The Church

“Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife…”

Rev. 21:9

“…even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”

Eph. 5:25-27

“Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.  God is known in her palaces for a refuge…  Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof.  Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.”

Ps. 48:2-3, 12-13




Church Membership
Church-State Relations
Ladies in Church
Apostolic Succession
Works Against the Roman Apologist Bellarmine (who treated of the Church)
Visible Church is Outwardly in the Covenant of Grace



Order of Contents

Articles  8+
Books  6
Quotes  6

Invisible Church  2
Visible Church: Rutherford
Marks of the Church  1
3 Kinds of Communion with Church  1
Reformation on True & False Churches  5
Church Only has Power unto Edification  1




Anthology of

Heppe, Heinrich – ch. 27, ‘The Church’  in Reformed Dogmatics  ed. Ernst Bizer, tr. G.T. Thomson  Pre  Buy  (1861; Wipf & Stock, 2007), pp. 657-95

Heppe (1820–1879) was a German reformed theologian.



Ames, William – The Marrow of Theology  tr. John D. Eusden  (1623; Baker, 1997), bk. 1, pp. 171-75

ch. 31, ‘The Church Mystically Considered’, pp. 175-78
ch. 32, ‘The Church Instituted’, pp. 178-82

Ames (1576-1633) was an English, puritan, congregationalist, minister, philosopher and controversialist.  He spent much time in the Netherlands, and is noted for his involvement in the controversy between the reformed and the Arminians.  Voet highly commended Ames’s Marrow for learning theology.

Synopsis of a Purer Theology: Latin Text & English Translation  Buy  (1625; Brill, 2016), vol. 2

40. ‘On the Church’, pp. 558-88
41. ‘On Christ as Head of the Church & on the Antichrist’, pp. 588-620

Maccovius, John – ch. 16, ‘On the Church’  in Scholastic Discourse: Johannes Maccovius (1588-1644) on Theological & Philosophical Distinctions & Rules  (1644; Apeldoorn: Instituut voor Reformatieonderzoek, 2009), pp. 253-59

Maccovius (1588–1644) was a Polish, reformed theologian.

Rijssen, Leonard – ch. 16, ‘The Church’  in A Complete Summary of Elenctic Theology & of as Much Didactic Theology as is Necessary  trans. J. Wesley White  MTh thesis  (Bern, 1676; GPTS, 2009), pp. 197-222

Rijssen (1636?-1700?) was a prominent Dutch reformed minister and theologian, active in theological controversies.

Heidegger, Johann H. – 26. ‘On the Church’  in The Concise Marrow of Theology  tr. Casey Carmichael  in Classic Reformed Theology, vol. 4  (1697; RHB, 2019), pp. 185-91



à Brakel, Wilhelmus – The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 2  ed. Joel Beeke, trans. Bartel Elshout  Buy  (1700; RHB, 1992/1999)

ch. 24, ‘Concerning the Church’, pp. 3-55
ch. 25, ‘The Duty to Join the Church & to Remain with Her’, pp. 55-87
ch. 26, ‘The Communion of Believers with Christ & with Each Other’, pp. 87-107
ch. 43, Proposition 2, ‘A Christian must have great love and esteem for the church’, pp. 648-53

a Brakel (1635-1711) was a contemporary of Voet and Witsius and a major representative of the Dutch Further Reformation.



Hodge, Charles – ‘The Revised Book of Discipline’  (1858)  30 pp.

Cunningham, William

‘The Church’‘The Council at Jerusalem [Acts 15]’  (1863), p. 9 and 43 respectively, 32 pp. and 35 pp. respectively, Chs. 1 & 2 from his Historical Theology, vol. 1.

Church Power: the Power of the Keys  (1863), p. 235, 20 pp.   being ch. 9 from his Discussions on Church Principles

Dabney, Robert – The Changes Proposed in our Book of Discipline  (1859)  48 pp.

Girardeau, John

The Discretionary Power of the Church, a Sermon on Matt 28:20, (d. 1898; 1907), extracted from Sermons, ed. Rev. George A. Blackburn.

What is the discretionary power of the church?  It is that she only has the authority given to her by Christ and no more, “she can utter no new doctrine, make no new laws, ordain no new forms of government, and invent no new modes of worship.”

