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The Call of the First Reformers


by Francis Turretin


Twenty-Fifth Question: Was The Call Of The First Reformers
Legitimate? We Affirm Against The Romanists.

I. Among all the questions which refer to the call of pastors, none
is more frequently agitated by Romanists or productive of greater
contention than that which relates to the call of our Reformers.
Their design is to prove them guilty of schism and to condemn the
Reformation inaugurated by them as unlawful and begun without a
call. Thus by this digression, they wish to draw us away from the
chief matter and, these barriers being thrown up, to turn the cause
another direction, that they may avoid an examination of doctrine
and escape safely.

II. But this method of procedure is altogether preposterous. (1) The
question between us and the Romanists concerns doctrine, not
discipline. And yet it is lawful even for any private man to act,
seek and answer concerning doctrine. (2) The question concerning the
call cannot be understood without the other, since the first parts
of the call are the trial of doctrine and a proof of the truth which
is to be preached. (3) In vain is an inquiry made into the truth of
the call, if it is evident concerning the truth of doctrine. Faith
does not depend upon the call, but on the contrary the call depends
upon faith. The faith is not true because they who preach it are
lawfully called; but on the contrary, they are lawfully called who
retain and propose the true doctrine. (4) This was the way in which
the Pharisees (who inquired into his call) treated Christ. "By what
authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this
authority?" (Mt. 21:23). To whom Christ (answering and in turn
asking them concerning the origin of the baptism and the doctrine of
John) sufficiently indicates that the question about doctrine ought
to precede that about the call. Thus if our opponents ask us with
too great importunity, Whence did our ancestors have the authority
of teaching otherwise than was received? we in turn by an opportune
retort (hanterotema) can reply and ask, Was the doctrine of the
Reformers from heaven or from men? If the former, why do they oppose
it? If the latter, why do they not prove it? And if they cannot show
that there is any difference between the doctrine of Christ and the
Reformers, why are they in doubt about their lawful call? (5) This
question can with far better right be urged against the Romanists,
who can show in Scripture no trace of a call of popes, cardinals and
priests.

III. Although the question concerning the call of pastors is of no
slight utility, as much with respect to pastors themselves (for
their consolation) as with respect to the people (for the
preservation of good order) and the discernment of lawful pastors
from the false and privately (pareisaktois} introduced; the
necessity of it sinks far below the necessity of the question
concerning doctrine. That is a necessity of order only, without
which salvation can be obtained; but this is a necessity of means,
without which we cannot attain to salvation (since no salvation can
be obtained without faith, which includes the knowledge of saving
doctrine). Hence if it is inquired to which of two assemblies we
ought to join ourselves, the one which is supposed to have an
uninterrupted succession (but without the truth), but the other
truth of doctrine (but without the succession), no one will hesitate
in replying that we ought to join the latter because a call without
the truth cannot save, but truth can save without the call.

IV. Our opponents here falsely suppose that mission is the title
from which we ascribe to ourselves the right of changing the
church, because we have no other title than the truth of doctrine.
If it is false, whatever we have done is unjust. But if it is true,
what was done by us could be done justly and legitimately. Nor ought
it to be replied that there is no hope of salvation for us if our
church is false; and that the church is false if our mission is
false. There is one relation of a mission, false in essentials and
with respect to the doctrines which are proposed, ' another of a
mission which is said to be false and unlawful in accidentals and '
with respect to the rites and ceremonies, which could not be
observed in a disturbed condition. But these are not essential
either to the ministry or to the church; nor are they necessary to
the salvation of those who believe. The former argues a false
church; but the latter does not because it can be found in a true
church. Such, however, is our mission; not with respect to doctrine,
but only with respect to the rites then received.

