(Departure from true doctrine and worship invalidates the Roman Church’s claim to be the true church, 1-6) 1. THE BASIC DISTINCTION It has already been explained how much we ought to value the ministry of the Word and sacraments, and how far our reverence for it should go, that it may be to us a perpetual token by which to distinguish the church.F38 That is, wherever the ministry remains whole and uncorrupted, no moral faults or diseases prevent it from bearing the name “church.” Secondly, it is not so weakened by trivial errors as not to be esteemed lawful. We have, morever, shown that the errors which ought to be pardoned are those which do not harm the chief doctrine of religion,F39 which do not destroy the articles of religion on which all believers ought to agree; and with regard to the sacraments, those which do not abolish or throw down the lawful institution of the Author. But, as soon as falsehood breaks into the citadel of religion and the sum of necessary doctrine is overturned and the use of the sacraments is destroyed, surely the death of the church follows—just as a man’s life is ended when his throat is pierced or his heart mortally wounded. And that is clearly evident from Paul’s words when he teaches that the church is founded upon the teaching of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself the chief cornerstone [<490220> Ephesians 2:20]. If the foundation of the church is the teaching of the prophets and apostles, which bids believers entrust their salvation to Christ alone—then take away that teaching, and how will the building continue to stand? Therefore, the church must tumble down when that sum of religion dies which alone can sustain it. Again, if the true church is the pillar and foundation of truth [<540315> 1 Timothy 3:15], it is certain that no church can exist where lying and falsehood have gained sway.


2. THE ROMAN CHURCH AND ITS CLAIM Since conditions are such under popery, one can understand how much of the church remains there.F40 Instead of the ministry of the Word, a perverse government compounded of lies rules there, ewhich partly extinguishes the pure light, partly chokes it. The foulest sacrilege has been introduced in place of the Lord’s Supper. The worship of God has been deformed by a diverse and unbearable mass of superstitions. Doctrine (apart from which Christianity cannot stand) has been entirely buried and driven out. Public assemblies have become schools of idolatry and ungodliness. In withdrawing from deadly participation in so many misdeeds, there is accordingly no danger that we be snatched away from the church of Christ. The communion of the church was not established on the condition that it should serve to snare us in idolatry, ungodliness, ignorance of God, and other sorts of evils, but rather to hold us in the fear of God and obedience to truth. They indeed gloriously extol their church to us to make it seem that there is no other in the world. Thereupon, as if the matter were settled, they conclude that all who dare withdraw from the obedience with which they adorn the church are schismatics; that all who dare mutter against its doctrine are heretics. But what are their reasons to prove that they have the true church? From ancient chronicles they allege what once took place in Italy, France, and Spain. They claim to take their origin from those holy men who with sound doctrine founded and raised up churches, and by their blood established the very doctrine and upbuilding of the church. Moreover, they say that the church was so consecrated both by spiritual gifts and by the blood of martyrs among them, and preserved by an unending succession of bishops, in order that it should not perish. They recall how much Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, and others made of this succession.F41 But I shall easily enable those willing to consider these claims for a moment with me to understand how trifling and plainly ludicrous they are. Indeed, I would urge them also to give serious attention to this, if I were confident that I could benefit them by so teaching. But since their one purpose is to defend their own cause in any way they can without regard


