The Pastor’s Glory And Crown: Calvin On The Marks Of The Church, Revisited -- By: T. M. Moore

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 10:4 (Fall 2001)
Article: The Pastor’s Glory And Crown: Calvin On The Marks Of The Church, Revisited
Author: T. M. Moore


The Pastor’s Glory And Crown:
Calvin On The Marks Of The Church, Revisited

T. M. Moore

Reformed theology identifies the presence of the church where three distinguishing marks are in evidence. As Edmund Clowney notes, “Three marks were defined in distinguishing a true church of Christ: true preaching of the Word; proper observance of the sacraments; and faithful exercise of church discipline.”1 This distinction traces back to Calvin, who, although he mentions only two marks,2 includes the exercise of discipline as part of the ministry of Word and sacraments and states concerning any particular church, “If it has the ministry of the Word and honors it, if it has the administration of the sacraments, it deserves without doubt to be held and considered a true church.”3 Immediately Calvin reinforces this idea of the marks of the church: “We have laid down as distinguishing marks of the church the preaching of the Word and the observance of the sacraments.”4 In the next section he writes, “If in Word and sacraments [a church] has the order approved by the Lord, it will not deceive; let us, then, confidently pay to it the honor due to churches.”5 And immediately thereafter, “The pure ministry of the Word and pure mode of celebrating the sacraments are, as we say, sufficient pledge and guarantee that we may safely embrace as church any society in which both these marks exist.”6 Calvin, it would seem, was emphatic that these two marks—broken out into three by subsequent Reformed theologians—are the critical identifiers of a true and faithful

church. In the preparation and practice of ministers, therefore, Reformed congregations have laid great emphasis on preaching and the disciplined administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as of supreme importance in the calling and constitution of the church. All over the world for the past four-and-a-half centuries, Reformed churches have held up these marks as ideals for aspirants to and practitioners of the gospel ministry, who have diligently applied themselves to these disciplines above all others, and are quick to congratulate themselves on having thereby preserved the true church against all pretenders.

The question immediately arises, therefore, as to why Reformed congregations seem very often to manifest so little of the vitality of life, joy of hope, commitment to mission, passi...

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