visible vs. invisible church

I don’t get what an invisible church is. The greek word for church, ekklesia (sp?) means community, right? The Catholic Church is one big community of Christians. Why is this considered visible while a protestant community is considered invisible? Christ founded a church–no matter how you look at it–it’s spelled out in Scripture. It’s visible because human beings are visible. Does this invisible church mean that you can’t tell it’s a community–that people don’t interact or they act as individuals instead of a community? Almost all communities have leadership too–from boy scout troops to condominium buildings to subdivisions to towns to countries.

So, why would protestant’s want there to be an “invisible church”–which seems like an oxymoron to me?

It is my understanding that an “invisible church” simply means having Jesus in your heart and being a Christian.

As far as Protestant theology goes, it appears as nothing more than a justification of the countless divisions that resulted from Protestantism. Divisions upon divisions occurred, and then they realized that visible divisions don’t discount Christ’s Church because His Church must not be visible. We are all part of it in that case…just invisibly :wink: Good luck with Matt. 18:17 though.

[quote=mkw]It is my understanding that an “invisible church” simply means having Jesus in your heart and being a Christian.
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And upon this rock I will build my “having Jesus in your heart and being a Christian.”:stuck_out_tongue: Nope, doesn’t work. Jesus used the word church for a reason. It’s the same word as, ekklesia, that is used in Matt. 18:17 “go and tell the church.”

This is a term that is much understood because of the way we think of “invisible” these days.

Note, it does NOT mean that the church, in that visible/invisible view, is “not visible.” Well, in a way it does, but to put that as the main emphasis of the invisible/visible distinction is to miss the point entirely.

The term is used by Presbyterians, “Reformed” Baptists, and probably many other denominations that are closely linked to the early Reformers to indicate the following:

There are people that are on earth now that will be in heaven. If they are in the visible church (ie. are church members) then they are rightly in the invisible church as well. In other words, the invisible church IS the elect. The visible church IS the non-elect in the church, and the elect, whether they are believers yet or not.

Read my next post for an “official” statement that may help

**[size=2]le The following is from a page[/size] that has the WMCOF on-line.
It’s from Chapter 25, Of the Church

I.** The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all [a].

II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion **; and of their children [c]: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ [d], the house and family of God [e], out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation [f].

So there you go, I’m not here to argue for that, and if you’re Catholic you should heartily disagree with the propositions set forth in the WMCOF (Westminster Confession of Faith). I’m just saying “here’s what it means.”**

[quote=Reformed Rob][size=2]le The following is from a page[/size] that has the WMCOF on-line.
It’s from Chapter 25, Of the Church

****I. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all [a].

II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion **; and of their children [c]: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ [d], the house and family of God [e], out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation [f].

So there you go, I’m not here to argue for that, and if you’re Catholic you should heartily disagree with the propositions set forth in the WMCOF (Westminster Confession of Faith). I’m just saying “here’s what it means.”**

This sounds pretty much exactly like the Catholic view, with the Church militant and Church triumphant. It seems like there really isn’t much of a difference between invisible and visible church when you see what is meant by each term according to the different groups. :ehh:
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I totally agree with you Genesis, I was just stating what I hear around where I live, of course from those who feel that it is not really important that one attends church every week. After all they have said, why should I go to church when I have the Holy Spirit and the invisible church within me? :eek:

[quote=Genesis315]This sounds pretty much exactly like the Catholic view, with the Church militant and Church triumphant. It seems like there really isn’t much of a difference between invisible and visible church when you see what is meant by each term according to the different groups. :ehh:
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Yeah, well said. I think perhaps I understand the Reformed view clearer than the Catholic view, however St. Francis de Sales pretty much destroyed all but some remnants, for me, of the invisible church thinking in “The Catholic Controversy.”

The differences can seem subtle, but a key difference, as I understand it, is that the invisible church is spoken of as the elect (exclusively the elect) on earth, not just the elect in heaven, which the Catholic thinking on “church triumphant” is the elect in heaven (maybe purgatory too, ??). Maybe I’m wrong, let me know.

Also, consider this:

The Church is the Church is the Church. Jesus died for the Church, graces are mediated to all those who are in the Church, all who receive sacraments who are in a state of grace, whether they will persevere to the end or not, receive grace to help them from those sacraments, baptism DOES forgive sins, etc.