V. That we may be able to vindicate our call against the most unjust
prejudices with which it is usually burdened, it is to be observed
that the validity or invalidity of the ministry is to be viewed
principally in three aspects. (1) With respect to the functions
which are to be performed and the things themselves which are taught
and commanded in it, if they are true or false, just or unjust. (2)
With respect to the assembly in which it is exercised, if it has
the right to call or not. (3) With respect to the persons who
exercise the ministry in that assembly. In the first respect, the
call and ministry of the Jews, Mohammedans and other similar
unbelievers is impious and sacrilegious because the things taught in
it are impious and false and the functions unlawful. In the second,
the ministry of the Donatists and Luciferians (which was good in
itself because nothing evil was taught in it) was vicious because it
was exercised in schismatical assemblies which had no right to
separate themselves from others. In the third, the ministry of
simony and of an usurper, although good in itself, does not cease to
be evil and unlawful on account of the defect of a personal call.
Now it is easy to show under this threefold relation (schesei) that
the call of our Reformers was legitimate. First, with respect to the
things which are taught or commanded, because the ministry (which
the call imposes upon us) consists wholly in the preaching of the
doctrine of Christ and his apostles. If this is denied by our
opponents, we must come to the way of discussion or the examination
of doctrine and leave the way of prescription or the question
concerning the call which they press so zealously. And thus it will
be easy for us to demonstrate the truth of our call from the truth
of the doctrine we teach. But the Romanists never will be able to
prove the call or the right which they hold to teach
transubstantiation, purgatory, the sacrifice of the Mass, the
worship of images, the invocation of saints and other similar dogmas
which are diametrically opposed (dis dia pason) to the word of God,
because there can be no call to teach errors and superstitions.
Second, the assembly in which the ministry is exercised had the
right to institute such a ministry: first, because that ministerial
authority pertains to the true church and the right of
communicating it to pastors, as was seen in the preceding question;
again, because that church cannot but be true in which the true
doctrine of Christ is retained and errors and false worship are
condemned, such as we maintain ours to be. Third, with respect to
the persons, because they were not self-called (autokietoi), who
intruded themselves by their own motion into the ministry, but had a
call from the church to whom that right belongs. For if they were
not always called according to the rites then received, they were
not on that account destitute of a lawful call in essentials.

VI. But that we may more specially demonstrate the truth of the call
of the Reformers, they are to be regarded in a twofold order. The
first is of those who were called and ordained in the Roman church.
The second of those who were called by assemblies of believers
without pastors. And as to the former, a legitimate call cannot be
denied to them, unless the Romanists wish to confess that they are
destitute of a lawful call. For their call is either legitimate or
it is not. If it is lawful, they cannot blame it on our men. If it
is not lawful, they badly object to us the want of it.

VII. Nor can it be objected that they lost their call by impugning
the doctrine received in the Roman church. So far from their being
able to be said on that account to have lost their call, on the
contrary they brought it back to its true and legitimate end and the
one intended by Christ. I confess that this was not the intention
of those who ordained themthat they should oppose themselves to the
received doctrine; but it was their duty to attend to the command of
Christ and to the primeval obligation and nature of their office.
Two ends occurring here must be accurately distinguished. One is the
primary end of God, the author of the calling and of the office
itself; the other, the secondary and less principal end of the men
calling. It is certain that they did not regard the end of the men,
which was to defend and propagate the papal doctrine, because it was
unjust. But they had respect to the primary end of the office itself
and of God calling, which was to teach the truth and to win souls to
Christ. Nor can the oath given to the pope stand in the way, because
they were bound before to God. Therefore when they found out that
they could not in good faith fulfill their oath given to the pope,
except by violating their oath to God, they were bound to break the
faith pledged to the pope rather than the faith pledged to God. As
in a camp the soldiers promise allegiance to their king and general,
but first to the king, then to the general on account of the king.
And yet if they learn that the general has deserted the king and is
plotting treason, they are bound by that same oath not only to
desert the general, but also to oppose him as far as they can,
unless they wish to incur the crime of treason.

