Quotes About The Church
Quotes about the Church from throughout Christian History.
Taking Aim at Rome's Audacious Claim is coming in September, but you could read one of our other books while you wait. Our new books and author page is up at RebuildingtheFoundations.org.
Ignatius, c. AD 110
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone is not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the church, has even by this revealed his pride and condemned himself. (Letter to the Ephesians 5)
Wherever the bishop shall appear, let the multitude of also be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic [i.e., universal] church. It is not lawful either to baptize or to celebrate a love feast without the bishop, but whatever he approves of, that is also pleasing to God. (Letter to the Smyrneans 8)
Let everyone reverence the servants as a commandment of Jesus Christ, the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the elders as the sanhedrin of God and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these there is no church. (Letter to the Trallians 3)
Irenaeus, AD 183 - 186
It is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church, since the apostles, like a rich man in a bank, lodged in her hands most abundantly all things pertaining to the truth. Now every man, whoever wants to, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. (Against Heresies III:4:1)
We preserve our faith, which we have received from the church ... For this gift of God has been entrusted to the Church, as breath was to the first created man, for this purpose, that all the members may receive it and live. And fellowship with Christ has been distributed throughout it-that is, the Holy Spirit, who is the earnest of incorruption, the means of confirming our faith, and the ladder of ascent to God.
For in the church, it is said, God has set apostles, prophets, teachers, and all the other means through which the Spirit works. All those who do not join themselves to the Church are not partakers of these things, but defraud themselves of life through their perverse opinions and infamous behavior.
For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth. Those, therefore, who do not partake of him are neither nourished into life from the mother's breasts, nor do they enjoy that most clean and pure fountain which issues from the body of Christ. (Against Heresies III:24:1)
Tertullian, AD 200 - 220
Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches.† Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, by the apostles, from which they all [spring].† In this way all are primitive and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one, in unity, by their peaceful communion, title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality—privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the self-same mystery. (Prescription Against Heretics 20)
Let [the heretics] produce the original records of their churches. Let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in succession from the beginning in such a way that their first bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor one of the apostles or apostolic men—a man, in addition, who continued stedfastly with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers, such as Smyrna ... also the church of Rome ... In exactly the same way, the other churches ...
Let the heretics attempt something of the same kind, for their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare by its own diversity and disagreement that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man. This is so because just as the apostles would never have taught anything that was self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated any teaching different from the apostles ... To this test, therefore, [the heretics] will be submitted for proof by those churches whose founder was not from the apostles or the apostolic men—since they are of a much later date, as churches are in fact being founded daily—but who, since they agree in the same faith, are considered no less apostolic because they are of the same family in doctrine. Therefore, let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests [i.e., founded by an apostle and similar in doctrine] by our apostolic church, offer their proof as to why they deem themselves to be apostolic. (Prescription Against Heretics 32)
Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage from AD 249 - 258
For when the Apostle Paul says, "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife, and the two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church"—when, I say, the blessed apostle says this, and with his sacred voice testifies to the unity of Christ with the Church, cleaving to one another with indivisible links, how can he be with Christ who is not with the spouse of Christ and in his Church? (Epistles of Cyprian 48:1, from Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. V)
This next passage, as well as many others by Cyprian, is in reference from Novatian, who split from the church of Rome because the churches were allowing repentance to those who denied Christ during persecution. Novatian was orthodox in doctrine, but he had split the church. Stephen, bishop of Rome, recognized the baptism of the Novatians as valid, though he rejected their "sealing," the laying on of hands immediately afterward to receive the Spirit. (See Justin's quotes on the Water Baptism Quotes page.)
But what a thing it is, to assert and contend that they who are not born in the Church can be the sons of God! For the blessed apostle sets forth and proves that baptism is that wherein the old man dies and the new man is born, saying, "He saved us by the washing of regeneration." [Tit. 3:5]. But if regeneration is in the washing, that is, in baptism, how can heresy, which is not the spouse of Christ, generate sons to God by Christ? For it is the Church alone which, conjoined and united with Christ, spiritually bears sons. As the same apostle again says, "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that He might sanctify it, cleansing it with the washing of water" [Eph. 5:25-26]. If, then, she is the beloved and spouse who alone is sanctified by Christ and alone is cleansed by his washing, it is apparent that heresy—which is not the spouse of Christ and cannot be cleansed nor sanctified by his washing—cannot bear sons to God. (Epistles of Cyprian 73:6, from Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. V)
But that the Church is one, the Holy Spirit declares in the Song of Songs, saying, in the person of Christ, "My dove, my undefiled, is one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her" [Song 6:9]. Concerning which also he says again, "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring sealed up, a well of living water" [Song 4:12] But if the spouse of Christ, which is the Church, is a garden enclosed, a thing that is closed up cannot lie open to strangers and profane persons. And if it is a fountain sealed, the one who is found outside has no access to the spring and can neither drink from it nor be sealed [a reference to the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit].
