What is invisible/visible church


I have seen these terms bandied about here somewhat. These terms are meaningless to me without verbs (like sola fide and sola scriptura). Since I am obviously theoligically illiterate, could somebody please fill me in on what these terms mean.


I depends on if you ask a catholic or a protestant…

The Church that Christ began, in my opinion, is the body of Christ. Those who chose Him and choose to follow His perfect will… This is what is called the invisible church.:slight_smile:


If that is what is meant, then “invisible church” seems to be an obviously pretty poor title.

It sounds to me like the proposition that believers in Christ exist in many different denominations. Which I think Catholics would agree with this. Otherwise, the only folks in heaven would be Catholics which directly goes against Vatican II.


The church is invisible because you can not tell who is a member of it. Only God knows that. Can you say what the person sitting next to you in the pew truly believes? We can know what they say but we cannot know if they are telling us the truth.

In 1 John 3, it states that anti-christs had gone out but had never actually been part of the true church. Otherwise they would not have gone out. Before they went out they would have been members of the visible church but not the invisible church.

And yes, the invisible church includes all believers across denominations.



This is a Long Read but review; VII. VISIBILITY OF THE CHURCH

I hope this Helps…

Mike OSB Oblate


Because Protestantism is bady fragmented and divided into thousands (the exact number is in dispute) of denominations teaching conflicting and contradictory doctrines (despite the fact that they all claim to follow the Bible Alone), non-Catholics are forced to accept the unbiblical concept that the ONE body of Christ, the Church, is not a visible entity but is made up of all “true” believers regardless of denomination or doctrinal belief who cling to an undefined set of “essentials”.

Hope this helps. :tiphat:


But even without the Protestants you would still have the Catholics and the Orthodox. You would have two competing claims of visible church that are in contradiction to each other and no means to resolve these claims.

An outsider would still have to decide whether one of these institutions was the true church of Jesus Christ (with the other institution being a counterfeit), or whether the body of Christ somehow subsisted in both of these institutions. I can’t help but think that an impartial outsider would conclude the latter.


This issue is pretty clear…the Orthodox are in schism since they do not submit to the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

An outsider would simply have to follow the lineage of the popes to determine which of these two churches has the valid claim.


I think it means Protestansts who want to be be part of this Scripture :

18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. Matthew 16:18-19


The Church is indeed VISIBLE per the Eucharist.


good nut shell

also I think CS Lewis stated that on the day we arrive in Heaven there will be surprises as it were. Its good God is the judge and we are not.

Besides when people argue about who is “getting in” didnt the disiples argue who was greatest? How did Jesus take that conversation.

And are we not to comfort each other with thoughts of Heaven, are we not looking for our actual home? This temporary world is prep for the pernament one.


The visible Church is the Catholic Church.

The invisible Church is for invisible people.


I know that I have seen on the web an Orthodox lineage that appears just as valid as the Catholic one.

I have a feeling that if I hung around the Eastern forum for a while that the Orthodox might state the issues a little differently.:wink:

Under the “visible church” proposition it would seem to me there must be some (Biblical) criteria that points to one and only one denomination.

A separate issue is whether apostolic succession is that criteria. It seems to me that the stronger case is that this is a historic criteria rather than a Biblical one. But that is a separate issue.

Also, in my mind I have always separated two issues:
(1) Whether the church was established as a visible church. I have never used the word visible though, I have thought in terms of whether Jesus established a unified centralized church under a common hierarchy.
(2) How Jesus views His church today.

If the Catholic position on (1) is correct, it does not necessarily follow that the Catholic position on (2) is correct.


One of the marks of the true Church, according to the Council of Nicea (325 AD) is that it is Apostolic, meaning that it has Apostolic succession. The other three identifying marks of the true Church are that it is one, holy, and catholic; thus, the true Church is ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC, and APOSTOLIC, as we recite in the Nicene Creed.

