was the first means by which the Holy Ghost began to work among men.
The Children of Israel were the chosen people
with which God had made His covenant.
When the Word of God became man,
He completed the Old Covenant
and set up the New Covenant in its place.
The Children of Israel through their supreme council, the Sanhedrin, rejected Him;
and from that moment they ceased to be the Chosen People.
The apostles and the other disciples
who were all members of the Church of the Old Covenant
now became the remnant of Israel foretold by Isaiah (Isa.6.13, 10.22),
with the Anointed King of Israel, the Messiah or Christ, at their head.
He sent to them the Holy Ghost as Joel had foretold (Joel 2.28; Acts 2.16).
Under His direction they became the organized people of God
governed by the apostles and their associates.
The Church of the New Covenant
differed from the Church of the Old Covenant in two ways.
It was not confined to one nation
but was thrown open to members of all nations on equal terms.
Therefore it came to be called CATHOLIC, or universal.
And it was not governed by a code of laws like that attributed to Moses.
It was bound, indeed, by moral laws even stricter than those of Israel (Matt.5.20),
but the civil and ceremonial laws of Israel were no longer binding.
The Council at Jerusalem whose proceedings are described for us in Acts 15 finally settled this.
It follows that the universal Church,
which St. Paul calls the Body of Christ (I Cor.12.13, 27)
and the Bride of Christ (Eph.5.23; cf. Rev.19.9, 21.2), is visible,
that is, her members are admitted by an external ceremony,
their names are known,
and they are organized like any other society
with officers, and rules, and powers of discipline.
This is everywhere assumed by the New Testament, which knows nothing of disciples who are not admitted into the visible society by baptism.
Are ye ignorant,
says St. Paul,
that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
St. Paul himself after his conversion had to be baptized (Acts 9.18).
So did Cornelius and his companions even after they had received the Holy Ghost (Acts 10.48).
As the Congregation of Israel was a visible society,
so the Christian Church, which is the Congregation of Israel reformed (Phil.3.3),
is a visible society
with known membership (I Cor.5.12; etc.),
and officers (Acts 5:13, 6:2),
and rules (I Cor.7.17; Acts 15.28),
and powers of discipline (I Cor.5.13; I Tim.1.20; etc.).
The history of the Church confirms the evidence of the New Testament.
No one before the sixteenth century, except some small sects and a few unorthodox scholars, believed that the Church was anything else than the visible Church composed of the baptized.
(Whether she includes all the baptized is another question which will be discussed later.)
But when the Church during the Middle Ages became full of corruptions and abuses,
and when all attempts to reform her seemed to have failed,
it was very tempting to ardent reformers to teach that the true Church, the Body and the Bride of Christ, is not the visible society with all its corruptions, but the invisible company of the elect whose names are known only to God.
This was the teaching of Calvin who held that though local churches are visible,
the universal Church is invisible. [A. Dakin, Calvinism, p. 100; A. M. Fairbairn in Cambridge Modern History, vol. 2, p. 368.]
Wherever the influence of Calvin has penetrated,
people are unwilling to regard the universal Church as a visible society.
This is the most important and far-reaching difference that separates Christians
We reject the doctrine that the universal Church is invisible as contrary to Scripture, to history, and to reason;
for the Church is an organized society, but a company whose names are known only to God is not an organized society and therefore cannot be compared to the human body as St. Paul compares the Church (I Cor.12.12).
When we speak of the Church, we mean the visible universal Church with all
her faults and corruptions, which is only invisible because she includes
the dead as well as the living, but in this world is visible and not invisible.
There is no such thing in this world as an invisible Church.
It is a contradiction in terms.
The Church is the chief sphere of the influence of God the Holy Ghost.
It is for this reason that we venerate the Church and regard her as the Divine Society,
different in kind from all other societies,
yet obeying the same laws of human organization that they obey.
She is not simply a society for preaching and teaching, whose purpose is fulfilled when men have received the Gospel and learned the Faith.
She is necessary to the Christian life at every stage
because the Holy Ghost works through her and in her in a unique way.
But this does not mean that the work of the Holy Ghost is limited to the Church.
As has already been shown,
He allows no man and no part even of inanimate nature to be entirely without Him.
In particular He produces wonderful results of His grace
among Christians who are outside the Church,
results which often put the Church herself to shame
and which in some ways the Church is unable to equal.
There is indeed a fellowship between all the servants of Christ.
We call it Christendom, but many belong to Christendom
who do not belong to the Church.
Nevertheless the work of the Holy Ghost is very seriously hindered by the
divisions of Christians, both by the separation of many Christians from the
Church, and by quarrels within the Church.
It is hard to say which hinders His work more.