And the well also of living water, if it is one and the same inside, then the one who is found outside cannot be made alive nor sanctified from that water of which it is only granted to those who are inside to make any use or to drink.
Peter showed this, too, setting forth that the Church is one and that only they who are in the Church can be baptized, when he said, "In the ark of Noah, few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water; this is a figure displaying that baptism shall save you" [1 Pet. 3:21]. This proves and testifies that the one ark of Noah was a type of the one Church.
If, then, in that baptism of the world thus expiated and purified [i.e., the flood], he who was not in the ark of Noah could be saved by water, then he who is not in the Church to which alone baptism is granted can also now be given life by baptism.
In addition, the Apostle Paul, more openly and clearly still revealing this same thing, writes to the Ephesians, and says, "Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it, so that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water" [Eph. 5:25-26] But if the Church is one which is loved by Christ and is alone cleansed by his washing, how can he who is not in the Church be either loved by Christ, or washed and cleansed by his washing?
Therefore, since the Church alone has the living water and the power of baptizing and cleansing man, he who says that anyone can be baptized and sanctified by Novatian must first show and teach that Novatian is in the Church or presides over the Church. For the Church is one, and, as she is one, cannot be both inside and outside. If she is with Novatian, she was not with Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop Fabian by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood, the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church. Nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way. (Epistles of Cyprian 75:2-3, from Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. V)
Firmilian, c. AD 250
But if the spouse of Christ is one, which is the Catholic Church, it is she herself who alone bears sons of God. For there are not many spouses of Christ, since the apostle says, "I have espoused you, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" [2 Cor. 11:2]; and, "Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear; forget also your own people, for the King has greatly desired your beauty" [Ps. 45:11]; and, "Come with me, my spouse, from Lebanon; you shall come and shall pass over from the source of your faith" [Song 4:8]; and, "I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse" [Song 4:12-13]. We see that one person is everywhere set forward, because also the spouse is one. (Epistles of Cyprian 74:14, from Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. V)
Jerome, d. AD 420
Do not hold aloof from the Church; for nothing is stronger than the Church. The Church is your hope, your salvation, your refuge. It is higher than the heaven, it is wider than the earth. It never grows old, but is always in full vigor. Therefore, indicative of its solidity and stability, Holy Scripture calls it a mountain; of its purity, a virgin; of its magnificence, a queen; of its relationship to God, a daughter. And to express its productiveness, it calls her barren who has borne seven. In fact, [Scripture] employs countless names to represent its nobleness. (Homily on Eutropius II 6, from The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series I, vol. IX)
Martin Luther, 1520 - 1546
Jerome raises the question why Paul called them churches that were no churches, inasmuch as the Galatians had forsaken the grace of Christ for the law of Moses. The proper answer is: Although the Galatians had fallen away from the doctrine of Paul, baptism, the Gospel, and the name of Christ continued among them. Not all the Galatians had become perverted. There were some who clung to the right view of the Word and the Sacraments. These means cannot be contaminated. They remain divine regardless of men's opinion. Wherever the means of grace are found, there is the Holy Church, even though Antichrist reigns there. (Commentary on Galatians)
John Calvin, 1540 - 1564
The only true bond of Church unity is Christ the Lord, who has reconciled us to God the Father, and will gather us out of our present dispersion into the fellowship of His body, that so, through His one Word and Spirit, we may grow together into one heart and one soul. (Letter to Cardinal Sadolet, from Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. VIII, sec. 91; note that this may be vol. VII in the print version; my electronic version was obtained from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library)
As our present design is to treat of the visible Church, we may learn even from the title of mother, how useful and even necessary it is for us to know her; since there is no other way of entrance into life, unless we are conceived by her, born of her, nourished at her breast, and continually preserved under her care and government. … It is also to be remarked that out of her bosom there can be no hope of remission of sins, or any salvation, according to the testimony of Isaiah (37:32) and Joel (2:32); which is confirmed by Ezekiel (13:9), when he denounces that those whom God excludes from the heavenly life shalt not be enrolled among his people. So, on the contrary, those who devote themselves to the service of God are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem. … In these words the paternal favor of God, and the peculiar testimony of the spiritual life, are restricted to his flock, to teach us that it is always fatally dangerous to be separated from the Church. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, as cited by Schaff, ibid., bk. VIII, ch. 13, sec. 98)