VIII. And here again the call comes to be distinguished. One which
is false in its institution and unlawful in every way, which tends
primarily to the propagation of impiety and idolatry; another which
in its institution indeed is holy and just, but (corrupted by the
abuse of men) has degenerated and by them is directed to the
propagation of error. The first must be absolutely rejected because
there is nothing good in it. But the other is to be corrected and
purged, so that the errors and corruptions introduced being taken
away, the institution and use of Christ alone may remain according
to God's intention. Such, however, is the call of the bishops and
presbyters in the Roman church, which as to the institution of God
was good, but as to the abuse of men had become bad. Hence the
cutting off of the errors and corruptions introduced by men could
not be an abrogation, but a correction and restitution of the call.
For it ought always to tend to thisthat the called should perform
his functions religiously and holily according to the institution of
God and although all others should pervert that office to another
direction, still he (if he listened to the voice of God and his own
conscience) was bound to investigate the truth, to embrace it when
found and to teach it publicly, for the destruction of error and the
procuring of salvation for the flock, for the whole institution of
the ministry must always be derived from the fountain and primary
author. For God himself, whom we must obey rather than men, demands
this. The first intention and scope of the church requires it, which
ought to be no other than the preaching of the truth and the
rejection of error. The very necessity of things and the nature of
the call demand this. Hence whoever is canonically ordained ought to
use his call to propagate the doctrine of that church in which he
received his call, if it was conformed to the truth; if not, he
ought to oppose it.

IX. Now although the Reformers were excommunicated from the church
of Rome, they cannot on that account be said to have been deprived
of the call which they had received. It was unjust and could not
deprive them of their right, as the apostles did not lose their call
because they were excommunicated by the Jewish synod; nor the
orthodox bishops who were excommunicated by the Arians, especially
since (on the hypothesis of the Romanists) ordination impresses an
indelible mark. This very thing is sanctioned according to Gratian.
(Pope) Celestine says, "If anyone was either excommunicated or
divested of office or clerical dignity by the Nestorian bishop or by
the others who follow him, from whom they began to preach such
things, it is manifest that this one both continued and continues in
our communion; nor do we consider him removed, because he could not
by his sentence remove anyone, who had already shown that he himself
ought to be removed" ("Decreti," Pt. II, Causa XXIV, Q. 1.35 Corpus
luris Canonici [1959], 1:980). This is confirmed in chapter 36
(ibid., 1.36, pp. 980-81).

X. Although we maintain that a true call was in the church of Rome,
we do not on this account recognize her as a true church, because
these things do not equally answer each other in turn. Where a true
church is, there indeed undoubtedly is a true call. But not vice
versa. Where a true call is, there is a true church because to the
truth of the call the profession of Christianity is sufficient
(which can exist in a false and heretical church). The truth of a
church can no more be gathered from the call than from baptism,
which evidently can be true even in a heretical church. Thus the
mission can be among those who are not a true church, but retain
something of a church because the mission does not arise from the
church as its source and principle, but from God through men (even
bad men). Thus it makes no difference to the efficacy of the sower
or planter whether he sows and plants with clean or soiled hands,
provided the seed is good and the land fertile. Augustine: "The
light of a lamp or of the sun is not polluted, even though it may
pass through filthy places; it makes little difference whether water
is conducted through a canal of stone or of silver" ([On Baptism,
Against the Donatists 3.10 (NPNF1, 4:440; PL 43.144-45]). And: "The
word of God is preached even efficaciously by the wicked" (cap.
11+). In the idolatrous Jewish church nevertheless the call
remained. The Arians and Nestorians were not a true church; still
they called many bishops who were received by the orthodox as lawful
without any new call and recognized as true pastors; cf. Socrates
(Ecclesiastical History 2.12 [NPNF2, 2:41]), Sozomen (Ecclesiastical
History 3.4, 7, 9 [NPNF2,' 2:284, 286-87, 288]) and Theodoret
(Ecciesiosticoi History 2.13 [NPNF2, 3:77-79]). Nor ought it to be
said with Perronius that such were restored to their former rank,
because the restoration was no other than a confession of the truth
and the acknowledgment of error.