Defects in faith and practice, especially those that have separated Christians into different camps, make us marvel at the extent to which God the Holy Ghost can make use of those who suffer from them.
The success, for instance, of the work of the Society of Friends (who have a special devotion to God the Holy Ghost), without any sacraments at all, does not lead us to conclude that the sacraments are unnecessary, but rather, that if God does such wonderful works through the Friends without sacraments, He might do yet greater works if they possessed the sacraments and were united with the Church.
The first way in which the Holy Ghost works through the Church
is by filling her members with mutual love.
Constitutional bonds are of little use without love.
The Church never had (until the development of the papacy, and then only partly) any permanent central authority on earth;
and to this day the Orthodox Eastern Communion,
and the Anglican Communion also, are kept together without any permanent central authority by mutual love working through the consciousness of a common faith.
The second way in which the Holy Ghost works through the Church
is by bestowing loyalty upon the great mass of her members.
Every baptized member of the Church is responsible for bearing witness to the truth which he or she has received, and in every age multitudes have carried out this trust even through the greatest dangers and difficulties.
Thus, in the prolonged struggle against Arianism it was the steadfast belief of the great mass of the faithful in the Godhead of their Saviour that made the victory of St. Athanasius possible.
St. Hilary of Poitiers, himself a bishop,
said that "the ears of the people were more holy than the hearts of the bishops".
The Eastern churches have often had this experience.
For instance, after the "false union" of 1439 when the Emperor and Patriarch of Constantinople betrayed the Orthodox faith for the promise of help against the Turks, the Orthodox people at once rejected the bargain they had made, at the cost of the loss of their independence and centuries of slavery.
The Roman and Anglican communions have had it too.
The mission in Japan, which was founded by St. Francis Xavier, was deprived of all its clergy by the Government and was completely cut off from outside help;
but the faithful laity, without any sacraments except baptism, without even a Bible, and threatened with the most frightful tortures if any one of them were known to be a Christian, kept their faith for 200 years until in the nineteenth century fresh priests from Europe were allowed to enter the country.
In the English Church a large number of the laity remained faithful during the Great Rebellion when the services of the Church were forbidden for many years;
and during the Four Years, War the African Christians in the mainland part of the diocese of Zanzibar remained faithful though they were deprived of all their clergy and told that they would never see them again.
The third way in which the Holy Ghost directs the Church
is by the formal decrees of bishops in synod defining matters of faith.
In the early days of the Church
meetings of bishops called synods or councils governed her.
The bishops of a province met in synod every year,
and the ordinary government was done by provincial synods.
A synod of all the bishops in the world (or rather, of the Roman Empire, for such synods were called together by the emperor, and bishops from the "barbarian" lands outside the empire were not always invited) was only summoned to deal with some special crisis threatening the peace of the whole Church.
Each bishop was supposed to represent his diocese by which he had been elected.
The function of the synod was partly to bear witness to the faith
and partly to make rules of discipline.
When any new teaching or theory was put forward, the synod was called upon to decide whether it was in accordance with the traditional faith, each bishop bearing witness to the traditions of his own diocese.
If the bishops from all parts of the world from Spain to Syria were agreed,
their agreement was a strong proof that the decision on which they were agreed was in accordance with the teaching handed down from the Apostles.
But though the agreement of a large number of bishops carried great weight,
it was not final until the whole Church everywhere had accepted it.
As we have seen (p. 86), the Anglican Communion
(and by all Christians in the West who attach any value to Councils)
accepts six General or Ecumenical Councils or Synods.
The Orthodox and the Roman Communions accept the Seventh Council,
the Second of Nicea (787),
though the latter did not fully recognize it until the sixteenth century.
The Roman Communion adds a large number of later Councils
of which the most important are the Fourth Lateran (1215),
the Council of Trent (1545-63),
and the Vatican Council (1870).
The Coptic and Armenian Churches and some other Eastern Churches in communion with them only recognize the first three Councils (see p. 86).
The Roman Communion appears to hold that what makes a Council GENERAL or ECUMENICAL and its decisions
not only binding, but also infallible and irreformable, is its confirmation
by the Pope.
But in the early centuries this was not the test of a genuine ecumenical Council,
and it has never been accepted by anyone outside the Roman Communion.
The Anglican Communion holds (Article 21 written with reference to Trent)
that the decrees of a General Council on matters of faith are only to be
regarded as necessary dogmas when they can be proved from Scripture.
If it be asked who is to decide whether the decrees of a Council can be proved from Scripture, we can only reply that this is for the whole Church, clergy and laity throughout the world, to decide;
and that in the case of the first six Councils the whole Church has decided.
