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The invisible church
Query for the Month
Next up-date: June 1st 2007 (God willing).
Previous "Queries" are available. Click here to access.
Some perpetual questions ....
Do you know the difference
between the "love" that is of Christianity
Click on the link for a good book on the character of our God which you can download for free and share amongst your friends. It's called "Light on the Dark Side of God" and is one of the best on this subject that I have ever read!
Our query this week concerns something that is not mentioned in the Bible so we need to approach it from another angle.
Have you heard of the invisible church? You probably have.
Have you SEEN the “invisible” church? Of course not, it’s “invisible”!
It is supposedly made up of “true” spiritual persons both in and out of the “visible” church, but how would you recognise its members if you could “see” them? The Jews could not even make out the genuineness of the Son of man, (they called Him “Beelzebub”, meaning Satan, Matthew 19:25) so how could we possibly know the position of those around us? We cannot tell whether any one is a Christian or not, even of those we can see, and in fact, we are told NOT to try until Christ declares their standing. “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the LORD come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts . . .” 1 Corinthians 4:5.
What is invisible is the UNION between Christ and the believer.
But the desire for a “pure” church never dies, and most of us are continually looking at others who appear good and judging them on their moral behaviour, often thinking that it’s the right thing to call them Christians. (It’s not! For a good moral person is not necessarily a Christian.)
We can’t even tell whether a person is Christian, or if they are not, by their actions! Many who have been named by God as His own, have committed grievous sins and we could easily class them as lost. The classic picture of this is when Abraham lied to Abimelech regarding his wife, and yet the Son of God told the good man that His servant Abraham would pray for him! Genesis 20:1-18. Consider also Samson! Or David. It is said of him;
“And afterward they desired a king: and God gave to them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years. And when he [Satan] had removed him [he committed suicide, 1 Samuel 31:4], He raised up to them David to be their king; to whom also He gave testimony, and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, which shall fulfil all My will’.” Acts 13:21-22.
However . . .
Jesus gave the following advice to the individuals that make up the church we can see, so it applies also to a group of individuals. “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel [basket], but on a candlestick; and it gives light to all that are in the house”. Matthew 5:14-15. This would make it highly visible, not a church which cannot be seen! And useful too!
What’s its purpose?
Its various groups are “nurseries” for “newborn” Christians – a place where they can grow up as members of a family, with all the older ones acting as minders. It can be a hard place at times, like all families, but its not as bad as the world, for there are normally some self-denying persons in it, while there are virtually none in the world. “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one’ . . . And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes”. Romans 3:10-18. Those who appear self-denying outside of the church are often self-serving, and those who are selfless, are falling behind God in His call for them to “Come out of her”. Revelation 18:4.
So the church is still the best place to be in, in God’s opinion, even if we are in a minority branch of it! Why the thought of the “invisible” church, then?
The concept of the “invisible church” is similar to the concept of the “immortal soul”. It was made up by “Greek philosophers” in the church, and doesn’t exist in the New Testament, where the church is highly visible, although greatly scattered. The phrase came into the language of a counterfeit church when its leaders decided that ALL the people of a given area should be classed as “belonging” to the church. They accomplished this sleight of hand by “baptising” or “christening” (Christianizing) babies soon after birth. However, because there were people amongst them who obviously did not meet the “Christian” criteria, they decided that there should also be an “invisible” church in which the “good” ones were hidden. This was a misapplication of the principle of common grace versus redemptive grace.
It is one grace of God which keeps all men and women on earth alive from birth, and another which creates Christians out of those who accept His offer. It was for this reason that, “Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth. Go you therefore, and teach all nations [the unbelievers], baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost [when they accept My offer]: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world’. Amen”. Matthew 28:18-20.
Today the concept that some part of the church is “invisible” is still used by many denominations as an “ideal” within a church – a sort of inner circle – to describe those who are “real” Christians. The phrase is often used to express a state of perfection that one should strive to be in, sometimes based on the following verse. “Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, ‘The LORD knows them that are His’ [Nahum 1:7]. And, ‘Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity’.” 2 Timothy 2:19. This, of course, is true, but note that it is the LORD who knows them.
This is not to deny that where just two or three are gathered together, there the Son of God will be through His Spirit, but they are also visible. It is written, “Again I say to you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together IN MY NAME, there am I in the midst of them”. Matthew 18:19-20.
Therefore it can be seen that the church numbers in any gathering can range from two or three, to thousands, as mentioned in the following verses.
Contrary to many opinions, the first Christians were very successful in their missionary activities, and many Jews joined the church. What God doesn’t want are “denominations” (a word which is not in the Bible), for there is only one church. This separation has been brought in by men acting under the influence of Satan. Those who desire an “invisible church” within a denomination often base their understanding on the Old Testament law system (spiritually implemented, of course, they say), instead of the freedom of the New Testament. Galatians 5:1; 3:1-4.
