Thursday, March 25, 2004

Reformed Protestants Take on the "Invisible Church"

Another of my series of posts designed to show the significant "common ground" that Catholics and many of the more thoughtful and reflective Protestants (particularly of the Reformed variety) have; in this instance, pertaining to the nature of the Church. The following excerpts come from Reformed pastor Tim Gallant's sermon: Ephesians 2.19-22: "God's New Temple Under Construction"


We live in a time when even those who call themselves Christians have given themselves over to a very extreme individualism and all the sloppy thinking that that entails. Baptism is not seen as necessary. The Church is not seen as necessary. Salvation is understood as a personal, invisible encounter between the detached, individual soul, and God. Church is at best a support, something helpful to boost our faith, a place where we can learn things that we have difficulty learning at home. In other words, going to church is simply pragmatic - it's helpful.

It's kind of like taking vitamins. You really ought to be able to eat healthily on your own with a well-balanced diet, but since that is so difficult, vitamins are a really good idea.

It has become very popular to speak of belonging to "the invisible Church." What matters, we are told, is not whether you belong to a visible, tangible body of believers, but whether you belong to "the invisible Church."

And of course, belonging to an invisible Church is completely untestable and unchallengeable. Make the claim, and who can doubt you?

People who belong to the invisible Church lay all their stress upon things that are unidentifiable and therefore not open to question. "I don't go to church, but I'm a Christian. I believe in God. I know that I'm saved. I trust Jesus Christ." "I don't need a church telling me what to do; I can serve God on my own; I can worship God at home or anywhere."

I challenge you go to your concordance when you get home, and look up the word "church." Look at what's happening in the context. You will discover that the overwhelming majority of references could not possibly refer to an invisible church. They refer to identifiable groups of people. And the rest of the few references that remain could only theoretically be applied to an invisible church; they are far better understood in context as referring to recognizable congregations, or the sum of recognizable congregations.

. . . The temple that God is building does not yet look like it will after the return of Christ, to be sure. This temple is now imperfect and marred by weakness and even peopled with hypocrites. But it is nonetheless a visible body, not a hypothetical "spiritual" "uncollected collection" of all people who deep in their hearts believe in Jesus.

You see, we need to get beyond the North American "me and Jesus" mentality. The "Jesus" that by-passes everything else and just deals directly with individuals. . . is a figment of individualistic imagination. It is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of Scripture is the Head of the Church.

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