Benjamin B. Warfield And True Church Unity -- By: Jeffrey A. Stivason

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 079:2 (Fall 2017)
Article: Benjamin B. Warfield And True Church Unity
Author: Jeffrey A. Stivason

Benjamin B. Warfield And True Church Unity

Jeffrey A. Stivason

Jeffrey A. Stivason is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.


This article examines Benjamin B. Warfield’s view of church unity. Though the research explores the entire corpus of Warfield’s body of work, the primary exploration encompasses the exegesis of two articles that are almost identical and yet separated by fourteen years, “True Church Unity: What It Is,” and “Christian Unity and Church Union; Some Primary Principles.” The teaching of these writings substantiate the following claim: the progressive and constructive nature of Warfield’s understanding of theology requires the existence of denominations. The article proceeds in the following manner. First, the research focuses on Warfield’s understanding of what church unity was not according to the apostolic church. Second, having understood the unity in the negative, the article moves on to observe the ground and nature of ecclesiastical unity in the apostolic church as understood by Warfield. The third point explores the progressive and constructive nature of systematic theology and how it applies to Warfield’s understanding of ecclesiastical unity. In this point, the idea of unity and the legitimacy of denominational separation is explored and substantiated from Warfield’s perspective. The fourth and final point gives attention to the minimalism that has the power to eclipse the church’s visible unity. In particular, the failure to engage in theological inquiry grounded upon the Scriptures will hinder and even destroy the unity of the church.

David P. Smith reminds us in his helpful book B. B. Warfield’s Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship that Warfield wrote a staggering amount, and that to value and appreciate the nature of his scholarship one must read widely in it.1 This is especially true with regard to topics like revelation, Christology, and even apologetics, but there were topics in Warfield’s corpus which were not so frequently visited by his prolific pen, ecclesiology among them. In fact, Fred G. Zaspel argues, “Warfield nowhere elaborates at length on the nature of the church, but he does make reference to it in several

places, highlighting his leading concerns.”2 Surely one of his leading concerns was the unity of the church.

Likely among the constellation of reasons for his concern for this aspect of ecclesiology one in particular may be obvious to the person who knows something about Warfield’s denomination, the Presbyte...

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