XI. The second order is of those Reformers who, although they had
not been called by the church of Rome, undertook this office.
Concerning their call, it is inquired. But here ought to recur what
we stated beforethat we must distinguish between a church
constituted and to be constituted or reformed; and the ordinary way
from a case of extreme necessity. In a constituted church, we think
the sanctioned order ought to be retained, so that all things may
be done decently in the church and disorder (atasaa) and confusion
avoided. But in a church to be restored, we are not always to wait
for the ordinary call, but any private person can, in a case of
extreme and unavoidable necessity, enter upon the work of
reformation.

XII. Now we suppose that such was the case and we are prepared to
demonstrate it from the state of the church of Rome, which was most
depraved with regard to faith as well as with regard to worship and
tyranny; and that errors were found in the very ones who ought to
rule the church, who being turned into wolves laid waste the Lord's
flock and endeavored to draw the church with them to the same
precipice of error. Who then could expect a reformation from them?
Each believer therefore had a sufficient call to undertake the work;
for although they could receive no authority from the church of Rome
to preach the gospel, still the reason of those most disturbed
times, the indispensable necessity which rested upon each one of
promoting his own salvation and the law of charity (which orders us
to promote the salvation of neighbors) gave them the authority to
preach the gospel purely, to reject the papal errors, to call men
out from them, to gather them together when called out, to institute
sacred assemblies and elect others to be their successors, the power
being granted to them for that purpose by the converted people. This
is true as it is lawful for good citizens, although in private life,
to rise against a traitorous ruler and to shut the gates against an
approaching enemy. And on this account the more (as has already
been proved), the right to call pastors belongs properly to the
church, in whose name it is exercised by the pastors when there are
any. But where there are none, it can use the same in another way;
for neither if it has lost its pastors, has it at once lost its
right; nor if she cannot exercise it by ministers, can she not by
herself or by some other one to whom she has committed it. Not only
is it her right, but also her duty that the ministry fail not (which
was instituted by Christ)not for a certain time, but for ever until
the end of the world as a means of faith and salvation (Mt. 28:20;
Eph. 4:11,12).

XIII. We gather from various sources that the call of God did truly
belong to this ministry of the Reformers. First, from necessity
because since God wishes men to be thrown into that state that they
will miserably perish unless in this way they provide for their own
salvation and that of their neighbors, he also (who suffers them to
be reduced to this necessity) determines to give them the power on
that account the more of performing their office than to permit the
truth to be taken from the world and their own and others' salvation
to be endangered. Now it is evident that the Reformers were
constituted in that state of unavoidable necessity. They saw the
church of Rome laboring under innumerable deadly corruptions, which
they could not profess without immediate danger to salvation. No
reformation was to be expected from the rulers of the church, from
whom the errors flowed and who contended fiercely for them; and so
far from wishing to think about a reformation, they persecuted with
fire and the sword those who undertook to seek it and dared to
oppose themselves to the encroaching errors. The voice of God
himself who imposed this necessity was also annexing:
both by the general command to follow and confess the truth and
rebuke falsehood in every time and place and in every class of men;
and by the special command to come out of Babylon (Rev. 18:4) and
withdraw from the communion of the erring (2 Cor. 6:16, 17).

XIV. Second, from the mark of the call impressed upon them, which
consists not only in purity of doctrine and innocence of life, but
also in the remarkable and extraordinary gifts with which he adorned
his servants and by the secret impulse and noble motives by which
he excited them to undertake so great a work. For if God confers
illustrious gifts upon no one except when he calls him to a great
and arduous undertaking, it cannot be denied that God imposed such a
call upon the first Reformers (since it is evident that they were
endowed with extraordinary gifts). Not that they were wholly
miraculous and supernatural, such as in the apostolic church, since
these pertained to the church to be founded. But still they were
special and extraordinary inasmuch as they were much above the mode
and measure of those times, in which a more than Cimmerian darkness
of error and vice spread over the heavens of the church and the
minds of her rulers. For who does not wonder at the profound
erudition, the accuracy of judgment, the most ardent zeal, the
admirable faith, the invincible constancy, the most intense love,
the singular purity of life and morals and the other innumerable
gifts by which they shone above others and proved that they were
vessels of election (ekioges) separated by God to this
extraordinary work? These were indeed the authentic seals of their
divine call.

