Ideas for explaining the 'visible church' to non-Catholics?

I am exchanging letters with an SDA about some of the reasons I’ve become Catholic. I tried to explain why I see Catholicism as being a much better fit than Fundamentalism as the continuation of the Christianity of the first century, based on extra-biblical Christian sources of that general time period. I grew up with the understanding that the Church was an ‘invisible’ network of all believers everywhere regardless of denominational affiliation, now I see that the ‘visible’ church makes more sense (while still including the ‘invisible’ church). I would love to read opinions of how I can convey this to her; we mean two different things by the word ‘Church’, and, although she does see Adventism as a remnant, she says that Church doesn’t have to do with a visible denomination. I’ve read the portion of ‘Catholic Controversy’ where St. Francis de Sales addresses the visibility of Christ’s Church; are there other resources I should check? (No SDA bashing, please. ;))


Jesus did not ask Saul why he was persecuting the Church.

Jesus asked Saul why he was persecuting Jesus.

Saul, of course, got the message.

[BIBLEDRB]1 Cor 12:12-31[/BIBLEDRB]

More here.

Calvin was supposedly the first person to come up with the notion that the Church was invisible. He said it was made up of all those who are saved and known only to God. Catholics have always believed the Church is all the baptized, baptism being the sacrament of initiation, being born again, as believed by all the ages of earlier Christians. This was before the very recent Protestant notion that being born again was about having a religious experience and saying the sinners prayer and getting saved.

What did Jesus say about His Church? You are a beacon on a hill. You are the light of the world.

If the Church is invisible how would anyone find it? A beacon is not invisible. You belong to the Church. You are a member of the Body of Christ. Are you invisible?

If the Church is invisible then everything or everyone who is visible must not be part of it.

If it is true that only God knows who belongs to this invisible Church then no one else can know who belongs to the Church. Yet there are people who believe the Church is invisible claiming to be part of it and going to it on Sunday and teaching their doctrines. How can they claim to be the Church if only God knows those who are its members? Why should anyone listen to them?

Would it be okay for me to say that the Church has both a body and a soul - the body is visible, and the soul may include the “invisible church”: those who do not subscribe to Catholic doctrine but are nevertheless a part of it? I’m using the lighthouse or “city on a hill” reference, grandfather, thanks for the suggestion.

So the idea would be the Church is both visible and invisible. Surely that is true. We can not see a spiritual body and surely there is a spiritual dimension of the Body of Christ, the Church. God Himself became visible to us and took on a material body. He remains with us in matter in the Eucharist.

Believing that God came among us, dwelt in time and ascended into heaven after rising from the dea. Without the Eucharist, God among us, present in matter, the events recalled in the gospels recede further and further from us in time. An analogy would be like a ship that casts off from the dock and sails away. Over time the dock or the ship, depending on where you are, get smaller and smaller and eventually become invisible. There is that word again.

When Jesus walked the earth, or in His presence in the Eucharist His divinity is hidden, invisible. How then do we know what we can see is what it is in reality, that which we can not see, God manifested in the material world?

It is by faith. How do we know that which we can see, Christians everywhere are the mystical body of Christ, the Church. By faith.

Is this truth known, visible, to God alone as Calvin claimed? Of course not. We see, hear and touch one another, as John wrote about Jesus. He came among us in the flesh (matter). We knew Him. We touched Him. We saw Him.

And we see Him in one another, the visible Body of Christ.

"You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. [15] Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. "

Matthew 5:14

Is it correct to say that some are members of the Church’s visible body, without having membership in her soul (they are reprobate); while there may be Christians or others who are operating according to the light that they have, who are members of the Church’s soul though not her body? Or am I seperating too much?

If we look at the body and soul of a person faith tells us that the soul is the life of the body. The body dies when the soul leaves. We are physical and spiritual beings. We think of ourselves doing physical things with our bodies and spiritual things in our souls, but this is not how it works. We are not physical beings in one moment and spiritual beings in another. We are both all the time.

Jesus was not acting in His human nature in one action or time and divine in another. He was and is human and divine. The two are inseperable from the moment of His conception for all eternity.

