“Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3
It has often been proposed by Christian theologians that there are two distinct bodies of Christian believers: the “visible” church, and the “invisible” church. The following definition makes the distinction between the two:
“The invisible church or church invisible is a theological concept of an ‘invisible’ body of the elect who are known only to God, in contrast to the ‘visible church’—that is, the institutional body on earth which preaches the gospel and administers the sacraments. Every member of the invisible church is saved, while the visible church contains some individuals who are saved and others who are unsaved. According to this view, Bible passages such as Matthew 7:21-27, Matthew 13:24-30, and Matthew 24:29-51 speak about this distinction.1
This is the general contention of Protestants and Protestant Evangelicals. However, the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t see it this way. It’s contention is that the “visible” church is the only church. Of course, they believe they are that one, true “visible” church on earth. On page 157 of the “Catholic Instructor,” it is contended that (emphasis is mine):
“The true Church of Christ can be no other than that which has always had a visible being in the world ever since Christ’s time; as we have already seen. She was founded by Christ himself, with express promises, ‘That the gates of hell should not prevail against her (Matt. 16:18). ‘She is the kingdom of Christ, which shall never be destroyed’ (Dan.2:41). Therefore the true Church of Christ, can be no other than the Catholic, which alone has always had a visible being in the world ever since Christ’s time….”
The Catechism confirms this claim:
“The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men. The Church is at the same time: a “society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ; the visible society and the spiritual community; the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches.”2
This contention by the Roman Catholic Church, that there is only the visible and they (the “society structured with hierarchical organs, viz., the Catholic episcopate”) are “it,” is continually driven home from the pulpits of the lowliest parish to the Pope of Rome: John Paul II, who reigned as Pope in the latter part of the 20th century, in his book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” makes this perfectly clear (my emphasis):
“Fully incorporated into the society of the Church are those who, having the Spirit of Christ, integrally accept its organization and all means of salvation instituted in it. In the Church’s visible structure they are joined with Christ—who rules the Church through the Supreme Pontiff and bishops.”
In other words, according to him, no one can be “joined with Christ,” except through “the Church’s visible structure.” In an excerpt from a recent series of sermons, the current Pope confirms this:
“Pope Francis described as ‘dangerous’ the temptation to believe that one can have ‘a personal, direct, immediate relationship with Jesus Christ without communion with and the mediation of the church.’” 3
Again, “the church” he refers to is the Roman Catholic Church, of which he is the head.
So who has it right? Are there, indeed, two “churches” in the world, one visible, the other invisible? Or is there, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, only a visible church–them– which all must go through to access God?
According to Scripture, rightly divided,4 neither has it right, for there is only one “church” in the present world we exist in, and it has no connection with any physical, visible, earthbound organization. It is an invisible, spiritual organism, referred to by the Apostle Paul as “the body of Christ,”5 which is made up of people who have believed and received “the gospel of Christ.”6
The only thing that distinguishes folks who are members of this spiritual body from the rest of the world is their spoken testimony. That testimony is that they have rejected religious affiliation and “works of righteousness”7 (i.e., the performance of religious rituals and ceremonies), and simply “trusted in Christ,” and in the fact that his sacrifice at Calvary has paid for all their sins, imputed God’s righteousness to them, saved them and sealed them “unto the day of redemption.”8 Many, no doubt, have joined themselves to some physical man made political organization that refers to itself as a “church,” but these organizations are illegitimate, as there is no call for them in Scripture. In fact, Scripture calls true believers to separate themselves from religious organizations and affiliations:
2 Cor 6:14-17
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate,…..”
Of course, organized religions will claim that God does, indeed, call for the church to be organized as an institution (government), contending that “the church” the Lord Jesus made reference to in Matthew 16:18, is one and the same as “the government” referred to in the prophecy of Isaiah:
” For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
But in verse 8 of that chapter, notice that it says:
“The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.”
This prophecy is about Israel under the new covenant,9 not the body of Christ. I know this because the apostle Paul said the body of Christ was part of a “mystery…hid from ages…kept secret since the world began…. not made known unto the sons of men,”10 until he revealed it in his 13 letters to this church he called the body of Christ.
If it was “kept secret…not made known,” then it could not have been revealed in the prophetic Scriptures. If this is the case, then the church the Lord referred to in Matt. 16 cannot be the church Paul is revealing, because it is the fulfillment of that prophecy in Isaiah. Indeed, everything that is recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is the fulfillment of prophecy.
This being the case, how do Protestant and Catholic theologians square the obvious differences between what the gospels say about the church Jesus spoke of in Matthew 16, and the one Paul says is part of a mystery revealed only to him? They simply say there are no difference, and anything that appears to be different, is just an illusion or figment of someone’s imagination.
But if anyone is willing to set their presuppositions aside, and give an honest look at what Paul said, over and against the doctrine of the four gospels, they would readily see that there are numerous differences, one of the most important of which is the distinction between the church Paul said was not revealed in prophecy: an invisible, heavenly entity, and the church the Lord established, a visible, earthly nation/kingdom, which is the fulfillment of prophecy. The former is the one folks can be saved into today; the latter is the one that will be established in a future dispensation called the new covenant.
All Scripture references are quoted from the King James Bible
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Related articles: “Ekklesia”;
Do you know,without a doubt, that you are a member of the body of Christ? As it says above, membership in a “church” organization does not put you in it. You must individually trust Christ as your Savior, believing he died for your sins and was raised again for your justification, to be included in it. If you’ve never done this, then do it now. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_church Disclaimer: The writer does not necessarily agree with all the assessments provided at the links in this definition,e.g, the assessment of what “the gospel” is in the link provided. ↩
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, para. 77 ↩
weekly address from the Vatican on July 2, 2014; http://www.wucnews.com/2014/07/pope-francis-warns-any-personal.html?m=1 ↩
ref. 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth ↩
Rom 7:4; 1 Cor 10:16; 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 4:12 ↩
Rom 1:16; Rom 15:19; Rom 15:29; 1 Cor 9:12; 1 Cor 9:18; 2 Cor 4:4; 2 Cor 9:13; 2 Cor 10:14 ;Gal 1:7; Phil 1:27; 1 Thess 3:2 ↩
Titus 3:5,6 ↩
Romans 3:21, 22; 4:4,5; Gal. 2:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 1:12-14; 2:8,9; 4:30 ↩
Ref. Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-11 ↩
Romans 16:25; Eph. 3:3-5; Col. 1:26 ↩