XV. Third, from the wonderful and truly stupendous success which God
gave to their labors, by which it happened that they not only began,
but also carried on and at length perfected so great and so
difficult a work, notwithstanding the innumerable efforts, arts,
acts of violence, frauds and cruelty and most dreadful persecutions
of resisting adversaries, in enduring and overcoming all of which
they testified the unconquerable strength of their souls. And the
wonderful providence of God showed itself so conspicuously in
beginning and carrying on this work that no one (unless he willingly
shuts his eyes) can help seeing it. Since therefore this most
difficult work was both perfected once beyond the expectation of all
and has stood from that time among so many obstacles and
contradictions, it cannot be doubted that it was truly divine
(according to the saying of Gamaliel, Acts 5:34-39) and that the men
who gave themselves to this work with so great zeal and labor were
stirred up to it by a divine call.

XVI. The call of the Reformers can be called ordinary and
extraordinary in different respects. It was ordinary (1) by reason
of the office because it was not a new and extraordinary ministry,
such as the apostleship was. Rather it was that same ordinary office
which was instituted by Christ and the apostles and which ought to
continue to the end of the world. (2) With regard to doctrine
because they were not to set forth a new doctrine, but the same
which had already been preached by the apostles; nor to raise up a
new church, but to reform one corrupted and to correct a depraved
worship, and to restore it to the primeval institution of Christ and
the apostles. (3) With regard to the perpetual and indispensable
right which belongs to believers professing the truth and rejecting
errors and with regard to the duty devolving upon both pastors and
believers themselves of following Christ and withdrawing from false
teachers according to his command. (4) With regard to the material
and as to the ordinary functions of the word and the administration
of sacraments. But it may well be called extraordinary with regard
to the mode and rites which were usually observed because it was not
made in the ordinary manner and the one used in the church of Rome,
but beyond the order and received rites on account of the case of
extreme necessity. (5) With regard to exercise because although
reformation was the ordinary function of their office, for which
they had no need of any new right or new ministry (since each
pastor is bound to reform his own flock as often as there is need),
still because this is not accustomed to be done every day, in this
work there was something extraordinary inasmuch as the people needed
extraordinary and unusual help in purging the doctrine and worship
from the adhering errors. Since therefore according to various
relations (5cheseis), this call can rightly be said to be both
ordinary and extraordinary, it ought not on this account to seem
strange if our divines speak in different ways according to those
various relations:

some calling it ordinary; others extraordinary in different respects
(kat' ailo kai olio), the truth of the thing always remaining the
same. If ordinary is understood properly as that which is consistent
with the order primarily and divinely instituted, the call of the
Reformers is well said to be ordinary; but if it is taken
equivocally for what has been received publicly by inveterate custom
(whatever that may have been), it can be said to be extraordinary
because it differed widely from that custom and manner which had
grown up in the church of Rome. But we deny that this custom was a
lawful order, since it is pure disorder (ataxia) which prevailed in
that church under the appearance of order.

