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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

What makes it different from all other fellowships


Everywhere

in prayer, worship, and teaching the Reformers see Christ filling the whole sphere of God. Jesus was God appearing in history and addressing man.

? 6. The Church.

In the Epistles of St. Paul, the Church of Christ stands forth as a _fellowship_ which is both divine and human. On the side of the divine it is a fellowship with Jesus, its crucified, risen, and ascended Lord; on the human, it is a fellowship among men who stand in the same relation to Jesus. This fellowship with Jesus and with the brethren is the secret of the Church--what expresses it, what makes it different from all other fellowships. Every other characteristic which belongs to it must be coloured by this thought of a double fellowship. It is the double relation which makes it difficult to construct a conception of the Church. It is easy to feel it as an experience, but it has always been found hard to express it in propositions.

It does not require much elaborate thinking to construct a theory of the Church which will be true to all that is said about the fellowship on its divine side; nor is it very difficult to think of a great visible and historical organisation which in some external aspects represents the Christian fellowship, provided the hidden union with Christ, so prominent in St. Paul's descriptions, be either entirely neglected or explained in external and material

ways. The difficulty arises when both the divine and the human sides of the fellowship are persistently and earnestly kept in view.

It is always hard to explain the unseen by the seen, the eternal by the temporal, and the divine by the human; and the task is almost greater than usual when the union of these two elements in the Church of Christ is the theme of discussion. It need not surprise us, therefore, that all down through the Middle Ages there appear, not one, but two conceptions of the Christian Church which never harmonised. On the one side, the Church was thought of as a fellowship of God with man, depending on the inscrutable purpose of God, and independent of all visible outward organisation; on the other, it was a great society which existed in the world of history, and was held together by visible political ties like other societies. Augustine had both conceptions, and the dialectical skill of the great theologian of the West was unable to fuse them into one harmonious whole.

These two separate, almost mutually exclusive, ideas of what the Church of Christ was, lived side by side during the Middle Ages in the same unconnected fashion. The former, the spiritual Church with its real but unseen fellowship with Christ, was the pre-eminently religious thought. It was the ground on which the most conspicuous mediaeval piety rested. It was the garden in which bloomed the flowers of mediaeval mystical devotion. The latter was built up by the juristic dialectic of Roman canonists into the conception that the Church was a visible hierarchical State having a strictly monarchical constitution--its king being the Bishop of Rome, who was the visible representative of Christ. This conception became almost purely political. It was the active force in all ecclesiastical struggles with princes and peoples, with Reformers, and with so-called heretics and schismatics. It reduced the Church to the level of the State, and contained little to stimulate to piety or to holy living.

The labours of the great Schoolmen


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