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Geerhardus Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics represents the early theological thought of one of the premier Reformed thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Originally self-published in five volumes in 1896 under the title Gereformeerde Dogmatiek (also known as Dogmatiek), this important piece of Reformed theology has never been available to an English audience.

The fifth and final volume of Reformed Dogmatics presents Geerhardus Vos’ views on ecclesiology, the sacraments, and eschatology. He deals with the nature of the church and its purpose. Vos’ discussion of the means of grace goes beyond merely the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist into issues of the gospel proclamation as well. Lastly, he concludes with his examination of eschatology both in the sense of “things to come” and also in the sense of the current state of the church as existing in the “already, but not yet.”

Geerhardus Vos is perhaps best known to English speakers for his books Pauline Eschatology, published in 1930, and Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, published in 1948. Vos’ strong grounding in biblical scholarship and biblical theology makes his Reformed Dogmatics unique, bringing a fresh biblical perspective. Though this five-volume set is systematic in nature, Geerhardus Vos brings the skills and acumen of a biblical theologian to the task.

Volume:
5
Year:
2016
Publisher:
Lexham Press
Language:
english
Pages:
352
ISBN 13:
9781577997320
Series:
Reformed Dogmatics
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PDF, 3.46 MB
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Copyright © 2016. Lexham Press. All rights reserved.
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Reformed Dogmatics

Geerhardus Vos, Ph.D., D.D.

Copyright © 2016. Lexham Press. All rights reserved.

Translated and edited by
Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.
with
Kim Batteau
Allan Janssen

Vos, Geerhardus J., and Geerhardus J. Vos. Reformed Dogmatics : Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace, Eschatology, Lexham Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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Volume 5: Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace, Eschatology
Reformed Dogmatics
Copyright 2016 Lexham Press
Transcribed from lectures delivered in Grand Rapids, Michigan
First publication hand-written in 1896
Originally printed in 1910
Lexham Press, 1313 Commercial St., Bellingham, WA 98225
LexhamPress.com
All rights reserved. You may use brief quotations from this resource in presentations, articles, and books. For all other uses,
please write Lexham Press for permission. Email us at permissions@lexhampress.com.
Hardcover ISBN 978-1-57-799732-0
Digital ISBN 978-1-57-799733-7

Copyright © 2016. Lexham Press. All rights reserved.

Cover Design: Christine Gerhart

Vos, Geerhardus J., and Geerhardus J. Vos. Reformed Dogmatics : Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace, Eschatology, Lexham Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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Copyright © 2016. Lexham Press. All rights reserved.

Volume 5: Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace,
Eschatology

Vos, Geerhardus J., and Geerhardus J. Vos. Reformed Dogmatics : Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace, Eschatology, Lexham Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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Copyright © 2016. Lexham Press. All rights reserved.

Vos during his professorship at the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church,
circa 1888–1893.

Vos, Geerhardus J., and Geerhardus J. Vos. Reformed Dogmatics : Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace, Eschatology, Lexham Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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Contents
Preface
Part One: Ecclesiology: The Doctrine of the Church
Chapter One: Essence
Chapter Two: Organization, Discipline, Offices
Part Two: The Means of Grace
Chapter Three: Word and Sacraments
Chapter Four: Baptism
Chapter Five: The Lord’s Supper
Part Three: Eschatology: The Doctrine of Last Things
Chapter Six: Individual Eschatology
Chapter Seven: General Eschatology
Question Index
Subject and Author Index

Copyright © 2016. Lexham Press. All rights reserved.

Scripture Index

Vos, Geerhardus J., and Geerhardus J. Vos. Reformed Dogmatics : Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace, Eschatology, Lexham Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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Copyright © 2016. Lexham Press. All rights reserved.

P REFACE
The appearance of this volume has been facilitated by initial translations of its different parts
by Kim Batteau and Allan Janssen. As with the previous volumes, I have reviewed and revised
their work and given the translation its final form. The editorial footnotes are mine.
The relative distribution of attention to the topics treated in this volume is striking and will
likely be surprising to many familiar with Vos’ interest in eschatology prominent in his later
work in biblical theology. Here less than one-fifth of the whole is devoted to eschatology, the
rest to the church and the means of grace. Approximately 60 percent more attention is given to
baptism alone than to eschatology, and only slightly less attention given to the Lord’s Supper
than to eschatology. Still, in this treatment of eschatology we find a clear recognition of the
two-age construct, including the present interadvental overlapping of this age and the age to
come, and the structural importance of this construct for biblical eschatology as a whole—an
insight that he subsequently develops so magisterially in works like The Pauline Eschatology.
The in-depth discussion of the church and of the sacraments will repay careful reading in any
number of places. Even those who disagree at points—say, in the case made for infant baptism
—will be stimulated by the challenge to their own thinking.
As noted in the preface to Volume One,1 the Reformed Dogmatics does not include a
section on introduction (prolegomena) to systematic theology. In that regard, the answer to
question 11 in part two, chapter three in this volume, “In how many senses can the expression
‘the word of God’ be understood?,” warrants careful consideration not only in its own right but
also because it provides an indication of key elements that surely would have marked Vos’
formal treatment of the doctrines of special revelation and Scripture.
This is the final volume of the Reformed Dogmatics. With the completion of the translation
as a whole, several points made in the preface to Volume One bear repeating. The goal
throughout has been to provide a careful translation, aiming as much as possible for formal
rather than dynamic equivalence. Nothing has been deleted, no sections elided or their content
summarized in a reduced form. Vos’ occasionally elliptical style in presenting material, meant
primarily for the classroom rather than for published circulation to a wider audience, has been
maintained. The relatively few instances of grammatical ellipsis unclear in English have been
expanded, either without notation or placed within brackets.
At the same time, it should be kept in mind that this is not a critical translation. Only in a
very few instances has an effort been made to verify the accuracy of the secondary sources Vos
cites or quotes, usually by his referring to no more than the author and title and sometimes only
to the author. Also, no exact bibliographic details have been provided, and explanatory
footnotes have been kept to a minimum.

Vos, Geerhardus J., and Geerhardus J. Vos. Reformed Dogmatics : Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace, Eschatology, Lexham Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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The Reformed Dogmatics makes a welcome addition for anyone wishing to benefit from a
uniformly sound and often penetrating presentation of biblical doctrine. Also, English readers
will now be able to explore the relationship between the early Vos of the Reformed Dogmatics
and his subsequent work in biblical theology. With this translation now completed, I am
confident in saying that whatever differences such comparisons may bring to light, the end
result will confirm a deep, pervasive and cordial continuity between his work in systematic
theology and in biblical theology.
Who were teachers or other theologians, contemporary to Vos or recently past, who may
have directly influenced his views and his presentation of material in the Dogmatics? That
question, raised in the prefaces to several of the preceding volumes, so far remains
unanswered, for others perhaps to examine.
From its beginning in 2012, this translation project has been a collaborative undertaking
that would not have been possible without the substantial help of others. Those mentioned
above and in previous volumes have provided initial translations of its various parts and, in
some instances, reviewed them. Thanks are also due those who have been involved with the
copy editing, Elliot Ritzema and Abigail Stocker—their careful work has also added a
measure of smoothness to the translation at a number of points—as well as those who prepared
the extensive and useful indices, Dustyn Eudaly and Spencer Jones. Finally, my heartfelt thanks
go to Justin Marr, the project manager at Lexham Press, for all his help and for serving as a
continuing source of patient encouragement throughout this project.
May God be pleased to grant that the value of the Reformed Dogmatics be duly
appreciated. May it be used for the well-being of His church and its mission in and to the
world in our day and beyond.

Copyright © 2016. Lexham Press. All rights reserved.

R. Gaffin, Jr.
May 2016

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PART 1

Copyright © 2016. Lexham Press. All rights reserved.

Ecclesiology: The Doctrine of the Church

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1. Essence

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1. What is the nature of the transition from soteriology, handled
previously, to the doctrine of the Church?
Everything discussed so far has had reference to the individual believer and to what the Spirit
of God brings about in him as an individual. As such he was called; as such he was
regenerated; as such he believed and was justified; as such he is an object of sanctification.
But the individual believer cannot remain by himself. The work of the application of the merits
of the Mediator also has a communal side. A root of unity is latent among those individuals.
This unity originates not only in retrospect but existed beforehand. Believers were all
reckoned in Christ, regenerated by the Spirit of Christ; they were all implanted into Christ in
order to form one body. Therefore, now that what concerns the individual has been handled,
what is communal ought to be discussed. This takes place in the doctrine of the Church.
Evidently connected with this doctrine is that of the sacraments, for they, too, do not have
an individual character. They are inseparable from the Church, proceed from it, and point to it.
By baptism a relationship to the Church is represented and established. One is not baptized as
a solitary individual but in connection with the Church of Christ. Likewise, no one can hold the
Lord’s Supper by himself and for himself; the Supper refers to the communion of the saints.
Now, one could still ask whether it is not necessary to deal with the doctrine of the Church
before individual soteriology. Does not the individual Christian exist from the outset if he is
born into the covenant of God, according to and under what is communal? This would, in fact,
be the case if we taught, with modern theology, that the life of the children of God resides in
the church and is passed on from the church to those who join it. With Rome, too, that must be
the sequence. Here it is not believers who form the church, but the church forms believers, and
that not only in an external sense through the ministry of the Word and sacraments in the
covenant of God, but in the most real sense, to the extent that all grace must come through the
material substance of the sacraments, which the church has at its disposal. Someone is
regenerated through his baptism, and in the array of sacraments he receives in succession from
the treasury of the church all the grace necessary for his salvation.
This is not the case according to the Reformed conception. Although we believe in the
ministry of the covenant of grace and attach great value to that ministry, it is still firmly
established that real re-creating grace passes not from one believer to another, not from the
church to the individual, but from Christ directly to the one called. Through this unity with
Christ, believers also become one with each other. In this way, too, the ministry of the covenant
of grace originates. God calls efficaciously, and then establishes His covenant with them and
with their seed. He has done so with Abraham. This is why we have the doctrine of the Church

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following soteriology.

