These three points embrace the chief elements in the Reformation. What they involved was a renewal of religion; for not only do they denote, albeit in a fashion of their own, a return to Christianity as it originally was, but they also existed themselves in Western Catholicism, although buried in a heap of rubbish.
But, before we go further, permit me two brief digressions. We were just saying that the community assembled for God’s worship must not solemnise its worship in any other way than by proclaiming the Word and by prayer. To this, however, we must add, according to the Reformers’ injunctions, that all that is to stamp this community as a Church is its existence as a community of the faith in which God’s Word is preached aright. Here we may leave the sacraments out of account, as, according to Luther, they, too, derive their entire importance from the Word. But if Word and faith are the only characteristics of worship, it looks as if those who contend that the Reformation did away with the visible Church and put an invisible one in its place were right. But the contention does not tally with the facts. The distinction between a visible and an invisible Church dates back as far as the Middle Ages, or even, from one point of view, as far as Augustine. Those who denned the true Church as “the number of the predestined” were obliged to maintain that it was wholly invisible. But the German Reformers did not so define it. In declaring the Church to be a community of the faith in which God’s Word is preached aright, they rejected all the coarser characteristics of a Church, and certainly excluded the visibility that appeals to the senses; but—to take an illustration—who would say that an intellectual community, for example, a band of young men all alike eagerly devoted to knowledge or the interests of their country, was “invisible,” because it possesses no external characteristics, and cannot be counted on one’s fingers? Just as little is the evangelical Church an “invisible” community. It is a community of the spirit, and therefore its “visibility” takes different phases and different degrees of strength. There are phases of it where it is absolutely unrecognisable, and others, again, where it stands forth with the energy of a power that appeals to the senses. It can never, indeed, take the sharp contours of a State like the Venetian republic or the kingdom of France—such was the comparison which a great exponent of Catholic dogmatics declared to be applicable to his Church —but as Protestants we ought to know that we belong, not to an “invisible” Church, but to a spiritual community which disposes of the forces pertaining to spiritual communities; a spiritual community resting on earth, but reaching to the Eternal.