Few if any Christians would deny that believers are brought into a spiritual union with Christ. The condition of being in Christ is vital to understanding how we are saved. However, only the Reformed creeds advance the doctrine of union with Christ. Moreover, the Reformed understanding of this doctrine is expressed in family related language, that is, the relationship of Christ to the Church as husband to wife. The place of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb in the book of Revelation emphasizes the culminating importance of the spiritual marriage of Christ to the Church. This theological understanding leads us back to the Old Testament basis for union with Christ: the "one flesh" relationship posited for marriage even before the fall of man.
The earliest Protestant confession is so ancient that it is not clear whether it originated with the Bohemians or the Waldensians. It is dated as no later than 1532. This Confession only alludes to the spiritual marriage of Christ to the Church in referring to the false church.
"where Christ, and the Spirit of Christ, dwelleth not, and the holy Gospel hath not any place granted unto it; &c. but, on the contrary side, manifest errors and heathenish life have their full course, and by getting the upper hand do spread themselves far; there must also needs be a Church so defiled, that Christ will not acknowledge it for his well-beloved Spouse, seeing that none belongeth to Christ, who hath not the Spirit of Christ. Rom. viii.9" (Peter Hall, The Harmony of Protestant Confessions, p. 219. This work is the best available for the comparative study of the Reformed creeds. It includes several creeds which although important in their day, were so little known in the nineteenth century as to not be included in Philip Schaff's The Creeds of Christendom. The Harmony goes back to a work which was consulted by the Westminster divines in forming the Confession. It has been reprinted by Still Waters Revival, 4710-37A Ave., Edmonton AB Canada T6L 3T5).
The Confession of Basle was written in German in 1532 and adopted by the Reformed pastors of that town who were followed in their subscription later by pastors in Strasburg. That document called the church “the Spouse of Christ” (Hall, p. 217) The Confession of Wirtemburg (1552) treated the church’s status as the spouse of Christ as the basis for obedience to His word:
"Now that which is affirmed, that the Church hath authority to bear witness of the holy Scripture, to interpret Scripture, and to judge all doctrines; it is not so to be understood, that the Church hath absolute authority to determine what she listeth, and also, if it please her, to change Scripture, and to feign a new doctrine, and to appoint new worships of God: but that the Church, as the spouse of Christ, ought to know the voice of her husband, and that she hath received of her husband a certain rule, to wit, the Prophetical and Apostolical preaching, confirmed by miracles from heaven, according to which she is bound to interpret those places of the Scripture which seem to be obscure, and to judge of doctrines" (Hall, p. 240).
The Scots Confession (1560) refers to Christ as the Head of the church in the sense that He is the Husband:
"As we believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; so do we most constantly believe that from the beginning there has been, and now is, and to the end of the world shall be, one Church: Matt. xxviii.20. that is to say, a company and multitude of men, chosen by God, Ephes. I.4. who rightly worship and embrace him by true faith in Christ Jesus; who is the only Head of the same Church; Col. I. 18. which also is the body and spouse of Christ Jesus. Ephes. v. 23-32" (Hall, p. 225).
In 1562 John Jewell, Bishop of Sarum, wrote a statement which was included as “the Confession of England” in the original Latin edition of the Harmony of Reformed and Orthodox Confessions of Faith in 1581. Jewell’s confession stated that the “Church is the Kingdom, the Body, and the Spouse of Christ: that Christ alone is the Prince of this Kingdom; that Christ alone is the Head of this Body; and that Christ alone is the Bridegroom of this Spouse” (Hall, p. 224).
The Second Helvetic Confession of 1566, written by Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich employed similar language in speaking of the church:
"This church is also called 'a virgin,' 1 Cor. xi.2. and , 'the spouse of Christ,' Cant. [Song of Solomon] iv.8. and, 'his only beloved.' Cant. v.16. For the Apostle saith, 'I have joined you unto one husband, that I might present you a chaste virgin unto Christ.' 2 Cor.xi.2" (Hall, p. 212).
The Westminster Confession (1647) more fully developed these ideas:
"I. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and in the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.
II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, and of their children: and in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation" (The Westminster Confession, Chapter XXV., in Morton H. Smith, Harmony of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, p. 126).
The Westminster Larger Catechism views union with Christ as the result of effectual calling, which the answer to Q. 58 considers as the means by which the benefits of Christ’s mediatorial work of redemption are applied unto the elect. In other words the Larger Catechism reflects the Reformed view that the elect are saved through union with Christ:
"Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
"A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband, which is done in their effectual calling."
These Reformed confessions and catechisms were so theologically developed because they sought to express the ideas of God's word rather than the theological traditions and innovations of men. Because they were so Biblical, they also utilized the family related language that forms the matrix of Biblical revelation.
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