Matthew 18:17: Invisible Church?


If thy brother does thee wrong, go at once and tax him with it, as a private matter between thee and him; and so, if he will listen to thee, thou hast won thy brother. If he will not listen to thee, take with thee one or two more, that the whole matter may be certified by the voice of two or three witnesses. If he will not listen to them, then speak of it to the church; and if he will not even listen to the church, then count him all one with the heathen and the publican.

I’ve been meditating on Scripture, often opening my mind to multiple interpretations of a passage, in order to better understand other Christian denominations (even if I disagree with their interpretation), and even multiple interpretations within the Catholic Church Herself. Today this passage in the Gospel of Matthew caught my attention.

I’m wondering if any of our Protestant Brothers in Christ can explain how they can reconcile this passage with their belief in the “purely” invisible Church.

As far as I’m aware, Jesus only uses the word for Church in Scripture twice, here and in Matthew 16:18. I’ve tried to find a way to interpret Matthew 18:17, but the phrase seem to implicitly assume at least some aspect of a visible Church, with some kind of authority, so that it seems that Jesus cannot be interpretated to having a Invisible Church in mind here. Or, in other words, this passage cannot makes sense, at least to me, under a Invisible Church theology; if the Jesus meant what Protestants seem to mean by the invisible Church, He wouldn’t have told His disicples to go to the Church for conflicts, as the Church isInvisible: how would they know where to find it? I don’t think He can mean the “mere” congregation either, because He specifically uses the term for church, and everyone in a congregation, as I see Protestants understand it, are not necessarily part of the Church (Parable of the Wheat and Weeds).

I’m admitting upfront that I might be misunderstanding what Protestants mean by Invisible Church. If so, correction for mutual understanding is appropriate :smiley:

Thank you!

Christi pax,



uhm you are right and the issue gets complicated fast when there are 40000 different “churches” each with a different interpretation of Scripture.

Start with Baptism. One church says it is merely a symbol another it makes a mark on the soul of the recipients other you need to have use of reason yet another it is necessary to baptise as soon as possible the infant.

How can there be unity in this cacophony of beliefs?

If we are to follow Jesus, to which of these churched must we go, when we need to “Take it to the Church”.
And is that person still disregard THE CHURCH, he is to be regarded as a publican Jesus says.
You know of course that in Jesus time a publican, was a polite way of calling someone SINNER. Not to be associated with.

Jesus was criticized because of this. Associate with publicans and tax collectors.
Of course HE wants sinners to repent and redeem them.
But if HE calls someone who REJECTS the Church “publican” you know that this person has been cut off from the vine! And until he/she repents and mend the way Heaven would not be the destination for that person.


Jesus was authoritative, physical and visible, which was kind of the point of him being among us. When he ascended, he left behind an authoritative, physical, visible Church.




According to Catholic teaching on this verse, the Church refers to the immediate (local) congregation, not the whole Church.


I’ve had this issue brought up to me recently. Where is the teaching that this verse refers only to the local congregation?


The church is Christ’s body.

Christ’s body was not invisible.



This is right out of the USCCB website:

  • [18:17] The church: the second of the only two instances of this word in the gospels; see note on Mt 16:18. Here it refers not to the entire church of Jesus, as in Mt 16:18, but to the local congregation. Treat him…a Gentile or a tax collector: just as the observant Jew avoided the company of Gentiles and tax collectors, so must the congregation of Christian disciples separate itself from the arrogantly sinful member who refuses to repent even when convicted of his sin by the whole church. Such a one is to be set outside the fellowship of the community.


Hey Lucretius,

I think that if the Church was merely invisible than the passage you brought up becomes illogical.

If the Church was merely invisible then the Church would have been present when the guy was confronted with the “two or three witnesses”. (Where ever two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst).

So it would be nonsensical to say after they visited him…now take it to the Church.

But that is what was stated…so the Church must be visible.

Perhaps? :shrug:


Lord! That is either a stroke of genius or the Holy Spirit at work. :thumbsup:
Excellent use of logic. I am stealing it for my repertoire of apologetics. :smiley:





Awesome! Thank you for your replies!


You can also find additional Scripture verses pointing to the visibility of the Church at

Go to the EDIT drop down menu in the browser,
Select FIND,
and type in VISIBLE.



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