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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 2 : The Visible Church Defined

Paragraph 2 : Its Branches

2-2. This visible unity of the body of Christ, though obscured, is not destroyed by its division into different denominations of professing Christians; but all of these which maintain the Word and Sacraments in their fundamental integrity are to be recognized as true branches of the Church of Jesus Christ.

[DIGEST: The current text is unchanged from PCA 1973 and all PCUS editions back to PCUS 1879, II-2-2, with the minor exception that PCUS 1879 has "those" instead of "these" in the second half of the sentence. The PCUS drafts of 1867 and 1869 were substantially different and more cumbersome.]

ANTECEDENT TEXTS:
1. PCA 1973, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, page 129
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, Proposed text, 2-2
3. PCUS 1933, III-§13
4. PCUS 1925, III-§13

This visible unity of the body of Christ, though obscured, is not destroyed by its division into different denominations of professing Christians; but all of these which maintain the Word and Sacraments in their fundamental integrity are to be recognized as true branches of the Church of Jesus Christ.

PCUS 1879, II-2-2.

This visible unity of the body of Christ, though obscured, is not destroyed by its division into different denominations of professing Christians; but all of those which maintain the Word and Sacraments in their fundamental integrity are to be recognized as true branches of the Church of Jesus Christ.

PCUS 1869 draft, II-2-2
From partial illumination and weakness of faith in Christians, and from the devices of Satan, deplorable divisions have taken place in the Church since the days of the Apostles; nevertheless, those particular Churches which maintain the word and sacraments in their integrity are to be recognized as churches of Jesus Christ.

PCUS 1867 draft, II-2-2
From partial illumination and weakness of faith in Christians, and from the machinations of Satan, deplorable divisions have taken place in the church since the days of the Apostles, impairing the visible unity of the body of Christ, marring its doctrinal purity and scriptural order, and giving rise to particular churches otherwise called denominations. Nevertheless, those particular churches which maintain the word and sacraments in their integrity are to be recognized as true churches of Jesus Christ.

OTHER COMPARISONS:
ARP 2003, I.B.2

The visible unity of the Church, though obscured, is not destroyed by its division into different denominations of professing Christians; and all of those maintaining the Word and sacraments of the Lord Jesus Christ in their fundamental integrity are to be recognized as branches of this one visible Church.

BPC 2003, 2-3
This catholic visible Church has, in God's providence, become divided into bodies commonly termed denominations or churches. Such bodies whether local, national, or international, which in their creed and practice hold fast to the historic Christian faith, which require for admission into their communion what Christ requires for salvation, and which subordinate their authority to that of the Word of God are true Churches of Christ, despite differences in government or in matters not essential to the faith which may have caused their separation from others.

OPC 2005, II-3
In accordance with the teaching of Scripture, the many members of this church are to be organized in local and regional churches, confessing a common faith and submitting to a common form of government.

RPCES 1973, I-1
The visible church throughout the world consists of all those who, in various forms of organizations, profess their faith in God through His Eternal Son, together with their children. Any organization for worship in which the Gospel is faithfully preached and faithfully shown forth in sacraments or ordinances, and in which denial of the basic principles of the Gospel, whether in word or in deed, is faithfully disciplined, may be regarded as a branch of the Universal Church.


UPCNA 1912, I-4
4. The Unity of the Visible Church. The visible unity of the Christian Church, though obscured, is not destroyed by its division into different bodies or denominations. All of these unions or associations of particular Churches which maintain the essential laws and ordinances of Christ are to be regarded as true branches of the Catholic or Universal Church.

COMMENTARY:
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order (1898, pp. 23-24)
, on II-2-2 :
13.--II. This visible unity of the body of Christ, though obscured, is not destroyed by its division into different denominations of professing Christians; but all of those which maintain the Word and Sacraments in their fundamental integrity are to be recognized as true branches of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Two principles are here conceded : that visible unity is desirable, and that the division into different denominations, into separate associations of churches, makes against this visible unity. As the separation of a particular church from other particular churches in one organization obscures church unity, so does the separation of an association of churches from union with other associations in one organization. But such division does not destroy visible unity. The real unity of the invisible Church is unity in Christ, the one Head ; and, since the members of different denominations are, in their profession, visibly united to Christ, their visible unity is not destroyed by this degree of separation. Indeed, it is not so much organizational separateness that contravenes organic unity as it is organizational disfellowship that argues organic disunity. Hence, a broad recognition is here given to other denominations. For, on the one hand, this recognition is explicitly extended to all that maintain the Word and Sacraments in their fundamental integrity ; and, on the other, it is not withheld from any professing Christians, though they reject some of the canon, or deny some of the teachings of Scripture, or pervert or omit the sacraments, even to the extent of trenching upon fundamental integrity. As to such, it must be inquired whether they really profess the true religion, that is, whether they profess the true religion of Christ and submission to his laws. And even if order should be found altogether absent from an association of those making such profession, they would themselves be a part of the Church, in spite of their lack of order.
The Presbyterian Church in the United States, then, continues its separate existence as a denomination only upon the ground that its members would not be allowed to obey all the laws of Christ in any other organization ; and it stands pledged to organizational union upon any basis permitting full obedience to all the teachings of Christ. And in call itself "Church," it does not mean to reserve this title for itself exclusively, but only to claim that it is tentatively endeavoring to make itself, as nearly as its enforced separateness will allow, conform to what Christ would have his one catholic visible Church to be.

J. Aspinwall Hodge, What Is Presbyterian Law? (1882), p. 29.

Wherein consists the unity of the Church?
Not in outward organization, nor in allegiance to any visible head, but in union with Christ, belief in and profession of his religion, and submission to his authority (John 10:16; Eph. 4:1-16). "This visible unity of the body of Christ, though obscured, is not destroyed by its divisions into different denominations of professing Christians, but all of those which maintain the word and sacraments in their fundamental integrity are to be recognized as true branches of the Church of Jesus Christ." This is the declaration of the Southern Presbyterian Church.*
*Book of Church Order, ch. ii., sect. ii.



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Chapter Index [links to Par. 1 of each chapter]:
FoG..
1
2
3.
4
5.
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
I. King & Head of Church
.§1.
§4
§5
RoD
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
II. Preliminary Principles
§1
§2
§3
§4
§5
§6
§7
§8
DfW
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
[FoG = Form of Government ; RoD = Rules of Discipline ; DfW = Directory for Worship]