XVII. Not every extraordinary call ought to be confirmed by
miracles, for various prophets and John the Baptist, who were
extraordinarily called, wrought no miracles; but only that
extraordinary call which is said to be such with regard to a new
doctrine or a new office, such as the call of Moses and the apostles
because they made the ancient worship antiquated and instituted a
new. But when the same doctrine, which was before delivered, is
retained and purged, there is no need of miracles, because the same
miracles by which it was confirmed before still conduce to its
confirmation. Such, however, was the call of the Reformers. They did
not bring in a new doctrine, but purged the doctrine of Christ,
corrupted by the errors of men. Hence Gregory (the Great): "Those
signs were necessary in the beginning of the church, so that the
multitude might grow to faith, it was to be nourished by miracles
because even we, when we plant a vineyard, so long as we pour water
upon it, until we see the trees become firm in the earth and if they
have once fixed their roots, the irrigation will cease" ("Sermon 29
[4]," Homiliarum in Evangelia [PL 76.1215]). Thus miracles are
required in a worship to be instituted, but not when it is treated
only concerning a worship to be restored; when the church is to be
erected and founded primarily and not when it is only to be reformed
and purged from its defilement. Besides, the wonderful success which
God gave to the labors of the Reformers has the relation of a
miracle, by which God plainly declared that such a call as
accomplished so great a work must have proceeded from him, XVIII. It
is one thing to institute a new ministry; another to institute new
ministers. God alone can do the former because he alone is Lord of
religion to change it at his pleasure; but the church can do the
latter in every state because this right was given to her by Christ,
nor can it be taken away from her for any cause whatever. It is one
thing to erect a new ministry; another to reform a ministry already
instituted, but corrupted. The church has no right to do the former;
but she has the right (nay, she is bound in duty) to exercise the
latter. For as she is bound to preserve a pure ministry, she is also
bound to reform it when it is corrupted.

XIX. An usurpation of the ministry is one thing; another is the use
of a lawful right granted by God. An usurpation of the ministry
which is made without any right is always unjust and unlawful; but
the use of a right cannot be unjust. The Reformers cannot be called
usurpers because the church at every time has the right to call
pastors for her own edification, although all the rites otherwise
received cannot be employed. If, therefore, it happens that the
pastors already instituted fail in their office and falsely abuse
their ministry, the church (for whose sake the ministry was
instituted) always has the right to purge a corrupt ministry. And if
this cannot be done on account of the obstinacy of men, she has the
right to leave that ministry and to choose others who will rightly
perform their duties.

XX. The call which the Reformers had from the church of Rome was
Anti-christian, as to the ordinary ministers; but Christian and
legitimate, as to God the author and primary foundation. Nor ought
it to be traced to the pope, but to God, the author of the call.

XXI. The Reformers had nothing in common with the Novatians and
Donatists, who (without necessity and rashly) seceded from the
church on account of personal difficulties. Our Reformers seceded
for the most weighty reasons regarding the corruption of doctrine
and applied themselves to reformation.

XXII. While the ministry flourishes in a church, she ought indeed to
use it for the calling of pastors; nor can she ordinarily institute
pastors, except by the ministry already constituted. But the
ministry failing (being miserably corrupted), she can elect
ministers to herself for her edification, even without the
intervention of a ministry; both because she has this right from
God and because in every time and place she is bound to preserve a
ministry for the instruction of believers. Nor can it be said
without the greatest absurdity that it is better in a case of
necessity (all pastors failing) for a church to remain without
pastors and to be without external and public worship and the
exercise of religion, waiting for God to raise up others out of the
ranks, than to call pastors without the intervention of other
pastors. The necessity of a ministry to give a call is a necessity
only of order (which ought to be observed in an instituted state),
but which is not absolutely and simply necessary to salvation. But
the necessity of the preaching of the gospel and of the call of
pastors to it is a necessity of salvation which cannot be obtained
without the word and faith in it. Again, since the end is to be
preferred to the means, the institution of pastors, which is the
end, should be considered more necessary than the observance of the
received order, so that it may not be done except by pastors, which
is only a means to secure that end. And since primary obligations
ought to take precedence over later obligations, who doubts that the
law which places the necessity of a ministry in the church binds
much more strongly than that which wishes no one to be ordained
except by the ministry of other pastors? The latter is particular,
holding good only in a constituted order and while its use is
possible, but which has its exceptions; but the former is universal,
which in every time and place without any exception ought to obtain.
Hence when it is impossible for both laws to be observed, regard
should be paid altogether to the first (which is the more ancient
and universal) and the cause and foundation of the second.