In the Reformed view, you have a strikingly different understanding. That is that the non-elect church members (that is, the merely “visible Christians”, but not the “invisible Christians”) DID NOT have their sins forgiven in baptism, DO NOT receive graces from the Lord’s Supper, etc. etc. There would be different degrees and brands of that belief, but I think that’s pretty basic.

So, there you have it, how the Calvinist view of “Limited Atonement” plays into the view of the church. Soteriology affects Ecclesiology, and vice versa. If Christ only died ultimately for those who would end up in heaven, then only those select people throughout history receive ANY benefit from His passion and resurrection.


Once again, I stress by “invisible Christian” I don’t mean that you can’t see them. Like, “Hey, where did Christy go, she’s disappeared! Oh, she must be elect, good for her.” No, I mean that you don’t know who’s really saved. You can be pretty sure by their way of life, but you just don’t know who is elect or not. That’s what is practically understood by “invisible.”

Can somebody please come here and help me explain this?

Souls in Purgatory would be the Church suffering. I think I get the difference now.

Once again, I stress by “invisible Christian” I don’t mean that you can’t see them. Like, “Hey, where did Christy go, she’s disappeared! Oh, she must be elect, good for her.” No, I mean that you don’t know who’s really saved. You can be pretty sure by their way of life, but you just don’t know who is elect or not. That’s what is practically understood by “invisible.”

This is a good explanation. Thanks.

It’s interesting though, because this doesn’t really seem to jive with assurance of salvation (it makes more logical with the Calvinsit view). I mean, I’m sure everyone in a local baptist congregation would consider themselves saved, so there doesn’t seem to be a difference unless a few people have deceived themselves–but then who could be assured salvation?

I’m not Baptist, and wasn’t taking my instruction too seriously when I was involved with Baptist church, besides, there’s a variety of Baptist thoughts on that I’m sure.

I think I see what you’re asking, yeah, it’s confusing. Like, if you think “once you’re saved, you’re always saved” then your mind may not be necessarily set on “making your calling and election sure.” And that’s kind of the point (right or wrong) of the visible / invisible church distinction. Many people have deceived themselves.

As for assurance of salvation, well, as a Presbyterian, I was taught to have full assurance of my salvation and justification, knowing Whom I belonged to, Jesus Christ, Who died to for sure save His elect. Faith, repentance, and perseverance are ways of increasing our assurance. Truthfully, it’s not, at least it rarely is for many, I think, an issue where you’re constantly doubting "Oh no, am I elect? I don’t know, oooohhhhhh …!!!"
No, when you are convinced of the doctrines, then it’s just the way you think about salvation. I need to not give up my faith, I need to “press on to know the Lord” and obey Him and love Him.

Kind of like, you’re Catholic, so all the mortal sin, sacramental graces, all that that makes sense to you (I suppose it does) and that’s the way you view it.

Here’s a passage of Scripture, among several, that lends an inherent difficulty to visible / invisible distinction. Passages like this seem to necessitate a certain Protestant way of dealing with verses like this.

Here:

Colossians 1:21-23
And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach - if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard…

Now, if only the elect are actually reconciled to God through Christ, then it seems that there would be No Chance of them NOT continuing steadfast, or being moved away.

The typical answer is that “Scripture’s warnings of apostasy are effectual for the elect, warnings drive them to continue faithfully.” Which is true I’m sure, but still, it is fair enough to say that Scripture words it so that those who were before alienated from God ARE (present tense) reconciled to God, and will be (in order to, purpose, future tense) presented before God holy and blameless, ie. before God in heaven, if indeed they continue (conditional about the future).

Maybe the Greek would present it different than the English would. I don’t know. But it sure looks like many who may not be in heaven are actually reconciled to God through Christ, for the purpose of being in heaven.

In the Reformed view, it is only the elect that are actually reconciled to God, the others in church have no part with Christ, other than just being outwardly baptised and hearing preaching, and things like that.

[quote=Genesis315]I don’t get what an invisible church is.

So, why would protestant’s want there to be an “invisible church”–which seems like an oxymoron to me?
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Hey, let’s revisit this!!

I just saw what I thought was an excellent definition on those Protestant terms from a Catholic perspective.

I owe this to Francis Sullivan, S.J.

In the Reformed (ie. Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.) view, the visible church can be understood as the church in the “empirical sense.” The invisible church can be understood as the church in a “vision of faith,” that is, "only the true believers. What Catholics may call the “mystical sense” in some cases.

