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The Visible and Invisible Church - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Pastoral Theology and Expository Preaching Articles

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

There are some important points about the distinctions made of the invisible church, and how it is expressed visibly in the world.

When Jesus came to the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples a question, and received a blessed response. It was a conversation that took place between those disciples and their blessed Lord while they were alone. Jesus asked, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.”

It is a sad reality that unregenerate men often have a wrong view of Christ. Many times, if they are forced to give answers about “the Christ” of history, they will say that He was a good teacher, and leave it at that. They do, however, forget, that Christ can only either be Lord of heaven and earth, the Sovereign ruler of all men and the Omnipotent Holy God of His claims, or, He is a liar and lunatic for claiming to be both God and the only Savior of mankind. He is not simply just a good teacher. It is due to the depravity that sits deep in their soul corrupting their mind and hearts about God, and the darkened counsel of their own brain leading them into all sorts of heinous errors. The context of this passage shows us this. As always when studying Scripture, it is important to look at the context. Jesus is about to teach His disciples (and us) about the importance of being regenerated in order to understand who He is, and why he came.[1]

He speaks with the disciples as if to tell them, “I have taught; and I have done many miracles–I fed people with a boy’s lunch, I turned water into wine, I’ve preached about the Kingdom of God and so I ask you, disciples, as you have been with me all this time hearing, seeing and experiencing my ministry—who do the people say that I, the Son of man, am?” It is important to remember that the Son of Man imagery is taken from the book of Daniel, primarily, as the great and powerful “Son of Man” who came riding in on the clouds of glory. It is heavenly imagery. It is imagery that is divine. The Son of Man is the Messianic Warrior King, and ought not to conjure up in our minds thoughts of being lowly and meek (though Christ was lowly and meek in other ways). No, the Son of Man is the power and glory of the Living God. Jesus uses this exalted example to press the answer in somewhat of a rhetoric fashion to the question He is asking. Daniel says in 7:13, “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.” Jesus is saying “I am God, the Son of Man, and so I desire to know what you have heard—who do people say that I am?”[2]

The disciples answered Jesus’ question by giving him the people’s response to his ministry. Some people believed Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life. Some people thought he was one of the prophets, like Elijah or Jeremiah, come back from the dead. Jesus then makes a distinguishing mark. He tells them that they have done a good job with the survey of people, as the poll has been taken. The people have said these things, but what do you say? Who do you say I am? So he shifts the importance of the question onto them, when he has already given them the answer as the Son of Man. But He asks them anyway.

Peter, the voice, comes out with an answer. He tells Jesus that He is the “anointed one” or “the Christ;” the Messiah, Son of God, both man and God who has come to earth to save us. Here, Peter has a right view of God. He is the first among the disciples to confess Christ in this particular way as the Lord. (And yet, later, ironically, he will be the first to deny Him as well.)

The interesting point about this confession that Peter makes is this: he does not come up with it on his own. His song was not, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” Peter knows better. Jesus knows better as well. This information came from the Father. TO whom the Father wishes to inform, so such people know about Jesus. The Father does not inform everyone. He only informs some – His elect. Then, through this profession, Jesus makes a statement that helps us to recognize how He will lay the foundation of the church. Christ then blesses Peter in his confession. Jesus tells him “Blessed are you Simon….” Why does he tell him he is blessed? He tells him that it was not by his own flesh that he understood Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. Peter had not just sat down with the multitudes and had taken the poll or survey of Christ. Peter had been divinely given a revelation direct from the Father, about the Son.[3] From heaven, the Father, has revealed to you (Peter), who I am. And unless the Father does this revealing, Peter would never know who Jesus is. Unless the Father reveals the Son to people, people will always have a wrong view of Jesus. People will never know Christ unless the Christ is revealed. The flesh brings forth flesh, and the Spirit of God, by ordinance of the Father, reveals the Son to whom He is pleased to reveal Him (John 3:3ff). Unless God is revealed to a person, they shall never know the Son no matter how many facts you throw their way.

