LISTEN to the choir of Wells cathedral sing "Angel Voices ever singing." Music details HERE.
We pass from the doctrine of the Holy Ghost
to the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church.
The Church is a society of men, visible and organic.
By VISIBLE I mean that its members are known,
that they are admitted by an outward rite,
that they are bound by written rules,
that they are subject to known officers.
The Church is not the company of the elect whose names are known only to God.
Nor is it a name for the sum of all those "who love the Lord Jesus";
for if it were, it could not be compared by St. Paul to a body.
A body is organized.
Each member has its own function, and all are subject to the head.
It also has its definite limits.
If the Church is a body, or is at all similar to a body,
it must be an organized community;
and it cannot be organized unless the names of the members are known.
From the apostolic age till today
the great majority of Christians have always held that the Church is a visible society.
St. Paul and St. John certainly thought so.
They knew who was a member and who was not
(I Cor.5.12-13, 12.12 ff.; I John 2.19, cf. I Tim.1.20).
Admission was by baptism only,
and a member might be deprived of the privileges of his membership.
Every local church has its officers.
The universal Church also had officers, the Apostles. (See pp. 224-6.)
There are two kinds of human society,
the contractual society and the organic society.
In a contractual society the bond of union is a contract between the members.
A group of people join together for a certain purpose.
It may be for playing golf or chess, or for selling a certain product,
or for the propagation of particular opinions, or for the worship of God.
They draw up their rules.
They elect their president and secretary.
And they can at any time dissolve the society
as they formed it by mutual agreement.
We are all familiar with this type of society,
the distinguishing mark of which is that the members are prior to the society.
There is another kind of society the organic society with which also we
The commonest example of it is the family.
We did not choose our family; we were born into it.
We did not form it by holding a meeting
and electing our father as president and our mother as secretary!
We belong to it by birth.
It has made us what we are,
and nothing that we can ever be or do can dissolve it
or make us cease to be members of it.
A nation is a family on a larger scale.
Its bond of unity is not contract
(the old Whigs thought it was,
but later research has shown that they were wrong).
Its bond of unity is birth.
An Englishman may acquire citizenship of another country by naturalization.
He may repudiate his country or commit treason against it.
But even if he does, nothing can alter the fact that by birth he is an Englishman.
A nation includes not only all its present members,
but all those who lived in past ages,
and all those who are yet to be born.
Its present members are trustees for the past and for the future.
They cannot dissolve the nation as if it were a limited liability company.
Now, the Church is not a contractual society but an organic society.
The members are not prior to the Church.
The Church is prior to her members.
The bond of union is not by contract but by birth;
not indeed natural birth,
but the new birth that is conveyed by baptism.
A man cannot join the Church as he would join a golf club.
If he wishes to become a Christian,
he must fulfil the conditions of repentance and faith,
pass through a period of instruction and of testing called the catechumenate
and then be admitted to the Church by baptism.
This is the gift of God, and is the first stage in the change of his whole nature.
His life begins afresh. He is born again.
What he becomes by baptism, he cannot cease to be.
He may be a bad Christian.
He may be excommunicated.
He may betray his religion.
But he cannot cease entirely to be a member of the Church
or get rid of the effect of his baptism.
It may be said that the Church is founded upon a covenant
and is therefore contractual.
We reply that the Church is indeed founded upon a covenant,
but not a covenant between its members.
The covenant is a covenant between God and man.
Man may break it, but God will not.
As long as man is here in this world
he may always return to his covenant relation with God,
and his membership is entirely due to God's gift,
not to an agreement between him and God which he is free to break.
Because the Church is an organic society, she is more than a society.
As in the family, as in the nation,
so also in the Church there is an element of mystery,
something that we cannot fully understand because it is life.
And this mystery in the Church is not a mystery of nature
but a mystery of Divine grace.
In the words of Father Sarges Bulgakov,
The Church of Christ is not an institution.
She is a new life with Christ and in Christ, directed by the Holy Spirit.
The light of the Resurrection of Christ shines on the Church,
which is filled with the joy of the Resurrection, of triumph over death.
The risen Lord lives with us,
and our life in the Church is a life of mystery in Christ.
[L,Orthodoxie, p. 1.]
The Church is not, as some have thought, a concession to fallen human nature.
She is the environment for which man was created,
and in which he is intended to live forever and ever.
Our Lord is sometimes said to have founded the Church;
but this is not strictly true, for the Church existed before His Incarnation.
The Chosen People of Israel was the Church of the Old Covenant.
According to tradition it began when God made a covenant with Abraham (see pp. 10, 224).