(The refusal of the Armenian and other churches to accept the fourth and sixth Councils, and of the Assyrian Church to accept the fifth Council, seems to be due to misunderstanding and not to any real denial of the truth for which those Councils stood (see pp. 70, 87, 97).
So the dogmatic decrees of the Councils are permanently binding when the
whole Church has confirmed them as being in accordance with Scripture and
We believe that such decrees have been proclaimed with the help of God the Holy Ghost.
He cannot contradict Himself.
What He has taught us in Scripture, by the voice of the Church and by reason,
must be consistent with itself.
If a council claiming to represent the whole Church has declared what cannot be proved from Scripture to be necessary to salvation, that council's claim is not true.
There have been many councils,
summoned as representing the whole Church and claiming to be ecumenical,
the decisions of which the Church has not confirmed.
God has promised the "the gates of hell shall
not prevail" against His church (Matt.16.18) that is, that the
Church shall never fall utterly from the truth (as she would have if, for
instance, she had followed Arius), or cease to be the home of the faithful
and the school of saints.
He has promised that the Holy Ghost would always be with her (John 14.16: cf. Matt.28.20), but He has not promised that she should always listen to the Holy Ghost.
It has often been the experience of the Church that synods
forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the spirit and word of God, may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God (Article 21).
These words were written while the Council of Trent was sitting.
We do not recognize that council as a General Council,
for it has never been accepted by the Eastern or the Anglican churches,
none of which were represented in it;
nor as a free council, for it was controlled by the Pope's legates
and the large Spanish and Italian majority;
nor as an orthodox council,
for many of its decrees cannot be proved by Holy Scripture,
and some are even contrary to Holy Scripture.
The Church is indefectible,
that is, she cannot wholly fail or fall permanently into error which would destroy the foundations of the Christian religion;
but she is not infallible or secure from making mistakes.
No one can be sure, before a Council is summoned, however fully representative that council may be, that what it will say will be true.
Expert politicians, as experience has often shown, may easily lead councils, astray.
Their members do not always listen to the voice of God.
No human being or assembly of human beings is free from all possibility of error.
Even when they are completely sincere, they are subject to the limitations of the age in which they live.
We are nowhere promised that God shall secure bishops or any other men,
even when assembled in a council,
from the possibility of error;
and without such a promise we cannot believe that they are.
The opinion has been very widely held that a General Council, assembled as such and ratified by the Pope, cannot err.
It was held by all the members of the Councils of Trent and of the Vatican, with the result that the bishops of the Roman Communion to which these councils were confined at once accepted their decrees as final.
[A few of the minority bishops at the Vatican Council held out for some years, but Strossmayer alone held out till his death.]
But this destroyed the value of "subsequent consent" which depends upon the freedom of the Church as a whole to criticize, and if necessary to reject, the decrees of a council claiming to be general or ecumenical.
We conclude, then, that the Church is indefectible (ἀσφαλής)
but not infallible,
and that no council can be reckoned as ecumenical
or its decrees as irreformable
until the whole Church has accepted it
as teaching only what can be proved from Scripture.
[This is exactly the teaching of Archbishop Laud (Conference with Fisher, 33: see More and Cross, Anglicanism, p. 188).]
There are some local councils the decrees of which have been universally
Such were the Council of Carthage (397), which completed the Canon of Scripture,
and the Council of Orange (528), which gave the final decision about free will.
Many modern divines believe that no expression of religious truth can be
and that since every age sees truth under its own limitations,
no decision of any Council can be binding on later ages.
No doubt it is true that every expression of human belief is subject to the limitations of time, language, etc.
But we believe that God can and does enable men to express what He has taught them about Himself in such a way as to be true for all later generations.
Otherwise no controversy would ever be closed, and the authority of the Church to bind and to loose, to declare what is true and what is not (Matt.16.19, 18.18) would be useless.
The fourth way in which God the Holy Ghost works through the Church is
by bestowing His power or grace on her members as individuals.
This is done chiefly by means of the sacraments.
The Holy Ghost is the agent of all sacraments.
It is He who baptizes, He who confirms, He who ordains,
He who makes the bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ by means of the human minister of the sacrament.
Confirmation is particularly the sacrament of the giving of the Holy Ghost.
In Ordination also, the Holy Ghost gives Himself to the candidates
to whom it is said
Receive the Holy Ghost.
But God the Holy Ghost bestows His power on members of the Church by many
non-sacramental ways as well:
by prayer in all its forms,
mystical experience, etc.,
and by the performance of works of charity,
for he who helps his neighbour in body or soul,
and he who shows his love for him in any way,
is not only the means of bringing the Holy Ghost to his neighbour,
but still more the means of bringing Him to himself.
It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20.35).
Who giveth himself with his alms, feeds three
Himself, his hungering neighbour, and Me.