Warfield and True Church Unity

Jeff Stivason joins us to speak about his article, “Benjamin B. Warfield and True Church Unity,” published in the Westminster Theological Journal 79 (2017): 327–43. He argues that Warfield developed a theology that requires the existence of denominations. Jeff is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA) in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania and has joined us previously to speak about Warfield on the mode of inspiration.

Abstract

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.

Participants: , ,


Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

Leave a comment



Ryan Noha

4 months ago

Brothers, thank you for another edifying and enlightening episode of Christ the Center. I am hoping that one of you might provide me with some bibliographic information: what is the name of the out-of-print collection of student essays that Warfield published? Thanks!

Jeff Stivason

4 months ago

Ryan, the volume is called, Is Jesus God? It has a little introduction by Warfield. The lectures were delivered during the 1911-1912 term. Blessings, Jeff

Ryan Noha

4 months ago

Thank you very much, Jeff and Chris!

Cris A Dickason

4 months ago

Ryan & Jeff: here’s the volume you mention, Is Jesus God? Hint for using archive dot org, with advanced search specify “Princeton” as the collection, you will get results of items scanned from Princeton Seminary and/or University
https://archive.org/details/isjesusgodargum00warf

Ryan Noha

4 months ago

Thank you again, Cris. Archive.org is such a wonderful resource! Sorry for misspelling your name, above. I didn’t catch the autocorrect in my haste.

Baus

4 months ago

Perhaps related to Warfield’s point about true church *unity* are the following statements about the single mark of a true church:

in an essay by Charles Hodge entitled “Is the Church of Rome a Part of the Visible Church?,” he states:

“…By a definition we do not mean a description including a specification of attributes which properly pertain to the thing defined; but an enumeration of its essential attributes and of none other.
…We may say that a church is a society in which the pure word of God is preached, the sacraments duly administered, and discipline properly exercised by legitimate officers. This, however, is a description of a pure and orderly church, and not an enumeration of the essential attributes of such a body. If we use that description as a definition, we must exclude all but orthodox Presbyterians from the pale of the church.
…This distinction between a description and definition, between an enumeration of what belongs to a pure church, and what is necessary to the being of a church, is often disregarded.
…the church consists of all those throughout the world who profess the true religion, together with their children. This is a legitimate established meaning of the term. In this view of the church, nothing is essential to it but the profession of the true religion.
…[particularly, a church is] an organized society professing the true religion, united for the purpose of worship and discipline, and subject to the same form of government and to some common tribunal.
…By the true religion cannot be meant all the doctrines of the true religion, and nothing more or less. For then no human society would be a church unless perfect both in knowledge and faith. Nor can it mean all the clearly revealed and important doctrines of the Bible for then no man could be a Christian and no body of men a church, which rejects or is ignorant of those doctrines. But it must mean the essential doctrines of the gospel, those doctrines without which no man can be saved.”

This same view is also articulated by James Bannerman in his book “The Church Of Christ” (1869) See chapter 5, on the ‘Notes’ Of The Church, where he states:

“First, there is an important distinction between what is necessary to the being of a Church, and what is necessary to its wellbeing… there is a distinction not less important to be borne in mind, in connection with this matter, between the things for which the Church was instituted, and the things that have been instituted for the Church.
…to hold to and preach the true faith or doctrine of Chirst [ie., the gospel] is the only sure and infallible note or mark of a Christian Church… other
things, such as sacraments and ordinances, the ministry, and the outward administration of the Church, are not essential to it, but only accidental.”

Nathan Strom

4 months ago

Thank you for a great episode on Warfield and a helpful discussion of church unity. Dr. Stivason, where did you find a copy of the second essay? I cannot find an electronic copy anywhere and the nearest library with a copy is some 300 miles away. Could you help a brother out?

Nathan Strom

4 months ago

And by second essay I mean “Christian unity and Church Union…”

Jeff Stivason

4 months ago

Dear Nathan, Yes that article is nowhere to be found on the net. It’s in the Presbyterian Banner vol. 91 June 1904-05 edition…and those are getting harder to find. There is an entire set in Pittsburgh but they have it under lock and key! You can find my contact info at graceingibsonia.org. If you want the article send me an email and I’ll scan a copy for you.
Blessings,
Jeff

reformed-forum-logo-white400

Contact Info

Reformed Forum
P.O. Box 27422
Philadelphia, PA 19118

+1 440.973.6786
mail@reformedforum.org

Copyright © 2018 Reformed Forum