Jesus then begins to extrapolate the doctrine of the church and instructs us in the laying of the foundation of the church. This “foundation” is our point of interest. He makes a play on words. He says, “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” The play on words arises from the two forms of the word “rock” – (petra) pe,tra and (Petros) Pe,troj. Petros is Peter’s name in Greek, which means “a stone”. And the second word “rock” is petra which means “a large stone or crag”. Peter’s name is a masculine form of the word, and petra is a feminine form of the word. Jesus is saying that Peter is a little chunk of “rock”. And this little “rock” has given a testimony about the nature of the Son. He has said something as a piece of the bigger rock which will in turn be the foundational rock. The next rock, the feminine word petra, will be a sure foundation; a founding rock of the church which is Jesus Christ himself. Peter has spoken that Jesus is the Son of God. Upon this rock it is seen that Jesus saves people. It is the profession that Jesus Christ is Lord coming from a changed heart. Thus, Christ is the great foundation to the church which Jesus is building.[4]

Jesus will build his church. The word oivkodomew means “to build a house, erect a building or to found, and establish.” The tense of the word here is vital. Jesus is not a builder who constructs for a moment then quits his work. This is something he will do always. He is going to build his church, (ekklasia) the “called out ones”, of which Peter has been identified as one son among many to follow. God has chosen Peter for salvation, as the Father has revealed His Son to him, and so he testifies to this fact by his confession of Jesus as the Christ. He is illuminated by the Spirit and says that Jesus is the Son. Jesus states that on this rock, himself, He will build it; a building which is superior against everything else which has been built or will be built. It is so powerful that this building has the capability of assaulting other structures. The church is going to assault the very gates of hell itself!

The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church which Jesus is building. The “gates of hell” are referred to here as offensive in strategy. They are gates. These gates keep people in. Satan is always seen as coming against people or hindering people in his attacks against them. Here, Jesus does not say the “armies of hell” will march out against the church, but that their gates will not prevail. He references the gates of hell. Gates keep people in and do not let people out. When the dog needs to stay in the yard, the gate is locked. When there is a need to keep small children in the playpen, they are surrounded by a gate which locks them in. Here, a supernatural profession of faith, the fruit of the Father’s revelation and election of men, looses people from the prison of hell and the gates cannot hold them in; they will be rescued. Satan, the prince of this world, holds people in darkness, the darkness of their carnal and wicked minds, so that they are not saved. Yet Jesus says that though Satan does all he can, and sets up his armies as a barricade against the Lord, and imprisons these people, and even reinforces the gates of his blinding power, all this will still not prevail. Jesus’ church will overcome and upon the profession of faith in Christ, it will be manifested in the eyes of the world. The word which is translated “prevail” is katiskow which means “to be superior in strength or to overcome.” But though Satan tries as he may, he will not prevail or be superior to the Kingdom Jesus is building. Satan’s hellish gates are no match for Christ who may besiege those gates at any time and snatch another soul from the fires of hell and God’s eternal wrath. That is what Jesus has done here with Peter by his profession on Jesus the Rock.

Jesus is setting forth a doctrine concerning the nature of the universal church of His power. Yet, before we proceed, we need to define the term the “True Universal Church”. The definition we will use is this: “the entire remnant of the redeemed elect from all ages; both on earth and in heaven.” There is a small distinction in emphasis between what the Reformers thought and what I am going to be teaching here. Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, etc. made a simple distinction between the invisible church and the visible church. They tried to qualify these words by saying that the invisible church was made up of all the elect from all ages and who will ultimately be in heaven. The visible church was that church on earth which could be seen, yet could also have within itself the reprobate, or false professors, whereas the universal church is only the elect. And I believe this to be a somewhat inadequate definition of the body both on earth and in heaven. They focused on only two terms, and I believe the Scripture to make a threefold distinction. I believe the threefold distinction exemplifies more clarity. It is true that the Reformers explains more about this “third manner” which I will explain more fully, but they did not do this in light of the invisible/visible distinction. Instead, they saved their third distinction for ecclesiology and the benefits of the church. However, I am convinced that this third practicum belongs inside the “visible” distinction simply divided into two main areas.