When God is able to reach individuals in these denominations, He calls on them to leave and join His church.
What I do deny is that there could be a PURE church made up only of good Christians. Christ has told us plainly that the church is composed of “wheat and tares” (Matthew 13:36-43), and “wise and foolish virgins” (Matthew 25:1-13). These are saints, sinners, and fools; in other words, God’s people, Satan’s agents (hypocrites) and excitable, emotional people who are not “wise”. He also said that it would remain so until the harvest at the end of time. Matthew 13:29-30. This means that it is comprised of both “good and bad”, “saved and unsaved”, BUT ALL PROFESSING to be followers of Christ, and will be so until the end of the world. It is certainly NOT outwardly sinless or doctrinally pure, but it’s all we’ve got.
(In the Bible a “fool” is not mentally deficient except in the sense that he or she has let slip the greatest gift in the universe. Their religious experience is based on FEELINGS rather than the WORD of God, therefore they do not have the power to overcome themselves. Fools mistake the POSSESSION of the gifts of God with the USE of them, and enjoy them for themselves instead of using them for others.)
Therefore until the end of time the church is intended to be like an island in the sea – a relatively safe haven in the midst of the mass of the unbelievers. It has been described as:
the church in the state;
believers amongst unbelievers;
the “just” amongst the “unjust”;
the changed amongst the unchanged;
those inside forgiveness, and those outside of it;
the people of God amongst the people of the world;
saints who FALL into sin amongst those who LIVE in sin.
None of these descriptions give license to call it “invisible”.
Those outside of it are all called “heathens and publicans”. Psalm 98:2; Matthew 18:17.
It’s the place that the “called out” ones can see, and come to.
In the Bible the church is likened to the human body. See 1 Corinthians chapter 12.
Some parts of that are normally clearly seen – the hands and face, for instance. In some Eastern cultures, and for some members of those cultures, the face and head must be covered in public. However, in the West, under certain circumstances, such as on the beach, almost the entire body can be exposed. But even there, uncovering the “private parts” is frowned upon. That’s the closest the Bible analogy comes to “invisible”, but they are “private” not “invisible”.
So it is with the church. There are parts which are not normally seen, but most of it is usually visible.
Because it is “representative” and not “favoured”, the church often appears like the rest of the world, but it is not.
It is a place where;
(1) membership is made up of baptised adults; Mark 16:15-16;
(2) the “power of God” can generally be seen at work in their love for their neighbours; Romans 1:16;
(3) the truth of God is preserved in the Bible which they use as their authority; Romans 3:1-2;
(4) the Commandments are seen to be kept in the observance of the Bible Sabbath; Revelation 14:12.
Sometimes the “tares” and the “fools” outnumber the “wheat”, but that does not change the four facts. It is written, “For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man [in the church] a liar [denying the power of God,
2 Timothy 3:5]; as it is written, ‘That You might be justified in Your sayings, and might overcome [be exonerated] when You are judged’.” [Psalm 51:4.] Romans 3:3-4.
The Bible makes it plain that sinners (unjustified ones) are not Christians, regardless of profession; but it also shows that Christians (justified ones) sometimes sin.
1 John 1:
1 John 2:
When we first encounter the Christian church in the New Testament it is made up of argumentative apostles who want to know who is to be the greatest in it. Matthew 18:1. Yet Christ says that they were nearly all Christians. See John 13:10.
It was also very wrong in doctrine, for they held strongly to the erroneous hope of the church conquering the Roman world power, and the setting up of Christ as the rightful king of the world. Jesus, of course, openly discouraged this idea, for He knew that His kingdom operated in a different way to Satan’s. John 18:36. One of those disciples, who wanted to be its prime minister and who was the energy behind the attempt to take Jesus by force and acclaim Him king, cleverly fostered this thought.
So attractive was it to another of Christ’s followers that she desired Him to give her two sons the two highest positions in what she conceived of as the “church”. Matthew 20:20-24.
Some of its members believed in the use of deadly force on their opponents! Luke 9:51-56.
Later, we find the members of one portion of the church following “favourite” leaders, such as Paul, Peter, and Apollos in place of the Son of God! 1 Corinthians 1:12-13.
Then there is the part which was fooled into believing and acting upon a false gospel of works in place of faith, instead of showing its faith BY its works. Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1-3; James 2:18.
At another time a large portion was accused of leaving its first love and preparing for a divorce! Revelation 2:1-7.
Some of its members were even willing to reject the last living apostle from its society! 3 John 1:9-10.
