Thomas Becon [1]
The Two Churches [2]

Outside the church of Christ there is no health nor salvation, but altogether death and damnation. But I would have men wise in knowing this church of Christ, lest they err and maintain a whore instead of a spouse, an unchaste harlot for a true wife, a filthy strumpet for a faithful yoke-fellow, a disobedient synagogue for a Christian congregation. We have in times past taken the bishop of Rome and his painted carnal idols, (then I would have used different language, calling them his sainted cardinals, patriarchs, legates, archbishops, bishops, priests, monks, friars, canons, hermits, ancho­rites,[3] and other of their spiritual, as they call them), to be the one, true church; as I would also have thought that by no means we might depart from them and their doctrine, except we be damned, in whatsoever case they stood, whether or not they be on God's side, or contrary, whether or not they taught according to God's word, or otherwise. For, not long ago, to open the mouth against them was counted to cut the coat of Christ that had never a seam, to subvert and topple down the chair of Peter and Paul, the chief apostles, to defile, to tear, and to tread under foot the authority of the church, Christ's spouse. Yea, and to make short tale, to call out of hell the heresies that were buried and laid to sleep.

By this means have they these many hundred years not only seduced the simple and unlearned people, but also falsely usurped the name of the church, calling them­selves the mother holy church, which she is in name only, rather than in very deed. If they were faithful, and did continue in the doctrine of the holy scripture, they would be considered members of the church of Christ; if contrariwise they were corrupt and rotten members, then they would not pertain unto this holy catholic church, nor would they be partakers of the health and salvation that is in this most pure and undefiled church.

Members of the True Church Described

This church of Christ, whom David calleth the handmaid of the Lord, is the universal congregation of the faithful, which with a sure and undoubted faith believe in Christ, acknowledge Him to be their head, confess Him to be the Son of the living God, grant unfeignedly that He came in the flesh, hear the voice of their shepherd, cleave only to His word, fly from the voices of strangers, stick unto Him as to their alone treasure, and look for all good things at His hand only.

Unto this church pertain as many as from the beginning of the world until this time have unfeignedly believed in Christ, or shall believe unto the very end of the world. Against this church the gates of hell shall not prevail, seeing it is built on the rock Christ. For Christ himself hath promised that He will be with it by His Holy Spirit even unto the very consummation and end of the world.

Moreover, Christ loved this church so well that he gave himself for it, to sanc­tify it, and cleansed it in the fountain of water by the word, to make it unto him­self a glorious congregation, having no spot or wrinkle, nor any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blame. This church is the spouse of Christ and matron of heaven, the house of God, which is the congregation of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth. This church is the mount Sion, the city of the living God, the celestial Jerusalem, the company of innumerable angels, and the con­gregation of the first-begotten, which are written in heaven. This church is the holy city, that new Jerusalem, which came down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride garnished for her husband. This church is that love, that dear darling, that dove, that fairest among all women, without spot or deformity, of whom we read in the ballads of Solomon, This church can never err, seeing that it is ever governed with the Spirit of Christ, seeing also that it cleaveth only to the word of God, nei­ther doth it hear the voice of any stranger, but only hear and follow the voice of her shepherd, which is Christ.

Church of Christ Contrasted with Synagogue of Antichrist

To know therefore this church of Christ from the synagogue of antichrist it is very easy. For the church of Christ leaneth with a sure faith to Christ alone the Son of the living God, as an all-sufficient Saviour. The synagogue of antichrist confesseth Christ after a certain manner, yet it seeketh salvation also at the hands of others. The church of Christ followeth only the word of God, and accordingly worketh in all things. The synagogue of antichrist followeth the voices of strangers, deviseth new decrees, constitutions, laws, ordinances, etc., and unto them it holds steadfastly. The church of Christ practiceth those works that are commanded in the holy scripture. The synagogue of antichrist worketh things of her own ima­gination, not prescribed in the law of God. The church of Christ seeketh above all things the glory of God and the health of her neighbor. The synagogue of anti­christ seeketh her own pomp, honor, glory, and praise. The church of Christ is ready at all times to suffer persecution for God's truth's sake. The synagogue of anti­christ hateth the cross, seeketh to live all in pleasure, to persecute so many as love God and his word. The church of Christ seeketh always after heavenly things. The synagogue of antichrist hunteth after temporal promotions, worldly honors, fleshy dignities, easy livings, carnal pleasures, gallant pastimes, sumptuous fare, gorgeous appa­rel, etc. The church of Christ spendeth her goods upon the poor members of Christ. The synagogue of antichrist bestoweth her goods after her own fancy, and not after the commandment of God. To conclude, the church of Christ is altogether godly and celestial: the synagogue of antichrist is altogether wicked and earthly. Hereby do we learn which is the true church, and which is the false; which is the church of Christ, and which is the synagogue of antichrist.

