How do we discern a “true” church? Given the current ecclesiastical climate this
is an increasingly pressing question. This study looks at how William Perkins, a
great seventeenth century Church of England theologian, responded to this issue.
Particular focus is given to his understanding of the distinctions between the visible
and invisible church, and the marks of a “true” church, namely, word, sacraments
and discipline. Judged against these marks, Perkins argued passionately that the
Church of England was “a true church of God”.
He also, in line with traditional Reformed ecclesiology, allowed signifi cant doctrinal
and practical decline before a church ceased to be a “true” church. The criteria he
outlined for leaving a church amounted to nothing less than the obstinate and
persistent overthrow of cardinal Christian doctrine and worship.
Perkins’ careful teaching calls us to consider our response to declension in the
church today. Ultimately his ecclesiology calls us to have a high view of the unity
of the visible church, and in many causes to labour for recovery rather than to
Donald John MacLean (PhD, University of Wales Trinity St David) is originally from Inverness. Now living in Cambridge and working in London, Donald John is an Elder in Cambridge Presbyterian Church and a Trustee of the Banner of Truth. He is married to Ruth and has two children, Hannah & Jonathan. His PhD is in seventeenth century reformed theology, focusing on the Westminster Confession of Faith and the free offer of the gospel.
ISBN: 978 1 906327 55 2