What Constitutes the Church? The Clergy or All Believers?

The Church

For centuries Romanism has taught that the head of the Church is the pope and the cardinals are its body. One of the early reformers, John Huss, wrote a response to this dogma in a book entitled “De Ecclessia“, for which he was condemned and burned at the stake in July 6, 1415. Following are the principal points he presents in answer to this common error; the quote is from the book “Ecclesiastical Empire”:

“We must regard the clerical body as made up of two sects: the clergy of Christ, and those of antichrist. The Christian clergy lean on Christ as their leader, and on his law. The clergy of antichrist lean for the most part, or wholly on human laws and the laws of antichrist; and yet pretend to be the clergy of Christ and of the Church, so as to seduce the people by a more cunning hypocrisy. And two sects which are so directly opposed, must necessarily be governed by two opposite heads with their corresponding laws.

Quoting the words of Christ: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them,” he says: “There, then, would be a true particular Church; and accordingly, where three or four are assembled, up to the whole number of the elect; and in this sense the term Church is often used in the New Testament. Thus all the righteous who now, in the archbishopric of Prague, live under the reign of Christ, and in particular the elect, are the true Church of Prague. We may well be amazed to see with what effrontery those who are most devoted to the world, who live most worldly and abominable lives, most distant from the walk with Christ, and who are most unfruitful in performing the counsels and commandments of Christ, with what fearless effrontery such persons assert, that they are heads, or eminent members of the Church, which is His bride.”

“Christ alone is the all-sufficient Head of the Church. The Church needs no other, and therein consists its unity. If a Christian in connection with Christ were the head of the universal Church, we should have to concede, that such a Christian was Christ himself; or that Christ was subordinate to him, and only a member of the Church. Therefore, the apostles never thought of being aught else than servants of that Head, and humble ministers of the Church, His bride; but no one of them ever thought of excepting himself and asserting that he was the head or the bridegroom of the Church. Christ is the all-sufficient Head of the Church; as He proved during three hundred years of the existence of the Church, and still longer, in which time the Church was most prosperous and happy. The law of Christ is the most effectual to decide and determine ecclesiastical affairs, since God Himself has given it for this purpose. Christ himself is the Rock which Peter professed, and on which Christ founded the Church; which, therefore, will come forth triumphant out of all her conflicts.

“The pope and the cardinals may be the most eminent portion of the Church in respect of dignity, yet only in case they follow more carefully the pattern of Christ and, laying aside pomp and the ambition of the primacy, serve in a more active and humble manner their mother, the Church. But proceeding in the opposite way, they become the abomination of desolation: a college opposed to the humble college of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why should not Christ, who, in the holy supper, grants to believers the privilege of participating in a sacramental and spiritual manner of himself, — why should not He be more present to the Church, than the pope, who, living at a distance of more than eight hundred miles from Bohemia, can not by himself act directly on the feelings and movements of the faithful in Bohemia, as it is incumbent on the head to do! It would be enough, then, to say that the pope is a representative of Christ; and it would be well for him, if he were a faithful servant, predestined to a participation in the glory of his Head, — Jesus Christ.

“The papacy, by which a visible head was given to the Church, derived its origin from the emperor Constantine; for, until the gift of Constantine, the pope was but a colleague of the other bishops. If the Almighty God could not give other true successors of the apostles than the pope and the cardinals, it would follow that the power of the emperor, a mere man, by whom the pope and the cardinals were instituted, had set limits to the power of God. Since, then, the Almighty God is able to take away the prerogatives of all those emperors, and to bring back His Church once more to the condition in which all the bishops shall be on the same level, as it was before the gift of Constantine, it is evident that he can give others besides the pope and the cardinals, to be true successors of the apostles, so as to serve the Church as the apostles served it.

