Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.2

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.2

[NB: Turretin treats general ecclesiology as his eighteenth topic (sacraments are treated as the nineteenth topic), which is divided into 34 questions. Thus our designator, “18.2” for topic 18 question 2.]

Second Question: The word “church” – its homonyms and definition.

This second question considered in Turretin’s ecclesiology is divided into thirteen further sub-points. It begins with a discussion of the meaning of the word ‘church’ in light of the Greek terms used in the New Testament. Special attention is given to the difference between ekklesias and synagogues / episynagoges. Turretin concludes his linguistic study by observing that the word ‘church’ means different things in the text. Of utmost import to him, however, is that we recognize that the church is not a gathering place, but the gathering itself. That this is directed against Rome is clear (Turretin is generally good about telling the reader these things).

From this, Turretin takes up a discussion of the three primary ways in which the notion of ‘church’ is used in the New Testament:
“Now although the meanings of the word ‘church’ are various and multiple, still they can all be reduced to these three principal ones: (1) the invisible church of the elect and believers; (2) the external church of the externally called professing faith; (3) the representative church of pastors. The church can be regarded either with respect to internal communion with Christ or efficacious calling (with respect to those selected in whom the word and sacraments are efficacious by the Spirit and work salvation) or with respect to the external profession or dispensation of the word and sacraments (as to those who are externally called) or with respect to the sacred rule and government by rulers appointed by Christ.” (p. 8)
Much of Turretin’s material here is very reminiscent of Calvin’s ecclesiology and nearly every point set forth here finds resonances in Calvin’s work. Two such resonances deserve specific mention. First, Turretin affirms that the visible / external church is a mixed church, that is, a mingling of both believers and those who look like believers. Second, Turretin applies his third use of the term ‘church’ to Matthew 18, a move that Calvin makes as well.

Toward the end of this section, Turretin brings his polemic work to a fine point:
“The fundamental error of the Romanists in the whole controversy is that the church is to be measured like a civil society, so that its essence consists only in externals and things striking the senses and that a profession of faith alone is sufficient to constitute a member of the church; nor are faith itself and internal piety necessarily required for it. Nevertheless, its nature is far different. We ought not to learn this from the corrupt light of reason or from our morals or those of others, but from the most pure mirror of the divine word, which is wont to make it consist not in externals (which are seen by men and can often mislead), but in internals (which are believed and recognized by God alone…).” (p. 10)


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