Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.5

Fifth Question: The Unity of the Church – In what sense may the church be called one?

As far as I can tell, this is a short section by Turretin’s standards (3 pages). Having already put in place much of his ecclesiological groundwork, he is able to move through this material swiftly with the help of his distinctions. As we saw earlier, one of these distinctions is the difference between the internal and external conditions or states of the church, that is, the distinction between the invisible church made up of all the elect who have also been called in time and the visible church made up not only by these but also any elect but not yet called and reprobate that happen to be mixed in as well. In his discussion of the unity of the church, Turretin is clear that he is dealing with the church conceived internally / invisibly. Thus, we are dealing not with “accidental unity” but with “essential unity” (p. 27).

There are six categories of internal unity, which Turretin understands to flow together but to be logically ordered in the following way: (1) unity of body, (2) unity of head, (3) unity of spirit, (4) unity of faith, (5) unity of love, and (6) unity of hope. These unities are rather self-explanatory, and Turretin treats them briefly with reference to certain key scriptural passages. One point of interest is the polemic edge of #2, where Turretin points out that because Christ is the head of the body / church, it needs no other head as “do the Romanists pretend here” (p. 28) with reference to the Pope.

A few extra points are tacked onto the end. The first of these has to do with baptism, which – like the church – can be understood internally or externally. The former is part of the unity of the invisible church while the latter is part of the visible church. Turretin also notes that though there are many different churches spread throughout the world, this does not undermine their internal unity because this unity is based on the unity of God.

Finally, I want to be sure to point out that Turretin concludes with this ethical exhortation, which reveals to us that even the most scholastic of theology bear practical freight: “Moreover, these various species of unity which occur in the church are so many effectual arguments for believers to cherish among themselves love and concord and to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (p. 29).


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