Saturday, March 15, 2008

Making The Invisible Church Visible -OR- Re-Thinking Church Membership (Part 20)

A long-standing doctrine in Christian history is the doctrine of the invisible church. This doctrine makes a distinction in God's church. It holds that there are "true believers", the ones who are truly saved, but known only to God (hence the "invisible"). This group of people are distinguished from the "visible" church, which is the group of people in its totality who are part of churches. The distinction is made that although there are many people in the church, not all of them are truly saved, as there are false believers in the midst of the church which cannot be readily identified by mere men.

I have recently abandoned belief in the doctrine of the invisible church. I think it is a theological construct that has no real practical basis in this world. One of my reasons for doing so is due to the ironic applications that people make of this doctrine to real life. In my arguments and discussions with those who disagree with me about what constitutes church membership (an example in the comments section here), I've discovered that most of these people use the doctrine of the invisible church in order to identify God's true sheep. They feel the need to construct a formal membership so that pastors can know who they are responsible to pastor. But this betrays a lack of belief in the invisible. Trying to make visible what only God can see is ultimately an attempt to be equal to God. It turns their doctrine upside down. If God is the only One who can see who his elect are, then any attempt on earth to identify these people can only result in failure because we creatures are not God. It's just that simple.

What these people are saying is this: we cannot walk in faith that in ministering to each person who assembles with the church that all of God's people are covered; instead we must walk by sight by only ministering those who we deem as God's true believers that are written down in ink on a list we made. Walking by faith is not possible (and a burden, by the way), therefore walking by sight is necessary.

The New Testament gives no means to divide God's church in this way, and the only expression of the church is the local church; a church of assembled people to claim to believe in Christ.

(For the entire series of posts on re-thinking church membership, click here.)

Part 19 . . . . . . . . Part 21

1 comment:

  1. Good for you. The invisible church theory has no useful application in ministry or life. In practice, there's not such a big difference between going to church and being saved.