for truth, I shall say only a few things by which good men and those zealous for truth can extricate themselves from their deceits. First, I ask them why they do not mention Africa, Egypt, and all Asia. The reason is that in all these districts this sacred succession of bishops, by virtue of which they boast that the churches have been maintained, has ceased to be. They therefore revert to the point that they have the true church because from its beginning it has not been destitute of bishops, for one has followed another in unbroken succession. But what if I confront them with Greece? I therefore ask them once more why they say that the church perished among the Greeks, among whom the succession of bishops (in their opinion the sole custodian and preserver of the church) has never been interrupted. They make the Greeks schismatics; with what right? Because in withdrawing from the apostolic see, they lost their privilege.F42 What? Would not they who fall away from Christ deserve to lose it much more? It therefore follows that this pretense of succession is vain unless their descendants conserve safe and uncorrupted the truth of Christ which they have received at their fathers’ hands, and abide in it. 3. THE FALSE CHURCH, DESPITE ITS HIGH PRETENSIONS, SHOWS THAT IT DOES NOT HEAR GOD’S WORD The Romanists, therefore, today make no other pretension than what the Jews once apparently claimed when they were reproved for blindness, ungodliness, and idolatry by the Lord’s prophets. For like the Romanists, they boasted gloriously of Temple, ceremonies, and priestly functions, and measured the church very convincingly, as it seemed to them, by these. So in place of the church the Romanists display certain outward appearances which are often far removed from the church and without which the church can very well stand. Accordingly, we are to refute them by the very argument with which Jeremiah combatted the stupid confidence of the Jews. That is, “Let them not boast in lying words, saying, ‘This is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord’” [<240704> Jeremiah 7:4]. For the Lord nowhere recognizes any temple as his save where his Word is heard and scrupulously observed. So, although the glory of God sat between the cherubim in the sanctuary [<261004> Ezekiel 10:4], and he promised his people that this would be his abiding seat; when the priests corrupt his


worship with wicked superstitions, he moves elsewhere and strips the place of holiness. If that Temple, which seemed consecrated as God’s everlasting abode, could be abandoned by God and become profane, there is no reason why these men should pretend to us that God is so bound to persons and places, and attached to external observances, that he has to remain among those who have only the title and appearance of the church [<450906> Romans 9:6]. And this is Paul’s contention in chapters 9 to 12F43 of the letter to the Romans [Romans chapters 9 to 11]. For this fact sorely troubled weak consciences, that, while the Jews seemed to be God’s people, they not only rejected the teaching of the gospel but also persecuted it. Accordingly, after Paul has expounded the doctrine, he disposes of this difficulty, denying those Jews (as enemies of truth) to be the church, even though they lacked nothing which could otherwise be desired for the outward form of the church. He denies it, then, because they would not embrace Christ. He speaks somewhat more explicitly in the letter to the Galatians, where, in comparing Ishmael with Isaac, he states that many have a place in the church to whom the inheritance does not apply, for they are not the offspring of a free mother [ <480422> Galatians 4:22 ff.]. From this, Paul goes on to the comparison of the two Jerusalems. For just as the law was given on Matthew Sinai, so the gospel came forth from Jerusalem. Thus, many born and brought up as slaves boast without hesitation that they are children of God and of the church. Indeed, they haughtily despise God’s real children, even though they themselves are bastards. We also, on the contrary, while we once heard it declared from heaven, “Cast out this slave woman with her son” [<012110> Genesis 21:10], rely on this inviolable decree and stoutly reject their insipid boastings. For if they boast of outward profession, Ishmael also was circumcised; if they contend for antiquity, he was the first-born: yet we see him repudiated. If a reason be sought, Paul points out that only those born of the pure and lawful seed of doctrine are accounted God’s children [<450906> Romans 9:69]. According to this reasoning, God denies that he is bound to wicked priests by the fact that he covenanted with their father Levi to be His angel or interpreter. Indeed, he turns back upon them that false glorying with which they habitually rose up against the prophets—that the dignity of