The remnant of Israel, the little company that our Lord had gathered around Him, became the new Israel, the Church of the New Covenant;
and He sent the Holy Ghost down upon them at Pentecost,
which is regarded as the birthday of the Church on her new foundation.
All the writers of the New Testament assume that the Christian Church takes the place of Israel as the heir of all the promises made to the fathers.
The old Israel, the Jewish people, is rejected, and is compared by St. Paul to Hagar, cast out from the inheritance (Gal.4.21-31).
It is the concision of mutilation (Phil. 3.2), while the Christian Church is the circumcision.
But the Church of the New Covenant,
though she is the Church of the Old Covenant reconstituted,
differs from it in several ways.
The Church of the Old Covenant was "after the flesh".
The Church of the New Covenant is "after the spirit".
The former was confined to one nation. The latter is open to all nations.
Above all the former was subject to the Law and was in process of education (Gal.3.24-25).
The latter is grown to manhood, united with Christ, and filled with His Spirit.
Still, they are the same community,
as the man is the same person as the boy that he used to be.
Having such an origin as this,
the Church is not merely a visible, universal, and organic society,
though there is no other such society that is universal.
She is also the one community that is united with God by covenant,
redeemed by the death and resurrection of the Word of God,
and filled and guided in a special manner by God the Holy Ghost.
There is, and can be, but one Church.
Her relation to Christ is compared by St. Paul to marriage (Eph.5.29),
and she is called explicitly "the Lamb's wife" in the Revelation (19.7, 20.9).
For this reason she is referred to as feminine.
Tertullian went so far as to say,
He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his Mother,
a phrase of which even Calvin approved.
Certainly the New Testament knows nothing of any Christian disciple who is not a member of the visible Church.
The background of the New Testament is Hebrew, and the People united with God by covenant is everywhere assumed.
The privileges of membership in the Church are precious beyond all reckoning.
It is by admission to the Church
that we become partakers of the benefits of Christ's death,
by union with His risen and glorified life;
of the life in grace,
maintained by the sacraments which the Church alone administers;
and of all the blessings bestowed on those who have been adopted into the family of God and share the family life of His children.
The purpose of the Church is fourfold:
to worship God;
to proclaim the Gospel;
to teach and maintain the Faith;
to administer the means of grace.
They may be called respectively, Liturgical, Missionary, Doctrinal, Pastoral.
All things that God has made were made to worship Him.
Above all, man was made to worship God freely.
The Church was made by God to be the means by which man should be able to worship God perfectly.
Man was made a social creature.
Therefore his worship of God is social and corporate.
Corporate worship finds its fullest form in the Holy Eucharist.
The first purpose of the Church
is to lead the choir of all created beings in the worship of God.
In the vision of Heaven in the Revelation
we find the throne of God surrounded by the four living creatures
representing the powers of nature,
and the four and twenty elders representing the Church
(twelve for the Old Covenant, and twelve for the New),
fall down before Him that sat on the throne,
and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever
But men cannot worship God unless they know Him.
Therefore the second purpose of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel to all men in accordance with our Lord's command (Matt.28.19; Luke 24.47; Acts 1.8).
The Gospel is the good news that the Son of God has become man, and died, and risen again, to save us from the power of sin.
When men have accepted the Gospel,
they have to be taught what that acceptance requires,
what they must renounce, and believe, and do.
So the third purpose of the Church is to teach the faith and its expression in conduct.
She has been given authority "to bind and loose" (Matt.16.19, 18.18)
that is, to pronounce what is to be believed and what is not to be believed.
In the exercise of this authority she keeps the Divine revelation;
and in order to prevent it from being corrupted or perverted she sometimes defines it,
condemning one-sided theories which would lead men astray.
So we say that the Church "hath authority in controversies of faith",
but her authority is limited.
She may not add to or alter that which is revealed (Article 20).
Those who have accepted the Gospel and are learning the Faith (for none
of us knows it so perfectly that he has no more to learn), require Grace.
The fourth purpose of the Church is to administer the means of grace,
both the sacraments and those that are not sacramental.
It is the ministers of the Church to whom the sacraments are committed (I Cor.4.1), but all members of the Church have some responsibility for the means of grace.
It is, for instance, the duty of the laity to tell their priest the names of those who need any of the sacraments.
The clergy are the leaders of the Church in performing all these functions,
but no one can lead unless he is followed.
The laity have to take their part in the liturgy,
and in every form of the worship of God (I Cor.14.16);
to proclaim the Gospel to those who have not accepted it, either themselves, or by those whom they support with prayers and gifts (Matt.18.19);
[These words were probably addressed to "500 brethren at once" (Matt.28.17; I Cor.15.6).]
to teach the Faith, especially to children and young people, under the direction of the clergy; to assist in every possible way the administration of the sacraments to those who need them.
