The Church† by J. Parnell McCarter
In Matthew 16 we read this regarding Christ's Church:
15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
What was revealed unto the Apostle Peter was the true confession: †Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God."† Contained within this confession is the central message of Biblical Trinitarian Christianity, and it is upon the rock of this confession that Christ builds His Church.† Confession of the true religion defines the limits of the true visible Christian church on earth.† Thus, the Westminster Confession rightly states:
"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 is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation."
The defining character of the true church is rooted in true Biblical confession, not succession of ordination.
Churches of England and
The role of the confession of the true religion to the identity of the true visible Christian church does not negate the importance of church officers and ordinances for governance and maintenance of the Church, even as Jesus Christ indicated to Peter (and the other Apostles):
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
As the Westminster Confession states:
" Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto."
Succession cannot be the defining feature of the true visible church, because it is possible for some to degenerate into synagogues of Satan, even as much of the Jewish church did upon rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.† As the Westminster Confession avers:
" The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will."