The Call of the First ReformersFrancis Turretin (1623-1687) - The Most Precise Theologian of the Reformation Era
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“Every decree of God is eternal; therefore it cannot depend upon a condition which takes place only in time. (2) God’s decrees depend on his good pleasure (eudokia) (Mt. 11:26; Eph. 1:5; Rom. 9:11). Therefore they are not suspended upon any condition outside of God. (3) Every decree of God is immutable (Is. 46:10; Rom. 9:11).”
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 them—that 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 this—that 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 , 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 before—that 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 ,” 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 herself—when 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 former—nay, 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 means—that 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.