I could go on, but I’m sure that you’ve got the picture by now. On face value the church is not very attractive. However, it is made up of “justified” (changed) men and women who are LEARNING God’s ways preparatory to meeting Him face to face. As well as Satan’s agents, the tares, there are others in it who claim to be Christians, but who do not have the EXPERIENCE of Christianity – they just THINK they have it. God calls them “fools”! (There are five “wise” and five “foolish” people waiting for the Bridegroom. Matthew 25:1-2.)
“Tares” fight and criticise in the church (Matthew 24:48-49), but the case of the “fools” is sad, for they really FEEL that they are Christians. But God tells us that our heart “is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9), so we need to ask Him to show us what we really are as individuals!
There are two kinds of churches professing Christianity:
One is made up of adult believers who accept excommunication as the ultimate church punishment for public sinful actions, not differences in doctrine or belief: the other is composed of all the people in a given physical area (or common belief) who accept extermination (genocide) as the ultimate punishment for error.
If this seems too far-fetched for you, here’s a few thoughts from a book in my library:
The Reformers and their Stepchildren,
by Leonard Verduin,
Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1964.
(All the emphasis is in the original.
My additions are in small type and square brackets.)
As has been said earlier here are two irreconcilable delineations [outlines] of the Church. The one camp wanted to raise up a “confessional Church based on personal faith,” and the other camp determined to keep a Church “including all in a given locality.” For the former, one’s way of life sets him off as a Christian; for the other, the happenstance of being an inhabitant of a given locality qualifies him, and conductual patterns are not definitive [behaviour doesn’t affect his membership.]
In the course of the conflict, the Restitutionists in Hesse [the voluntary church proponents] recited what they believed to be the proper description of Christ’s Church: “We believe and confess one holy Christian Church, a fellowship of saints, namely of all believing regenerate Christians and children of God, born again from above by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.”
To this the Protestant pastors [of the Reformation] raised serious objection.
Said they: When men talk about the marks of the Christian Church, the characteristics by which men may find it, so as to be joined to it, then we call the Church that mass [of people] among which the Word of God is purely preached and the Sacraments [baptism (christening) and communion] are administered according to the institution of Christ. Where these two marks are in evidence there we are not to question it but that God has most certainly, among this unwieldy mass [diesem grosen haufen] of called ones, His own little group [sein hauflein] of true believers [the invisible church], let them be few or many ….. Christ has taught in parables how it stands with Christ’s Church on earth: “The kingdom of God is like a man who sowed good seed on his field but ….” *
*The portion of Scripture to which these Protestant pastors go to sustain their sacralism, the Parable of the Tares, has been cited so often in support of the idea of a Church embracing all in a given locality that it may well be called the locus classicus [the classic example] of the sacralists. These teachers take this passage to support the idea of togetherness within the church, the togetherness of good and bad alike. The “heretics” have quoted it quite as frequently, contending that this Parable supports their position, namely that the togetherness of which the passage speaks is a togetherness in the world. It must be pointed out that in this disagreement over the essential meaning of the Parable the “heretics” plainly had the better of the argument, for Jesus’ own commentary on the Parable indicates specifically that the scene of togetherness is “the world,” not the Church. The Parable does not teach that composition is right and proper in the Church; it teaches that composition is right and proper in the world. The Parable sustains the idea of societal composition [in the world but not of it], not that of sacralism [all the nation as Christian]. The sacralist use of this Parable spawned two evils; on the hand it gave the wholly unspiritual man a comfortable place within the Church; on the other hand it deprived the dissenter of any place for the hollow of the foot in the society of which he was a part [no way for him to harmonise]. Quellen Hesse, p. 444.
The Church as seen by the Restitutionists is an organisation with entrance requirements. One has to qualify in order to be admitted, not in the sense of being in possession of earned credits but in the sense of having submitted willingly to the humbling concept of grace. And since no one can go through this experience without being inwardly renewed, the Church looks for signs of this inner renewal. In this sense a “walk worthy of the calling” is a prerequisite for membership.
Knowing full well that in her evaluation of men the Church is not omniscient [all-knowing] and that therefore she must always be prepared to scrutinize her holdings, she must check to see whether her lists need to be revised. If it then becomes apparent that there are unfruitful branches, the Church in confronted with the pathetic task of removing manifestly dead timber.
This implies discipline. Church discipline, the kind of thing Jesus was talking about when He said something about “Let him be to you as a heathen man or a publican,” [Matthew 18:17] the kind of thing Paul had in mind when he laid it upon the Church of Corinth to “put away that wicked man from among you.” [See 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.] Although the New Testament leaves the impression that such drastic action is called for rather infrequently, it plainly teaches that such disciplinary action must in extreme cases be resorted to. Needless to say, if the Church exists by voluntary association, the incidence will be much lower than it would be otherwise. If, as is the normal situation, a certain amount of opprobrium [humiliation] attaches to the Christian confession, then the incidence will be low indeed. But conditions are never such that the Church is allowed to drop the keys into the well, as it were.