XXIII. Although God has not expressly said that in extraordinary
cases it is lawful for the pastoral power to be communicated in
another way than by the ordinary ministry, it does not follow that
this cannot be done. The institution of the ministry being once made
in the church (which ought to continue until the end of the world)
gives a sufficient right to the church of always conserving,
reforming and erecting it anew (if it is corrupted and extinct), so
that there is no need of a new command for it; as the precept which
he gave to the church and to believers concerning the preservation
of the truth obliges her when to reform herselfwhen she finds that
she has departed from the truth. The same command embraces both
things: the preservation of the truth and the restitution of it when
corrupted.

XXIV. (1) The reordination of those who now come to us from the
church of Rome does not evince that their call was invalid; but only
that it was corrupt and vitiated, which on that account ought to be
purged, so that what is wicked and Antichristian may be separated
from what is good and Christian. Nor if such a call could suffice to
a church to be reformed, ought it to suffice in a church already
reformed, because in the former case another could not be had. (2)
This reordination is not so much a new ordination absolutely, as a
reformation and purgation of the former; so that what was good in it
may be confirmed and what was evil corrected and that it may be
evident to the church for her edification, concerning the purity of
the doctrine and morals of the called and concerning the consent of
the other pastors. Besides in entering into a new society on which
they ought to depend, it was right to receive the command and
mission from her. (3) Since ordination is not a sacrament, nor is
there any harm in its reiteration (nay, it contributes not a little
to the edification of the church), there is nothing to hinder its
repetition; nor does the second consecration derogate from the
validity of the formernay, it confirms it in those things which are
good, an example of which we have in Acts 13:2, 3 where hands are
again laid on Paul and Barnabas, who had already been called.

XXV. As in a civil society it would be absurd to seek what call a
man had to live, to regulate his own affairs and to avoid whatever
is harmful to health and safety, so it is absurd in a religious
society to seek what right believers have and with what call they
are furnished to profess the true faith and to worship God purely,
to reject whatever is repugnant to the truth of faith and purity of
worship and which can injure their spiritual life and safety. For
the obligation suffices by which each one is bound to promote his
own salvation, which the nature of the thing itself and the command
of God imposes upon us. I confess that this cannot be done without a
sundering of the bond of union by which we are joined in society
with others; but this has place only with respect to error, not with
respect to truth. Nor must it be supposed that the true unity of the
church is broken, because the assembly from which the secession is
made is no more to be regarded as a church of Christ, but as an
assembly of errorists, who first broke the true unity of the church
by their deadly doctrines and false worship.

XXVI. Nor ought it to be said that a secession from the public
ministry cannot be made by private persons without a violation of
the obedience which God himself has frequently commanded should be
rendered to it. For although no one denies that we ought to hold in
great esteem the pastors and faithful ministers of God who watch for
our souls and that we ought to obey them according to the direction
of Paul (Heb. 13:17); still it is certain that that obedience and
dependency is not absolute and unlimited (which belongs to God and
Christ alone), but circumscribed within certain limits (i.e., as far
as it promotes the glory of God and our safety and as far as it can
consist with the fidelity and obedience due to Christ). For since
the public ministry is nothing else than the external means for
bringing men to salvation by a profession of the true faith and the
practice of a pure worship; this, however, is the relation of
external meansthat when they recede from the destination of the
user and not only do not bring us to the faith, but remove us from
it, the love of the end ought to prevail over the love of the means
because the means are not sought except on account of the end. If it
appears that the public ministry not only does not lead us to
salvation and does not point out to us the way to heaven, but
thrusts us by its pestiferous errors on to most certain destruction,
who doubts that we ought to secede from it in order to secure our
salvation? Nor can the example of the civil magistrate (who is not
to be deserted although he executes his office wrongly) prove the
contrary. Only a temporal good is here involved which brings no
damage to salvation; but the ministry is concerned with a spiritual
good and the salvation of our souls, than which nothing ought to be
dearer to us. Nor, moreover, ought it to be said that this is to
resist God himself, who placed us under pastors. In the ministry, we
must carefully distinguish that which is of divine institution and
that which is of human disposition. That there should be a ministry
in the church is of divine institution, but that the ministry
should be exercised by this or that person (if you except the
apostles and evangelists, the first teachers of the church) is of
human disposition. The order of the ministry is inviolable because
it is from God; but it is not the same with the ministers. For they
are called by men, so the call can often be corrupted by various
faults, either of the givers or of the receivers. In this case, it
is not only lawful, but necessary to secede from false pastors who
endanger salvation. Nor is the scandal which can spring from such a
separation (if any does arise from it) to be compared with the peril
of salvation and the injury to religion.