2. Which words in Scripture are used for the concept “church”?
The proper word for “church” is ekklēsia (ekklēsia), from ekkalein (ekkalein), “called
out.” For the Greeks this ekklēsia is the gathering of free citizens who make decisions about
matters of the state and who are called together by a herald.
In the Old Testament, this word is now used by the Septuagint for the translation of the
Hebrew qahal (qahal), which has the similar derivation: “gather, call together.” It means,
then: (1) the Israelite nation in its entirety as a church-state, even when it was not called
together (e.g., Lev 4:13, “If now the entire congregation of Israel will have gone astray”); (2)
an assembled gathering of this Israelite nation (e.g., 1 Kgs 8:65, “At the same time Solomon
also held the feast and all of Israel with him, a great congregation”).
In the books of Moses, qahal is rendered, where it appears, as synagōgē (synagōgē).
However, in these books it is mostly replaced by another Hebrew word, namely, ‘edah
(edah), which likewise means “assembly.”
For the New Testament use of the word ekklēsia, attention must now be paid to different
things, namely:
a)
b)
c)
d)

The use of the word in antithesis to the name that the Jews used for their assembly.
The use of the word in the mouth of the Savior in the Gospels.
The connection between the concepts “church” and “kingdom of heaven.”
The differing meanings in which the word itself appears in the New Testament.

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3. Is there a contrast with the assembly of the Jews in the word
ekklēsia?

Yes, a few times in the New Testament the term ekklēsia also appears for the Jewish church;
for example, “This is he [Moses] who was in the congregation of the people in the
wilderness” (Acts 7:38). But here it looks back to the old Israelite church. On the other hand,
for the present Jewish assembly, synagōgē is generally used: “And when the synagōgē was
dismissed” (Acts 13:43). In antithesis, on a single occasion the gathering of believing
Christians is called a synagōgē: “If a man with a golden ring on his finger comes into your
gathering” (Jas 2:2). But those are exceptions. As a rule, it is the case that the assembling of
Jews and of Christians are contrasted with each other as “synagogue” and “church.”
Thus it must be of significance when the Lord and His apostles refrained from the use of
the word synagōgē and reverted to a word that, although entirely scriptural, had nonetheless
fallen more and more into disuse by the Jews. That the Jews made use of synagōgē had
various reasons. For them the word ekklēsia had a pagan flavor. Moreover, the word
synagōgē was the usual word in the law of Moses. Since Judaism after the exile now thought it
had to focus on keeping the law with the exertion of all its powers and so had degenerated into

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a legalistic Judaism of holiness by works, it surely had to give preference to this term from the
law. When we take this into consideration, then the choice of ekklēsia by the Lord acquires a
deeper sense. He chose a word that transcends the legalistic meaning of Israel, that points to
the call of God, that causes one to think back to the call of Israel, that thus from the outset
places the New Testament dispensation of the covenant of grace on a basis that is no longer
limited to a single nation; see Acts 2:39: (a) for the promise comes to you and to your children,
and (b) to all who are far off, as many of you as the Lord our God will call.
With this it is not maintained that the synagogues of the Jews fell outside the circle of the
Old Testament dispensation of the covenant. This was clearly not the case. Christ himself went
into synagogues; later the apostles found a point of contact for their missionary work in the
synagogues. They did not break off the line of the ministry of the covenant, even after the
resurrection of the Lord and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
One thing must not be lost from view here. The synagogue of the Jews was not a solely
religious gathering everywhere. The Jews in the Diaspora naturally had no civil power, and
when they gathered it was as a religious community. This was the case even in Palestine,
everywhere where a mixed population was found. There were, however, many places where
the civil government of the elders and the administration of the synagogue coincided. Thus, in
such cases, notwithstanding the abolition of the Jewish state, the Old Testament identification
of state and church continued. In this respect as well, the concept of the church will have
formed a antithesis to that of the synagogue.

4. What is the distinctive meaning of the word “church” in the
mouth of the Savior?
In the Gospels, ekklēsia is used by the Lord only twice:

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a) Matthew 16:18: “And I also say to you, that you are Peter and on this rock I will build
my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it” (epi tauta tē petra
oikodomēsō mou tēn ekklēsian).
b) Matthew 18:17: “And if he does not listen to them, then tell it to the church (eipe tē
ekklēsia), and if he also does not listen to the church, then let him be to you as a pagan
and tax collector.”
Here, both times, the congregation in view—that is, “the church”—is spoken of as
something future: “I will build my church.” In Matthew 16, almost immediately following the
Word of the Lord cited, is the prediction of His suffering, His death, His resurrection. The
building of the church is thus indisputably related to that. Earlier, it was always “kingdom of
heaven”; now, where the prophecy of the suffering and the resurrection occurs, it suddenly
becomes “church.” It is likewise so in Matthew 18:20—“For where two or three are gathered
in my name, there I am in the midst of them”—something that evidently refers to the absence of
the exalted Mediator in His human nature. Thus, on the one hand, the church is something
future. On the other hand, there is present in the word itself, pointing back clearly enough to the

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church of Israel, that it is not something absolutely new. It has existed earlier but will now
come in a new form; it will now be His church par excellence—that is, the church in the form
that He Himself, having appeared in the flesh and as duly authorized by the Father, has given it.
In essence, the church under the old and new covenant is the same; in form and manifestation
there is a difference. And this difference resides in more than one thing.
a) The church under the old dispensation was more than church; it was equally state. The
Old Testament covenantal dispensation had two faces, something that at the same time
had the dependence of the church as a consequence. Just because the church was more
than church, it could not be completely church. The church did not receive its own
form, was not something separate and distinguished from all other things.
b) The church of the old covenant was not only a state church; it was also essentially a
national church—that is, limited to one nation. A pagan who wanted to belong to it
could only join by becoming a Jew. It is certainly true that this particularism is used in
the design of God for a purpose encompassing the entire world, but in itself, it was still
a limitation.
c) The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as it is specific to Pentecost and could only follow
the accomplished work of the Mediator, likewise distinguishes the Old and New
Testament church. It is not as if earlier there had been no activity of the Spirit. Prior to
that outpouring, the Spirit also regenerated and led to the Mediator and effected being
united to Him by faith. But in the particular form in which this now happens, it forms a
distinction between the Old and the New.

5. What does it mean when the Savior says, “I will build my
church”?

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In the first place, this image is without doubt suggested by that of the rock, which is applied to
Peter’s confession. At the same time, there appears to be yet another thought present, namely
that of the house-family connection. For the person in the Middle East, house means his family
as well as his dwelling. That the church is a house connects it with the administration of the
covenant. It is continued by God in the line of families. In Scripture, then, the church appears in
this sense as the “house of God” (cf. 1 Tim 3:15; Heb 3:6, 10:21); the members of the church
are “family” (Gal 6:10; Eph 2:19; Matt 10:25).