Let these two points, then, be considered as decided: first, that he who voluntarily deserts the external communion of the Church where the Word of God is preached, and the sacraments are administered, is without any excuse; secondly, that the faults either of few persons or of many form no obstacles to a due profession of our faith in the use of the ceremonies instituted by God; because the pious conscience is not wounded by the unworthiness of any other individual, whether he be a pastor or a private person; nor are the mysteries less pure and salutary to a holy and upright man, because they are received at the same time by the impure. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, as cited by Schaff, ibid., bk. VIII, ch. 13, sec. 98)
It is not enough, therefore, simply to throw out the name of Church, but judgment must be used to ascertain which is the true Church, and what is the nature of its unity. And the thing necessary to be attended to, first of all, is, to beware of separating the Church from Christ, its Head. When I say Christ, I include the doctrine of his gospel which he sealed with his blood. Our adversaries, therefore, if they would persuade us that they are the true Church must, first of all, show that the true doctrine of God is among them; and this is the meaning of what we often repeat, viz. that the uniform characteristics of a well-ordered Church are the preaching of sound doctrine, and the pure administration of the Sacraments. (On the Necessity of Reforming the Church, as cited by Schaff, ibid., bk. VIII, ch. 13, sec. 98)
We are as ready to confess as they are that those who abandon the Church, the common mother of the faithful, the 'pillar and ground of the truth,' revolt from Christ also; but we mean a Church which, from incorruptible seed, begets children for immortality, and, when begotten, nourishes them with spiritual food (that seed and food being the Word of God), and which, by its ministry, preserves entire the truth which God deposited in its bosom. This mark is in no degree doubtful, in no degree fallacious, and it is the mark which God himself impressed upon his Church, that she might be discerned thereby. Do we seem unjust in demanding to see this mark? Wherever it exists not, no face of a Church is seen. If the name, merely, is put forward, we have only to quote the well-known passage of Jeremiah, 'Trust ye not in lying words, saying, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these' (Jer. 7:4). Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? (Jer. 7:11). (On the Necessity of Reforming the Church, as cited by Schaff, ibid., bk. VIII, ch. 13, sec. 98)
Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and Joel testify, [Isa. 37: 32; Joel 2: 32]. (Institutes, IV:1:4)
Philip Schaff, c. 1890
The Reformers introduced the terminology "visible" and invisible" Church. By this they did not mean two distinct and separate Churches, but rather two classes of Christians within the same outward communion. The invisible Church is in the visible Church, as the soul is in the body, or the kernel in the shell, but God only knows with certainty who belong to the invisible Church and will ultimately be saved; and in this sense his true children are invisible, that is, not certainly recognizable and known to men. We may object to the terminology, but the distinction is real and important. …
Zwingli first introduced both terms. He meant by the "visible" Church the community of all who bear the Christian name, by the "invisible" Church the totality of true believers of all ages. And he included in the invisible Church all the pious heathen, and all infants dying in infancy, whether baptized or not. In this liberal view, however, he stood almost alone in his age and anticipated modern opinions.(History of the Christian Church, vol. VIII, ch. 13, sec. 100)
Charles Spurgeon, d. 1892
Nobody can do as much damage to the church of God as the man who is within its walls, but not within its life. (Unknown)
A.W. Tozer, d. 1963
One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. (Man: The Dwelling Place of God, ch. 19)
The neglected heart will soon be a heart overrun with worldly thoughts; the neglected life will soon become a moral chaos; the church that is not jealously protected by mighty intercession and sacrificial labors will before long become the abode of every evil bird and the hiding place for unsuspected corruption. The creeping wilderness will soon take over that church that trusts in its own strength and forgets to watch and pray. (unknown, cited by Revival List)
T. Austin Sparks, d. 1971
It is possible to take parts of the New Testament, as to doctrines, practices, work, methods, and order, to piece them together, and to frame them into a system to be adopted and applied. This is the mechanical or 'ecclesiastical' method, and it is capable of an almost endless variety of presentations, resulting in a very large variety of organized bodies, every one of which claims the New Testament for its authority. This in turn issues in rivalries, competitiveness, controversy, and, eventually, in the presenting to the world of a Christianity divided into a vast number of independent and unrelated parts, far removed from 'all speaking the same thing'.