XXVII. This is confirmed more strongly if the nature of the union
which believers hold with Christ and with their pastors is examined.
For the union of believers with Christ is immediate, but with
pastors only mediate because believers are not united to their
pastors except in Christ and on account of him (for he is the center
and bond of our communion, whether with believers or with pastors).
Hence it is gathered that believers ought not to be united with
their pastors, except inasmuch as it is evident that they are
united to Christ; and they ought to be separated from them as often
as they see them to be separated from Christ and wanting to draw
others away from him. The same is to be said concerning the
dependence which believers ought to have both on Christ and on
pastors. The first is immediate and absolute; but the latter only
mediate and conditional. Christ alone has a right over the
conscience, as the supreme and anypeuthynos ("beyond human
accountability") ruler. Pastors are ministers and interpreters of
his will;
therefore, the dependence and submission due to them rests wholly
upon the dependence due to Christ by them (which is the rule and
cause of that). Therefore, as long as pastors show themselves to be
true ministers of God, believers ought to depend upon them on
account of Christ; but if it happens that they act like lords, not
as ministers, and lead away from Christ and do not lead them to him;
if, in order to depend upon them, the dependence and obedience due
to Christ has to be violated, who will deny that we ought most
justly (nay, indispensably) to secede from them in order that our
union with Christ may remain safe and unimpaired?

XXVIII. Innovators, who propose to us a new and false doctrine,
differ from reformers, whose design is not to bring in a new
doctrine, but to reform the old which had been corrupted and to
purge it from the errors superinduced. The first are not to be
heard, according to the command of Paul (Gal. 1:8). But the latter
not only are not to be rejected, but are to be embraced and followed
with zeal, if we are satisfied that they are true reformers. In
order to ascertain this, we must examine their doctrine. We maintain
that our first pastors were such from the conformity of their
doctrine with the doctrine of Christ; nor except most falsely can
they be traduced as innovators.

XXIX. The passage of Tertullian"Who are ye? When and whence come
ye? What do ye do in mine, not of me? ... I am an heir of the
apostles, as they decreed in their will, as they swore, I hold"
(Prescription Against Heretics 37 [ANF 3:261; PL 2.51])is rightly
opposed to innovators who introduce a new doctrine differing from
that of the apostles. Concerning whom he immediately adds, "Hence
foreigners and heretics, enemies to the apostles, except from a
diversity of doctrine, which each one at his pleasure, either takes
or receives against the apostles?" (ibid.). But it has nothing to do
with our Reformers, who had no other object in view than to bring us
back to the truth of the gospel and to the purity of the apostolic
doctrine, from which the church of Rome had departed.

XXX. The examples drawn from the practice of the apostles about the
call and ordination of pastors are not against us. They relate to
the church already established, in which the apostles wished the
order instituted by them in presbyteries to be preserved. But we
speak of a corrupted church which had no pastors, except those
corrupt and tainted with multiple errors.

XXXI. If in some churches the Reformation was instituted by laymen,
besides the fact that (in that most deplorable state and in a case
of unavoidable necessity) there was a sufficient call for
individuals to resist the abuse (as we have already proved and
confirmed by various examples), the old canon in Clement of Rome
pertains, in which it is enacted: "That he who teaches, although he
may be a layman, yet skilled in speaking and sober in morals, may
teach because they will all easily learn of God" (cf. Constitutions
of the Holy Apostles 8.32* [ANF 7:495; PG 1:1134]). If anything
could be desired here, it would be supplied both by a subsequent
ordination and by the public authority of the magistrate and the
consent of the people.


 

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