the priesthood was to be held in peculiar esteem. God willingly admits this and disputes with them on the ground that he is ready to keep the covenant, but that when they do not reciprocate, they deserve to be repudiated. See what value this succession has, unless it also include a true and uninterrupted emulation on the part of the successors! For they, as soon as they are convicted of degenerating from their origin, are deprived of all honor [<390201> Malachi 2:1-9]. Unless, perhaps, because Caiaphas succeeded many devout priests (indeed, from Aaron to him there was an unbroken succession), that wicked assembly deserved the name “church”! Yet not even in earthly dominions was it tolerable that the tyranny of Caligula, Nero, Heliogabalus, or the like should be considered a true state of the commonwealth just because they succeeded a Brutus, a Scipio, or a Camillus.F44 But especially in the organization of the church nothing is more absurd than to lodge the succession in persons alone to the exclusion of teaching. Nothing was farther from the minds of the holy doctors (whom they falsely thrust upon us) than to prove absolutely, as if by right of inheritance, that the church exists wherever bishops succeed one another. But while it was uncontroverted that no change in doctrine had occurred from the beginning down to that age, they adopted this principle as sufficient to guard against all new errors; that is, they opposed them with the teaching firmly and with unanimous agreement maintained since the time of the apostles. Accordingly, there is no reason why men should any longer endeavor to deceive in the name of the church, which we reverently honor as we ought. But when they come to the definition of it, not only does water (as the saying goes) cleave to them,F45 but they are stuck in their mire, for they put a foul harlot in place of Christ’s sacred bride. That this substitution may not deceive us, let this admonition of Augustine’s (besides others) come to mind. Speaking of the church, he says, “She herself is sometimes obscured, as if beclouded by a multitude of scandals; sometimes appears quiet and free in a time of tranquillity; sometimes is covered and tossed by waves of tribulations and temptations.” He brings forward examples to show that often the strongest pillars valiantly suffered exile for the faith, or lay in hiding throughout the world.F46


4. THE CHURCH IS FOUNDED UPON GOD’S WORD In this same way the Romanists vex us today and frighten the uneducated with the name of the church,F47 even though they are Christ’s chief adversaries. Therefore, although they put forward Temple, priesthood, and the rest of the outward shows, this empty glitter which blinds the eyes of the simple ought not to move us a whir to grant that the church exists where God’s Word is not found. For this is the abiding mark with which our Lord has sealed his own: “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” [<431837> John 18:37]. Likewise: “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep, and they know me.” [<431014> John 10:14.] “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” [<431027> John 10:27.] But a little before, he had said: “The sheep follow their shepherd, for they know his voice. A stranger they do not follow but flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” [<431004> John 10:4-5]. Why do we willfully act like madmen in searching out the church when Christ has marked it with an unmistakable sign, which, wherever it is seen, cannot fail to show the church there; while where it is absent, nothing remains that can give the true meaning of the church? Paul reminds us that the church was founded not upon men’s judgments, not upon priesthoods, but upon the teaching of apostles and prophets [<490220> Ephesians 2:20]. Nay, Jerusalem is to be distinguished from Babylon, Christ’s church from Satan’s cabal, by the very difference with which Christ distinguishes between them. He says: “He who is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” [<430847> John 8:47.] To sum up, since the church is Christ’s Kingdom, and he reigns by his Word alone, will it not be clear to any man that those are lying words [cf. <240704> Jeremiah 7:4] by which the Kingdom of Christ is imagined to exist apart from his scepter (that is, his most holy Word)? 5. DEFENSE AGAINST THE CHARGE OF SCHISM AND HERESY Now they treat us as persons guilty of schism and heresy because we preach a doctrine unlike theirs, do not obey their laws, and hold our