The mystical Body of Christ is the same. We are physical material and visible in all of our members on earth and we are alive in the soul of Christ.

Thank you. I think that you are saying that the soul and body are one person, functioning in unity regardless of whether an activity is considered more “spiritual” or more “corporeal”; but what about non-Catholics who follow the light that they have, and in that sense may belong to the Church? In this sense, do they belong to the soul of the church (invisible) though not bodily (visible)?

I am thinking of this answer from the Pope Pius X Catechism (cited in this CAF post, emphasis mine):

Q: But if a man through no fault of his own is outside the Church, can he be saved?

A: If he is outside the Church through no fault of his, that is, if he is in good faith, and if he has received Baptism, or at least has the implicit desire of Baptism; and if, moreover, he sincerely seeks the truth and does God’s will as best he can, such a man is indeed separated from the body of the Church, but is united to the soul of the Church and consequently is on the way of salvation.

I guess I better not disagree with the pope. I believe all Christians can love one another even if they disagree on matters of doctrine. Luther’s doctrine sola scriptura unleashed doctrinal chaos and constant division in matters of faith. I think if we love one another unity will be restored by the work of the Holy Spirit and intercession of Mary. That is my opinion and only a personal opinion. I do not believe unity will be restored through Christians debating doctrinal matters and sorting out who is right or wrong. Unity will be restored by God doing what He promised, breaking hearts of stone and giving us hearts of flesh. Hearts of stone can not love. Breaking them however is painful.

“We must entrust ourselves to the Lord, because he is the only one that can give us unity. Let us hope that he will bring us to this unity that we now await.” - Pope Benedict XVI at the Lutheran Church in Rome, March 2010


Here are a few messages by the Late Great Arch Bishop Fulton Sheen on this subject

These two messages should help you in your trek!

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession states this about the Invisible and Visible Church in Article VII & VIII, The Church:
The Seventh Article of our Confession, in which we said that the Church is the congregation of saints, they have condemned, and have added a long disquisition, that the wicked are not to be separated from the Church since John has compared the Church to a threshing-floor on which wheat and chaff are heaped together, Matt. 3:12, and Christ has compared it to a net in which 2] there are both good and bad fishes, Matt. 13:47. It is, verily, a true saying, namely, that there is no remedy against the attacks of the slanderer. Nothing can be spoken with such care that it can escape detraction. 3] For this reason we have added the Eighth Article, lest any one might think that we separate the wicked and hypocrites from the outward fellowship of the Church, or that we deny efficacy to Sacraments administered by hypocrites or wicked men. Therefore there is no need here of a long defense against this slander. The Eighth Article is sufficient to exculpate us. For we grant that in this life hypocrites and wicked men have been mingled with the Church, and that they are members of the Church according to the outward fellowship of the signs of the Church, i.e., of Word, profession, and Sacraments, especially if they have not been excommunicated. 4] Neither are the Sacraments without efficacy for the reason that they are administered by wicked men; yea, we can even be right in using the Sacraments administered by wicked men. For Paul also predicts, 2 Thess. 2:4, that Antichrist will sit in the temple of God, i.e., he will rule and bear office in the Church. 5] But the Church is not only the fellowship of outward objects and rites, as other governments, but it is originally a fellowship of faith and of the Holy Ghost in hearts. [The Christian Church consists not alone in fellowship of outward signs, but it consists especially in inward communion of eternal blessings in the heart, as of the Holy Ghost, of faith, of the fear and love of God]; which fellowship nevertheless has outward marks so that it can be recognized, namely, the pure doctrine of the Gospel, and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ. [Namely, where God’s Word is pure, and the Sacraments are administered in conformity with the same, there certainly is the Church, and there are Christians.] And this Church alone is called the body of Christ, which Christ renews [Christ is its Head, and] sanctifies and governs by His Spirit, as Paul testifies, Eph. 1:22 sq., when he says: And gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, 6]the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. Wherefore, those in whom Christ does not act [through His Spirit] are not the members of Christ. This, too, the adversaries acknowledge, namely, that the wicked are dead members of the Church. Therefore we wonder why they have found fault with our description [our conclusion concerning the Church] 7] which speaks of living members. Neither have we said anything new. Paul has defined the Church precisely in the same way, Eph. 5:25f , that it should be cleansed in order to be holy. And he adds the outward marks, the Word and Sacraments. For he says thus: Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. In the Confession we have presented this sentence almost in the very words. Thus also the Church is defined by the article in the Creed which teaches us to believe that there is a holy Catholic Church. 8] The wicked indeed are not a holy Church. And that which follows, namely, the communion of saints, seems to be added in order to explain what the Church signifies, namely, the congregation of saints, who have with each other the fellowship of the same Gospel or doctrine [who confess one Gospel, have the same knowledge of Christ] and of the same Holy Ghost, who renews, sanctifies, and governs their hearts.