For the "laity" are not simply "those who are not clergymen".
They are the λᾶος (laos), the Chosen People,
who have their duties as well as the clergy, but not quite the same duties.
The members of the Church are the baptized.
No one can be admitted to membership in any other way than by baptism.
Confirmation is the completion of baptism.
In ancient times as in the Eastern churches still,
baptism and confirmation were always administered together.
No one is a full member of the Church till he has been confirmed (Acts 19.2).
Only two exceptions to the rule that baptism is necessary to admission are
recognized: the Baptism of Blood, and the Baptism of Desire.
In the age of persecution if a catechumen
that is, one in course of preparation for baptism suffered martyrdom,
his martyrdom was reckoned as taking the place of baptism.
This was called the Baptism of Blood.
The principle was extended to the case of catechumens
who, through no fault of their own, had died before they could receive baptism,
even though their death had not been martyrdom.
The classical case is that of the Emperor Valentinian II, the young pupil of St. Ambrose, who was murdered before he had been baptized (392).
This was called the Baptism of Desire.
The question whether baptism outside the Church can be recognized by the
Church when those who have received it wish to join her was first disputed
in the third century.
The original rule was that persons baptized outside the Church must be baptized again in order to be admitted into the Church.
St. Cornelius of Rome held that if they had been baptized in the manner required by the Church, they must not be baptized again.
The rule laid down by Cornelius has been in force since 314 throughout Western Christendom [see p. 332].
But in Eastern Christendom the old rule is retained, modified by the principle of "economy".
According to this principle the Church, as steward (oikonomos) of the mysteries of God, has the right to accept as sufficient for membership a baptism in which all the conditions usually considered necessary have not been fulfilled if, for the salvation of souls, she chooses to do so.
In all cases of "economy" those who receive the privilege must be absolutely orthodox in faith.
Those who would make "economy" an excuse for admitting the unorthodox do not understand the principle.
"Economy" is a privilege, not a right; and it cannot create a precedent.
It is Eastern and has no place in Anglican discipline.
The further question, whether baptism outside the Church admits to membership
by itself, or only becomes active when the baptized person is formally admitted
to the Church, is also disputed.
The old theory, stated as if it were beyond doubt by William Palmer the Tractarian in his Treatise of the Church (3rd ed., vol. 2, p. 20), and strongly maintained by Darwell Stone and F. W. Puller in their pamphlet, "Who are Members of the Church?", was that a person baptized outside the Church is in no sense a member of the Church;
that his separated condition deprives his baptism of any value, external of internal, but that if he comes into communion with the Church, the baptism begins to have effect and must not be repeated.
On the other hand, the Lambeth Conference of 1920 laid down explicitly that
every baptized person is a member of the Church, not a potential member but
an actual member.
Dr. Stone and Father Puller wrote their book to protest against this decision, which has nevertheless become generally accepted in the Anglican Communion.
Some Romanist writers also maintain that a person baptized outside the Church is really a member of the Church and has received all the benefits of baptism.
There are said to be sects that baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity,
and yet do not believe in the Trinity, or (which is quite as bad) deny that
the belief in the Trinity is of any importance.
There are others that deny that baptism has any effect or is of any importance even though they practice it.
Are we to say that persons baptized by these sects are members of the Catholic Church?
Certainly according to the traditional Western practice baptism performed
by these sects is genuine baptism and cannot be repeated.
Persons who have been baptized even in such conditions are entitled to be married and buried with the rites of the Church, which they would not be if they were unbaptized.
We must regard them as members of the Church in some sense.
But they are not full members.
They are not members in the same sense as those who have been baptized in the Church but not confirmed;
and they are even less entitled to Communion.
It is not always possible to distinguish sharply between orthodox and unorthodox
As we shall see, the necessity of baptism is, in the modern world (though not in the ancient), one of the chief distinctions between the Church and almost all separated bodies.
There are many people outside the Church and even inside her who do not know or care whether they are baptized or not.
In the conditions of the English-speaking world, while we must admit that baptism outside the Church conveys membership, it may be a very low degree of membership (and even baptism inside the Church, given in infancy for conventional or superstitious reasons and not completed by confirmation, may be little better).
The case would be different if it could be shown that a body had given baptism, which was orthodox in its doctrine of baptism and particular as to its administration.
[There are devout and saintly Christians who are unbaptized or whose baptism is doubtful.
They belong to Christendom but not to the Church.]
