Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.12

Twelfth Question: The Marks of the Church – Is the truth of doctrine which is held in any assembly, or its conformity with the word of God by the pure preaching and profession of the word, and the lawful administration and use of the sacraments, a mark of the visible church? We affirm against the Romanists.

This section is significantly longer than the preceding, and on the basis of my flipping forward through a few sections, it looks like these sorts of lengths will become standard. What this means is that my treatments of the material will be far less comprehensive than they have been, so those of you who are following along (if you exist!) might want to pull out your own copies of Elenctic Theology V. 3 and take a closer look for yourselves. It is hard to know how to get into this material, so I’m just going to start and hope that something worthwhile emerges.

Turretin begins this section but making a point that he returns to frequently, namely, that the present consideration of the mark(s) of a church has to do with the visible church. That is, he is trying to provide an answer to the question of where, if given two options, one should go to church. Of course, the options were far more stark in Turretin’s day than in our own where all you need to do to find a new church to attend is go down the street a few blocks.
“The question does not concern the marks of the Christian church in general; for the profession of Christianity sufficiently distinguishes this from the heathen and other unbelievers. But it is treated in particular of the marks of a particular visible church that we may distinguish an orthodox and purer church from a heterodox and heretical; so that this being found wanting, we may betake ourselves to the communion of that.” (p. 87)
Now, it is important to note that Turretin does not speak here of an ‘orthodox and pure’ church, but of an ‘orthodox and purer’ church. The combination of a non-comparative (orthodox) and a comparative (purer) is interesting. What we can conclude from this is that Turretin has a very firm notion of what it means to be orthodox, but that he is also willing to allow for imperfection in any particular church. He says as much in bits and pieces throughout this material. In any case, his account of the mark(s) of the church is shaped by this.

Decisively, the single most important (the original) mark of the church is Scripture. Everything else that could be considered a mark of the church, such as church discipline or proper prayer or the proper administration and use of the sacraments, are derivative of this foundational mark. Turretin ties things together in a statement that has certain resonances with Calvin’s famous statement of the marks of the church: “Therefore wherever the doctrine of the apostles and the legitimate use of the sacraments and of prayers are, there the true church of Christ certainly is.” (p. 89)

It is about this time that we get one of Turretin’s famous listings of support for his argument. Here is the short version:
  1. Scripture: John 10

  2. Scripture: John 8, John 14, Matthew 18. Sum – “Christ cannot be found without his church.” (p. 89)

  3. Scripture: Acts 2, Acts 20

  4. Scripture: Similarity of discerning between true / false prophets / teachers and true / false churches. There are too many references to sort through here, but first and second John feature

  5. That which is essential to something is a mark of that thing

  6. If it is present, the visible church is present; if it is absent, the visible church is absent

  7. Patristic Authorities: Turtullian, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine

  8. There are ‘Romanists’ who agree
I will conclude with two points with which Turretin occupies himself in the closing pages of this section, namely, the relation of the church to Scripture, and what counts for the ‘truth of doctrine’ the visible affirmation of which counts for the primary mark of the church?

Church and Scripture
“Better known by nature is one thing; better known by us is another. Scripture is better known by nature than the church because it is the principle and foundation of the church. Hence it cannot be certainly and infallibly known except from the Scripture. The church is better known than the Scripture by us with a confused and inchoate knowledge because it is the means and instrument which leads us to the Scripture and which draws it to us. Thus the Scripture and the church give each other mutual help; but the authority belongs to the Scripture and the ministry to the church. The church shows the Scripture by her ministry…the Scripture shows the church by her authority…” (p. 94)

What counts for ‘truth of doctrine’?
“It cannot be said that the simple crowd and rustics are not capable of examining doctrine and so need other sensible marks which are better suited to their comprehension. It is treated here not of any doctrine whatsoever and of all the questions which can be agitated about it, but only of the doctrine necessary to salvation, in which the essence of faith consists (which stands out perspicuously in the Scriptures and can be perceived by any believer).” (p. 95)

2 comments:

Shane said...

WTM,

Does Turretin address the famous quote from Augustine that he wouldn't have known what the canon was if the church had not told him?

shane

WTM said...

That doesn't specifically come to mind from this section, but my memory is not always to be trusted.