In today’s selection, Melanchthon affirms both that the church has never ceased to exist, from its establishment in the time of Genesis all the way up to the present, and that it nevertheless has often been quite small. This he proves from, for example, the case of Noah. Still, God does not let the church utterly perish; he sends teachers through whom it is renewed.
The identity of Melchizedek, whom Melanchthon mentions, has always been mysterious. Melanchthon says he is Noah’s son Shem.
There is also some interesting material on pagan religion below, that is, that many ceremonies practiced by various groups in Egypt and the Near East were actually of divine origin, although they had been perverted. Rather than calling them “natural” in this context, Melanchthon instead suggests they were misremembered traditions, presumably stemming from Noah. This is one way of answering the question, “Why do aspects of ancient religions show similarities to the religion revealed by God?” The reason is that those aspects actually come from revealed religion, though they have been badly modified.
However, although it is necessary that the true church always endure, because the reign of Christ is everlasting, and it is written, “I will remain with you all the way to the consummation of the age,” nevertheless we should know that this true church does not flourish equally at all times, but is often very inconsiderable, and then is restored by God when true teachers have been sent, just as the church in the time of Noah was constricted and was an assembly consisting of few people.
Thus after the flood true teaching was maintained by Melchizedek, who was Shem, the son of Noah, and when idolatry had increased among the Chaldeans, and true teaching had been extinguished almost everywhere, God renewed the church by the calling of Abraham. Later, the family of Abraham along with a few of his disciples were the church, while the Chaldeans and Egyptians were meanwhile boasting that they were the posterity of the fathers and that they maintained the examples and worship of the fathers, and were proclaiming that they were the people of God, although they had not maintained the Word of God, although they had maintained the ceremonies, to which they had nevertheless attached perverse opinions and added idolatry.1