PROP. I. II. Of the word church.
I. The word church which occurs so often in the english testament is allowed to have been formed from Κυριου Οικοσ, and therefore does not necessarily signify more than a “house dedicated to the Lord;” but the original word Εκκλhσια (coming from Εκκaλομαι to be called out) must of necessity refer to persons, and not to a building, viz. to an “assembly of persons met together in pursuance to some call.”
1. The above word εκκλεσια even in the gospel is applied to various forms of assemblie; as (1) To a court of judicature. It shall be determined in a lawful assembly [Gr. in a lawful church] Act xix. 39. (2) To an assembly of tradesmen of like occupation. The assembly [Gr. the church] was confused &c. He dismissed the assembly [Gr. the church] &c. Act xix. 32. 41. (3) To the host of Israel in the desert, The church in the wilderness. Act vii. 38. (4) To a christian assembly: of which more hereafter.
2. The etymology of the word renders an application of it to a building improper, though custom hath reconciled the impropriety. By the writers of the Newtestament it is never so applied; in I Cor. ix. 18. 22. it refers to the people rather than their place of worship. The heathen temples, which our translators read churches in Act xix. 37, are expressed by a very different word in the original.
II. Church, in the gospel, properly means all the elect or that mystical body whereof Christ is the head and Saviour: but because this body is divided into those already in heaven; those now on earth; and those not yet called: and because also those now on earth are subdivided into distinct and separate societies it hath so come to pass that the whole, the parts and subdivisions are styled churches with the following epithets of distinction, catholic, triumphant, militant, invisible, particular.
1. The church catholic means all of the human race that have been, are, and shall be saved. And this vast body may be styled the church, or assembly of outcalled, because, in the purpose of God they are all called out of the world and gathered together in heaven, whom he did predestinate them he called-them he glorified, Rom viii. 30. Mr. Downham reckons up eleven texts which speak of this universal church. He gave him to be head-to the church-which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all, Eph. i. 22, 23. iii. 21. v. 23, 32. Act ii. 47. Col. i. 18, 24. This body is divided into three parts; whereof,
2. The first is called the church triumphant, meaning all the saints who are already in heaven. The church of the firstborn-in heaven-the spirits of just men made perfect. Heb. xii. 23
3. The second part is called the church militant, meaning all the saints on earth. There are about nine passages which refer to this church. Upon this rock will I build my church, &c. Math. xvi. 18. Act. viii. 3. 1 Cor. x. 32. xii. 28. iv. 9. Gal. i. 13. Eph. iii. 10. Phil. iii. 6. I Tim. iii. 15.
4. The third part is called the church invisible, meaning all the church not yet called.
5. The second of the above parts is again divided into innumerable little distinct and separate societies, each of which is called a particular church. Of this sort of church frequent mention is made in the gospel; and is the church wherewith the following sheets have to do. Some of the passages that relate to it are these. Tell it unto the church. Matth. xviii. 17. If the whole church be come together in one place, I Cor. xiv. 23. The church in their house, Rom. xvi. 5. I Cor. xvi. 19. The church in thine house, Phile. 2. The church in Jerusalem. Act. viii. 1. The church at Antioch. Act xiii. 1. The church in Babylon, I Pet. v. 13. The church in Ephesus, Rev. ii. 1. The church in Smyrna, ver. 8. The church in Pergamos, ver. 12. The church in Thyatira, ver. 18. The church in Sardis, ch. iii. 1. The church in Philadelphia, ver. 7. The church in Laodicea, ver. 14. The churches throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria, Act ix. 31. All the churches of the saints, 1 Cor. xiv. 33. Here follows Dr. Goodwin’s definition of a particular church.
PROP. III. IV Of the distinctions and definitions of a church.
III. “A particular church is a company of saints assembling together in one place, built by a special covenant into one distinct body which, as occasion is, is to be fitly ordered to enjoy constant fellowship with Christ, in all his ways and ordinances, to their own mutual edification and the glory of God through he Spirit.”
1. The above definition does not make a sufficient difference between a church essential and a church complete: the former is but a mere fraternity; the latter is a fraternity duly officered. Nor does it make a proper difference between a church absolute as on the independent plan; and a church subordinate as on the episcopal and presbyterian platforms. We therefore add the following definition which refers to an independent and complete church.
2. “It is a company of persons called by the gospel, and statedly meeting in one place for the exercises of the christian religion; who are so confederate among themselves as to be one body, distinct from all other bodies of the like-or of different sort; and so impowered and authorized, as to be sufficient of themselves to manage their own church affairs, so as to obtain the end of a church.”