“And therefore I feared not to affirm, that of necessity it is, that such as hope for life everlasting avoid all superstition, vain religion, and idolatry. Vain religion and idolatry I call whatsoever is done in God’s service or honour, without the express commandment of his own Word.”
– John Knox (c. 1514-1572)
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In the following quote from the great Scottish Reformer, John Knox, we see how vitally important the maintenance of the three marks of the Church are to its role, and for that matter to the witness of Christ in the world. The three marks constitute the ‘face’ of the Visible Church. That face of the Church, which identifies and distinguishes it among others, is the very face of Christ among men. So to the degree that the marks are compromised, the face of the Church and so of Christ are compromised. And where the marks are absent, the Visible Church is absent – and Christ walks not among such snuffed-out candlesticks.
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“The notes of the true Kirk are three: Word, sacraments and discipline: first, the true preaching of the Word of God in which God has revealed himself unto us; second, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus, which are annexed to the Word and promise of God to seal and confirm them in our hearts; last ecclesiastical discipline uprightly administered, as God’s Word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed and virtue nourished. In the observation of these notes the true face of Jesus Christ appears. We cannot make the face of Jesus Christ appear. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ himself, made known through Word and sacraments, is the true ordinance governing the life, form, and activity of the Church. We believe in Christ in the midst of those who meet in his name and by faith hear the voice of his Spirit speaking in and through the Scriptures and obey him. We see him in the Sacraments, and walk in holiness according to the leading of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. There the true Church manifests itself in the power of the presence of Christ the sole Head and Lord of the Church – there it steps forth before us, and distinguishes itself from any Church that usurps his authority.”
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“In these circumstances do we know of no expedient by which this woful degeneracy can be arrested and recalled, but an actual search and entry upon the territory of wickedness. A mere signal of invitation is not enough. In reference to the great majority, and in reference to the most needful, this were as powerless as was the bidding to the marriage-feast of the parable. We must have recourse at last to the final expedient that was adopted on that occasion; or, in other words, go out to the streets and the highways, and, by every fair measure of moral, and personal, and friendly application, compel the multitude to come in. We must do with the near, what we are doing with the distant world. We do not expect to Christianize the latter, by messages of entreaty, from the regions of paganism. But we send our messages to them. Neither do we give a roving commission to the bearers, but assign to each of them their respective stations in that field, which is the world. And we most assuredly need not expect to Christianize any city of nominal Christendom, by waiting the demand of its various districts for religious instruction, and acting upon the demands as they arrive. There must just be as aggressive a movement in the one case as in the other. There is not the same physical distance, but there is nearly the same moral distance to be described with both ; and they who traverse this distance, though without one mile of locomotion to the place of their labour, do, in effect, maintain the character, and fulfil the duty of missionaries.”
-Thomas Chalmers, Works 14:84-85
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Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), ardent advocate of the parish in modern society, commended his Anglican contemporary, Charles Bridges (1794-1869), as a model of a man dedicated to the cure of souls. “My excellent friend, the Rev. Charles Bridges, of Old Newton, Suffolk, finds, I am sure, most ample occupation among those six hundred people whom he may be said to have domesticated into one parochial family; and, were it not for his still more important services to the Christian church at large, would show, by his incessant labours, how possible it were to make out a most beneficial expenditure of all his strength and all his time amongst them” (Collected Works 18:62). This quote certainly illustrates Chalmers’ high regard for evangelical Anglicanism, the better part of the established Kirk’s English counterpart. But there’s something else here as well.
Those of us today who read and appreciate Bridges’ great classic The Christian Ministry can easily fail to realize that he was not writing as a congregational, but as a parochial minister. Chalmers refers to Bridges precisely for this reason. This fact sheds light on Part V of Bridges’ work, “The Pastoral Work of the Christian Ministry.” In that section, he treats the wide range of individual cases that the pastor must treat in his charge. The first two classes are “The Infidel” and “The Ignorant and Careless.” Not your typical church member – or your typical church attender! But a percentage of the 600 souls under Bridges’ geographic charge.
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