What is a Church Member? | Willem Apollonius

Willem Apollonius (1602-1657)
A Consideration of Certain Controversies (1644)
I. Of the Qualification of Church Members, pp. 1-13.

Question.

Whether there be none to be admit­ted into the communion of the external visible Church, but who is endued with the real internal holiness of regeneration, and with justifying faith in Christ: or, who upon strict examination doth manifest such evident signs of true faith, and real internal holiness, as may convince the consciences of the Church to which he joineth himself, of his sincere faith, repentance and communion in Christ: and that if any congregation admit others, in whom there is not evident proof of these signs, they admit impure and false church­ members?

Answer.

The Reformed Churches distinguish be­tween the mystical invisible Church of Christ—which is the company of believers called, who have communion with Christ, to which are made all the promises of heavenly good things in Christ, to which no hypocrites can belong, which hath the power of Christ’s Spirit inwardly working—and the external vi­sible Church of Christ—which is the company of those who profess the true faith, for the ex­ercise of Church communion and fellowship amongst themselves, to which hypocrites may belong. For anyone to be a true member of the invisible Church, we require, according to the Word of God, true justifying faith, repen­tance, and spiritual communion with Christ. The admission of members into this Church is God’s work, who by effectual saving voca­tion doth ingraft men into the mystical body of Christ. But the admission of members of the Church visible is committed to the care of the overseers and pastors of the Church. Who by the Word of God may admit none other to the complete external communion of the Church visible, and ought to admit all such, who by external federal holiness are separated from the world, are instructed in the know­ledge of God and of the true Religion, profess the name of Christ, and walking without of­fence in their outward conversation, are ac­counted in the judgement of Charity as true Believers, and upon examination of the El­dership concerning these things, are received into brotherly and Ecclesiastical Commu­nion.

We grant therefore in this question.

1. That anyone be in foro Dei, at God’s tribunal, a true member of the Church invisible, there is requi­red in him, that he be endued with real internal holiness of regeneration and justifying faith in Christ.

2. That it is man’s duty who will duly for salvation join himself to the Church, that he truly believe in Christ, and being endued with real holiness, worship God aright in all his ways.

But we affirm, that to the external and vi­sible Church, the pastors are to admit those who profess the true religion and faith of Christ, lead their lives without scandal, or be­ing fallen into scandals do by repentance wash them away in foro Ecclesiae, at the Church’s tribunal, submit themselves to discipline, publicly frequent all exercises of divine wor­ship, and desire Church communion with us: although they do not manifest such evident signs of regeneration, which may convince the consciences of the Church of their true faith in Christ.

Our opinion is proved by these arguments.

1. From the admission of members into the Primitive Church in the Apostles time, when all who made profession of Faith, according to the Word of God, and desired Ecclesiastical Communion, living without manifest scandals, or having given scandals, did by repentance, in foro Ecclesiae, amend them, were by them ad­mitted into the Communion of the Church vi­sible: see for instance Acts 2.41-42, 45; Acts 8.13; Acts 4.34, 37. In so much as even hypo­crites had entrance into the Church (notwith­standing that the Apostles were endued with an extraordinary spirit of discerning) as appea­reth in the examples of Ananias, Judas, Simon Magus, Hymeneus, Philetus.

2. From the admission of members into the Church of the Old Testament; where those were admitted into the external Church, and the visible communion thereof, who being adorned with federal holiness did profess the true God of Israel: as appears by the admissi­on of the whole people into that Church (Deut. 29.4, etc., Josh 24.23, etc).

3. From the description of the Church visi­ble, the nature whereof is described in the Word of God, that it is as a barn wherein the chaff is gathered together with the wheat. The House of God, in which are vessels both of gold and of wood. A net, wherein are caught fishes good and bad (Mat. 3.12 and 13.47; 2 Tim. 2.20-21), so that to the admission of any to be a member of the Church visible, the pa­stors can require no more in foro ecclesiastico, as a necessary requisite, than what may also be found in hypocrites.

4. From the state and condition of the Chur­ches of God in the time of the Apostles, who acknowledged for true Churches of Christ, those visible societies, amongst whom there were hypocrites, carnal men, schismatics, and others not endued with real holiness of re­generation and justifying faith. To whom not­withstanding the Apostles wrote their epistles as members of the Church visible. See to this purpose the condition of the seven Churches in Asia (Rev. 2 & 3). The condition of the Churches of Corinth and Galatia (1 Cor. 1.11-12, 3.3, 6.1-3, 11.17-18; Gal. 1.6, 3.1-4, 5.7-9, etc.).