6. What is the connection between the two concepts “kingdom of
heaven” and “church”?
This connection is twofold:
a) On the one hand, “kingdom of God” is the narrower, and “church” the wider concept.
While the Church has both a visible and invisible side, and so can often be perceived
of an entire nation, the kingdom of God in its various meanings is the invisible spiritual

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Copyright © 2016. Lexham Press. All rights reserved.

principle. It is the lordship Christ exercises over our souls if we truly belong to Him,
our submission to his sovereign authority, our being conformed and joined by living
faith to His body with its many members. It is the gathering of these true members and
subjects of Christ. It is called the “kingdom of heaven” because it has its center and its
future in heaven. All the spiritual benefits of the covenant are linked to it:
righteousness, freedom, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit [cf. Rom 14:17]. As such a
spiritual entity, it is within man and does not appear with an outward face. Understood
in this sense, the kingdom of heaven equals the invisible church, but then in its New
Testament particularity, for Christ preached that the kingdom of heaven had come near,
namely, through His coming. He is the king, and through His clear self-revelation and
through His completed work, the invisible church also receives a new glory that it did
not have previously, so that even the least in this kingdom is still greater than John the
Baptist [Matt 11:11].
b) On the other hand, the “kingdom of God” or “of heaven” is a broader concept than that
of the church. In fact, it is presented to us as leaven that must permeate everything, as a
mustard seed that must grow into a tree that with its branches covers all of life. Plainly,
such a thing may not be said of the concept “church.” There are other spheres of life
beside that of the church, but from none of those may the kingdom of God be excluded.
It has its claim in science, in art, on every terrain. But the church may not lay claim to
all that. The external side of the kingdom (the visible church) must not undertake these
things; the internal essence of the kingdom, the new existence, must of itself permeate
and purify. It is precisely the Roman Catholic error that the church takes everything into
itself and must govern everything. Then there appears an ecclesiastical science, an
ecclesiastical art, an ecclesiastical politics. There the kingdom of God is identical with
the church and has been established on earth in an absolute form.
According to us, it is otherwise. The true Christian belongs in the first place to the
church, and in it acknowledges Christ as king. But besides that he also acknowledges
the lordship of Christ in every other area of life, without thereby committing the error
of mixing these things with each other. The Old Testament church-state, which
comprehended the entire life of the nation, was a type of this all-encompassing kingdom
of God.
If now one compares the visible church and the kingdom of God viewed from the first side,
then one can say that the former is a manifestation and embodiment of the latter.
If one compares the visible church and the kingdom of God viewed from the second side,
then one can say that the former is an instrument of the latter.
If one looks to the final outcome, then one must say that the church and kingdom of God
will coincide. In heaven there will no longer be a division of life. There the visible and the
invisible will coincide perfectly. Meanwhile, for now the kingdom of God must advance
through the particular form of the church.

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Copyright © 2016. Lexham Press. All rights reserved.

7. With what meanings does the word “church” occur in the New
Testament?
a) In the sense of the totality of those internally, effectually called, thus all who by faith
are united to Christ the Head—the sum of true believers. The New Testament concept
of the Church emerges from that. What is internal and invisible is what is first, and then
not as it is limited to one place but as it extends to all places where the body of Christ
has its members. In the first place, it is those called by Christ and to Christ, not those
called together to a particular assembly. That already follows from the fact that, in the
mouth of the Savior, “church” was also connected with the Old Testament qahal. And
this qahal always comprised the entire nation. Thus, “Church” comprises all the people
of God, where they are in heaven and on earth; for this meaning see Acts 2:47, “And
the Lord added to the church daily those being saved.” “And God has placed in the
church first apostles,” etc. (1 Cor 12:28); “because I persecuted the church of God” (1
Cor 15:9; cf. Gal 1:13); “to shepherd the church of God which He has obtained through
His own blood” (Acts 20:28). In all these passages, the reference is to the church of the
elect called on earth. In Hebrews 12:23, it also refers to those who have already
entered heaven, “to the general assembly and the church of the firstborn who are
enrolled in heaven.”
b) The second meaning of the word “church” is that of the local, visible church—thus, the
gathering of believers who meet in a particular place or city. In this sense it occurs
numerous times: for example, the church in the house of someone, “Greet also the
church (congregation) in their house” (Rom 16:5; cf. 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Phlm 2);
the church of Antioch (Acts 13:1), of Jerusalem, (Acts 8:1), of Thessalonica (1 Thess
1:1); “no church” (Phil 4:15); “everywhere in all the churches” (1 Cor 4:17); “the
churches of the Gentiles” (Rom 16:4). So throughout, the local church.
c) The question arises whether besides these two meanings the word ekklēsia has yet a
third, namely a collective, meaning, so that it would stand for the union of a number of
local churches in a certain region or country. The resolution of this question depends on
a single text—namely, Acts 9:31, where one reads, “Then the churches throughout all
Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace,” etc. Here the Statenvertaling1 follows the
reading hai ekklēsiai, plural. If this is correct, then it must be said that there is no text
in the New Testament where “church” appears for a number of churches taken together.
There are, however, manuscripts that have the singular, and these, it would seem, are
the oldest and best. Westcott and Hort also read hē ekklesia, “the church.” But that
reading is not entirely certain. For this generally current use, one could appeal to the
Old Testament, where the visible gathering of all Israel in its unity is called a qahal,
ekklēsia. Still, this appeal is not sufficient to legitimize the more recent use. Indeed,
the Jewish church was in fact centralized in a sense in which the Christian church under
the new covenant is not and may never be. Thus it will not do to draw a conclusion
from that. And the usage of our fathers, who preferred to speak of “churches,” has in

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fact a scriptural foundation. On the other hand, however, one must also not forget that
the churches as they appear in the New Testament history had their unity in the
apostolate. To begin with, they did not yet need to form a unity of themselves and
among each other through representation. Thus there existed no occasion to speak of
“church” in the singular. Later, it was otherwise.
It seems to us that for these reasons no well-founded objection can be offered
against the application of the term “church” to the totality of local churches. To say
something does not appear in the New Testament is not equivalent to saying it is in
conflict with the principles of church government laid down in the New Testament.
One will have noted that in the two places where the term “church” is used by the
Savior, both meanings are found. In Matthew 16:18, it is the universal church of those
called of which the Lord speaks, the church that He will build everywhere. In Matthew
18:17, on the other hand, it is the local church to which the brother to be censured and
his accuser belong. This is seen in “tell it to the church,” something that can only refer
to the local church.
Finally, there is still the question whether in the New Testament “church” is used of
the place, the building where the church gathers. “Synagogue,” as is well known, is
used in this way. In our usage, “church” in this sense has almost completely superseded
the use of the term for the local church. Roman Catholics maintain that there are
examples of this in the New Testament—wrongly. The first Christians had no church
buildings but gathered in houses or where they were best able to. Appeal is made to 1
Corinthians 11:18 and 22, but here “when you come together in the church” is
equivalent to “when you come together as the gathering of believers.”
d) To the three meanings discussed, one could still add that of Matthew 18:17, since “say
it to the church,” according to many, will have to refer the representatives and rulers of
the church, thus the so-called ecclesia representativa. Roman Catholics even derive
from this passage that “church” can be equivalent to the Pope. If, then, the Pope would
obey what is said here to Peter, he would have to understand “say it to the church” in
the sense of “say it to yourself.” Bellarmine too, then, does not hesitate to explain the
matter in this way.
Presently we are accustomed to making a distinction between “congregation” and
“church”—and then, in this sense, that the former is local and the latter general,
inclusive of a number of “congregations.” The old usage of our language was the
reverse. Preference was given to calling the local gathering of believers “church”
[kerk] and to calling the universal gathering of believers in all places “congregation”
[gemeente]. Still, this too was not followed strictly. When one consults the
Statenvertaling, one will see that it uses both gemeente and kerk of the one as well as
the other, apparently without a fixed rule. Only for this usage, one should take note that
throughout, the Greek word is the same [ekklesia] and that there are not two Greek
words that correspond to these two Dutch words. Naturally, one need not therefore

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reject the distinction.

8. What is the derivation of our word “church” [kerk]?
This comes from the Greek kyriakon, the neuter of kyriakos, “what is of the Lord,” “what
belongs to the Lord.” Some have doubted this derivation, but it still appears to be correct.

9. Is it easy to give a definition of “the church”?
No, for as the matter is considered from differing viewpoints, the definition will also come out
differently. The concept of the church is many-sided, and what matters is that one does justice
as much as possible to all sides and aspects.

10. From what three viewpoints has one attempted to define “the
church”?

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For this some have begun from election for one viewpoint; from baptism for another; then
again, from confession.
a) From election. Some say that the essence of the Church is not latent in any external
institution but in internal unity with Christ. As has already been observed repeatedly,
Rome works from the outside to the inside. For it, what is outward imparts a share in
what is inward. We cannot reason this way. And so to show that the true essence of the
Church lies in what is inward, one would have it delimited through election. The elect,
be they already in heaven or still on earth or yet unborn, would then as such fall within
the Church. One easily sees that the concept can be exchanged with that of the invisible
church. At the same time, it already has within itself as a subdivision the distinction
between the church militant and triumphant. Many of the theologians also begin with
election in defining the church.
Against that, however, is one objection: election comprises all who belong to the
body of Christ, regardless of whether they are already engrafted into the body of the
Lord or are still completely estranged from Him. Now, one can scarcely say of the
latter that they belong to the Church. The concept of Church does not refer to being
destined for the body of Christ but actually being in this body. Election as delimiting
the Church must thus be replaced by effectual calling. When we substitute the latter,
there is no longer anything against saying that the invisible church is the gathering of
those effectually called by God’s Word and Spirit, who are bound by true faith and by
mystical union with Christ and in Him with one another. This concurs completely with
the term Church itself. The ekklēsia still is the gathering of those called (from
ekkalein, called out).
b) From baptism. Engrafting into the body of Christ and belonging to it are outwardly
signified and sealed in baptism. Thus here we no longer have to do with the invisible
church, but with a visible form that it assumes. Naturally, in consideration here must be

