Blog 166: 4.1.1 - 4.1.4
And thus we turn to Book 4 of the Institutes, the longest of the sections. How is the work of Christ on behalf of the elect appropriated? Answer: by faith in the gospel. But, since we are ignorant and slothful (Calvin's words), "we need outward helps to beget and increase faith within us" (4.1.1). These "helps" are to be found in the church. Citing Cyprian, Calvin makes (what to 21st century individualists sounds Romanesque) the statements: "for those to whom he is Father the church may also be Mother" and "there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels" (4.1.1; 4.1.4).
"I believe in the holy, catholic church," we affirm as we recite the Apostles' Creed, but do we really mean it? And we do so in the Creed before affirming our belief in personal salvation ("the forgiveness of sins"). Calvin's words above strike the modern evangelical as obscure at best and sacramental at worst. Twenty-first century evangelicalism knows the language of personal faith and personal quiet-times but balks at the corporate dimension of salvation and the means of grace. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation) was only slightly modified by the Westminster Divines to allow for the possibility of salvation of "elect infants" dying in infancy and those whose mental abilities make it impossible for them to rationally understand the gospel (WCF 10:3). In doing so, the Divines in no way wished to distance themselves from Calvin's robust affirmation that the way salvation is appropriated is through the instrumentality of the church.
"I believe in the holy, catholic church." Do you?