Thus have our divines determined this controversy.

Calvin. Instit. lib. 4. cap. 1. sect. 7. “But oft-times (saith he) by the name of the Church the Scriptures intend the whole multitude of men throughout the world, who profess to worship one God and Christ, are initiated by baptism into his faith, testify by their partaking the Lord’s Supper a unity in the true religion and charity, consent to the Word of God, and for the preaching thereof maintain a ministry instituted by Christ. But in this multitude are many mingled who are hypo­crites and have nothing of Christ but the name and shew, etc. which in respect of men is called a Church, and we commanded to maintain the communion of it.” And sect. 8. he shews, that it is the prerogative of God alone to know who are unfeigned saints, and true members of the Church. “Yet (saith he) because he foresaw that it was some­what requisite that we should know who are to be accounted for his children, herein he applieth himself to our capacity. And, because a certainty of faith is not herein requisite, he hath instead thereof appointed the judgement of charity: in which judgement we acknowledge for members of the Church, those who in the confession of faith, and example of their life, and participation of the Sa­craments, profess the same God and Christ with us.

Hence Ames affirms it to be false, that the Reformed Churches require inward graces, to the admitting of any into the Church, as to the visible state thereof: Anti Bellarm. tom. 2. lib. 2. cap. 1. note 5, and note 3 of the same chapter, he affir­meth out of Augustine, that there is in the Church the inward soul, to wit, the gifts of grace; and the body, or outward profession, whence it comes to pass, that some are both of the soul and the bo­dy of the Church, others of the body only and not the soul. Which, saith he, is expressed by Alexan­der Alensis in other words, when he saith, That evil men are of the unity of the Church, but not of the unity of the body of the Church; not of the body of the Church according to the true nature of a body, or in reference to the union of the body mystical. Which distinction he proveth out of 1 Joh. 2.19; Rom. 2.28, a Jew openly, and a Jew in secret.

So Trelcatius the elder, in his common places, loco 15, puts the differences between the members of the visible and of the invisible Church, in a lively faith, purity of life, certainty of election and salvation, and perseverance in faith; which are found in the members of the Church invisible in sincerity and truth; but in the members of the Church visible only in the judgement of charity, oft-times not in truth, because of a vocation and profession external, but oft hypocritical. So almost all the eminent Reformed divines affirm the matter of the Church visible to be men outwardly called professing the faith of Christ; for they define it to be, a company of men, who by an outward cal­ling, or the preaching of the Word and participation of the Sacraments, are called to the exercise of the worship of God, and ecclesiastical fellow­ship amongst themselves. See both the Trelca­tii in their common places, loco de Ecclesia. The Professors of Leyden, disp. 40. thes. 33. Hence also have our Belgic Churches in our National and Provincial Synods ordained, that he be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, who hath first made profession of his faith, submitted himself to the discipline of the Church, and brought testimony of unblameable life. See the Synods at Dort, Anno 1574. art. 70. and Anno 1578. art. 64. at Middleburgh, Anno 1581. art. 43. at the Hage, Anno 1586. art. 54. at Middleburgh, Anno 1591. art. 51. at Dort, Anno 1619. art. 61.

We reject therefore these ensuing opinions:

Contrary Opinion I.

I. Of those who affirm the external and particular visible Church to be the proper sub­ject to which belongeth the Covenant of Grace, all the promises of God, the properties, and privileges which Christ the Mediator hath purchased for his Church. The reasons of our denial are:

1. Because that Church for which these privileges are purchased, is perpetual which ne­ver falleth away: for this infallible Promise is made to it from God (Jer. 31.36; Mat. 16.18). But now no particular visible Church is secu­red from falling away, as our orthodox di­vines demonstrate against the Papists: it is not for it, therefore, that these privileges are pur­chased by Christ the Mediator.

2. Those Churches, for which all these pro­mised privileges are procured, are called out of the world, by the Word and Spirit of God, to faith and holiness, and have sincere and inward communion and fellowship with Christ and all true believers: whence frequently in Scrip­tures they are called the Spouse and Beloved of Christ (Cant. 4.7; Eph. 5.27). The Holy Sion, and heavenly Jerusalem: and the Israel of God, (Isa. 52.1; Gal. 4.26 and 6.16). So likewise, The Church which Christ hath purified for himself, to present her to himself glorious not having spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5.27). The Body of Christ fitly joined together and compacted by that which eve­ry joint supplieth (Eph. 4.16). It’s called Christ’s people whom he saveth from their sins (John 10.16; Mat. 1.21). God’s house, and a holy Priesthood (1 Pet. 2.5). The Temple of God, in which the Spirit of God doth dwell (1 Cor. 3.16). The Lamb’s wife (Apoc. 21.4). All which, and such like, do not agree to an external visible particular Church, as such (Rom. 9.6), but only to the Church invisible, which Christ had redeemed with his blood (Acts 20.28).