The editor of these sermons says, “This is not the most eloquent, but it is the most valuable and the most timely sermon in this volume. It was preached before the General Assembly, at St. Louis, May 20, 1875.  The author called it a testimony.”

Individual Liberty & Church Authority, a Sermon on Rom. 14:12  (1889) 18 pp.



Berkhof, Louis – Systematic Theology  (1950)

‘Nature of the Church’  31 paragraphs

‘Scriptural Names of the Church and the Doctrine of the Church in History’  13 paragraphs





Miller, Samuel – Letters to Presbyterians, on the Present Crisis in the Presbyterian Church in the United States  (1833)  340 pp.

Buchanan, James – On the “Tracts for the Times”  (1843)  112 pp.  being seven letters critiquing the Tractarian Movement at Oxford, England

Very relevant today as many people are being attracted to “High Church” Christianity.  Read here why High Church views are unBiblical.

Cunningham, William – Discussions on Church Principles: Popish, Erastian and Presbyterian  Buy  (1863)  565 pp., with a four page preface by James Buchanan & James Bannerman

Many people are aware of Bannerman’s Church of Christ, which positively expounds the doctrine of the Church from scripture.  Cunningham’s work is more polemical, against the errors of alternative views.  Both are needed.  This is his main work on the Church.

Hodge, Charles

Discussions in Church Polity  Buy  (1878)  560 pp.

This and his Essays and Reviews are the main source for Hodge’s important and influential writings in church theory and practice, especially in the context of the 1800′s debates between the northern and southern presbyterians.

In it you will find him defending the historic reformed view that the Roman Catholic Church is part of the Visible church, that her baptism is valid, and that baptized infants are under the discipline of the church.  On the other hand he argues against the historic reformed view of the Establishment Principle for a Voluntary position with regard to Church and State, and for an Americanized three office view of church government.  In his day the new issue came up of church boards, which he defends, as opposed to the more rigorously Biblical view of Thornwell against them.  Many other interesting points of polity are also discussed.

Essays & Reviews  (1857)  661 pp.

In this you will find Hodge taking up the interesting subjects of Regeneration, the Atonement, Theories of the Church, that the Roman Church is part of the Visible Church, the Lord’s Supper, Slavery (which he is against) and Emancipation, amongst others.

Binnie, William – The Church  Buy  (1882)  188 pp.

An excellent short work on doctrine of the Church.  If the two volumes of Bannerman are too long for you, this is the next best thing.




John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan

“Jesus is present – present in his church, as He is not in the world.  As eternal God, He filleth immensity with his presence; but as Mediator…  He is peculiarly, mystically, but really with his church.”

“Those who love the Lamb must love the Bride, the Lamb’s wife.  They have no true love to the Lamb who have no true love to the Bride, the Lamb’s wife.”

“To cleave to the Lamb – that’s the heart of the Bride.”

“He loved her!  And why?  I cannot tell: she cannot tell: angels cannot tell: He knows Himself.”

“The pulse of the Christian church beats from its heart in heaven.”

“We forget the best part of the church when we forget the church triumphant [already in Heaven].”





Alsted, Johann H.

ch. 19, ‘Church’  in Distinctions through Universal Theology, taken out of the Canon of the Sacred Letters & Classical Theologians  (Frankfurt: 1626), pp. 83-91

ch. 19, ‘On the Church’  in Theological Common Places Illustrated by Perpetual Similitudes  (Frankfurt, 1630), pp. 111-20



On the Invisible Church

Davenant, John – The Determinations, or Resolutions of Certain Theological Questions, Publicly Discussed in the University of Cambridge  trans. Josiah Allport  (1634; 1846)  bound at the end of John Davenant, A Treatise on Justification, or the Disputatio de Justitia...  trans. Josiah Allport  (1631; London, 1846), vol. 2

Question 35, ‘The Invisible Church is Not a Platonic Idea’, pp. 400-404

Question 46, ‘The Holy Catholic Church which We Believe, Consists of the Elect Alone’, pp. 474-79



Rutherford’s 7 Arguments that there is a catholic, Visible Church


For these arguments fleshed out in detail, see pp. 5-17 of ‘Independent Churches do not have the Authority for Greater Excommunication’ (RBO).  Three objections with Rutherford’s responses follow in the document.


