Office of the Church

Office of the Church It is the opinion of some persons that God designed his Church to be an authoritative expositor of the sense of Scripture; that while the precedence, indeed, is to be given to Scripture, in point of dignity, as the foundation on which human interpretations are to be built, the superstructure reared by the Church is to be regarded as no less firm than the foundation on which it is fairly built; that supposing any of us fully to believe the truth of a given exposition, it answers to us the purpose of Scripture, since we must fully believe that. Others, on the contrary, conceive that it is not the will of God that any human statement of doctrines should be employed as the standard to be habitually appealed to; for if it had been his design that there should be any such regular system of doctrine for habitual reference, -from which there should be in ordinary practice no appeal, they consider that he would surely have enjoined, or at least permitted, the framing of some such confession of faith or catechism by his inspired servants themselves, since such a system would fully have answered the purpose in question, with the great additional advantage that it must have commanded the assent of all who acknowledge the Christian Scriptures. No Church, therefore (they consider), is empowered to do that which God, for wise reasons, evidently designed should not be done. They maintain that a Church is authorized to prescribe terms of communion to its own members, but not terms of salvation. They assert that God has left to the Church the office of preserving the Scriptures and introducing them to the knowledge of her members as the sole standard of faith, as not merely the first step and foundation of proof, like the elementary propositions of mathematics, but as the only source of proof; and that he has left her also the office of teaching the Christian doctrines from the Scriptures: that a Church is authorized (1) to set forth for this purpose catechisms, homilies — in short, whatever may be needful for systematic elementary teaching; that it is authorized, again (2), to draw up creeds as a test or symbol to preserve uniformity of faith in her members; and that it is also authorized (3) to frame offices for public worship and administration of the sacraments. But all these human compositions (they maintain) must be kept to their own proper uses; and that, however wisely framed they may be-however confident, and justly confident, we may feel of their truth and scriptural character-we must never put them in the place of Scripture, by making them the standard of habitual appeal; that works of Christian instruction should be employed for instruction; works of devotion for devotion; symbolical works, such as creeds and articles, for their proper purpose of furnishing a test for any person's fitness to be acknowledged a member or a minister of our Church, but that never, if we would in deed and in spirit avoid the errors of Romanism, never should we appeal to creeds, liturgy, or catechisms for the proof of any doctrine or the refutation of any error: never must we admit as decisive such a syllogism as this: The doctrines of our Church are scriptural; this is a doctrine of the Church; therefore it is a scriptural doctrine: this must never be admitted without immediately proceeding to the proof of the first premise. SEE CHURCH.

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