Needless to say, sacralists [people who believe in a state called Christendom] will be embarrassed at this point. They have no receptacle into which to put a person who can not be carried on the church’s rolls. If he is to be put out of the Church, he will also and simultaneously have to be put out of society, that is exterminated (from the Latin ex and terminus) – that is, put “outside the boundaries.” * If the ecclesiastical community and societal community [church and state] are one and the same thing, merely seen from different vantage points, then he who is expelled from the former cannot be allowed to remain in the latter. Church discipline as set forth in the New Testament is impossible in “Christian sacralism” [for there is no place for dissenters to go].
*It is doubtful indeed that the Church ever intended the word extermination in its etymological [literal] sense merely [“outside the boundary”]. Certain it is that very early indeed it was already being used and intended in its modern connotation, namely, that of liquidating. The word seems to have been one of the many euphemisms which the medieval Church used so freely and so cleverly to enhance its own “image.”
It is a fact that Church discipline was in a hopeless mess ever since the Constantinian change was affected [the “church” became “Christendom”]. In the first place, there was no discipline for aberrations in conduct. Men could live in sin and debauchery, dissipate to the fullest extent of their physical powers, and never come to know that the Church of Christ has keys with which it is supposed to lock out such rough-necks.
The Church stirred not a finger – unless and until someone challenged the sacralist formula [a union of church and state]. This was the one “sin” which made the “fallen” Church reach for her keys. In her catalog that was the unpardonable sin; this was the sin of the heretic, the “sectary”, the “schismatic,” the Cathar – all of them names that hark back to this quarrel [the separation of church and state]. When the “fallen” church saw or heard anyone who was “rending Christ’s robe” [dividing the church] then, and only then, did the wheels of discipline begin to turn. With a fury that reminds one of that of the twentieth-century communistic world when it hears of revisionism [the separation of church and state] and no wonder, for it was similarly inspired – the Church bared its claws when men challenged the sacralist formula.
When the “fallen” Church did discipline, it went much too far; for then it expelled not only from the company of the redeemed but from the company of men as such. *
*This monism-inspired confusion [“we are a Christian nation”] – this failure to see that positive measures in the area of society lie on a different plane than do punitive measures in the area of faith – receives its classic expression in the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, with whom we read that heresy is a thing for the perpetration of which the guilty one deserves “not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication but also barred from the world by death” (non solum ab ecclesia per excommunicationem separari sed etiam per morte a mundo exclude; cf. Summa II, 2, Q, 11. Art. 3.)
Outside of God’s church there are the counterfeit “Christian churches” called by the Spirit, “Babylon AND HER DAUGHTERS” (See Revelation 17:5). They call themselves Christian, but do not have all four of the characteristics of the true church.
They are followed by the other religions of the world that repudiate Christianity (a religion based on a union with the SON of God) although some of them claim to worship God the Father. (This is a very deceptive claim.)
Last of all come the unbelievers.
(Collectively they are called “GREAT Babylon”, Revelation 16:9.) All these together make up the “heathen and the publicans”, who need to be brought to a place of safety before they are caught up in the persecutions which are the natural product of their religious systems. “And I heard another Voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, My people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues’.” Revelation 18:4
As we have already seen, God is calling out any Christians among them, and we need to actively help Him in this work. However, when we think of any of these groups as “Christian” we do them a disservice and usually neglect to warn their members of their danger, for smouldering under the surface, just waiting for an opportunity to erupt, is a principle of fiery persecution which comes to life at the union of church and state. We hear today the first rumblings of this union by the repeated utterances that, “We are a Christian nation”. Such a state is a Biblical impossibility, for there the “nations” are classed as heathen, or unbelievers. Genesis 10:5; Numbers 23:9.
It may not be evident right now, but, as Christ has told us (Matthew 24: 9-12), when religious controversy rages without the benefit of a neutral state control, the majority of professing Christians will always persecute the minority to death. They can’t help it – it is a natural effect of the church/state union. If you have a sword, you’ll use it!
If you would like to read about a very sad example of this during the times of the Reformation, click here.
Rather than desiring an “invisible” church of good guys, we should be thankful that God has a visible church made up of adult believers who PROFESS to be following His ways, and not always making it. That means there is room in it for you and me!
Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.
Some of the comments on this page are adapted from books in my library. No recognition is given because they are not intended as authorities, but are used because they express my understanding clearly.
Next query. To be discussed from June 1st, 2007.
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