separate assemblies for prayers, baptism and the celebration of the Supper, and other holy activities. This is indeed a very grave accusation but one that needs no long and labored defense. Those who, by making dissension, break the communion of the church are called heretics and schismatics. Now this communion is held together by two bonds, agreement in sound doctrine and brotherly love. Hence, between heretics and schismatics Augustine makes this sort of distinction: heretics corrupt the sincerity of the faith with false dogmas; but schismatics, while sometimes even of the same faith, break the bond of fellowship.F48 But it must also be noted that this conjunction of love so depends upon unity of faith that it ought to be its beginning, end, and, in fine, its sole rule. Let us therefore remember that whenever church unity is commended to us, this is required: that while our minds agree in Christ, our wills should also be joined with mutual benevolence in Christ. Paul, therefore, while urging us to it, takes it as his foundation that “there is... one God, one faith, and one baptism” [<490405> Ephesians 4:5]. Indeed, wherever Paul teaches us to feel the same and will the same, he immediately adds, “in Christ” [<500201> Philippians 2:1,5] or “according to Christ” [<451505> Romans 15:5]. He means that apart from the Lord’s Word there is not an agreement of believers but a faction of wicked men. 6. CHRIST’S HEADSHIP THE CONDITION OF UNITY Cyprian, also following Paul, derives the source of concord of the entire church from Christ’s episcopate alone. Afterward he adds: “The church is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness. As there are many rays of the sun but one light, and many branches of a tree but one strong trunk grounded in its tenacious root, and since from one spring flow many streams, although a goodly number seem outpoured from their bounty and superabundance, still, at the source unity abides. Take a ray from the body of the sun; its unity undergoes no division. Break a branch from a tree; the severed branch cannot sprout. Cut off a stream from its source; cut off, it dries up. So also the church, bathed in the light of the Lord, extends over the whole earth: yet there is one light diffused everywhere.”F49 Nothing more fitting could be said to express this


indivisible connection which all members of Christ have with one another. We see how he continually calls us back to the Head himself. Accordingly, Cyprian declares that heresies and schisms arise because men return not to the Source of truth, seek not the Head, keep not the teaching of the Heavenly Master. Now let them go and shout that we who have withdrawn from their church are heretics, since the sole cause of our separation is that they could in no way bear the pure profession of truth. I forbear to mention that they have expelled us with anathemas and cursesF50—more than sufficient reason to absolve us, unless they wish to condemn the apostles also as schismatics, whose case was like our own. Christ, I say, forewarned his apostles that they would be cast out of the synagogues for his name’s sake [ <431602> John 16:2]. Now those synagogues of which he speaks were then considered lawful churches. Since, therefore, it is clear that we have been cast out, and we are ready to show that this happened for Christ’s sake, surely the case ought to be investigated before any decision is made about us, one way or the other. But I willingly grant them this point, if they so desire. For it is enough for me that it behooved us to withdraw from them that we might come to Christ. (The Roman Church compared with ancient Israel as to worship and jurisdiction, 7-11) 7. THE CONDITION OF THE ROMAN CHURCH RESEMBLES THAT OF ISRAEL UNDER JEROBOAM But it will appear even more clearly how we ought to esteem all the churches which are in subjection to that Roman idol’s tyranny if they be compared with the ancient church of Israel, described by the prophets. The true church existed among the Jews and Israelites when they kept the laws of the covenant. That is, by God’s beneficence they obtained those things by which the church is held together. They had the doctrine of truth in the law; its ministry was in the hands of priests and prophets. They were initiated into religion by the sign of circumcision; for the strengthening of their faith they were exercised in the other sacraments. There is no doubt that the titles with which the Lord honored his church applied to their society. Afterward, having forsaken the law of the Lord,


they sank into idolatry and superstition and partly lost that privilege. For who has dared to take the name of church away from those among whom God entrusted the preaching of his Word and the observance of his sacraments? Again, who has without exception dared to call that assembly “church” where the Lord’s Word is openly and with impunity trodden under foot? where his ministry, the church’s chief sinew, indeed its very soul, is destroyed? 8. DESPITE THE IDOLATRY OF THE JEWS, THEIR CHURCH REMAINED What, then, someone will ask—did, therefore, no trace of the church remain among the Jews after they fell away into idolatry? The answer is easy. First, I say that in falling away there were certain degrees. For we shall not say that there was the same decline in Israel as in Judah at the time when both first turned aside from the pure worship of God. Jeroboam, when he first fashioned calves against God’s express prohibition, and dedicated an unlawful place for worship, utterly corrupted religion [<111228> 1 Kings 12:28 ff.]. The people of Judah contaminated themselves with wicked and superstitious customs before they falsified the outward form of their religion. For although under Rehoboam they had already commonly adopted many perverted rites, still because the teaching of the law, the priestly order, and such rites as God had ordained continued in Jerusalem, the godly there had a church in passable condition. Among the Israelites, to Ahab’s reign things got not a whit better, and then got even worse. The kings who came after, until the destruction of the kingdom, were partly like Ahab, partly (when they wanted to be a little better) followed the example of Jeroboam. But all without exception were ungodly and idolaters. In Judah, there were from time to time various changes: while some kings perverted the worship of God with false and contrived superstitions, others restored the decadent religion. Finally, even the priests themselves befouled God’s Temple with profane and loathsome ceremonies. 9. THE PAPAL CHURCH CORRUPT AND TO BE REPUDIATED Come now, let the papists deny if they can—however much they extenuate their faults—that the condition of religion among them is as