“It is evident that the greatest errors and the greatest divisions have arisen by occasion of this [visible] head of the Church, and that they have gone on multiplying to this day. For, before such a head had been instituted by the emperor, the Church was constantly adding to her virtues; but after the appointing of such a head the evils have continually mounted higher. And there will be no end to all this, until this head, with its body, be brought back to the rule of the apostles. Christ can better govern His Church by His true disciples scattered through all the world, without such monsters of supreme heads. The theological faculty have called the pope ‘the secure, never-failing, and all-sufficient refuge for his Church.’ No created being can hold this place. This language can be applied only to Christ. He alone is the secure, unfailing, and all-sufficient refuge for His Church, to guide and enlighten it. ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’ John 15.5.

“It injures not the Church, but benefits it, that Christ is no longer present to it after a visible manner; since He himself says to His disciples, and, therefore, to all their successors (John 16:7): ‘It is good for you that I go away; for if I went not away, the Comforter would not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him unto you.’ It is evident from this, as the truth itself testifies, that it is a salutary thing for the Church militant that Christ should ascend from it to heaven, that so His longer protracted bodily and visible presence on earth might not be prejudicial to her. Therefore, the Church is sufficiently provided for in the invisible guidance, and should need no visible one by which she might be made dependent. Suppose, then, that the pope who walks visibly among men, were as good a teacher as that promised Spirit of Truth, for which one need not to run to Rome or Jerusalem, since he is everywhere present, in that He fills the world [even then such visible head would not be “good” for the Church]. Suppose also that the pope were as secure, unfailing, and all-sufficient a refuge for all the sons of the Church as that Holy Spirit; it would follow that you supposed a fourth person in the divine Trinity.

“This Spirit, in the absence of a visible pope, inspired prophets to predict the future bridegroom of the Church, strengthened the apostles to spread the gospel of Christ through all the world, led idolaters to the worship of one only God, and ceases not, even until now, to instruct the bride and all her sons, to make them certain of all things, and guide them in all things that are necessary for salvation. As the apostles and priests of Christ ably conducted the affairs of the Church in all things necessary to salvation, before the office of pope had yet been introduced, so they will do it again if it should happen, it is quite possible it may, that no pope should exist, until the day of judgment; for Christ is able to govern His Church, after the best manner, by His faithful presbyters, without a pope. The cardinals, occupied with worldly business, can not teach and guide, by sermons, in the articles of faith and the precepts of the Lord, the members of the universal Church and of our Lord Jesus Christ. But the poor and lowly priests of Christ, who have put away out of their hearts all ambition, and all ungodliness of the world, being themselves guided by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,teach and guide the sons of the Church, quickened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and give them certainty in the articles of faith and the precepts necessary to salvation. The Church has all that it needs in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and ought to require nothing else; nothing else can be a substitute for that.”

Now, what is the church or body of Christ?

  • 1 Corinthians 3:11 – “The head of every man is Christ”
  • Ephesians 2:20 – “We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones”
  • Colossians 1:18 – “He [Christ] is the head of the body”

Read the following extract from The Present Truth, Feb. 26, 1903:


Not to multiply words, we find from Eph. 1:22, 23, that the church is the body of Christ. This body is composed of all who are Christ’s. The church is also called the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15), “whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing in the hope firm unto the end.” Heb. 3:6. The church is not composed of “the clergy,” so called, that is, of the ministry; for we read: “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God had set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” 1 Cor. 12:27, 28. “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” Rom. 12:4, 5.
The Greek word which is rendered “church,” is a compound word meaning “called out.” We have the word in the adjective “ecclesiastical.” God called Israel of old out of Egypt, and they formed “the church in the wilderness.” Acts 7:38. All who are in Christ have been called out of Egypt; for it is written, and fulfiled in Christ, “Out of Egypt have I called My Son.” Matt. 2:14, 15. Christ is “that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20), and He stands and calls His sheep and as they hear His voice they come to Him. As they thus assemble about Him, they form His flock or congregation, and this is the word that really ought always to be used, instead of “church.” The names of “the general assembly and church [congregation] of the Firstborn” are “written in heaven” (Heb. 12:23); but whenever on earth there are two or three, or more, of “like precious faith” in the same neighbourhood, they naturally come together for mutual edification; and each one of these fragments of “the general assembly” is called a church, or congregation, since the life of the whole is in each part. “Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” Eph. 4:7.


Share this: