Question 51Wherein doth the especial form of a particular church, whereby it becomes such, and is distinguished as such from all others, consist?

Answer In the special consent and agreement of all the members of it to walk together in the observation of the same ordinances numerically; hence its constitution and distinction from other churches doth proceed.

Exod. 19:5,8,24:3,7; Deut. 26:17; 2 Cor. 8:5; Acts 14:23,20:28; Heb. 13:17.

Explication — It hath been before declared what especial agreement or covenant there ought to be among all the members of the same church, to walk together in a due subjection unto and observance of all the institutions of the Lord Christ. And this is that which gives it its special form and distinction from all other churches. In the general nature of a church, all churches do agree and equally partake. There is the same law of the constitution of them all; they have all the same rule of obedience, all the same Head, the same end; all carry it on by the observation of the same ordinances in kind. Now, besides these things, which belong unto the nature of a church in general, and wherein they all equally participate, they must also have each one its proper difference, that which doth distinguish it from all other churches; and this gives it its special form as such. Now, this cannot consist in any thing that is accidental, occasional, or extrinsical unto it, such as is cohabitation (which yet the church may have respect unto, for conveniency and furthering of its edification); nor in any civil or political disposal of its members into civil societies for civil ends, which is extrinsical to all its concernments as a church; nor doth it consist in the relation of that church to its present officers, which may be removed or taken away without the dissolution of the form or being of the church: but it consisteth, as was said, in the agreement or covenant before mentioned.  For, —

First, This is that which constitutes them a distinct body, different from others; for thereby, and no otherwise, do they coalesce into a society, according to the laws of their constitution and appointment.

Secondly, This gives them their especial relation unto their own elders, rulers, or guides, who watch over them as so associated by their own consent, according unto the command of Christ. And, —

Thirdly, From hence they have their mutual especial relation unto one another; which is the ground of the especial exercise of all church duties whatsoever.

The Life and Works of John Owen Vol.15