The Church is his body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. The union by which it is held together, through all ages, is strictly organic. The Church is not a mere aggregation or collection of different individuals, drawn together by similarity or interests and wants; not an abstraction simply, by which the common in the midst of such multifarious distinction, is separated and put together under a single general term. It is not merely the all that covers the actual extent of its membership, but the whole rather in which this membership is comprehended and determined from the beginning…
The life of Christ in the Church, is in the first place inward and invisible. But to be real, it must also become outward. The salvation of the individual believer is not complete, till the body is transfigured and made glorious, as well as the soul; and as it is transfigured and made glorious, as well as the soul; and as it has respect to the whole nature of man from the commencement, it can never go forward at all except by a union of the outward and inward at every point of its progress. Thus too the Church must be visible, as well as invisible. In no other way can the idea become real. Soul and body, inward power and outward form, are required here to go together. Outward forms without inward life can have no saving force. But neither can inward life be maintained, on the other hand, without outward forms. The body is not the man; and yet there can be no man, where there is no body. Humanity is neither a corpse on the one hand, nor a phantom on the other. The Church then must appear externally, in the world. And the case requires that this manifestation should correspond with the inward constitution of the idea itself. It belongs to the proper conception of it, that the unity of the Holy Catholic Church should appear in an outward and visible way; and it can never be regarded as complete, where such development of its inward power is still wanting. “There is one body,” the Apostle tells us, “and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” Such is the true normal character of the Church; and so far as it may fall short of this it labors under serious defect…
… We may not doubt therefore, but that in the midst of all the denominational distinctions, which have come to prevail particularly since the time of the Reformation, the life of the Church, with all its proper attributes, is still actively at work in every evangelical communion. The “one body,” most unfortunately, is wanting for the present; but the “one Spirit,” reigns substantially as a greater spiritual whole. Joined together in the common life of Christ, in the possession of one faith, one hope, and one baptism, the various divisions of the Christian world, are still organically the same Church. In this form, we hold fast to the idea of Catholic Unity, as the only ground in which any true Christianity, individual or particular can possibly stand.
John Williamson Nevin, Catholic Unity
It is not altogether unusual for confessional Protestants on the one hand to be charged by (high church) Catholics as being latent evangelicals. We are, to them, by virtue of being Protestant and not Catholic, categorically radical individualists and ecclesial consumers. On the other hand, it is not unheard of at all to be accused by (low church) evangelicals of being frustrated Catholics who’ve stopped over in Geneva on our way to Rome. After all, their ancestors told ours they didn’t go far enough in reforming the church.
The irony is that both accusers have much more in common with each other than either does with us. Both elevate something above Scripture—the Catholic elevates the church and the evangelical elevates experience. But both sola ecclesia and sola persona seem to reveal an essential misapprehension of the nature of and relationship between Scripture, the church and her confessional formulations. For the Catholic, the status of infallible is applied to the church, while for the evangelical it is applied to the individual. For the confessional Protestant, infallible, of course, is reserved for Scripture alone. When the confessional Protestant speaks of having a high view of the church the evangelical mistakes this for an infallible view, and the Catholic mistakes him for meaning low view because anything other than an infallible view is necessarily low.
The confessional Protestant makes distinctions not only between views but also between opinions. The evangelical, having a low view of something like confessional formulation, may speak highly of creedal religion. But his speech will be marked by terms like “guiding, helpful” and stop well short of terms like “binding, authoritative.” In the same way, he will often conceive of the church as a helpful conglomeration of like-minded individuals guiding its loosely affiliated members into greater understanding of one thing or another. He may have a high opinion of the church but still a remarkably low view, and the telos is one characterized by a sort of rationalistic understanding of something than an organic union with someone. Of course, high views necessarily include high opinions, as do infallible views. This all may seem rather torturous to the flanking western traditions, but to the confessional Protestant, distinguishing between high and infallible views is as important as delineating high opinions from high views. These differences are precisely what make each of us who we are and who we are not, but it just may be that some of us have a more careful appreciation for this much than others of us.