But it is not to be taken lightly that David calleth this church of Christ the handmaid of God, neither is it without a cause. For as a true, faithful, and diligent handmaid have her eyes always fixed upon her mistress, for to wait and see what shall be her mistress’ pleasure to command her to do, that she may do it with all readiness and speed; even so becometh it them of Christ's church diligently to wait upon their Lord God, and to mark what His most godly will, pleasure, and commandment is that they should do. And this shall they assuredly know by searching the holy scriptures. And as it becometh not an honest handmaid to leave the commandment of her mistress undone, and to busy herself about such things as she herself thinketh best to be done according to her own personal wishes; even so doth it not become them that profess themselves members of Christ's church to leave the commandments of God undone, and to fall in hand with doing things of their own fancy and imagination. For they that do so shew themselves no handmaids, but mistresses. Neither are they obedient subjects unto God, but rather take upon them to be arrogant superiors and presumptuous checkmates.[4] Let them therefore that will be of Christ's church, learn to be handmaids and not mistresses, to be obedient sub­jects, and not arrogant superiors and presumptuous checkmates; lest, while they follow their own fantasies and dreams, they fall from the church of Christ unto antichrist's synagogue, as we may see in the Papists, Anabaptists, Arians, etc.

Moreover we read, that this church is not only called the handmaid of the Lord, but also the spouse of Christ; yea, and that not unworthiIy. For as a good, honest and faithful wife is obedient to her husband in all things, loveth him purely, cleaveth unto him only, hath no pleasure to run after other men, delighteth herself with her husband's company alone, is glad to please him always, seeketh the accomplishment of his will, and by no means will attempt any thing that should be displeasing to him. So likewise this church, which is the spouse of Christ, is obedient to her husband, Christ, in all things, loveth Him with an earnest, pure, and unfeigned love, cleaveth to Him only, hath no pleasure to run after other men, whereby she may be enticed from the love of her husband, delighteth only in Him and in His word, seeketh the accomplishment of His will, and sheweth herself in all points conformable to His most divine will, being loathe that any thing should be committed on her behalf that should be displeasing to him in any point. Let them therefore now take heed, that count themselves to be of this church, and will be called the spouse of Christ, that they cleave only to their husband, Christ, and His word, hear Him alone, follow His voice, delight only in His most holy law, seek the accomplishment of His divine will, and by no means admit nor hear the voice of any stranger. For just as that woman is a whore, though she beareth the name of an honest wife, yet is not contented with her own husband, but followeth other men, runneth a whore-hunting after strange lovers, casting away the sincere and true love that she ought to bear toward her husband; so likewise, if such as call themselves the church and spouse of Christ forsake their husband, Christ, and be not contented with Him and His word alone, but fol­loweth after strange doctrines, and run a whore-hunting after new lawmakers, which teach things contrary to the will of this bridegroom, yea, or else they themselves make laws, decrees, acts, constitutions, etc., that fight with the voice of this heavenly shepherd, bridegroom, and husband, Christ Jesus; surely, surely, let them believe me, they are not the spouse of Christ, but filthy whores, unclean harlots, stinking strumpets, abo­minable adulteresses, and stew-like gossips,[5] though they wear never so many triple crowns, carnal hats, glistening miters, forked caps, etc., upon their heads, and have never so many pillars, pole-axes, crosses, crosier-staves and silver rods borne before them. For the spouse of Christ only heareth the voice of her husband, followeth that, cleaveth to that, and by no means runneth a whore-hunting after strange lovers, neither careth she for their voice, fair words, and flattering promises, seeing she knoweth full well that no man can shew things more necessary and profitable unto her health and salvation than her husband hath already done. Therefore, she counteth it a very vain and mad thing to forsake this her true and alone husband, Jesus Christ, and to follow strangers. I am jealous over you, saith St. Paul, with a godly jealousy. For I have married you to one man, to bring a chaste virgin unto Christ. 

This much have I spoken by the way concerning the church, that all men may know the church of Christ, which is the handmaid of God and the spouse of Christ, having neither spot nor wrinkle; but altogether glorious, pure, and undefiled, from the synagogue of antichrist, and be no more deceived with outward appearances, glis­tening faces and painted cloaks; lest they go forth to worship, reverence and honor certain deceitful shadows for the truth itself, as we have done in times past. God make us all the servants of the Lord's handmaid, and grant that we may so abide in the old catholic faith and in the doctrine of Christ's church, that we may be blessed and have our bonds broken!




[1] Died 1570; Chaplain to Archbishop Cranmer, Prebendary of Canterbury. A prolific writer whose many books were burned by proclamation decreed in July, 1546, Becon’s works comprise multiple volumes in the writings of the Reformed English Protestants published by the Parker Society.

[2]Written pre-1547; The Early Works of Thomas Becon; originally published in Cambridge for the Parker Society, 1843 – For the publication of the works of the fathers and early writers of the Reformed English Church. [Re-published in New York & London: Johnson Reprint Corp, circa 1950]; pp. 294-97. [Ed. Note: Slight alterations in text are for clarity purposes only.]

[3]“One that renounces the world to live in seclusion usually for religious reasons.” (Webster)

[4]‘Checkmates’ in the sense of defeating the purpose and will of God.

[5]I.e., gossiping whores who work in brothels.