(If you throw out the Council of Nicea and decide that the church of Nicea was “apostate,” then you must also throw out that same church’s councils that gave us the Bible, 60 years later.)

It seems to me that the stronger case is that this is a historic criteria rather than a Biblical one.

Yes, it is a historical criteria, not a Biblical criteria. Of course, we use exactly the same kind of historical criteria to determine what it is that we mean when we say that something is “biblical,” as well. :wink:

These are all judgements and determinations that have been made by the Church - we can trust the Church, or we can go it alone, but it makes no sense to trust the Church on one thing, but not on the other thing, when both decisions were made using the same kind of criteria.


Just to comment that many Protestant churches also recite the Nicene Creed (I know the Methodist church of my youth did). The term Catholic was given its original meaning as “Universal” and “Apostolic” meant founded upon the apostles.

Just a comment that it is a consistent position to look back at any person or institution through the lens of history and support its judgement on one issue while at the same time reject its judgement on another issue.

That having been said, although I am not an expert on the Council of Nicea, I don’t have any reason offhand to reject it or consider it apostate.


And is the Methodist Church “universal” in any ordinary sense of that word?

Does the fact that they had to change the meanings of the words in order to be able to recite it, say anything to you?

It might have been more honest for them to just come out and admit that they disagree with the historical Church, and are just picking and choosing certain elements from a religion that they have rejected, to create a new religion of their own.

Just a comment that it is a consistent position to look back at any person or institution through the lens of history and support its judgement on one issue while at the same time reject its judgement on another issue.

Yes, but upon what basis do they make these judgements? How do you reject the Catholic Church, but not her Scriptures? How do you change the meaning of the words “Catholic” and “Apostolic,” yet claim to be in accord with the Church at Nicea - which clearly thought that the Catholic Church was the one that was in union with the Bishop of Rome, and thought that “Apostolic” meant that all of the Bishops could trace the laying on of hands at their ordination in an unbroken sequence back to the Apostles?

That having been said, although I am not an expert on the Council of Nicea, I don’t have any reason offhand to reject it or consider it apostate.

The Sources of Catholic Dogma by Denzinger contains an excellent summary of it - I highly recommend it.


]“You are the light of the world…a city built on a hill cannot be hidden…”

Of course Jesus founded a visible Church…he also prayed that it would be one.

As for the term “catholic”…I think the quote in my signature says it all.

Hope this helps. :tiphat:


ok I think this is confusing to the OP.

Put simply, this is how I’ve understtod it:

Visible church - the people you can physcially see or count in a church…maybe they are on the electoral role, or regulars etc etc… you can see they go to church, their presence is visible.

Invisible church - the faith that people have, whether they attend church or not, their faith is not visible of ‘countable’. Equally there may be people without faith who attend church…

Someone who atended church but did not believe would be a member of the visible church but not of the invisible church.

This is possible a bit inaccurate as the thread’s not gone this way but it’s what I’ve always understood it to be…



Yes it is.

There must be no universally agreed upon definitions of these terms. Thus the definitions reduce to whatever the proponents or detractors say they are. Much like the terms “Sola Scriptura” and “Sola Fide”.

But then again adjectives and nouns without verbs aren’t even complete sentences. How can they be meaningful theological propositions?


From the Miriam-Webster online dictionary


1 a often capitalized : of, relating to, or forming the church universal b often capitalized : of, relating to, or forming the ancient undivided Christian church or a church claiming historical continuity from it c capitalized : ROMAN CATHOLIC


1 a : of or relating to an apostle b : of, relating to, or conforming to the teachings of the New Testament apostles
2 a : of or relating to a succession of spiritual authority from the apostles held (as by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox) to be perpetuated by successive ordinations of bishops and to be necessary for valid sacraments and orders b : PAPAL

Protestants cite the creed assuming one dictionary definition of the words while Catholics cite the same creed assuming a second dictionary definition. Thus the charge of “changing the meaning of words” is not substantiated by the dictionary.

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