The Due Right of Presbyteries...  (London, 1644), pt. 1, ch. 10, section 10, ‘Of the Communion of the Visible, catholic Church’, pp. 289-98

1. Christ gave ministerial power to the apostles as representatives of the officers of the visible catholic Church (Jn. 20:21-23).

2. Christ gave ministerial power and officers to the visible catholic Church, not to a specific congregation (Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:5; etc.).

3. The whole visible catholic Church is one body (Song 6:4-9; Gal. 4:26).

4. Christ has given the ministry and ordinances to that Church which He intends to perfect and bring to a unity of faith (Eph. 4:11-13), namely, the visible catholic Church.

5. Christ gives gifts primarily to the whole of his Church and only secondarily to particular saints or congregations (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 5:25; Jn. 10:11; Lk. 19:10; etc.).

6. The ‘Spouse,’ ‘Body,’ ’Sheep,’ etc. that Christ gives gifts to is the visible catholic Church, not a single congregation (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18).

7. A church member is excommunicated out of the visible catholic Church, and hence he was previously a member of the visible catholic Church. Therefore, the visible catholic Church has the power of excommunication (1 Cor. 5:4; Eph. 4:11).



Rutherford’s Distinctions & Conclusions on the Visible Church

A Peaceable & Temperate Plea…  (London, 1642), ch. 9, ‘What members are necessarily required for the right and lawful constitution of a true politic visible Church, to the which we may join in God’s worship’, pp. 92-94

10 Distinctions

1. There be some saints by external calling, but not chosen; some saints by internal and effectual calling, called and chosen of God.

2. There be some members of a visible Church, who, de jure, by right and obligation should be such; there be other members of a visible Church, de facto, and in practice, who are such and such members.

3. There is a moral obligation, and so all the members of a visible Church are obliged to be saints by effectual calling; There is a physical obligation, and so that persons may be members of a visible Church as visible: it is not essentially required that they be effectually called.

4. …a true Church and a visible Church (as visible) may… for a time be opposed by way of contradiction, as a believing Church and a non-believing Church…

5. It is one thing to be wicked and scandalous, indeed and really, and another thing to be scandalous juridice [judicially], and in the court of the Church and notarily [by public demarcation].

6. A known and openly scandalous person and a well-lustered and dyed hypocrite are to be differenced in the Church.

7. …the preaching of the Word be… in diverse considerations: 1. A mean of constituting and making a visible Church; 2. A true note of a visible Church; 3. A mean of saving the believing Church, now visibly professing the Faith.

8. …the magistrate and king may… compel men [who have professed Christianity] to the confessing and professing of the faith, actu imperato, by an external forcing power, and yet neither magistrate nor pastor can compel to heart-believing, actu elicito, by an inward moving of the heart.

9. Let it be considered if a visible Church may not be a true Church by reason of some few sound believers and sincere seekers of God, and that same whole body [be] an infected lump and whorish in respect of some visible professors who are hypocrites and proud despisers of the Lord.

10. Let it be considered if a Church may not be termed by God’s Spirit an whore, no Church, no Spouse, jure et merito et quod vocationem passivam, in respect of bad deserving and their not answering on their parts to the call of God, and yet that same Church remain de facto, formaliter et quoad vocationem Dei activam, formally and in regard of God’s part and his active vocation and calling the Spouse and bride of Christ.


6 Conclusions

1. The saints by external calling are the true matter of a visible Church.

2. All the members of the visible Church de jure, and by right, or by moral obligation ought to be saints effectually called.

3. But, de facto, as the visible Church is in the field of the world, all the members of the visible Church are not effectually called, justified, sanctified, neither is it needful by a physical obligation for the true nature and essence of a visible Church that all the members of it be inwardly called and sanctified; every professor is obliged to believe, else the wrath of God abides on him… But to make a man a visible professor, and a member of the true visible Church as visible, saving faith is not essentially required, so as he should be no member of the Church visible, if he believe not.

…the visible Church falls under a two-fold consideration: 1. in concreto, as a Church. 2. in abstracto, as visible. The visible Church considered in concreto is a part of the universal, catholic and unvisible Church, which partakes of the nature and essence of a true Church, and Christ’s mystical body, in which consideration we deny reprobates and unbelievers to be members of the visible Church.