corrupt and debased as it was in the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam. But they have a grosser idolatry. And in doctrine they are not one droplet purer, but actually even more impure in this! God, and indeed all men endowed with average judgment, will be my witnesses; and even the thing itself declares that I am not exaggerating here. Now when they wish to constrain us to the communion of their church, they demand two things of us. The first is that we should participate in all their prayers, sacraments, and ceremonies. The second, that we should grant to their church every honor, power, and jurisdiction that Christ gives to his church. As to the first point, I admit that all the prophets who were at Jerusalem when things were absolutely corrupt neither sacrificed privately nor had separate assemblies from the others for prayer. For they had God’s command by which they were bidden to assemble in Solomon’s Temple [<051213> Deuteronomy 12:13,11]. They knew that the Levitical priests, although unworthy of that office, because ordained ministers of sacred rites by the Lord [<022909> Exodus 29:9] and not yet deposed, still held that office by right. But—the chief point of the whole question—they were not compelled to any superstitious worship; indeed, they were obligated to nothing that had not been instituted by God. But among these men—I mean the papists—where is the resemblance? For we can scarcely have any meeting with them in which we do not pollute ourselves with manifest idolatry. Surely, their chief bond of communion is in the Mass, which we abominate as the greatest sacrilege. And whether we do this rightly or recklessly will appear elsewhere. F51 Now it is enough to show that in this respect our case is different from that of the prophets, who, although present at the ceremonies of the wicked, were compelled neither to look at nor to take part in any rites save those established by God. And, if we wish to have an example parallel in every respect, let us take it from the Israelite Kingdom. According to Jeroboam’s decree, circumcision remained, sacrifices were offered, the holy law was observed, the God whom their fathers had received was invoked; but, because of counterfeit and forbidden forms of worship, God disapproved and condemned whatever was done there [<111231> 1 Kings 12:31]. Let anyone show me one


prophet or any godly man who once worshiped or sacrificed in Bethel. For they knew that they could not do it without contaminating themselves with some sacrilege. We therefore conclude that among the godly the communion of the church ought not to extend so far that, if it degenerates into profane and corrupted rites, they have to follow it headlong. 10. WHY WE MUST SEPARATE FROM THE CORRUPTED CHURCH Over the second point, however, we contend even more. For if we think of the church in this way—that we should reverence its judgment, defer to its authority, obey its warnings, be moved by its chastisements, and keep its communion scrupulously in all respects—then we cannot admit that they have a church without the necessity of subjection and obedience to it awaiting us. Yet we shall willingly concede to them what the prophets granted to the Jews and Israelites of their own age, when equal or even better conditions prevailed there. But we see how the prophets again and again proclaim that their assemblies are profane [<230114> Isaiah 1:14], and that it was no more lawful to consent to them than to deny God. And surely if those were churches, it follows that in Israel, Elijah, Micah, and the like, and in Judah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, ttosea, and others of that mark (whom the prophets, priests, and people of their age hated and cursed as worse than the uncircumcised) were strangers to the church of God. If those were churches, then the church is not the pillar of truth [<540315> 1 Timothy 3:15], but the prop of falsehood; not the Tabernacle of the living God, but a receptacle of idols. The prophets, then, had to depart from agreement with those assemblies, which were nothing but a wicked conspiracy against God. In the same way if anyone recognizes the present congregations— contaminated with idolatry, superstition, and ungodly doctrine—as churches (in full communion of which a Christian man must stand—even to the point of agreeing in doctrine), he will gravely err. For if they are churches, the power of the keys is in their hands; but the keys have an indissoluble bond with the Word, which has been destroyed from among them. Again, if they are churches, Christ’s promise prevails among them; “Whatever you bind,” etc. [ <401619> Matthew 16:19; 18:18; <432023> John 20:23]. But on the contrary, they disown from their communion all that


