Saturday, September 24, 2011

Diversity of Congregations Part 3

"... by regarding their (Calvinistic theologians) church, not as a hierarchy or institution, but as the gathering of individual confessors, they started for the life of the church, as well as for the life of the state, and civil society, from the principle not of compulsion, but of liberty. For, of course, by virtue of this starting-point, there was no other church-power superior to the local churches, save only what the churches themselves constituted, by means of their confederation. Hence it followed of necessity that the natural and historic differences between men should also, wedge-like, force their way into the phenomenal life of the church upon earth. National differences of morals, differences of disposition and of emotions, different degrees in depth of life and insight, necessarily resulted in emphasizing first one, and then another side of the same truth. Hence the numerous sects and denominations into which the external church-life has fallen by virtue of this principle. So on our side there are denominations which may have departed from the rich, deep and full Calvinistic Confession, in no small degree, even such as bitterly oppose more than one capital article of our Confession; yet they all owe their origin to a deep-rooted opposition to sacerdotalism, and to the acknowledgement of the Church as the "congregation of believers," the truth in which Calvinism expressed its fundamental conception. And although this fact unavoidably led to much unholy rivalry, and even to sinful errors of conduct; yet, after an experience of three centuries it must be confessed that this multiformity, which is inseparably connected with the fundamental thought of Calvinism, has much more favorable to the growth and prosperity of religious life than the compulsory uniformity in which others sought the very basis of its strength. And fruit is to be expected more abundantly still in the future, provided only that the principle of ecclesiastical liberty does not degenerate into indifference, ... " (Lectures on Calvinism, pp. 64-5).

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