Catechism: The Notes or Attributes of the Church

§ 2. Its Notes or Attributes

1. What is here meant by the notes of the church?

Certain attributes which define it as the body of which Christ is the Head, and express its relation to time and eternity, to heaven and the world.

2. Does this imply that the church is Divine and human like its Head?

The analogy is obvious, as it is His body; but, like every other analogy, must not be pressed too far. Discreetly applied, it will be useful at every point of the study of the church, which has always two aspects, the heavenly and the earthly.

3. Which is the first note that illustrates this?

The note of unity: in regard to this, the church is both one and manifold: its spiritual and heavenly oneness being essentially bound up with earthly diversity of forms.

4. What is the teaching of scripture as to the unity?

(1) The body of saved mankind out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9) is in a broad sense the one church.

(2) The church of God is one under the several dispensations: the patriarchal, Jewish, Christian.

(3) But, more appropriately, the church of Christ is one in the confession of the one Lord: this being the one baptism into the name of the Trinity which makes one body; and the possession of the Holy Ghost uniting with the Head, which makes the one Spirit (Eph. 4:3–6).

5. And what does it teach as to diversity?

(1) It speaks of churches distinct, though united in the common confession, worship, and discipline.

(2) It is silent as to necessary uniformity, and teaches by that silence.

(3) Especially as the breaches of spirit, or schism, and the breaches of doctrine (1 Cor. 1:11; Gal. 5:19), or heresy, are sternly condemned.

6. How do unity and manifoldness blend?

In the theological doctrine of the subject: we may speak of the same church of Christ as one and as many. Ethically, we may believe in the essential unity, while we see much diversity; and it is the common duty to avoid all breaches of unity, while the diversities which have sprung from the past must be reduced as much as possible.

7. What is the next note or attribute?

Sanctity, which however has in this world imperfection for its necessary counterpart.

8. Illustrate this more fully.

As to the mystical fellowship of that body which is the fulness of Him that filleth all in all (Eph. 1:23), it is regarded prophetically as separated from the world and presented without spot. But, speaking of the Church of Christ on earth, it is (1) actually holy in a relative sense, as a body separated from the world now and to be separated for ever; and (2) it has as a community a real but partial internal holiness. The relative and the real holiness will not be one and perfectly coincide until the time of harvest (Matt. 13:30), when the wheat and the tares are severed.

9. How is this seen in the note of visibility?

(1) The church of the New Testament is a visible organisation: very clearly defined, both from the world and within itself. No corporate body has ever surpassed it in this.

(2) It is at the same time invisible or mystical or spiritual. The Lord knoweth them that are His in the great house (2 Tim. 2:19, 20).

(3) But we never find the distinction clearly expressed. These two counterparts of visible and invisible are the simplest of all in the scripture, which however always make the former more prominent than the latter. It is, strictly speaking, rather the kingdom than the church which is invisible.

10. And how in that of catholicity?

As a scriptural note catholicity signifies universality: as differing from the church of Judaism (Gal. 1:2; Rev. 1:4), by embracing all nations; and as distinguished from the individual churches of cities and provinces and lands.

11. How is apostolic a scriptural note?

The pentecostal church continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching and in fellowship (Acts 2:42); and, as the household of God, it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20).

12. What is meant by indefectible and mutable?

(1) The visible church shall abide unto the Lord’s coming; the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18; Rev. 2:5).

(2) But individual churches may be dissolved, or corrupt the faith and be removed.

(3) The two counterparts—the church permanent and the churches transitory—are therefore scriptural; and of great importance, both for the rebuke of bigotry and the relief of doubt.

13. How may the predicates militant and triumphant be asserted of the same one subject?

The church militant is always in conflict with the enemies of her Head (2 Cor. 2:14; Rev. 7:14–17), both without and within. As triumphant the same church is in Him victorious; part of it already enjoys the peace of final victory.

This excerpt is from William Burt Pope’s Higher Catechism of Theology. Read more in Logos Bible Software or PDF (scans from Fred Sanders).