Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.3

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.3

Third Question: The Members of the Church – Besides the elect, are the reprobates and infidels (whether secret or open) also true members of the church of Christ? We deny against the Romanists.

The fundamental theme to this section, which is hard to miss because Turretin repeats it so often, is that we must consider the church with reference to its external constitution and with reference to its internal constitution. He sets up his discussion by hammering this home:
“On the statement of the question we remark…that the church can be regarded either as to its external or its internal state. The external answers to the external call by the word, upon which depends the external form of the church, placed in a profession of faith or an external and sensible communion of the same sacred things. The internal answers to the internal and efficacious call by the word and Spirit, which constitutes its essential and internal form in the communion of faith or the mystical union of believers with Christ by faith and with each other by love. The question is not whether the reprobate belong to the external state (which we do not deny), but to the internal state (which we do deny)” (p. 11).
In this we see a very fundamental point, namely, that predestination cannot be separated from effectual call. We can tease this out a bit more by leaving Turretin’s linear argument for a moment. Election and effectual call are intimately linked in that the effectual call “is nothing else than the execution and fruit of eternal election” (p. 15). It is interesting to contrast this with Barth, for whom the history of Jesus Christ is the execution (and content) of election. I could pontificate at this point about the products of divergent theological starting points, but I will spare you all that. The interesting thing is that this union of election and effectual call gives Turretin a way of excluding from the church (internally considered) those who may at some future point be identified as elect on the basis of some yet-to-happen moment of effectual call.
“It is one thing for the elect and predestined alone to be members of the church (which we hold); another for election alone to be sufficient to constitute a member of the church (which we deny), since with election is required effectual calling, which is the effect of election” (p. 22).
Back to Turretin’s linear argument. The bulk of this section is given over to arguments for why Turretin’s position is right (not a big surprise), and these fall into eleven categories. First, since the church is the body of Christ, only “those which are animated by the life of the head” can be said to be members (p. 13). Second, the church is the bride of Christ, to which the same logic applies. Also, third, the church is like a sheepfold, and only those who hear and follow Christ’s voice are allowed in. Fourth, the church is the house of God made of ‘living’ and not ‘dead’ stones. Fifth, Turretin elaborates on the relation of effectual calling and election. The sixth argument concerns the images of the day of judgment, and Turretin equates the church that will make it into heaven with the true church. Seventh, the church is the communion of the saints (based on the Creed), and to be a saint requires “a holiness real and internal” such that “a Christian is not said to be holy from his external profession only, but from internal truth” (p. 17), which the reprobate do not have. Eighth, the reprobate belong to the kingdom and body of the devil and thus cannot belong to the kingdom and body of Christ, the church. Ninth, Turretin produces some quotations of Jesus to support his point. Tenth, the true church are those who receive the benefits of the covenant of grace. And, finally, eleventh (!), Turretin produces support from Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Ambrose, Gregory the Great, Jerome and “above all others Augustine” (p. 20).

One concluding point of interest is Turretin’s brief discussion of how baptism factors into all this:
“All baptized persons internally and externally are members of the true church because they put on Christ in baptism and are baptized into one body. But there is not the same relation of reprobates and the wicked, who are indeed baptized externally, but not internally (to wit, with water to wash away the filth of the flesh, but not with the Spirit for the purgation of sin; by a visible symbol, but not by the invisible thing signified)” (p. 22).


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