John Owen on Church Growth

“Upon the Roman emperors’ embracing Christian religion, whereby not only outward peace and tranquillity was secured unto the church, but the profession of Christian religion was countenanced, encouraged, honored, and rewarded, the rule, care, and diligence of the churches, about the admission of members, were in a great measure relinquished and forsaken.

The rulers of the church began to think that the glory of it consisted in its numbers, finding both their own power, veneration, and revenue increased thereby. In a short time, the inhabitants of whole cities and provinces, upon a bare, outward profession, were admitted into churches.

And then began the outward court, — that is, all that which belongs unto the outward worship and order of the church, — to be trampled on by the Gentiles, not kept any more to the measure of Scripture rule, which thenceforth was applied only to the temple of God and them that worshipped therein: for this corruption of the church, as to the matter of it, was the occasion and means of introducing all that corruption in doctrine, worship, order, and rule, which ensued, and ended in the great apostasy; for whatever belonged unto any of these things, especially those that consist in practice, were accommodated unto the state of the members of the churches.

And such they were as stood in need of superstitious rites to be mixed with their worship, as not understanding the power and glory of that which is spiritual; such as no interest in church-order could be committed unto, seeing they were not qualified to bear any share in it; such as stood in need of a rule over them with grandeur and power, like unto that among the Gentiles, Wherefore, the accommodation of all church concerns unto the state and condition of such corrupt members as churches were filled with, and at length made up of, proved the ruin of the church in all its order and beauty.”


John Owen – The Nature of A Gospel Church


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