Does that help? I think and hope it will.

While I’m at it, here are a few verses that are typically used to set forth the visible/invisible distinction.

Romans 2:28, 29
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart; by the Spirit and not by the letter;

Jeremiah 9:25, 26
"Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord, “that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised - … for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.”

Ezekiel 44:9
Thus says the Lord God, “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the sons of Israel, shall enter My sanctuary.”

Romans 9:6, 8
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; … That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.

That’s some perspective on one aspect of the visible/invisible distinction. The necessary distinction between the people who are in the church but saved, and the people in the church but not saved, or won’t ultimately be saved. And the comparison is that of how God addressed the Israelites, though the men were “circumcised in the flesh” many of them were not “circumcised in the heart.” They were Isrealites, sure, but not “true Israelites” ie. not children of the promise.

Just saying that so you won’t be shocked if you come across that.

-Rob

[quote=Reformed Rob]Hey, let’s revisit this!!

I just saw what I thought was an excellent definition on those Protestant terms from a Catholic perspective.

I owe this to Francis Sullivan, S.J.

In the Reformed (ie. Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.) view, the visible church can be understood as the church in the “empirical sense.” The invisible church can be understood as the church in a “vision of faith,” that is, "only the true believers. What Catholics may call the “mystical sense” in some cases.

Does that help? I think and hope it will.
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That does help a lot. That is a good way to explain those visibly outside the Church through no fault of their own who are still united to her.

I think the ideal Church founded by Jesus would be where both visible and invisible are the same thing. But of course, due to human failings this does not happen. So, I think it would be wrong to say Jesus didn’t found a visible Church. I think He founded one Church that was both invisible and visible, but human imperfection has led to some being in the visible, but not invisible, and some being in the invisible, but not the visible (and of course there are still some in both). Does that make sense?

[quote=Genesis315]I think He founded one Church that was both invisible and visible, but human imperfection has led to some being in the visible, but not invisible, and some being in the invisible, but not the visible (and of course there are still some in both). Does that make sense?
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Yeah, it does.

However, and I’m certainly no Dominican theologian, but there is a sense in which, to use some of the terms you’re using, that the people not “in” the visible Church, but still, as it were, in a state of grace (ie. invincibly ignorant but laboring with supernatural faith, and not united to the visible church), even they must be “in”, or at least, related to the visible church in some way. Simply because, as you said, Christ founded one Church, and there’s no salvation outside that one Church (naturally). So, even those that will be saved but are not visibly united to it, are in it, in some way.

But, you aren’t supposed to have good hope for their salvation, simply because they are apart from the tangible ministry of the Word and the Sacraments.

Pope Pius IX - "Syllabus of Modern Errors"
17. We must have at least good hope concerning the eternal salvation of all those who are in no wise in the true Church of Christ. - Condemned proposition.

I hope I wrote that in an understandable way. I may be wrong, but, like you, I’m trying to understand it.

[quote=Sir Knight]Can somebody please come here and help me explain this?
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Why certainly!
The money you see in the collection basket is “visible”…it is what was actually given.

The money you don’t see in the collection basket is “invisible”…it is what could have been given , but wasn’t.

same as the “visible” and “invisible” church.

Is that clear ?

:smiley:

gusano

Exactly. I think sometimes people can take a little lassez faire (sp?) attitude about those outside the Church. Sure, it’s possible for them to be saved, but it’s definitely harder without the light of Truth and the graces that God gives through the Sacraments. It’s kind of a balance. We trust in God’s mercy for them, but at the same time we shouldn’t neglect to evangelize because we figure they’ll be saved anyway.

I’m willing to bet that God sends those outside the Church the same graces He sends us through the sacraments. The thing is, the Sacraments make those graces visible to us so we understand exaclty what they are and we know God is giving them to us. I think without the visible Sacraments and knowledge of the Gospel, it can be much easier for an individual to ignore those graces and follow what the world has to offer instead.

So, tying that back to the original topic, being a member of the visible Church, with the visible Sacraments, cause the path to Salvation to be more illuminated and therefore easier to follow.

[quote=gusano]Why certainly!
The money you see in the collection basket is “visible”…it is what was actually given.

The money you don’t see in the collection basket is “invisible”…it is what could have been given , but wasn’t.

same as the “visible” and “invisible” church.

Is that clear ?

:smiley:

gusano
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That’s a good example. I had to think about it for a little bit before it sank in.

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