Whence I infer these conclusions: 1. Separatists’ arguments must be weak, for they all conclude that which we deny not, and no other thing, to wit, that heretics, adulterers, sorcerers, blasphemers be no parts of Christ’s visible Church, as it is a Church.

2. Preaching of the Gospel is called a note of the Church, and profession of faith a note of the Church both; the former is a note of the teaching Church or ministerial Church called, Ecclesia docens. The latter is a note of the professing Church, who professes the faith, which we may call Ecclesia utens, or Ecclesia practice consideram [the Church practically considered].

3. Profession of the faith is thought to be true, either subjectively, 2. objectively, or 3. both, subjectively and objectively. Profession-subjectively is true when the professor does indeed profess and avow the truth, and does not only seem to avow and profess the truth; and this is no note of a true Church, because it may be in hypocrites, who really go to church, really hear the Word and partake of the sacraments, but not sincerely. Profession true objectively is when the professor does profess that faith which is indeed sound and orthodox. And this is a mark of the true teaching or ministerial Church, and may be in a visible company of professors who for the time are not sincere believers. But a profession of the faith both objectively true and subjectively is, when the object is orthodox and sound truth, and the professor sincerely and graciously, and with an honest heart believes and professes the truth, and this way profession of the truth is a true and essential note of a visible Church as it is a true Church and body of Christ, and so are our divines to be expounded in this doctrine about the notes of the visible Church.

But withal, the visible Church is to be considered in abstracto, under the notion of visibility, and as visible, and as performing all the external acts of professing, governing, hearing, preaching, praising, administrating the seals of the covenant, binding and loosing in the external and visible court of Christ, and under this reduplication as obvious to men’s eyes, and therefore in this notion all external professors who are not manifestly and openly scandalous are to be reputed members of the true visible Church, and therefore this term, would be considered, a true visible Church. For the adjective ‘true’ may either be referred to the subject, Church, and so signifies the true mystical body of Christ visibly, and with all sincerely professing the sound faith. Or it may be referred to the other adjective ‘visible’, and so it is no other but a company of professors visible to our senses, and so truly visible, whose members may be unsound and false professors:

…the company that we are to join ourselves unto, as visible members, have in it these true marks of a visible Church, The pure word of God purely preached, and the sacraments duly administered, with discipline according to God’s Word, and withal a people externally professing the fore-said faith…

4. That howbeit openly and grossly profane wicked persons, as known atheists and mockers of religion, idolaters, papists, heretics, sorcerers, witches, thieves, adulterers, etc. are not to be kept in the Church, but [are] to be excommunicated, nor yet to be received into the Church as members thereof, until they give evidences of their repentance: Yet we say that there is nothing required more as touching the essential properties and nature of being members of a Church, as visible, but that they profess before men the faith, and desire the seals of the Covenant, and crave fellowship with the visible Church…

5. The preaching of the Word and seals thereof ordinarily settled in a visible society is the essential note and mark of a true Church… we distinguish three things here:

There is 1. The single and occasional preaching of the Word. 2. The settled preaching of the Word, the settling of the candlestick and Kingdom to dwell amongst a people. 3. The preached Word, with the seals, especially the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

The single and occasional preaching, or by concomitancy as to a people unconverted and unbelievers, and so it is not an essential note of the true Church, but a mean to gather a Church to God…

2. The settled preaching of the Word established and remaining in a Church, as the standing candlestick, the fixed kingdom of God is the essential mark of the true Church, and preached in God’s blessed decree of election only for, and to the chosen believers, and as it were in the bie to the profane reprobates amongst them, and this they cannot be able to improve.

3. The preaching of the Word, and the seals of the settled covenant is a means of confirming those that are already converted: Neither is it much against us that the Word is preached to the reprobate; for the preaching of the Word is considered either in itself, and actu primo, and so it is a mark of the visible Church. Or. 2. As it is effectual by the Spirit of Jesus, and actu secundo, and so it is an essential mark of the true Church and lively body of Christ…

6. Seeing then the Church has no other mark and rule to look unto in the receiving in of members into a visible Church, but external profession, which is no infallible mark of a true convert, the Church is rightly constitute where all born within the visible Church and professing the Faith are received, suppose many wicked persons be there. Now seeing time, favor of men, prosperity accompanying the Gospel, bring many into the Church, so the magistrate [in such a Christian land] may compel men [born in, or otherwise in the visible Church] to adjoin themselves to the true Church.