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a Christian baptism that can be recognized by us as legitimate. However, one of the
most difficult questions is where the line must be drawn here. Roman Catholic baptism
is recognized by us as baptism, and yet it would be difficult to call members of the
Roman Catholic church believing brothers and to have Christian communion with them
as such. In any case, there is a visible church where faith manifests itself, the
genuineness of which we have no ground for doubting. God has put at our disposal
certain external signs that we have to evaluate and to treat someone as Christian
without legitimating further expression of judgment over his condition. Wherever, then,
the obligation is incumbent upon us to presuppose the presence of faith by these
external signs, we also have to recognize the existence of the visible church.
c) Finally, some have begun from confession. Insofar as confession is the principal
external means to manifest the invisible essence of the church and to cause it to
materialize outwardly, it already belongs under the preceding approach. Confession,
however, is also a bond that binds the members of the church together in the external
form of the church. To this extent, it is what is characteristic for the visible church in its
institutional form. One can define the visible church as “the gathering of those who,
through the external Word, the use of the sacraments, and ecclesiastical discipline, unite
into an external body and association.” To such a visible church belong the ministry of
the Word, the administration of the sacraments, the office of rule, and discipline. Only
through this union in a fixed form does the visible church actually appear. What is
discussed above under (b) can certainly be called a sporadic manifesting of the one
invisible church. The visible church as such, it is not. To be able to retain the
designation “visible” over the long run, the church must be organized, assume a fixed
form; it may not exist in a completely disjointed manner. That is the duty incumbent on
it for this earthly dispensation, and where that duty is continually omitted and willfully
neglected, one has well-founded reasons to doubt the presence of the invisible church
as well. Thus the major distinction that remains for us is that between the visible and
the invisible church.

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11. What then is the connection between these two?
As is well known, Rome starts from the absolute identification of these two. Through the
visible church—that is, through the Roman Catholic church as institution—one also gains
access to all the invisible benefits of salvation. Everything is tied to the church. Only joining
the external institution makes someone a full member of the Church. For consistent Roman
Catholics, catechumens who are not yet baptized, excommunicated persons, and schismatics do
not belong to the Church, although some, like Bellarmine, would consider them as potential
members, like a child who is conceived but not yet formed and born. Rome will not
acknowledge an invisible church, and its spokesmen constantly charge Protestants with
deliberately fashioning this concept to evade the difficult question of where their church was
prior to the Reformation. Naturally, that is not so. That Protestants start from the concept of the
invisible church has a much deeper basis—namely, that they desire to have no mediator

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between God and the believer. For the deepest thought of Rome comes down to that: that the
church places itself between us and Christ, as Christ stands between the Church and God.
Since now Christ, although visible in His humanity, is still absent from us according to the
flesh and is only to be seen by faith, since also union with Him is something spiritual, not in the
sphere of the sensible-visible, so this standpoint, once taken, directly includes that the Church
is invisible. Therefore, this doctrine of the invisibility of the Church is not an aid in the
polemic against Rome, but the deepest expression of the antithesis to Rome. The invisibility of
the Church must be further defined:
a) It is not ascribed to the Church in an absolute sense, as if the Church raised to its
perfection and having reached its goal would still be an invisible entity—that is,
something that by its nature cannot be seen. Such a dualism would be completely
intolerable. The invisible is oriented toward the visible and vice versa, as the soul to
the body and the body to the soul. When the Church is perfect, it will also be entirely
visible as well as invisible, and the former will be an adequate manifestation of the
latter. The Church does not consist of angels but of men, and men are visible beings.
But the re-creation, which is invisible, is during the present dispensation still resident
within the visible creation, which is unrenewed. Believers do not have a different body
than unbelievers. If they did, we could easily distinguish between the two, and the
invisible church would coincide with the visible. In this respect, Rome, accordingly,
anticipates the heavenly and the perfect as it in other respects repristinates—that is,
draws out the old again from the days of the old covenant.
b) To begin with, there is invisibility in the form of the Church (invisibilitas formae seu
essentiae). By that is meant that the essence of the Church, faith, does not come within
the scope of the senses, that therefore we can never specify determinatively and
infallibly this or that person belongs to the Church in the deepest sense of this judgment.
Only for God, who sees and knows all things, is the Church manifest according to this
form, according to this its essence. He sees and searches out the entire organism of the
body of Christ in all its parts. We see only here and there a trace of a few points on the
surface from which we can form an idea of its shape in general, but we do not see the
body as such.
c) Next there is an invisibility of parts (invisibilitas partium). By that is really meant
“the incalculability” of the Church. The church is spread over the entire earth. Apart
from the fact that its inner essence is invisible, if we keep ourselves to what is external
it also remains the case that the greatest part of the catholic (universal) church falls
outside our purview; we cannot survey it all. In this sense, even Rome would have to
grant that the Church is invisible, if, in the Pope and the clergy with an ascending order
of ranks, it had not fashioned a means to concentrate the entirety of the body of the
Church within a small compass. In the Pope, the entirety of the Roman Catholic church
is visible to itself. But we do not believe in such invisibility. Perhaps it will be
possible in heaven. For the present, it is excluded.

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d) The Church is also invisible, or can be invisible, when error or persecution hinders its
outward manifestation. One calls this the invisibility of marks (invisibilitas
characterum). It has its basis in accidental and temporal conditions. With the
previously mentioned meanings of the word “invisible,” the basis in part of invisibility
lay in something else. That the Church therefore does not adequately possess its
outward-sensible form of manifestation lies in the development of the plan for the
world. That it cannot be seen by us in all its inward ramifications, in its deepest
essence, lies in the limitation of our knowledge. That it cannot be surveyed in its
entirety is bound up with our finitude.

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It is the invisibility intended under (b), that of the form or the essence, that is at issue
between Rome and us. And here, too, one must take note that it has not become a question of
terms. It finally comes down to the following issue: Scripture speaks of a Church. Certain
goods are granted to this Church. Now the question is, to what are these properties and goods
given? Rome says, to the visible church. Thus it follows that salvation and all that belongs to it
attaches to external things. We say, to the invisible church; thus, the opposite follows. The
entire way of salvation belongs to it. That the Church viewed in its essence or its form is
invisible appears from the following:
a) The terms by which the Church is designated in Scripture are such that they do not
coincide with outward, visible things. It is called the body of Christ. But this is a body
that is formed through mystical union. The question is not whether in the organized,
visible church there are members who do not belong to the body of Christ, but the
question is only whether it can be said of the mystical body of Christ that there are dead
members in it. Further, the Church is called the bride of Christ, to whom He is
betrothed in righteousness, in truth, forever, whom He cares for and loves as His own
flesh, with whom He will one day celebrate the eternal wedding (Eph 5:23; Hos 2:19;
2 Cor 11:2; Rev 19:9). That too may not be said of the external, visible hope, but only
of the invisible, spiritual Church hidden within it. The Church is a spiritual temple built
from spiritual stones, from living stones, which are not visible in their quality as living
stones [1 Pet 2:4–5]. The Church is called holy, and we therefore describe it in the
Apostles’ Creed as “the communion of saints.” It can now only be holy through the
possession of the Spirit and through its union with Christ—again, both invisible things.
b) That the Church is invisible in its essence the Apostle Paul has clearly taught in his
dispute with Roman Catholics before Rome, with the Judaizers. They also taught that
the essence lay in external things, in circumcision, etc. In opposition, Paul says in
Romans 2:28, “For one is not a Jew who is that openly, nor is circumcision that which
is open, in the flesh; but one is a Jew who is that in secret and the circumcision of the
heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not from men but from God” (cf.
Rom 9:6; Gal 6:15; Phil 3:3; 1 Pet 3:4; Rev 2:17; 2 Tim 2:19).
c) All that constitutes the essence of the Church belongs to the realm of invisible things:
regeneration, righteousness, union with Christ.

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d) What is said in the Apostles’ Creed accords with this: I believe a holy, universal
Christian Church. Faith has as its object something invisible, not something visible.
The Roman Catholic church must therefore say, if it will be consistent: I see a holy,
universal Church.
If then it is established that one may not identify the invisible church with the visible, the
question still remains unanswered: What is the connection between the two? One may not
place them beside each other dualistically as if there were two churches. The Reformed have
always taught that the distinction between the visible and invisible church is not a bifurcation
of a generic concept into two species, but simply the description of one and the same subject
from two different sides. On this point one must be careful, because here many are caught in a
great misconception. There are not two churches, (a) an invisible and (b) a visible, but there is
one Church that must be defined from the one side as invisible and from the other as visible. If
one grants the dualism just noted, then one would have to allow that a visible church of Christ
is also there where no believers are present. God has not placed on earth alongside His
invisible church a salvation association, an external institution, so that it would be permissible
for us to establish a visible church everywhere men are inclined to unite with a part of such an
institution. It is completely the other way around: God, through His Word and Spirit, begets
believers in a place, or sends them there from elsewhere, and on the basis of the confession of
these believers that they desire to belong to Christ they can now form a visible church. The
visible thus everywhere presupposes the invisible, rests on it, derives from it its right of
existence. It is called “church” because it is thought to stand in connection with what the
essence of the Church is, to be a manifestation of the body of Christ. By that it is not at all
denied that in such a visible church members can appear who do not belong to the invisible
church. But this coheres inseparably, as we will see, with the unique calling and goal that the
visible church has on earth. Someone has quite rightly observed that although sand is mixed
with gold, still the gold is not therefore called gold because of the sand mixed in it but because
of its own quality.
This, however, is not the only relationship in which the invisible and the visible church
stand to each other. If the former is what is primary, the antecedent of the latter, there is also a
reverse relationship. In a certain sense, one can say that again and again the visible church is
used by God to form and continue the invisible church, insofar as the former precedes the
latter. Theologians express this by saying that the visible church is twofold: (1) the company of
believers (coetus fidelium)—that is, the manifestation of the body of Christ in visible form
through the assembling of the individual members; (2) the mother of believers (mater
fidelium)—that is, the matrix of the seed from which the church of the future grows.
Now, both of these characteristics of the visible church must be retained and are in need of
each other to present the concept of the visible church fully. Rome separates them by ascribing
one to the clergy and the other to the laity; they both belong to the church as a whole. Neither of
these two can be overlooked where a true, pure church is. Where God’s Word is purely
proclaimed by a true church, this church is also propagated.

