I was struck by an answer to a question in another thread, that Lutherans believe the fullness of the gospel exists in the Orthodox and Catholic churches (or if not the fullness, certainty to a sufficient level to receive such things as the sacraments and be considered part of the church universal). The idea of the invisible church would seem to take the primacy in order for such a view to be correct in my mind, though the Lutherans as always are at liberty to correct my understanding. My main concern however is not to ask this of lutheranism but of protestantism in general.
Hence my question, which is the title of this thread. Did Christ or the apostles imagine this idea of separate churches operating totally independent of each other in which there is little to no real communion yet they are all somehow legitimate churches? Or did the apostles intend for there to be one church, with different people in different locations but nevertheless were united in communion with each other?
It seems to me unimaginable that the current situation Christians find themselves in and the idea of the invisible church is what the apostles wanted or imagined the church might end up being. Could we imagine for instance, setting up a church community in the first century without the sanction of the apostles or later seeking communion with them? We do have example of Paul acting independently of the apostles for a while, preaching Christ after his baptism and going into arabia, but he seems the exception and not the rule and we know he was to join the apostles later on. The church in this fashion was clearly visible, seen in its connection to the apostles who were the heads of the church on earth.
Nobody imagined the idea of an “invisible church” until the concept became convenient more than 1,500 years after the birth of Christ.
What was one of the FIRST things the apostles did together as a group after Judas committed suicide? Selected his replacement. Why? Because the Church was intended to be VISIBLE and his apostolic office was now vacant.
After God knocked Saul off his horse and changed his name, did Paul get up and immediately go off and start preaching and converting? Nope, had to go and get in union with the CHURCH in the persons of the apostles first. Even though Jesus Himself revealed Paul’s mission to him!
It’s plain as day in the NT. These aren’t free agents going off and planting churches to compete with one another. These guys are all ONE church, visible and invisible.
I cannot speak for others, but for us, saying an invisible vs. visible church is simply that which Jesus said in his parables on the wheat and the tares. Only God knows categorically who is and is not a Christian. That doesn’t mean we do not believe in a visible, earthly form to that church. By saying there are Christians in Rome and Orthodoxy, we do not refer to them as visible churches, but that they do have the word and the sacraments so there will be believers in those bodies. We identify the church that Jesus established as that which preaches the word and administers the sacraments purely; which are churches that confess the Lutheran Confessions.
Alliance of Renewal Churches
American Association of Lutheran Churches
American Lutheran Church
Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church
Apostolic Lutheran Church of America
Association of Confessional Lutheran Churches
Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches
Association of Free Lutheran Congregations
Church of the Lutheran Brethren of America
Church of the Lutheran Confession
Concordia Lutheran Conference
Conference of the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
English Evangelical Lutheran Synod of the Northwest
Evangelical Catholic Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministerium of North America
Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America
Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Evangelical Synod of North America
Fellowship of Lutheran Christians
Independent Lutheran Diocese
International Lutheran Fellowship
Laestadian Lutheran Church
Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Lutheran Church in America
Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
Saxon Lutheran immigration of 1838–39
Lutheran Churches of the Reformation
Lutheran Confessional Synod
Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ
Lutheran Free Church
Lutheran Ministerium and Synod – USA
National Evangelical Lutheran Church
North American Lutheran Church
Norwegian Augustana Synod
Synod of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Orthodox Lutheran Confessional Conference
Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches
United Evangelical Lutheran Church
United Lutheran Mission Association
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
World Confessional Lutheran Association
While I agree there is the church invisible, I am really questioning the protestant emphasis of this, to the point where its almost as if the church cannot be located on earth. Some protestants won’t call their own local congregation church, saying that some of them are unsaved. Yet this seems to me to go against the spirit of the apostles. Paul writes the whole congregation of Corinth which is the visible church there. We can see the church living and breathing at Corinth, or at least Paul could.
Protestants focus on the “invisible Church” because in general, they reject the authority of the Church regarding Doctrine and Dogma. Because they reject the authority of the Church, the “visible Church” isn’t much more than a building to them, and man made.
When you remove absolute God from established concrete, consistent, defining authority …that comes from an approved body of people, – not that revolving around one, unchallenged person – you have subjective relativism as your guide.
What would that have to do with who split off from Lutherans?
Still’s point, ISTM, is that most of the “splintering” in protestantism comes off the Reformed Reformation, not the Lutheran. And I might add that all of it is a “splintering” of the western Catholic Church.
I think it was somewhere in the middle. We are to be unified, but not a monotones of identical beings. We are made unique, and there is nothing wrong with our being unique. We should be more focused on reaching those outside than spending our time watching the left hand slap the right knee.
Paul didn’t go to learn from the apostles. In fact, he claims to have the gospel not taught to him, but revealed directly by Christ (Galatians 1:12). Also, Paul didn’t sit back; he got his sight back (Acts 9:17), got baptized (v. 18), had some food (v. 19), met with some disciples (not apostles) and started preaching (v. 20). In fact, the believers in Jerusalem were afraid of him. It wasn’t until Barnabas vouched for him that he got into see the apostles (v. 26-27)
Also, in a way, Catholic churches are competing with each other. There are easily 20 Catholic parishes in my local metroplex. As each one was built, people that used to go to one now go to another.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. 23After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
It is thought that after his escape, Paul travelled to Arabia and spent three years there in a self-imposed exile or extended retreat before returning to Israel. The narrative in Acts picks up the trail in the very next verse:
26When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Clearly, Paul wasn’t having a lot of success in joining the Church in Jerusalem until Barnabas took him to the Apostles. I wonder if Paul was not something like Apollos at this point…preaching the gospel but making only limited progress. In fact, after a threat on Paul’s life, he was sent to Tarsus and disappears from the narrative of Acts for a second time.
At this point, we have to ask some honest questions: is there any evidence that Paul succeeded in building up the Church in Tarsus? Is there an epistle from Paul written to his home church back in Tarsus while he was out on a mission trip? Not a single one. There is no record of Paul’s evangelism in Tarsus at all. Finally, after a period of silence, Barnabas goes to Tarsus to enlist Paul’s help in Antioch where Barnabas was having great success.
25Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. 27During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
The Church in Antioch took up a collection for the Church in Jerusalem, and Saul is sent as a courier to deliver the gift to the elders in Jerusalem. Then:
25When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.
It seems that Barnabas and Saul weren’t even Bishops or elders at this point; they were sent wherever they were needed. And then we read the following:
1In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Notice especially that Barnabas was either A) a prophet, B) a teacher or C) both in the Church at Antioch. As a sidebar, notice that one chapter earlier, Luke recorded the following:
16But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the brothers about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.
What was this other place that Peter left for? Antioch. Peter was the first Bishop of Antioch followed by Evodius and Ignatius (who later recorded that the Church was calling itself the “Catholic Church” in a letter he wrote in 107 AD). So, it is plausible that Peter is in Antioch at this time…and that’s where we find Barnabas and Saul.
Note further that the text tells us, “the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”