3. The privileges promised and procured for the Church of God (amongst many others) are these: That God puts his Law, and his fear into the minds of the members of it (Jer. 31.33). That they are all taught of God and know him (John 6.42). That they are redeemed by the blood of Christ (Acts 20.28; Eph. 5.27). But these agree not to an external and visible particular Church: Therefore, that external visible par­ticular Church is not the proper subject of the Covenant of grace, or of these Privileges which by Christ our Mediator are procured for the Church.

Confirming Opinions.

Whereunto the Reformed divines assent. See (amongst others) the Professors of Leyden, in their Synopsis Theologiae, disput. 40. Thes. 29-31. And Ames himself against Bellarm. tom. 2. lib. 2. cap. 1. not. 10. where he affirms that those glorious things which are spoken in Scripture of the Church of Christ, that it is re­deemed by Christ, the Body of Christ, the Spouse of Christ, quickened, acted, and guided by the Holy Spirit, partaketh of all spiritual blessings, so that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it; doth properly and fully agree not to the whole multitude of those that profess the Christian faith, but to those only that are true believers: or, they agree to the Church militant according to its essential na­ture peculiar to true believers; not according to its external manner of existence, in which are in­cluded both godly and reprobates.

Contrary Opinion II.

II. We reject the opinion of those, who think that in the Church none are to be admitted as members into the external fellowship of the Church, but such as have been by a strict exa­mination first tried by other believers, or the Elders of the Church, in the exercises of Piety, the duties of Prayer, holy conferences, and spiritual communion, and have manifested to them evident signs of regeneration. And have afterwards, before the whole body of the Church, publicly professed a sincere confessi­on of faith; and have either by a continued speech, or by questions and answers, made ma­nifest by evident signs the saving grace of God in them, whereby they are translated from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of God. And such a spirit that in a Church Cove­nant sincerely, faithfully, and godlily in the presence of God and the whole Church, they both can and will walk in the ways of God. For we read not that in the Apostolical Church this manner of admitting Church members was in use. Those three thousand (Acts 2) were not in this manner added to the Church of Christ: but men were upon such a confession joined to the Church of Christ, as whereby hypocrites and persons not converted might have entrance into the Church: and that under the inspection of the Apostles, who were endued with extraordinary gifts of the Spirit.

Confirming Opinions.

Whence also in our Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, members of Churches are ad­mitted by a confession of the true Faith and Religion, a solemn protestation to submit themselves to the discipline of the Church, a testimony of an unblameable and inoffensive life. As also Ames himself affirmeth, that men are duly admitted into the Church by a confession of faith and promise of obedience. Medull. lib. 1. cap. 32. thes. 17. And in some more numerous Churches in the Netherlands it is the custom and practice, for the Churches greater prudence in admitting members, that those who desire admission into Church communion, before their solemn profession of faith, are for some weeks several times privately exercised, and instructed if they be not sufficiently exercised; and this instruction is by the ministers in the visitation of their several precincts, and is also publicly offered to all, when notice is given of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The ministers inquire likewise of the integrity of life and conversation of those who expect communion with us: Afterwards they use to undergo an examination before the consistory in their consistorial meeting, or before the delegates of the Consistory; which is performed by the minister through all the points of catechism. And last of all having been thus tried, they do in public before the body of the Church by a bare affirmation give answer to these general positions: Whether or no they acknowledge the doctrine of our Churches to be the orthodox faith and the way of salvation? Whether or no they promise, by the grace of God, to persist till death in the profession of this doctrine? Whether or no they promise to live holily and as becometh this doctrine? Whether or no they submit themselves to the discipline of the Church? In this manner are those who desire admission, admitted to our Church communion. This custom though laudable, is not indeed contrary, but yet is be­side the order of our Churches; and is not in use in all our Churches: which therefore we do not urge as absolutely necessary, but make use of it, for the greater Ecclesiastical prudence in so grave and serious a matter. In the meantime, we esteem that order establi­shed in our Ecclesiastical constitutions to be sufficient for the due admitting of members in­to Church communion, according to the Word of God.

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