On the Marks of the Church



Rutherford, Samuel – ch. 15, section 5, ‘Whether the doctrine of the marks of the Church is useless and harmful?  We deny against the
Remonstrants.’  in Rutherford’s Examination of Arminianism: the Tables of Contents with Excerpts from Every Chapter  tr. Charles Johnson & Travis Fentiman  (1638-1642; 1668; RBO, 2019), pp. 119-20



On 3 Kinds of Communion with the Church

Samuel Rutherford

A Peaceable & Temperate Plea…  (London, 1642), ch. 10, p. 132

“4th Conclusion:  There be three sorts that have communion rightly with our Church:

1. Infants baptized, for baptism is a seal of their fellowship with Christ, and therefore of communion with the Church.  Because Separatists will have none members of the Church while [except] they can give proofs thereof by signs of regeneration, infants must be without the Church, as infidels and Turks, for none are the Church to them but the royal generation, partakers of the holy faith, taught of God, called and separated from the world: the rest are without.  Hence baptism shall either seal no entering of infants in the Church, contrary to God’s Word, or the baptizing of infants is not lawful, as Anabaptists teach.

2. The hearers of the Word have a communion with the Church, as is clear seeing these that eat of one bread are one body, these that profess in the hearing of the Word, that same faith, are also that same body in profession; yet excommunicated persons are admitted as hearers of the Word.  Hence only the extreme and great excommunication, 1 Cor. 16:22, cuts off men from being simply no members of the Church, that excommunication that makes the party as a heathen and publican supposes him still to be a brother and hearer of the Word, 2 Thess. 3:14-15.  And all these are members of the Church and yet not necessarily converted.

3. The regenerate and believers that communicate of one bread and one cup at the Lord’s Table, are most nearly and properly members of one visible body, and none of these are to separate from Christ’s body.”



On the Reformation & Puritan Categories of the True Church & False Churches

Belgic Confession

Article 29, ‘The Marks of the True Church’

“We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church– for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of ‘the church.’

We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves “the church.”

The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church– and no one ought to be separated from it.

As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.

Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.

As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God; it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ; it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases; it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ; it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.

These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.”



Perkins, William – ‘Rome is Not a True Church’  in Reformed Catholic  in Works (RHB), vol. 7, pp. 149-52

Note that Perkins holds that the Roman Church has lawful ministers and a valid baptism (which logically necessitates that Romanism as a whole is a Church in some sense) in his Treatise of Conscience, ch. 8; see pp. 19-22 of The Reformed Chuches & Roman Catholic Baptism.

Cameron, John – ch. 37, ‘In what sense we yield that the Church of Rome has the substance of true religion, and how she ceases not for all that to be a false Chuch’  in An Examination of those Plausible Appearances which seem most to commend the Romish Church, and to Prejudice the Reformed…  (Oxford, 1626), pp. 146-50

Turretin, Francis –



Samuel Rutherford

The Due Right of Presbyteries…  (London, 1644), pt. 2, ch. 4, section 5, p. 219

“…nor is it inconvenient to say that Papists as baptized and under that reduplication are members of the visible Church, though as baptized thus and thus they be not members of the true, visible Church, professing the sound faith.”



That the Church Only has Power & Authority from Christ unto Edification, & None Else

The Tetrapolitan Confession  1530

in ed. Dennison, Reformed Confessions of the 16th & 17th Centuries…  vol. 1 (2008), p. 153

Ch. 13, ‘Of the Office, Dignity & Power of Ministers in the Church

“Concerning the ministry and the dignity of the ecclesiastical order we teach: first, that there is no power in the Church except for edification.”




“Here are the treasures of Christ’s Church.”

The reply of Lawrence (258 A.D.), the treasurer of the church at Rome, as he presented the sick, the poor, and the lame to Emperor Valerian who had demanded of him to produce the treasures of the church, with the intent of confiscating it. For the remark Lawrence was slow roasted to death on a grid-iron.

“The true visible church, where God’s ordinances are set up as he hath appointed, where his word is purely preached, is the most beautiful thing under heaven, and there is God’s glory set forth and manifested more clearly than in all the Lord’s handiwork beside in heaven or earth.”

David Dickson




Related Pages