members should wait upon Christ [expect Christ to act] in the further proceeding of the church.26

26 Mt 18.15-17; Eph 4.2-3

  1. Each church, and all the members of that church, are bound [obligated] to pray continually for the good and prosperity of all the churches of Christ in all places.27 Each church and its members must take every opportunity to exercise their gifts and graces so as to advance that good and prosperity, in accordance with the limits of their position and location and calling. In this way the churches, when planted by the providence of God in such a way as to enjoy opportunity for it and advantage [benefit] from it, ought to hold communion among themselves for their peace, increase of love, and mutual edification [building up].28

27 Eph 6.18; Ps 122.6 28 Rom 16.1-2; 3Jn 8-10

  1. There may be difficulties or differences, having to do either with matters of doctrine or administration [church government], in which either the churches in general are or any one church is involved, affecting their peace, union and edification. Likewise, any member or members of any church may be injured [suffer injustice or be wronged] in or by any disciplinary proceedings not agreeable to [consistent with] truth and order. In such cases it is according to the mind of Christ that many churches holding communion together, through their appointed messengers, meet to consider and to give their advice concerning the matter in dispute, which should be reported to all the churches concerned [involved].29 However, these assembled messengers are not entrusted with any genuine church power [authority], nor do they have any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures [discipline or correction] over any churches or people or to impose their determination [conclusions, decisions, or opinions] on the churches or officers.30

29 Acts 15.2, 4, 6, etc., 22-23, 25 30 2Cor 1.24; 1Jn 4.1