genuinely profess themselves servants of Christ. Accordingly, either Christ’s promise is vain, or they are not, at least in this regard, churches. Finally, instead of the ministry of the Word, they have schools of ungodliness and a sink of all kinds of errors. Consequently, by this reckoning either they are not churches or no mark will remain to distinguish the lawful congregations of believers from the assemblies of Turks. 11. VESTIGES OF THE CHURCH UNDER THE PAPACY Of old, certain peculiar prerogatives of the church remained among the Jews. In like manner, today we do not deprive the papists of those traces of the church which the Lord willed should among them survive the destruction. God had once for all made his covenant with the Jews, bbut it was not they who preserved the covenant; rather, leaning upon its own strength, it kept itself alive by struggling against their impiety. Therefore—such was the certainty and constancy of God’s goodness—the Lord’s covenant abode there. Their treachery could not obliterate his faithfulness, and circumcision could not be so profaned by their unclean hands as to cease to be the true sign and sacrament of his covenant. Whence the Lord called bthe children born to them his children [<261620> Ezekiel 16:20-21], when these belonged to him only by a special blessing. So it was in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and England after the Lord established his covenant there. When those countries were oppressed by the tyranny of Antichrist, the Lord used two means to keep his covenant inviolable. First, he maintained baptism there, a witness to this covenant; consecrated by his own mouth, it retains its force despite the impiety of men. Secondly, by his own providence he caused other vestiges to remain, that the church might not utterly die. And just as often happens when buildings are pulled down the foundations and ruins remain, so he did not allow his church either to be destroyed to the very foundations by Antichrist or to be leveled to the ground, even though to punish the ungratefulness of men who had despised his word he let it undergo frightful shaking and shattering, but even after this very destruction willed that a half-demolished building remain.


12. THE SOUND ELEMENTS DO NOT MAKE THE CORRUPTED CHURCH A TRUE CHURCH However, when we categorically deny to the papists the title of the church, we do not for this reason impugn the existence of churches among them.F52 Rather, we are only contending about the true and lawful constitution of the church, required in the communion not only of the sacraments (which are the signs of profession) but also especially of doctrine, Daniel [<270927> Daniel 9:27] and Paul [<530204> 2 Thessalonians 2:4] foretold that Antichrist would sit in the Temple of God. With us, it is the Roman pontiff we make the leader and standard bearer of that wicked and abominable kingdom.F53 The fact that his seat is placed in the Temple of God signifies that his reign was not to be such as to wipe out either the name of Christ or of the church. From this it therefore is evident that we by no means deny that the churches under his tyranny remain churches. But these he has profaned by his sacrilegious impiety, afflicted by his inhuman domination, corrupted and well-nigh killed by his evil and deadly doctrines, which are like poisoned drinks. In them Christ lies hidden, half buried, the gospel overthrown, piety scattered, the worship of God nearly wiped out. bin them, briefly, everything is so confused that there we see the face of Babylon rather than that of the Holy City of God. To sum up, I call them churches to the extent that the Lord wonderfully preserves in them a remnant of his people, however woefully dispersed and scattered, and to the extent that some marks of the church remain—especially those marks whose effectiveness neither the devil’s wiles nor human depravity can destroy. But on the other hand, because in them those marks have been erased to which we should pay particular regard in this discourse, I say that every one of their congregations and their whole body lack the lawful form of the church.

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