Part Five: The Doctrine of The Church and of The Means of GraceThe Church


The doctrine of the application of the merits of Christ naturally leads on to the doctrine of the Church, for the Church consists of those who are partakers of Christ and of the blessings of salvation that are in Him. The Reformed conception is that Christ, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, unites men with Himself, endows them with true faith, and thus constitutes the Church as His body, the communio fidelium or sanctorum. In Roman Catholic theology, however, the discussion of the Church takes precedence over everything else, preceding even the discussion of the doctrine of God and of divine revelation. The Church, it is said, has been instrumental in producing the Bible and therefore takes precedence over it; it is moreover the dispenser of all supernatural graces. It is not Christ that leads us to the Church, but the Church that leads us to Christ. All the emphasis falls, not on the invisible Church as the communio fidelium, but on the visible Church as the mater fidelium. The Reformation broke with this Roman Catholic view of the Church and centered attention once more on the Church as a spiritual organism. It emphasized the fact that there is no Church apart from the redemptive work of Christ and from the renewing operations of the Holy Spirit; and that, therefore, the discussion of these logically precedes the consideration of the doctrine of the Church.

It seems rather peculiar that practically all the outstanding Presbyterian dogmaticians of our country, such as the two Hodges, H. B. Smith, Shedd, and Dabney, have no separate locus on the Church in their dogmatical works and, in fact, devote very little attention to it. Only the works of Thornwell and Breckenridge form an exception to the rule. This might create the impression that, in their opinion, the doctrine of the Church should not have a place in dogmatics. But this is extremely unlikely, since none of them raise a single objection to its inclusion. Moreover, Turretin and their Scottish forbears, on whose foundation they are building, devote a great deal of attention to the Church. Walker says: "There is perhaps no country in the world in which all kinds of Church questions have been so largely discussed as in our own."Scottish Theology and Theologians, p. 95; cf. also McPherson, The Doctrine of the Church in Scottish Theology, pp. 1 ff. And, finally, Dr. A. A. Hodge informs us that his father lectured to his various classes on the subjects of Ecclesiology, practically covered the entire ground, and intended to complete his Systematic Theology by the publication of a fourth volume on the Church; but was prevented by the infirmities incident to his advanced age.Preface to Hodge's work on Church Polity. Dabney says that he omitted the doctrine of the Church, because this was ably treated in another department of the Seminary in which he labored.Lect. on Theol., p. 726. Shedd in giving his scheme asserts that the Church comes into consideration in connection with the means of grace.Dogm. Theol. I, p. 10. However, he devotes very little attention to the means of grace and does not discuss the doctrine of the Church. And the editor of Smith's System of Christian Theology incorporated into this work the author's views on the Church, as expressed in other works.pp. 590 ff.