“Luther’s doctrine sola scriptura unleashed doctrinal chaos and constant division in matters of faith.”

And is a “doctrine of men (or Man)”.

Some Fundamentalists think Catholicism is made up of a lot of, well, made-up doctrines. Traditions of men, not from God. This is where youcould offer an apologetic for Sacred Tradition (which IS in scripture: hold fast to those traditions…).

As to The Visible Church:
The hierarchical structure of the Church is evident in Acts where bishops are appointed. Peter, acting as head Bishop, leads the disciples in many matters. One was to decide who was to replace Judas.

Also, this structure was based on the Davidic kingdom. Where the office of Prime Minister, if left vacant, another was to take his place. (Is that in Kings 2?) David & his successors were King, but the Queen Mother had a position of influence. So it is in the Church (Christ promised not to leave us orphaned). Christ is the King, with the each Pope as his Prime Minister, His No 1, His right-hand-man; Vicar of Christ.

And anyway, where is this “invisible body of believers” spoken about in scripture as being The Church? If one takes the whole of scripture (even if the Fundamentalist does not have all of the missing books of the OT), an honest assessment would point to a visible hierarchical structure with a head Bishop, other bishops, presbyters (ordained priesthood & diaconate), holy women, laity. Along with the Mass (right worship which also has its roots in the OT).

That’s just off the top of my head anyway; I’m a beginning apologist.

Here’s an article which might be helpful. I found no reference to what I wrote above in it.

And an archived radio show with Karlo Broussard:
The Church is Visible and Authoritative

God bless,

An afterthought:

Ask: What is the pillar and foundation of Truth? What does scripture say?

Answer: It’s not the Bible or scripture. It is the Church!

1 Tim 15. if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Karlo Broussard article : A Defined Hierarchical Office


Thanks for further clarification. The Lutheran church is much closer to what I picture as the original church than what I was raised with (not trying to put down my parents, who did a pretty good job). My understanding of “invisible church” was different growing up; it involved not joining any church or subscribing to any denomination because we didn’t have to, since Christians were members of Christ and therefore were above the religious authority of men.

Done. :thumbsup:

For some people, I am the only Catholic that they know, and when they ask me what I believe I feel that they’re looking for Catholicism’s answer, not just my personal thoughts. Thanks so much for the replies; can someone tell me if the following paragraph is consistent with a Catholic view of the Church, or should I rephrase?

“I see the Church as having both a body (visible) and a soul (invisible). Its body is not only the physical bodies of Christians or their places of worship, which are also called ‘churches’, but it includes creeds, praises, history, hierarchy, councils and customs. Its soul has life, grace, truth, love, and faith that should shine out through its body. I think that people can belong to the Church’s body but miss belonging to her soul, in the same way that Christ’s flock contains both sheep and goats that will be separated at the judgment, and Christ’s field grows both wheat and tares that will be proven on the threshing floor. I also believe that some people may belong to the Church’s soul though they are not a member of her body, when they sincerely follow the light that they have. I want to belong both internally and externally; I want to have praise in my heart as well as in my mouth, and love and faith within as well as good works on the outside. I want to have right belief, both inside and out.”

I should probably mention that this is only part of a three-page letter, which has already visited the seven verses of scripture that to me are most obviously supportive of the authority of oral tradition.

Thanks again. :slight_smile:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit