What is the True Power of the Church?


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The power of the church, rightly defined, is the ministry of God’s Word. This means that power resides, not in the ministers themselves, but in their office; in fact, less in their office than in the Word which they administer. Their only power to command, their only authority to teach, lies in the Word, or to put it another way, lies in their acting in the name of Christ.

…the authority of the ministry…is Christological. Christ is the wisdom and revelation of God, who alone has entered into the secrets of the Father. He is the source from whom the Old Testament writers drew their knowledge of God and when he became man he was the final witness to the Father. Hence his is the perfection of teaching. It would be impossible to surpass it, criminal to invent new. Let Christ speak and all be silent!

The apostles must teach only and precisely what they have received from Christ; each succeeding generation must receive it, guard it faithfully, and hand it on intact. Hence the church bears a spiritual weapon, the Word of God, the teaching of Christ. The ministering and dispensing of this doctrine, this Word of God, is the true power of the church.

…It is true that God guides the church by his Spirit, who is the Spirit of revelation, truth, wisdom, and light. But the Spirit does not act independently of the Word. As the Spirit of Christ, he is the Spirit of Christ’s Word; as the promise ‘he shall guide you into all truth’ goes on to say: ‘He will glorify me: for he will take what is mine and declare it to you’ (John 16:14). Thus the Spirit leads the church into the knowledge of the will of Christ by leading her into the knowledge of the Word, the expressed will of Christ. And the expressed will of Christ, which is one with the will of the Father, is, as we have seen, the authority by which and under which the church lives.

From this it follows that the voice of the church must be obeyed. The church is church if and because she proclaims nothing but the Word of Christ. Thus, as the mouthpiece of Christ, the church has supreme authority in the spiritual realm. The two aspects have to be held together. It is only as the mouthpiece of Christ, as the minister of the Word of God, that the church has supreme authority. The authority rests with the Word, the message committed to the ambassador, and even to the Word only because of its speaker, Christ, has all authority in heaven and on earth. On the other hand, the Word of Christ which the church proclaims must be obeyed. The fact that the Word has been declared by men’s lips in no way lessens its nature; it is still the Word of Christ, of God.

It must also be asserted that the church cannot err in things necessary to salvation. The inerrancy, of course, does not lie in the church as a human institution, but only in the church as taught by the inerrant Word of Christ through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Once the church abandons the Word, she has no truth in her. If she proclaims the Word, her proclamation is the truth – that is, the truth about God, the truth about man, the truth about God’s judgement and salvation in Jesus Christ, the truth about God’s eternal purpose.

The office of the church is the ministry of the Word of God. The task of the church is to proclaim the Word of God. The power of the church lies in the almighty Word which she proclaims.

***From T. H. L. Parker’s reflection on John Calvin’s ministry in John Calvin: A Biography. His shorter and earlier work, Portrait of Calvin, is available for free download at Desiring God.

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