Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.15

Fifteenth Question – Are the evangelical and Reformed churches true churches of Christ? We affirm.

Turretin begins this section by stating that if anyone wants to know why the ‘evangelical and Reformed’ churches are true churches, they need only apply the ‘rule of opposites’ to the preceding discussion of the Roman church. But, finally, the reason is that “there is nothing in it not founded upon the word of God and which was not instituted and delivered by Christ and the apostles.” (p. 137) Turretin gets going rhetorically in this section, and I thought that I would reproduce a good chunk of his text so that you, gentle reader, would be able to enjoy it. Also, this bit of text touches on many of Turretin’s primary concerns:
“Our religion [‘evangelical’ or ‘Reformed’ Christianity] is that which is wholly occupied with knowing the one and triune God, the Creator, preserver and Redeemer, and rightly worshiping him according to his command. It gives the entire glory of our salvation to God alone and writes against man alone the true cause of his sin and destruction. It is our religion which recognizes no other rule of faith and practice besides the sacred Scriptures; no other Mediator and head of the church than Christ; no other propitiatory sacrifice than his death; no other purgatory than his blood; no other merit than his obedience; no other intercession than his prayers. It is our religion which teaches that God alone is to be adored and invoked and does not allow the glory and the religious worship due to him to be transferred to creatures. It is our religion which depresses man as much as possible by taking away from him all presumption of his own strength and merits; and raises him to the highest point by preaching that the grace and mercy of God is the one only cause of salvation, both as to acquisition and as to application. It is our religion which proclaims war against all vices, recommends all virtues and presses the necessity of holiness and good works unto salvation; places piety and worship, not in bodily exercises, which are of little advantage…but in worship in spirit and truth, consisting in a pure heart, a good conscience, faith unfeigned, love and the practice of good works. It is our religion which brings solid peace and consolation to the soul of the believer in life and in death by the true confidence which it orders him to place, not in the uncertainty and vanity of his own righteousness or human satisfactions, but in the sole mercy of God and most perfect righteousness of Christ, which, applied to the heart by faith, takes away doubt and distrust and ingenerates a vivid persuasion of salvation after this life. It is our religion which not only does not forbid the reading of the sacred Scriptures as dangerous, but commands it as most useful and highly necessary; which does not wish sacred things to be gone through with a foreign tongue by which the wretched people do not understand God speaking and are held in ignorance the furthest removed from the mysteries; but commends the use of the common tongue known to all that she may consult for the edification and instruction of all. It is our religion which imposes upon all the obedience due to superior powers and thinks that not without great wickedness and sacrilegious audacity can any moral person arrogate to himself the power of deposing kings and absolving subjects from their oath of fidelity. It is our religion which, content with the two sacraments instituted by Christ (baptism and the Supper), rejects all others as inventions of human genius. It recognizes the true, spiritual and sole saving presence of Christ in the Supper and cannot admit the bodily and Capernaitic presence by which God is believed to be not only made by man but also to be eaten, as opposed to sense, reason and faith and full of ten thousand contradictions. Now what falsity or impiety can be discovered in all these things? On the other hand what can be found which does not breathe truth and sincerity and agree with the word of God and the spirit of Christianity?” (p. 139-40)
This lengthy paragraph sets things out in terms of differences between Turretin’s churches and the Roman church. But, he goes on to note that, for the most part, the argument with Rome is not that Rome thinks all this is false, but that Rome adds to it. The argument is about the exclusivity of these things. As Turretin puts it:
“It is confirmed from this – that our whole controversy with the Romanists is not about these affirmative articles, which the Catholic church in all ages has constantly taught and Rome herself also now receives and professes; but about negative and exclusive articles which she thrusts forth to us as necessary to be believed – we, however, constantly reject them as false and erroneous. For example, the question between us is not whether the Scripture is the divinely inspired word of God, the rule of faith and practice (which is our belief and which they themselves also admit); but whether besides the Scriptures there are unwritten traditions to be received with equal affection of piety and reverence as a rule of faith (which they maintain and we deny). It is not disputed whether Christ is our Mediator with God and his death a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins (which is confessed on both sides); but whether besides Christ there are other mediators, whether of redemption or of intercession, and whether besides the sacrifice of the cross, any other truly propitiatory sacrifice must be admitted (which they hold and we reject). It is not controverted whether God is to be worshiped and adored (concerning which we both agree); but whether besides God we lawfully may and ought to worship and invoke creatures. The question is not whether Christ is the head of the Church (which is asserted on both sides); but whether besides Christ the pope is also a secondary head (which is their error, to which we are opposed). Finally, not to mention more heads, it is not disputed whether we are justified by faith apprehending the merit of Christ (which we hold with the Scriptures); but whether we are justified also by works (which they urge and we repudiate).” (p. 140-1)
Turretin goes on to refute nine counter-arguments against the evangelical and Reformed churches:
  1. Crime of Schism: Counter; (1) not all separations are schisms / evil, (2) it is not the same thing to separate from the Roman church and to separate from the true church, (3) infallibility is granted to no single visible church and therefore separation from Rome is not a sin.

  2. The Reformation is New: Counter; the people are new but the doctrine is old. The Reformation is a purging of error, not an innovation.

  3. Reformation is false because there is a defect in the calling and mission of its ministry: Counter; (1) this is presumed but not true, (2) there is such a thing as an extraordinary call especially in times when reform is needed, (3) correct teaching is more important than having an ordinary call, etc.

  4. The Reformation has internal disagreements: Counter; not in essential matters.

  5. The lives of some of the Reformers we full of vices: Counter; (1) truth does not depend on leading a sinless life, (2) the Pharisees and Sadducees used the same argument against Christ and it didn’t work then, (3) the reformers were not perfect but fallible humans like the rest of us but reports of their sins are greatly exaggerated, (4) the Romanists are far worse.

  6. The Reformation is violent: Counter; “As from the beginning, it was founded not with arms, but by the preaching of the word alone and by the blood of the apostles and the sufferings of the martyrs.” (p. 144) Besides, the papacy is worse.

  7. The Reformation has given rise to confusion: Counter; not concerning doctrine but only because of some rebellious and silly people.

  8. The Reformation has given rise to independence in church and state: Counter; obedience is important and only those who wish to live free of the magistracy should be considered as agitators for independence.

  9. Fanaticism and Libertinism: Counter; all those crazy sects shouldn’t be associated with the evangelical and Reformed churches.

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