Amongst Christians there are two great and widely prevalent snares: the one is sacrificing the individual to the Church, and the other is forgetting the Church for the individual. Romanism illustrates the former, Protestantism the latter.
In Romanism ‘the Church’ is all important––there alone is the Spirit, the truth, holiness, everything. The individual is nothing, not even a saint. The individual cannot even pretend to know his sins forgiven––the Council of Trent condemns all who say justification is by faith alone and that each individual can know it for their own soul. Thus the Gospel is denied in principle for every individual within the bosom of Rome––and this in order to swell her power and glory. The Catholic Church alleges that she alone is qualified speak but on this fundamental point (as well as many others) she speaks falsehood, and that in Christ’s name. Nor do you have to be a Romanist to be touched by the Romanist snare. Any system which overrules or diminishes the place of the individual conscience is, in principle, identical to Rome.
The opposite snare, though not so destructive of man’s salvation, is equally at issue with Christ’s glory. This is the Protestant scheme, which rightly affirms justification by faith, and God’s title to address every man’s conscience in the Word. Yet Protestantism denies the one body (see Eph. 4: 4) on earth. It may dream of one body in heaven, where Scripture never speaks of such a thing, but on earth it is happy to recognise any number of bodies, all independent and different from the other. Each individual is free to choose the body that suits his particular taste. Thus we have national churches, and free churches, high churches, and low churches––every kind imaginable. People may speak in vague and theoretical terms of one body, but practically, the unity and oneness of the Church is nullified. Any company that recognises Christian bodies other than the one body has never understood the truth of the one body, however much they may talk about it.
The Bible guards the truth on both points. According to the Word of God, the Gospel deals first of all with each individual soul. By faith the individual has life before God (see John 20: 31), is justified (see Rom. 3: 28), and blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (see Eph. 1: 3). Then over and above his faith he is sealed by the Spirit: “having believed, ye have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1: 13). In virtue of this one Spirit the saints were all “baptised into one body” and given to “drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12: 13). Thus and thus only was the body of Christ––the Church of God (see Col. 1: 24)––formed. It supposes the individual question settled by faith before the corporate relationship can begin. Yet if Romanism is exposed for what it is by Scripture testimony to the blessedness of individual faith, how can one remain in Protestantism with all its varying phases, having seen that there is one body? How can you intelligently join this or that body when you are consciously of the one body and God’s will makes you responsible to walk according to that relationship? There is no profit in being a “good Catholic” or a “faithful Protestant”, but every profit in walking according to God’s Word!