Membership of the Church attained by baptism,
and confirmation is retained by communion.
No one is a member in the full sense unless he receives the Holy Communion three times in the year (according to the Anglican rule; in the Roman and Orthodox Communion, once a year).
Since the Eucharist can only be celebrated by the authority of some bishop
(or person holding ordinary episcopal jurisdiction),
it follows that every communicant belongs to the jurisdiction of some bishop.
As one cannot belong to the University of Oxford without being a member of some college or quasi-college, as one cannot in most public schools belong to the school without belonging to some house or quasi-house, so one cannot belong to the Catholic Church in general without belonging to some particular diocese or quasi-diocese.
(In the Roman Communion no man may be ordained outside the diocese in which he was born without the written permission of the bishop of that diocese.)
Membership of the Church cannot be wholly lost.
The effect of baptism is indelible.
A baptized person, even if excommunicated or apostate,
can never be as if he had not been baptized.
Even death does not destroy our membership.
Unless we are condemned in the final Judgment,
we shall remain members of the Church forever and ever.
A universal society must have officers who are universally recognized.
This is especially necessary when the society has no supreme authority which is obeyed everywhere.
The Church was for many centuries composed of a large number of self-governing communities that had no permanent machinery for common action.
General Councils, as we have seen, were only summoned in case of emergency.
The Papacy was a late development and was never universally recognized.
From the very beginning the Twelve Apostles were the officers of the Church,
and all authority was derived from them (Acts 5.13, 8.14),
as our Lord Himself bestowed it upon them (Luke 22.29).
Throughout the New Testament the apostles and others associated with them
such as St. Paul, St. Barnabas, and St. James the Lord's brother (Acts 14.15,
15.13; Gal.1-2; II Cor.11.5, 12.7) had the supreme authority in the Church.
They appointed ELDERS or priests and deacons to perform some of their duties.
The SEVEN (Acts 6.3) are usually regarded as the first deacons.
St. Clement (about 96) tells us that before their deaths
the apostles appointed others to succeed them.
St. Ignatius, about 115, knows no church which has not got the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons, which have continued to this day in every part of the Church.
There have always been other forms of ministry, prophets, teachers, etc., but the official ministry deriving its authority from the Apostles consists of bishops, priests, and deacons.
No other was known before the sixteenth century
when a new doctrine of the Church brought with it a new kind of ministry.
But wherever the old doctrine that the universal Church is visible is still retained, there the apostolic ministry is retained with it.
Our Lord seems hardly ever to have spoken of the Church
(Matt.16.18 is the only instance in the Gospels,
for in Matt.18.17 it is the local church that is meant).
He preferred to speak of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven.
They are the same thing,
for the Jews often said HEAVEN to avoid using God's Name.
The Kingdom of God as mentioned in the Gospels has several meanings.
Sometimes it seems to be the Church.
It is the Church that is like a net, containing good and bad fish (Matt.13.47);
the Church of which St. Peter was to be given the keys (Matt.16.19);
the Church which was placed under the Apostles as a kingdom (Luke 22.29),
(I cannot accept the view that this passage is purely apocalyptic).
But there are other passages in which the meaning is vaguer.
"Thy Kingdom come" means more than the spread of the visible Church.
It is a prayer that all men may become entirely obedient to their Divine King.
Many who belong to the Kingdom do not belong to the visible Church.
The Kingdom of God appears to mean the sphere of the work of the Holy Ghost who works chiefly but not entirely through the Church.
But we must entirely reject the popular view that the Kingdom of God for
which we pray is a future golden age or "millennium" in this world.
[Rev.20.4-6, whatever it means, cannot mean this. St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, 20.6-13, teaches that it refers to the present age.]
nor tradition, nor reason gives us any basis for such a belief, which is nevertheless very commonly held and taught.
Scripture warns us that the Christian life will always be beset with tribulation in this world.
It is only in the world to come that tribulation is to cease (Matt.5.11; Mark 10.30; John 15.20).
According to ancient tradition the Second Coming of Christ is to be preceded by the Antichrist who will inflict severer persecution than any that has been known before (see p. 447).
This tradition does not encourage us to expect in this world
The day in whose clear-shining light
All wrongs shall stand revealed,
When justice shall be throned in might
And every heart be healed.
English Hymnal, 504
Reason seems to suggest that the majority of mankind, or at least a large
minority, will not accept the Gospel and its demands.
They have not done so in the past,
and there is no reason to suppose that they will do so in the future.
The Christian life will always be a struggle in this world.
It is only when this world has been brought to an end
that God will be completely victorious,
and it is for this that we pray when we say
Thy Kingdom come.