“The Original Standard of Catholicity: Out of Zion Shall Go Forth the Law:”
The prophets Isaiah and Micah declared, “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3; Mich 4:2b). Local congregations are to mirror the standard of truth established in Jerusalem through the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in keeping with the authoritative testimony of the apostles including the apostle Paul (Gal. 2:2-21; 2 Pet. 3:15-16). This is the gospel that came by divine revelation–God’s self-disclosure to men (Matt. 16:16-17; John 1:14; Gal. 1:11-12).
The church of which Jesus Christ is Head receives its orders from the authoritative testimony of Jesus and the apostles set forth in the 27 books of the New Testament which is the fulfillment of the 39 inspired books of the Old Testament.* The “holy catholic church” of the Apostles Creed is defined by its adherence to these 66 books. The biblical canon is the pure fountainhead of the church’s apostolicity and its catholicity (Ephes. 2:20). From the Word of God churches receive their true identity and bear the image of Christ. They forfeit their “Christian” identity whenever they abandon the written testimony in deference to some other claimant or substitute, for “out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 3:2; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; Rom. 6:17; 1 Cor. 4:6). Consider the incremental forfeiture of the Christian identity of the church of Rome after Constantine, as described by Jonathan Edwards in his History of Redemption:
The christian church corrupted itself in many things presently after Constantine’s time; growing more and more superstitious in its worship, and by degrees bringing in many ceremonies into the worship of God, till at length they brought in the worship of saints, and set up images in their churches. The clergy in general, and especially the bishop of Rome, assumed more and more authority to himself. In the primitive times, he was only a minister of a congregation; then a standing moderator of a presbytery; then a diocesan bishop; then a metropolitan, which is equivalent to an archbishop; then a patriarch. Afterwards he claimed the power of universal bishop over the whole christian church; wherein he was opposed for a while, but afterwards was confirmed in it by the civil power of the emperor in the year six hundred and six. After that he claimed the power of a temporal prince, and so was wont to carry two swords, to signify that both the temporal and spiritual sword was his. He claimed more and more authority, till at length, as Christ’s vice-regent on earth, he claimed the very same power that Christ would have done, if he was present on earth reigning on his throne; or the same power that belongs to God, and was used to be called God on earth; to be submitted to by all the princes of Christendom. He claimed power to crown princes, and to degrade them at his pleasure; and this power was owned: yea, kings and emperors used to kiss his feet. The emperors received their crowns at his hands; and princes were wont to dread the displeasure of the pope, as they would dread a thunderbolt from heaven. If the pope was pleased to excommunicate a prince, all his subjects were at once freed from their allegiance to him; and obliged not to own him any more, on pain of excommunication; and not only so, but any man might kill him wherever he found him. Further, the pope was believed to have power to damn men at pleasure; for whoever died under his excommunication, was looked upon as certainly damned. Several emperors were actually deposed, and ejected, and died miserably by his means; and if the people of any state or kingdom did not please him, he had power to lay that state or kingdom under an interdict, which was a sentence pronounced by the pope against that state or kingdom, whereby all sacred administrations among them could have no validity. There could be no valid baptisms, or sacraments, or prayers, or preaching, or pardons, till that interdict was taken off; so that that people remained, in their apprehension, in a miserable, damnable state, and therefore dreaded it as they would a storm of fire and brimstone from heaven. And in order to execute his wrath on a prince or people with whom he was displeased, other princes must also be put to a great deal of trouble and expense.
And as the pope and his clergy robbed the people of their ecclesiastical and civil liberties and privileges, so they also robbed them of their estates, drained all Christendom of their money. They engrossed most of their riches into their own coffers, by vast revenues, besides pay for pardons and indulgences, baptisms and extreme unctions, deliverance out of purgatory, and a hundred other things.—See how well this agrees with the prophecies, 2 Thess. ii. 3, 4. Dan. vii. 20, 21. Rev. xiii. 6, 7; xvii. 3, 4.
During this time also superstition and ignorance more and more prevailed. The Holy Scriptures by degrees were taken out of the hands of the laity, the better to promote the unscriptural and wicked designs of the pope and the clergy; and instead of promoting knowledge among the people, they industriously promoted ignorance. It was a received maxim among them, That ignorance is the mother of devotion: and so great was the darkness of those times, that learning was almost extinct in the world. The very priests themselves, most of them, were barbarously ignorant as to any commendable learning, or any other knowledge, than their hellish craft in oppressing and tyrannizing over the souls of the people.—The superstition and wickedness of the church of Rome, kept growing worse and worse till the very time of the Reformation, and the whole christian world were led away into this great defection, excepting the remains of the christian church in the Eastern empire that had not been utterly overthrown by the Turks (III, IV <www.ccel.org>).
Christ’s ascension to the Father, His session at the right hand of the Father, and His outpouring of the Holy Spirit are sufficient to establish local congregations as complete expressions of the invisible catholic church, the heavenly Zion. Working in unison, these visible congregations, geographically determined, await the final consummation at the return of the Lord Jesus at which time the lowly bodies of their members will be transformed to be like His glorious body. In the meantime the church militant on earth, consisting of particular congregations conforming to the written testimony, enjoys the sweetest communion by the power of the Holy Spirit with those whose rest is won–the church triumphant--by union with the church’s Head. The Lord’s supper attests to this and anticipates the final consummation when faith will become sight. When they hold to the written testimony, it is not a dead law to which they cling, but rather “the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).
The law that goes forth from Zion sets forth an order for individuals, married couples, family, and the government of the church, as well as the government of society (to the extent they are able to shape it) whereby their common life as congregations in this present world becomes pleasing to our Master who purchased them with His own blood. In this way the catholicity of congregations is upheld without the kind of rigid uniformity which destroys liberty (2 Cor. 3:17).
*Note: (1) Although Jesus and the apostles quoted from the Greek Septuagint, they never quoted from the books of the Apocrypha which were part of it; (2) The Jewish people at the Council of Jamnia in 90 A.D. recognized only [the books included in the 39 books of the Old Testament contained in our present Bibles which coincided with] the books which made up the official Hebrew canon, and rejected the Apocryphal books which were contained in the Greek Septuagint; and (3) Jerome who translated the Scriptures into Latin Vulgate did not put the Apocrypha on the same level of authority as the 39 Old Testament books.