Wilhelmus à Brakel:

If the Word of God is the only criterion by which we can determine a church to be the true church of God, then we must first acknowledge Scripture to be the Word of God before acknowledging the church to be the true church. Furthermore, we cannot receive the testimony of the church unless we acknowledge her to be the true church.

Thus, we do not believe the Word to be the Word of God because the church affirms it, but on the contrary, we believe the church to be the true church because the Word validates her as such. A house rests upon its foundation, and not the foundation upon the house. A construction is subordinate to its cause rather than the cause being subordinate to what it has constructed. (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1:29)

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9 thoughts on “The Church Is Subordinate to the Word (And Not the Other Way Around)”

  1. Ted Bigelow says:

    And this post relates to the RCA as much as the RCC.

    Which means the question should be asked, where in Scripture are denominations exemplified, or taught?

    Where is an example of a Presbytery of several or more churches? It is disintegrated and abolished in Titus 1:5.

    The quote is excellent, but the sword of the Spirit must cut both ways, or it doesn’t cut at all.

    In other words, in claiming the Scripture defines the church, and not vice-versa, are those in connectional churches perhaps the greater transgressors? After all, the RCC doesn’t claim Scripture defines the church.

  2. donsands says:

    God’s Word is the absolute eternal Truth. Love this quote. thanks for the post.

    have a great Lord’s Day!

  3. Wesley says:

    Love this quote very much – thank so much for posting. Never considered the syllogism that way:the Word of God is true, that Word teaches that the church is the Bride of Christ, therefore all churches that affirm the Word as truly from God and are subordinate to it are truly His church. Very cool!

  4. Mike Donahue says:

    Tottally agree, the next issue then is “how do we figure out what the word of God says?” The current method of ‘contextualization’ makes the Word subject to the World. Since we have the complete word of God, it gives us all the essential background information we need in order to exposit its meaning and apply it. It is not of any private interpretation, either by “the church” or by the “scholars.”

  5. Timothy says:

    I cannot understand quite what Ted Bigelow is getting at; he is so concise that I find the point opaque.
    Mike Donahue’s point is an important one. The Word of God and the people of God form something of a circle. One informs and is formed by the other but then the other has a role in interpreting the Word of God.
    But his assertion that the current method of contextualisation makes the Word subject to the World is over negative. The original Word is expressed culturally laden terms and can only be accurately understood if that is borne in mind. Equally, the Word is intended to change the World and so needs to be applied to the World in appropriate ways. This is an important task of the church. Simply dumping issues of context will be as liable to shackle the Word to the World as contextualisation will

  6. Ted Bigelow says:

    Timothy – get up to speed on connectional polity, episcopal polity, and eldership as defined in Titus 1:5.

    And then, contextualize yourself to what the RCA is presently going through…

    and then ask yourself,

    has the RCA church anymore Scriptural integrity than the RCC church?

    It’s about being obedient to Christ. He commands His followers to confront those sinning according to a pattern defined in Mat. 18:15-17. The RCA avoids this by synods and presbyteries (where in Scripture?). They claim to be a part of the same church with the other RCA churches but instead of confronting their president according to Christ’s pattern in Mat. 18:15-17, they publicly harangue him for acting like an unbeliever.

    The likely context behind Kevin’s quote is to assert that the true RCA church is biblically defined.

    I say, get to it then and stop playing worldly politics. Go privately to those sinning. If they will not repent, take one or two others. If they will still not repent, call the church to go confront them. If they will still not repent, put them out.

    Stop the nonsense of committees, votes, procedural intrigues, etc. Be about obedience to Christ, and move on.

  7. RogerH says:

    If we believe the church to be the church because the Word validates her as such, how do we know that what we call the Word (scripture) is in fact divinely inspired? Doesn’t this become a circular argument pretty quickly? I’m young(ish) and drifting away from the Catholic church of my youth- but this is one issue that’s kept me from leaving. Wasn’t the canon of scripture in fact identified as such by “the church”?

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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