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From what is said it now follows that the visible and the invisible church do not perfectly
coincide. For (a) the triumphant Church as a whole belongs to what we call invisible and not
to what we call visible; (b) it always remains possible that someone here on earth is
regenerated and united with Christ who has not had the occasion to join with a visible church;
(c) a true believer can fall into sin and be excluded from the visible church through discipline;
(d) there will always be hypocrites in the church, false members, who as members are not right
before God but who nonetheless cannot be excluded by the church. So, in each of these four
respects the visible and invisible church diverge.

12. Is the visible church in its essence a visible entity, or is its form
of organization something accidental that may also be set aside?
There are many at present who view the organization of the church with its offices and its
ministry, etc., as accidental, as a purely human creation, as a form that the Church gives to
itself to reach its goals. Of course, some then grant that in the life of believers the impulse to
unite must necessarily be at work, and that in the long run union without organization is
impossible, but still will acknowledge no higher authority for the institutional character of the
Church than this necessity. The refutation of this notion of the Church is really already given in
what is said above. Precisely because the church must be both the gathering of believers and
the mother of believers, it must appear from the outset not only as a visible body but also as an
organization. Its continuation is guaranteed by the fixed form it receives. Thus we also see
already at the beginning of the founding of the church that the Lord instituted the office of the
apostolate. That was an extraordinary office. But it comprised in itself everything that was
later distributed among the other ordinary offices. Other office-bearers were appointed by the
apostles, or they allowed their election by believers, and so new offices originated. This
clearly shows that the church was intended to be an institution, and that a loose gathering of
believers without a tighter connection has no right to arrogate to itself the name of church.
Certainly, the government of the church is not prescribed in all its details in the New
Testament, but that there must be a government is established, and its outlines also drawn
clearly enough.

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13. What is meant by the attributes of the Church?
The features that are peculiar to the invisible church. To that end, one usually recognizes the
following:
a) Unity. The Apostles’ Creed already speaks of one church. By that Rome naturally
means unity of organization, subjection to one external authority, presently to the Pope.
According to Protestants, it is a spiritual unity, not one of place or time or ritual, in all
aspects of which the greatest diversity can reign without abrogating the unity of the
Church. Further, it is a unity:
1. of the body; that is, the Church in all places and throughout all times forms one and

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the same mystical body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12; Gal 3:27–28);
2. with its head, namely, Christ (Eph 1:22–23);
3. of the Spirit (1 Cor 6:17);
4. of faith, and that both in an objective and in a subjective sense: what is believed
and the form of believing. Concerning the former, there can certainly be difference
in matters of secondary importance and all sorts of error, but all true members of
this one Church of Christ must still be one in the fundamental parts;
5. of love (Eph 4:2, 16);
6. of hope (Eph 4:4; Rom 8:17);
7. of baptism [Eph 4:5]. This, however, can be a point where unity is not absolute, for
one can belong to the one church without being baptized. Baptism, as said above, is
valid rather as an attribute of the visible church.
But in general it must be observed that these attributes, although belonging
primarily to the invisible church, nonetheless find their manifestation in the visible
church. The visible churches should not act as if they had nothing to do with each
other, as if, in spite of the differences that preclude living together, no deeper unity
existed. One can recognize a church as a less-pure manifestation of the body of
Christ without thereby understanding himself as able to join it under the particular
circumstances. So, for example, Reformed churches have never denied to Lutheran
churches the character of true churches and never denied fundamental unity with
these churches. The antithesis can never be “my church or no church,” for this
notion is Roman Catholic through and through.
b) The Church is holy. The righteousness of Christ is reckoned to it, and in principle it has
received holiness subjectively. This holiness is manifested on the visible side as well.
It is seen in believers that they are distinguished from the world; they are a city on a
hill, the salt of the earth [Matt 5:13–14], children of light [Eph 5:8]. But this holiness is
not absolute and may not be made the foundation of belonging to the Church.
Imperfection always remains in this life. A part of the old nature asserts itself in the
believer, and consequently this old nature is carried along into the Church.
Rome extends this perfection of the Church strictly on the intellectual level, and
then naturally ascribes it to the external institution when it teaches of itself that it is
infallible. This is discussed in the introduction to dogmatics. Here we can suffice with
the observation that only in a fundamental part, and of which the knowledge for
salvation is absolutely necessary, the invisible church cannot err, but that otherwise
during this life its knowledge of divine truth always remains imperfect and relative. We
do not ascribe infallibility to an institution and to ecclesiastical assemblies. Their
judgments have great weight and no one will lightly set his individual authority over
against them, but they do not bind the conscience. For Rome they certainly do. The
Pope stands above all except God.

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c) The Church is universal or catholic, “one holy universal (catholic) Church.” The
question is what is meant by that. The word first appears in Ignatius. In the second half
of the second century, it appears to have become common as a designation and then
subsequently found entry in the Apostles’ Creed. One understood by it:
1. That all local churches, even those that are not connected by a bond of external
church government, nonetheless belong together and confess this solidarity. In this
sense, catholicity means about the same thing as the unity of the Church.
2. That under the new dispensation the Church is not limited by local or national
boundaries but encompasses all times and places—as many as the Lord God will
call both out of Israel and the nations; thus in antithesis to the national church in the
Old Testament.
3. One can also take the catholicity of the Church intensively; that is to say, from the
religious life of a Christian, insofar as it is manifested in the church, an influence
must proceed in every area of life, so that everything is Christianized in the noblest
sense of the word. Where religion is reduced to a matter of secondary importance,
as something for Sunday, then that is the opposite of catholicity. We have already
seen above that Scripture designates this side of Christianity with a particular name
—namely, with that of the kingdom of God. For Rome, catholic = Roman Catholic.
d) The Church is imperishable (perennis). It can never completely disappear from the
earth. The number of members of the true Church who fall within the church militant
may continually change—are now more, then less; it is always there. The Socinians
deny the imperishability of the church militant. This is related to their denial of the
perseverance of the saints (Matt 16:18; 28:20).

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14. What are meant by the marks of the Church?
The marks (notae, gnōrismata) refer to the visible church and not, like the attributes, the
invisible church. A mark by its nature is something that must fall within the sphere of what is
visible. Although the Church, viewed in its entirety, can never disappear from the earth, there
is still no guarantee that its individual parts will continue to exist. They can completely
degenerate and deteriorate; believers who are still therein can die off so that only apparent
members remain. But the presence of true members does not let itself be recognized. We cannot
see into the heart of men. There is accordingly a need for external visible data, from which we
can make out that we indeed have to do with a manifestation of the body of Christ in which for
us there will be a communion of saints, in which office is ministered in the name of Christ, and
in which we can discharge our Christian calling. If the Church on earth were also one
externally, then marks would naturally be superfluous. However, it is divided. This results
from different causes:
a) Division of insight into what is recognized as divine truth. The one has this view of
truth, the other yet another view, and there is no one who entirely avoids being onesided. That is the case for both churches and individual persons. One could now say

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that such difference of insight may not lead to division in individual churches, since the
one side needs to be completed by the other, and so they should continue to exist
alongside each other. But in fact that is not so, and it would appear to be completely
impossible to have paedobaptists and Baptists live together ecclesiastically.
b) The difference in language and nationality makes ecclesiastical coexistence impossible
in many cases.
When now for these reasons the church appears split and broken apart into a number of
churches, then it is self-evident that there will be differing degrees of purity. A more accurate
knowledge of the truth is granted to the one part of the body of Christ than to the other. Again,
the practice of piety will shine in another church more than in this one. Consequently, the
question arises here not only whether in the particular situation in which I am, I have to do with
a true church, but also which church is the purest, so that the calling is incumbent on me to unite
with it. The marks are thus in part about whether or not a true church is present, in part about
the greater or lesser purity of a church.
What, then, are these marks? Usually three are given:

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a) the pure proclamation of God’s Word;
b) the orderly administration of the sacraments;
c) the faithful exercise of ecclesiastical discipline.
Not everyone, however, accepts just these three marks. Some are content with two—
namely, Word and sacrament. So, for example, Calvin. Still others, like Turretin, limit
themselves to the Word alone. It must be admitted that these three marks are not neatly
coordinated. If the pure proclamation of God’s Word is more than a semblance and sham, one
will inevitably also be serious about the administration of the sacraments formulated according
to the institution of that Word. And so with discipline. Submission to the Word is thus in the
deepest sense the sole mark. But, of itself, this one mark divides into three when one recalls
that each visible church must be the gathering and the mother of believers at the same time.
That they have the pure proclamation of the Word must now serve as a mark for the one as well
as for the other. Thereby the church still declares that it obtains its salvation on no other
foundation than that given in the Word. The pure proclamation is at the same time a pure
confession. At the same time, however, the church shows through this proclamation that it
understands and exercises its calling as the mother of believers. The ministry of the Word is the
means ordained by God to maintain the church and continue it. A church that would abandon
this ministry, at least in its fundamental elements, would cease to be mother of believers. It
strikes at the sign and seal for the continuation of God’s covenant. To abandon this ministry is
equivalent to endangering the continuity of the church. Baptists allow for a congregation to
originate through the ministry of the Word but reject infant baptism. One may now imagine the
situation where all confessing members of the church die out. According to the Baptists, there
is then no longer a church. The administration of the second seal of the covenant is also a mark.
When, likewise, in the Lord’s Supper—the communion of the saints with the head—Christ is

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confessed and exercised, then here the inward essence of the church emerges directly in a
visible phenomenon. When the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with preparation is neglected,
the church denies its essence and lacks an essential mark. Finally, the exercise of discipline
also belongs to the marks. It is the calling of the church to manifest itself as true Church both in
walk and confession. Now the walk always remains imperfect on account of the piece of the
world that is still present in believers. But there must be a limit. To leave all sins unpunished
and unjudged in its midst would involve, for the church, a failure of a principal part of its
calling. Consequently, through discipline it is determined to what extent holiness of the life is
demanded of the church.

15. Can one show from Scripture that the pure proclamation of the
Word is a mark of the true Church?
Yes, the Lord says that His sheep and His disciples can be known by the fact that they hear His
voice and abide in His Word (John 10:27; 8:31–32, 47; 14:23). “The disciples persevered in
the teaching of the apostles, in fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in prayer” (Acts
2:42). Here Word and sacrament are joined. On the contrary, the false, feigned church is known
by the falsehood of teaching from the fact that it does not subject itself to God’s Word. “To the
law and to the testimony; if they do not speak according to this word, it will be that they will
have no dawn” (Isa 8:20; cf. Deut 13:1–2; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 9). In Galatians 1:8, a curse is
pronounced upon those who proclaim a different gospel. The words of God are entrusted to the
Church, both in antiquity to the Jews and now to the Church of the new covenant (Rom 3:2).
Where now the words of God are to be found, the Church, too, will have to be sought. If the
candlestick is removed from its place, the Church ceases to exist (Rev 2:5), and although the
believers who are in it are saved as by fire, one will still have to fear that God will not carry
out His covenant but cause the church to perish.

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16. How far must this mark of the pure ministry of the Word be
carried out?
A church does not immediately cease to be a true church with every deviation on a subordinate
point of doctrine. The possibility even exists that, in a church with impure doctrine, more true
believers are present than in a church that remains closer to Scripture. Purity of doctrine is not
always a measure of the number of believers. But it is a mark for us to which we need to hold
ourselves objectively. Where the pure proclamation of the Word exists, there the church is
revealed. There is gold among the sand. Whether there is more or less sand does not matter for
us. We do not have the freedom to make the all-or-nothing presence of spiritual life a mark of
the church. There can be a dead orthodoxy where all true communion of saints appears to be
lacking. And on the contrary, there can be a church that in spite of all sorts of errors and false
notions in the area of doctrine, displays spiritual power. But the church that is pure in doctrine
is the church that, all things considered, can satisfy the existence of its calling; that has a
guarantee for the future; that in the long run must engender the greatest number of believers,

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will be the most fruitful mother of children. It is in no case permissible to make what is
doctrinal a subsidiary or incidental point, as many in our days wish to do. The true Church is a
teaching church, a confessing church. Whoever comes in contact with its word also comes in
contact with the Root of its life, its holy walk. It is completely impossible to give the church an
objective content without the Word and apart from the Word, by which it is clearly
distinguished from the world and heretics. Churches that abandon or dispense with their
confession are in a process of dissolution. There are differing degrees in purity of doctrine.
But there is a null point where its Christian character ceases. Paul himself indicated that where
he speaks of another gospel (Gal 1:8–9). If the Word of God is completely absent—as, for
example, in a Socinian congregation—there the Church is also missing, and one does not have
the freedom under any circumstance to engage in fellowship with such a church. Such a church,
which abandons the fundamental truth and no longer rests on the catholic ground of
Christendom, is called a heretical church. Socinians are heretics. On the other hand, one could
not rightly call the historic Lutheran church a heretical church. However, one cannot draw a
sharp line, and it is difficult to say where precisely impurity ceases and heresy begins. In any
case, it remains the calling of every Christian to join with the church about which he is
convinced, according to God’s Word, that it has and maintains the purest doctrine.

17. What are the marks of the true church according to the Roman
Catholics?

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They are presented by them in different ways. The Catechism of Trent speaks of only two.
Others, however, make mention of many more than these two (catholicity and apostolicity).
One finds a full statement in Bellarmine:
a) Catholicity and the name Christian Church. This is meant in an external sense. That is,
the church that calls itself catholic and excludes others from catholicity is the true
Church.
We answer: Exclusivism and arrogating to oneself an external name is not true
catholicity. This must be viewed as we have described it above. That church is catholic
that recognizes all as Christians who submit to the Word of God and confess Christ as
the only savior. Rightly grasped, this mark consequently falls under the first.
Roman Catholics say: The church as an external visible body is a better-known
entity than doctrine, than the Word of God; thus you maintain that the better-known must
be distinguished from the lesser-known. The church must lead us to doctrine and not, on
the contrary, doctrine to the church. In this, as to the actual state of things, there is an
element of truth. That the church is the mother of believers already involves that each
individual does not find the truth on his own through independent inquiry, and then
through individual judgment finds the true Church. But the question at issue here is not
at all about how one comes to the truth or to the church historically, but simply how
logically and rightfully these two stand in relation to each other.

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b)

c)

d)

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e)

And then we say: for us the power and the authority of the church are based on
God’s Word. Rome says: The power and authority of the church is the foundation of my
faith in God’s Word. That is ecclesiolatry, “church-idolatry.” This error, however, goes
back very far, as far as Augustine and even farther. In its protest against heresy and
schism the ancient church allowed itself to be driven so far that it maintained (also in
the mouth of Augustine), Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, “Outside the (visible) church
there is no salvation.”
Antiquity (antiquitas) is not a good mark, for the kingdom of Satan is also old.
Freemasonry also calls itself old. Thus antiquity cannot be a mark, since it is
established only by a wide-ranging historical inquiry, an inquiry that lies beyond the
reach of most. The antiquity of doctrine can only be proven from Scripture, so that here
too the Word appears to be the only true mark. Measured by that, the entire Roman
Catholic system of doctrine has been built up from innovations.
Permanent duration, again naturally of the visible institution of the church. This is
antiquity that also extends forward. That in this way the visible church cannot be
broken off is true only in a relative sense, and does not apply to an institution. Heresy,
too, is sometimes persistent and spreads ineradicably like cancer.
The great number of believers. This is an accidental mark. When the church began its
course, it was a small flock, and it was still the true Church. There have been times in
which the great majority deviated and became heretical (Luke 12:32; Matt 7:14; Rev
13:3, 16). Arianism appeared for a long time to occupy the entire church.
The unbroken succession of bishops. This is not a mark. Annas and Caiaphas were the
followers of Aaron. Arian bishops were the followers of orthodox fathers. The entire
Greek [Orthodox] Church, which the Roman Church declared to be schismatic or even
heretical, maintains succession on equally good grounds as Rome. Thus the church is
not necessarily where succession is. The church can exist without succession. If all the
presbyters in a church were to die at once, it would not thereby cease to be a church.
Succession in its entirety cannot be demonstrated, not even by the most exacting
historical inquiry. One should be clear that one single gap in the succession makes the
entire following series of bishops illegitimate. Whoever attaches the authenticity of the
church to the unbroken line of bishops hangs by a hair. It is apparent that by such
reckoning not a single authentic church exists.
One speaks of succession in another sense—namely, successio doctrinae, “the
continuity of doctrine.” So understood, this mark naturally comes down to our first [the
pure proclamation of God’s Word], and it is a good mark. Only, one must take care that
it is not understood all too formally and externally. True doctrine has always been
implicitly present and has always lain in Scripture. But the church has not always had it
in conscious dogmatic formulation. It is a futile undertaking to seek our formulas for the
doctrine of the Trinity and Christology in the patristic writers of the second century.
Nonetheless, at work in the faith of the church were all the factors from which these

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dogmas are composed, and only one heretic needed to arise who attacked one or other
element, or the church reflected directly on the content of its faith, and it began to
formulate that content.
f) Agreement with the ancient church and the postapostolic fathers in doctrine. Not only
does Rome make much of that, but the Anglican church also places weight on it. One
must consider, however, that a distinction is to be made between the individual
opinions of many fathers and the consensus of all. The fathers often groped in darkness;
they wrestled for light. In them it is not the truth but the process of finding the truth that
is to be noted. Someone has said it well: “They were not church fathers but church
infants.” On the other hand, when one sees that the fathers were as good as in agreement
on a point, this had much weight, for in this way the church arrived at the formulation of
its dogma and is still continually at work for greater clarity. In this sense, our
confession also connects with Nicaea and the church councils that followed. Still, this
authority of the ancient church may not be separated from God’s Word. We do not have
to do here with an independent mark. The consensus of the fathers is based on
Scripture. It is the outline of Scripture itself that they have traced. For this reason, and
this reason alone, someone is excluded from Christianity who, for example, will not
stand on the ground of Nicaea. So the Socinians.
g) The connection of the members mutually and with the head. Applied to Christ, this is a
mark of the invisible church; applied to the Pope it is not a good mark. Mutual unity
among believers can be disturbed by many things without the essence of the Church
thereby disappearing.

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h) Holiness of true doctrine.
i) Efficacy of doctrine.

Both these ultimately coincide with our mark, the pure proclamation of the
Word. Every word of God is holy and powerful (Psa 19:7; Heb 4:12; John
17:17).

j) Holiness of life. True holiness effected by God is invisible; external holiness is not
always to be trusted. Gross unholiness is naturally negative, since manifested
unhindered it is an evidence that the church is not present. But for that reason, we also
speak of discipline as a mark.
k) The glory of miracles. This only comes into consideration insofar as it accompanied
the Word in the beginning and so is subservient to the Word. Therefore, from the Word,
too, an answer must be found to the question whether continuing revelation is still to be
expected and whether this will be accompanied by miracles. Scripture does not know
of miracles without revelation, simply as a mark of the church in history. In order to
extend miracles, one must make the church into a church of revelation. This cannot now
be done. God has spoken in the last days through His Son, and the Son has given the
apostles authority to speak in His name, and with that, revelation is finished. Moreover,
Scripture itself says that false doctrine—that is, feigned revelation that is in conflict
with earlier revelation—cannot be accredited, not even by a miracle. The Word stands
above the thing (cf. Deut 13:1–5).
l) The light of prophecy. This, understood as a real prophecy, is not a characteristic of the

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church. Only the Old Testament had prophets, and not always. Prophecy, in the broader
sense of the interpretation of Scripture, falls under the proclamation of the Word.
m) The significance of opponents. The impossibility of letting this be valid as a mark is
obvious.
n) The woeful end of enemies and persecutors. As to that end, no judgment is to be made.
True believers, too, sometimes die in doleful ways.
o) Temporal success. The opposite is true, for “in the world you will have oppression”
[John 16:33].

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2. Organization, Discipline, Offices

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1. How many views are there concerning the organization and
government of the visible church?
a) The view of those who declare every external form as unnecessary or even illegitimate.
So judge the “Plymouth Brethren,” or Darbyists, who have separated themselves from
all organized churches. They think that every church formation necessarily corrupts and
leads to results that are irreconcilable with the spirit of Christianity, and that therefore
it is not only unnecessary to form a visible church, but positively sinful. Of itself, then,
office also falls with external formation. All believers are priests, and the Holy Spirit
is the only bond that may bind them as one (Darby 1800–1882). The Quakers have a
similar view. They too reject office.
b) The Erastian system. This teaches that the church as such is entirely spiritual, and that it
belongs to the state to provide it with an external organization, to exercise the power
that there must be in it. Erastus (1524–1583) had taken over his ideas from Zwingli.
The sin of confessing Christians may not be punished by ecclesiastical office-bearers
by denying them the use of the seals of the covenant. Only the civil government may
concern itself with sin. The church cannot make laws or decrees. It can only instruct,
admonish, convince. This Erastian system can be applied in different ways.
1. The application found in England, where it is connected with Episcopalianism. At
the time of the Reformation, the English king had assumed for himself the power of
the Pope as head of the church. All the bishops had to swear allegiance to him and
to receive their office from his hands. Some said that by virtue of his office the king
had also received the mandate from God to care for the spiritual concerns of his
subjects. Others said that Scripture does not provide a form of church government,
and so the church is completely free if it wishes to permit itself to be governed by
the state. They are not strictly Episcopalian. The “high churchmen” tried in one way
or another to diminish the authority of the crown.
2. The application of the Remonstrants. They too were zealous proponents of the
authority of the state in ecclesiastical matters. This was connected with the political
conditions of those days in Holland, but, moreover, also had a still deeper basis—
namely, a weakening of the concept of the church and, in connection with that, of the
kingship of Christ.
3. The application of the Lutheran church. In Germany, the Reformation certainly did
not originate with civil power but still was taken up and advanced by it. The
Reformers allowed consistories, which were charged with ecclesiastical

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discipline, to be appointed by the electors. The ruler of the land consequently
received the power to appoint instruments for the government of the church and in
fact became Summus Episcopus, “Highest Bishop.” Some have the following
theory for the explanation of this actual situation: the ruler is not the highest
governor of the church on the basis of his civil position but only as its most eminent
member. In the execution of his power, however, he is bound by the judgment of the
clergy and the people. Others, however, are consistently Erastian and ascribe
ecclesiastical authority to the ruler as such.
c) The episcopal system. This teaches that the unity and authority of the church resides
with the bishops in their totality. It views the bishops as the successors of the apostles
and thinks that authority has come by transmission from the latter to the former. Thereby
an ordering naturally appears among the clergy, for the apostles certainly had a wholly
unique position. Whoever thinks that the apostolate has been perpetuated in the
episcopate must thus place the bishops higher than others who work in the church under
their control. From this, it further follows that all the clergy must be ordained by the
bishops if they are to be recognized as legitimate ministers of the church. The episcopal
system is thus insupportable to other churches that reject its basic conception. That is,
the episcopal system is schismatic in nature; it hinders practicing communion with
other manifestations of the body of Christ on earth. It is said that the Episcopal Church
of England rebaptizes children who were baptized in Presbyterian churches, and
reordains ordained ministers from such churches. For a long time the episcopal system
was the system of the Roman Catholic Church, first generally and later in opposition to
the ultramontane theory. The French church appeals to bishops over against the Pope.
d) The system of the present-day Roman Catholic Church. This has already been
discussed in part above. Since the Vatican Council,1 it is a complete system. The
Roman Catholic Church is an absolute monarchy. The Pope is accountable to no one; he
stands above the church; indeed, the church is dependent on him. In a certain sense, he
is the church. This system involves a great transformation, since it imports something
absolute and tangible into our world of relativities and abstractions. If the church must
surely be an institution, many say, then preferably it should be a perfect institution that
acts with authority and finality. But this is an utterly unscriptural system, as is shown in
detail in the introduction to dogmatics. It may be maintained neither exegetically nor
historically nor dogmatically.
e) The system of the Independents. To begin with, this system agrees with the Puritan
principle. One conceives of the church too much as a spiritual body of believers only,
without reckoning with the calling that the church has to fulfill as an organized
institution. Owen was an Independent or a Congregationalist. According to him, then,
the individual visible church consists of those regenerate who are united by a specific
relationship for the service of God and to exercise mutual oversight of one another.
Believers are the material of the church, and this relationship is the form of the church.

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Now it is self-evident that when in this way one limits the significance of the
visible formation of the church, unity among the local churches is out of the question.
Each church stands by itself. When a kind of union between different churches comes
about, then this is completely accidental and not jure divino, “by divine right.”
At the same time, internally Independentism also has its own distinctive mark by
which it is distinguished from other systems. It has office ministry permanently bound
to the choice of all believers; that is, it is absolutely democratic in its government of
the church. There are no office-bearers in the Presbyterian sense of the word. The
people, the sum of believers, invest with office and therefore can also, when they
desire, withdraw it. Further: only confessing believers are subject to ecclesiastical
discipline, for only they make up the church, properly speaking. On this point one can
perhaps best see the difference between the Independent and the PresbyterianReformed concept of the church. Finally, many Independents also allow ordination to
the ministry of the Word only in relation to the local church in which it took place.
According to this understanding, when a teacher has left his church in which he was
ordained, he becomes an ordinary member and must be ordained anew to be able to
minister in a new local church. It is said that such ordinations regularly occurred among
the Puritans in New England. According to the Presbyterian concept, ordination does
not only apply to a local church. An elder is only an elder in the one congregation that
chose him, but a minister of the Word is minister of the Word wherever he proclaims
the Word in the church of God. The system of the Independents must in fact exclude
missions to pagans.
f) The collegial system. This is the system developed by Samuel Pufendorf (1687), by
Christoph Mattäus Pfaff (1719), and J. H. Böhmer (1744) in Germany. The old Roman
guilds were called collegia—free associations that originated out of a particular
interest but that were recognized by the state as such. So Christian churches, which in
the beginning had been collegia illicita [unlawful associations] for the Romans, later
became collegia licita [permitted associations]. The collegial system will have
churches viewed as such free societies. They originated by a contract.
However, this is a more or less rationalistic conception of the matter. It is certainly
true that one obtains his full rights in the visible church only by confession, but still one
is already associated with the church earlier, apart from his own doing. That the church
has originated through a contract is equally quite as mistaken as the theory that the state
had come into existence in that way. As the state rests on the basis of the family and the
clan in the sphere of natural law, so also in the spiritual sphere the church rests on the
ministry of God’s covenant. To wish to derive its right from a free act of man is
completely Pelagian. The collegial system is usually connected with the idea that the
local churches are parts of the visible association as a whole and not, in antithesis, to
be viewed as a product of the gathering of local churches through their representatives
in larger assemblies.