... the approach to which we have referred above is the cause of more limitation, stagnation, deadly legality, than can be measured. ("According to Christ")
Christianity has almost entirely come to be such a thing now, and it is practically impossible for the vast majority of Christians - their leaders especially - to understand or even believe that God can do His work without committees, boards, machinery, advertisement, organizations, appeals, reports, names, deputations, patronage, propaganda, publicity, the press, etc. ("According to Christ")
We have said that the New Testament has within it a revelation, precise, definite, and full, as to God's mind for this dispensation, and that in that revelation there is an answer to all the questions of What? Who? and How? in all matters of the Church's constitution and vocation. What is that revelation? The answer is that it is not a system, as such, but a Person. That which in the New Testament is secondary, and a consequence, has now been made primary. That is, the results have been made the first and governing things, whilst that which comes before them as the cause is overlooked. If we will look again, we shall see that anything that came into being under the Holy Spirit's first activity was the result of a seeing of Christ. By that we mean what the Apostle meant, when he recorded the substance of his prayer for believers: "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ... may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, the eyes of your heart being enlightened, that ye may know...", etc. ("According to Christ")
So, all talk about 'forming New Testament churches' is nonsense. The beginning is in a seeing of Christ, and when two or three in one place have seen Him by the Holy Spirit, and have been "begotten again by the word of God", there is the germ of a church. ("According to Christ")
Whatever may be the cheap and frivolous teaching of many, that the only necessity is to be 'saved' and everything is all right - a teaching which accounts for no small measure of the present deplorable condition in Christianity - the Apostles most positively did NOT take that view. They 'laboured night and day' that believers should know what they had come into. All the eternal counsels concerning Christ and God's eternal purpose as to Him are bound up with the Church. There are very many and very great values in a true Church life, that is, a true Body relatedness, and there can only be very great loss in not knowing or apprehending this. ("According to Christ")
Vance Havner, d. 1986
The devil's not fighting churches today, he's joining churches. (cited by Revival list)
N.T. Wright, 1997
When [Paul] describes how persons, finding themselves confronted with the act of God in Christ, come to appropriate that act for themselves, he has a clear train of thought, repeated at various points. The message about Jesus and his cross and resurrection — 'the gospel', in terms of our previous chapters — is announced to them; through this means, God works by his Spirit upon their hearts; as a result, they come to believe the message; they join the Christian community through baptism, and begin to share in its common life and its common way of life. That is how people come into relationship with the living God. (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 116-117)
Douglas A. Sweeney, 2005
The term Christendom refers to the territory and the ideal of state-sponsored Christian nationalism, both of which date back to the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine (in AD 312), the establishment of Christianity by Emperor Theodosius I as the only legal religion of the ancient Roman Empire (in AD 380), and the geopolitical agenda of the Holy Roman Empire (which emerged in AD 800, lasted in one form or another through the period treated here [modern evangelical movement], and gave to Christendom its definitive, medieval shape). (The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement [ch. 3, footnote 6]. italics and parentheses from original; brackets mine. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)
Frank Viola, 2010
I wouldn't give 2 cents for most "house churches" today. Most of them are far from organic. For that reason, I don't endorse "house church" as a model. And I never have. The living room is not my passion. Most house churches, in my experience, have no concept of how to live by an indwelling Lord, nor are they consumed with Jesus Christ. (Frank Viola blog)
Tim Kurtz, 2011
It is important that you understand that the church is not a building or a weekly get-together. The church is not choirs, ushers or dynamy preachers. The church is not programs, events, or fund raisers for noble causes. The church is life with purpose. It is life lived among the saints who see themselves as family. It is life among believers who understand that they are one body and that each member is significant to the purpose of God in the earth. This is the Church demonstrated in the New Testament. (No Longer Church as Usual, ch. 3)
The majority of churches that exist today are organized spiritual business entities. They operate similarly to corporate America. There is a CEO, or Sr. Pastor. There is a Board of Directors, probably elders or deacons. There is a staff—either paid or volunteer. There are the customers—namely the lay people who come each week to financially underwrite the corporation/church. And finally, there is the product—their version of the gospel and its presentation. I personally shudder at using the term 'product' for the gospel, but in many churches that is what it has been reduced to. (No Longer Church as Usual, ch. 3)
God desires a family who loves, encourages and strengthen one another. The auditorium like [sic] atmosphere of most churches, regardless of size, implicitly discourages this level of interaction among the saints. There is more fellowship and interaction after church in the lobby than during the time when the formal service is under way. (No Longer Church as Usual, ch. 3)
Paul Pavao, 2013
Once you make every citizen a Christian by the choice of the government, you have to make huge adjustments to apostolic doctrine. Let pagans be pagans unless we can get them to deny themselves, bear their cross every day, and follow Jesus. All those who don't want to do that can defend the country. For those of us who do, we don't care what country we're in because we're carrying around an instrument of execution anyway. (Source: me on Facebook)
Jordan Bajis, 2014
Another popular misunderstanding of the word catholic is "universal," as in, the church which exists throughout the world. This was not at all the early Christian understanding. The Church of the first centuries used the term as a synonym for the fullness of Truth, not as a geographical description. For example, Ignatius of Antioch (the first Christian father to use the word to explain the Church) states that the Church is catholic because in her assembly, the faithful welcome the presence of Christ in all His Truth. The idea of a universal Church, understood as being constituted by all "churches" throughout the world, never occurred to Ignatius. (RebuildJournal.org)
Fr. Stephen Freeman, 2014
Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church, Oak Ridge, TN, USA.
The Christian Church is the living Tradition of the self-giving life of God. Everything within that Tradition is in conformity with that life and moves everything within it towards that conformity. ("The Human Project". Accessed Dec. 4, 2014.)
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