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One can compare the collegial system with the partitioning of France. France is a
republic, and the separate provinces are determined from Paris. The whole is greater
than the parts, and all power and jurisdiction comes from above. One can compare the
Reformed-Presbyterial system, on the other hand, with the union of the states of North
America. Here the parts precede the whole and authority rises from below, from which
then it further follows that the state has rights that it has not ceded to Washington, and,
conversely, those rights that the individual states can no longer exercise.
g) The Reformed system of church government. This is based on the following
fundamental theses:
1. The church, in its deepest essence, is a kingdom, for Christ is anointed king over it.
Accordingly, no authority may be exercised in the church unless it is derived from
the kingship of Christ and remain bound to it. To want to make the church entirely
into a free association shortchanges this kingship. Believers are not free to unite or
not to unite, but from the outset stand under the command of Christ, their king.
2. This kingly authority of Christ over the church is connected to the kingly word of
Christ. Christ is in the church, and He rules over the church through His word.
Therefore, no one can do anything in the church that would be right and conflict
with that word. All believers owe unconditional obedience to the word of their
King, and that obligation takes precedence before all other things. In this way, all
despotic authority is excluded. There are no truly sovereign rulers in the Christian
church. Christ is the only sovereign. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope claims
that he is such a sovereign and then is also called the representative of Christ on
earth. He is bound by nothing, does not live according to the law of Christ, but
produces the law of Christ in a sovereign manner. In the Reformed church,
something like that is completely inconceivable. In God’s Word we have the
commands of Christ once for all. In it, also, the outlines of government are drawn,
while what is subordinate is left to Christian wisdom according to time and
circumstances. But the main thing is to carry out and to apply the word of Christ.
Thus, insofar as the church itself is concerned, it is entirely a ministerial and not a
ruling power.
3. Christ as King has invested the church with power (potestas). However, this
potestas does not reside, as the Roman Catholic and the Episcopal system would
have it, with a separate class that would possess it without the church and beyond
the church. It resides with the church as a whole. The whole church has received
this power from its King. The power of the keys resides with the church.
Everywhere the church is, there is the power of the keys. Everywhere the church
originates or manifests itself, there the power of the keys appears. In Matthew
18:18 it is said to the congregation, “All that you will bind on earth shall be bound
in heaven,” etc. The church can exercise this power through the ministry of
overseers as it generally does, and it is even its calling to choose such overseers

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a)
b)

c)
d)

e)

and to subject themselves to their direction, to maintain a special ministry of the
Word, but all this does not negate the fact that the church as a whole is the seat of
power that is exercised in it on behalf of Christ. Voetius expresses it like this: “that
the ministering key of authority and government is in the whole body of the church
as such virtualiter [virtually], but only in the ministers formaliter [formally].”
Viewed from this angle, Reformed church government is a democracy in
antithesis to the oligarchic and despotic character of the Roman Catholic and
Anglican system. Voetius asks “whether the potestas [power] resides in the church
council [consistory] or with the ministers of any particular church, or with the
people in distinction from the church council, or in the entire church body
consisting of people and church council?” His answer is, “We deny that all the
power resides either with the church council alone or with the ministers alone. This
would still be oligarchic and papist, so that the people as laity would be excluded
from all power and everything would be guaranteed to the clergy and that certainly
a hierarchical clergy.” Subsequently, “We deny that all the power resides with the
people as distinct from the church council, with them as first and sufficient subject,
so that it would devolve from there to the ministers and the church council with
regard to its possession or at least with regard to its use, namely, because the
people choose and appoint ministers and elders, and transmit to them power, or
rather, the exercise of power; just as if they possess no proper power in themselves
or through themselves by virtue of their ministry or work by divine right.” (This is
the Independentist theory, indicated then in the context as the teaching of the
Brownists.) Consequently, “We deny that all power in the same sense belongs to the
church council and its members and to the people head for head or taken
collectively.” Finally, “We affirm that ecclesiastical power taken universally and
collectively resides with the whole body of the church, as that consists of church
council and people as its proper and sufficient subject; that it is not passed from the
body of the people to the church council and also not the reverse—no more than my
right eye is the real, first, immediate and nearest subject of my sight and this sight
passes over to my left eye, nor the reverse.”
Therefore, the conception is this:
Power resides with the church as a whole.
The exercise of this power cannot occur other than by the office-bearers in the
church connected with the congregation. It is not legitimate for a congregation to act
without government in the manner of Independents
Neither can a government act apart from the congregation.
Church as institute and government originate with each other, for the individual
church is organized as a separate body by the election of overseers—that is, church
and church council originate with each other.
The power that the church council has is not transmitted from the individual

Vos, Geerhardus J., and Geerhardus J. Vos. Reformed Dogmatics : Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace, Eschatology, Lexham Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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members of the church by election and installation. Calling or election is nothing
other than the concrete application of office to this or that person, and only to this
degree is it a causa sine qua non, “condition without which not.”
f) Conversely, the power that resides with the members of the church does not first
descend from above and derive from the church council. When the office-bearers
admit someone to the visibly Reformed church, this act of reception is naturally
indispensable, but it is not the source of ecclesiastical power.
This conception is in fact supported by Scripture. At its beginning, the church
existed with the apostolate. The apostles were of course much more than ordinary
ministers of the church, but still their office also included ordinary authority.
These apostles were not chosen by the church but by Christ, who gave power
both to them and the church. The eleven apostles did not choose a new apostle as
though they had formed a college that could refill itself. They had two chosen by the
congregation, while the final choice remained to the one who knows the heart.
Later, too, it was Christ Himself who called the apostle Paul. Thus, if one were to
drop the apostles, one could say that the church was there before its office-bearers.
But that one cannot exclude the apostles and view them merely as missionaries
appears certain from Matthew 16:19, where the keys of the kingdom of heaven
were given to them.
4. This potestas ecclesiastica [ecclesiastical power] is distributed in different ways.
Some speak of (1) a dogmatic power, and (2) a juridical power. To the first, then,
belong the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and all that
serves these as means: the gathering and organization of churches, the choosing of
ministers, the calling together of assemblies, etc. To the second belong ecclesiastical
discipline and all that pertains to it. Hence one speaks of two keys: a key of knowledge
and a key of government (clavis scientiae et regiminis). Others make a threefold
distinction: (1) a dogmatic, (2) an ordering, and (3) a judicial power.
5. Dogmatic power, like all ecclesiastical power, is naturally a ministerial power and
bound to the Word of God. It includes:
a) The preservation of Holy Scripture. The words of God are entrusted to the church.
It preserves the Scripture not only as a Bible society does, but it is its official
calling (Rom 3:2).
b) The ministry of Holy Scripture. This happens through the ministers of the Word.
They speak on the basis of the Word and from the Word, and so open or shut the
kingdom of heaven. This is a declarative power that then is only valid before God
when it agrees with Scripture and when the situation to which it is applied is in fact
as one assumes it to be. Consequently, there is a distinction in this power between
mere scriptural interpretation by a private member and the official ministry of the
Word. God or Christ speaks to the congregation through the latter, through such who
are called by Him to that end. Christ has given them the ministry of reconciliation,

Vos, Geerhardus J., and Geerhardus J. Vos. Reformed Dogmatics : Ecclesiology, The Means of Grace, Eschatology, Lexham Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central,
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and they are ambassadors on behalf of Christ, who implore: Be reconciled with
God (2 Cor 5:20; cf. 1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 2:15; cf. [Heidelberg] Catechism, 84).
c) The explanation and determination of the meaning of Holy Scripture by means of
creeds and confessions, especially against erroneous opinions. Accordingly, the
church is called a pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). Of course, the Word
of God has its ground in itself, and this Word is not unlocked, as Rome would have
it, only by the church. But through the ministry of the church the truth is expounded
and upheld; its certainty is made manifest.
There are many who deny to the church the power and right of making creeds,
and think that to do so is in conflict with the sufficiency of Holy Scripture. Hence,
too, there are many communions that hold to no confession, such as the Quakers,
Darbyists, etc. One should grant that creeds are not absolutely necessary. A church,
if one wishes to reason in the abstract, can exist without confessional documents,
and has existed without such. These, however, were exceptional situations. It is
impossible to guide someone through Scripture in its entirety or to ask him his
opinions concerning the whole of Scripture. The essential things must be gathered
together in order that the church may show how it understands Scripture in the light
of the Spirit. The authority of these creeds is always bound to Scriptu