In the time of the reformation, these great men desired to aid the church in understanding its identity. Since they were dealing with the Roman Catholic Church[5], a very visible church, they needed to clarify for the people what these terms meant. Clarification is fine, but I believe they did not take the doctrine to its logical conclusion inside the subset of the “visible church”. The Roman Catholics were (are) external with their pomp and grandeur—masses, penance, last rites etc. Their church had, and still does, depend on outward works which are visible to the eye but not spiritually transforming to the heart.[6] The reformers were trying to reform the church and so they had to go with a catch word which would have been in contrast to the church without using the word universal—so they went with an “invisible” church contrasted with the visible.[7] The Roman Catholic Church professes to be the universal church. They single-handedly are able to save sinners and have the right to dispense grace to the masses. The Reformers said that the redeemed elect alone made up that universal invisible church of Christ, and all true churches on earth were known as the visible church. They put a great emphasis on the invisible nature of the church so as to make a great distinction. The Spirit of God must do an invisible work of grace in the heart. A person is then counted among the invisible number of the elect which are part of the whole body of Christ from all ages. That was their distinction. It is a good distinction, and the same bi-fold treatment is found in the Westminster Confession, chapter 25, “The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” This is their definition of that which is invisible – all redeemed sinners for all time. The second paragraph in this same chapter states, “The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law) consists of all those, throughout the world, that profess the true religion, and of their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” This demonstrates the visible nature of the invisible church. These are, for all theological purposes, good definitions of that distinction. But I believe we might be able to take this thought one step further, in order to make an important clarification that I feel is often neglected.

Though the reformers were specific, and I believe successful, in their goal, Jesus seems to be more definitive than the reformers basic visible/invisible distinction. I believe the Scriptures make way for a double distinction that “lives” within the realm of the militant church practically existing in the world. Yes, there is the Invisible Church through all ages encompassing all the elect. But then the Visible Church is divided into the Visible Universal Church-which encompasses all of Christendom, and the Visible Local Church (or meeting house) made up of those professing faith in a specified geographic location. The difference I am making is taking the visible church and dividing that into two parts based on the reality of a made profession and ministry. The universal visible church is not one entity undistinguishable; it is divided into two parts. The local meeting house, or local church, needs to be an entity set on a foundation all its own due to certain privileges and responsibilities of those professing faith in that geographic location. Jesus does not speak in the abstract. The “church” is not simply the invisible church found in Christendom at a given time, but the invisible church arranged in geographic areas that practically bring the message of the Gospel to their immediate areas of effectiveness.

In order to appreciate the local church, and the work of Christ in the church, one must first define, clearly, The Invisible Church. The Invisible Church encompasses all of the elect for all of time; all those who are truly saved. What is its nature? There are seven areas I want to open up to you in seeing the nature of this invisible church first for clarity.

First, we must see that this elect church, this universal church, is not confined to a geographic location. My brother, when he was young, about 9 or 10, went to play hockey in Germany. You would think that someone getting off the plane would want to dine in a German restaurant. But these children, the moment they saw the golden arches, ran for McDonalds. Yes, McDonalds is in Germany. It is so popular that it is nearly in every country, almost everywhere in its scope, or at least it appears that way. McDonalds, though, is not exactly like the True Universal church in that regard. Though it may be placed all over, McDonalds is more like the Universal church of Christendom- visibly seen in various geographic locations all over the world. Jesus is showing us something different in our passage. The True Universal Church is both in heaven and on earth.

Jesus tells us that He is building a church. Is this made of wood and stone? No. At one level, this invisible church is based on election, regeneration and the rock of Christ through enlightened profession. The universal nature of the invisible church in all ages is not the same local church we find in various regions on the earth at a given time. Nor are the saints in heaven the same as a church in a given geographic region. They are distinguishable in their nature, but unified in their universality. At the time Jesus preached this to the disciples there was no local church existing in this regard[8]. Nor had the church made the full transition from the Old Covenant promises to the New Testament realities. This is not a “dispensational statement.” Though all the privileges of father Abraham were given to him as much as you or I, the veil was not torn, the Son of Man had not yet died, or resurrected, and the risen and enthroned Prince of Peace had not yet sent, at God’s right hand, the Spirit of Christ in that manner. Even as Jesus walked the dusty roads of the pax rommana there were still Old Testament saints being ushered into the Kingdom of heaven.[9] Jesus came to build it, and to continue to build it. It is done through the profession of faith that Jesus is Son of God, the Rock and Cornerstone of the Church. The word build is future active indicative in the Greek. It means that “He will do later and continue to do, and He will not stop continuing it until it is completed in heaven.” Wherever Christ is in a Christian, you have the True Invisible Universal Church; for any indwelling believer is a representative of that church. It is knit together by the Spirit of God and will continue to be built until Christ returns. He continues to gather his elect in from the four corners of the globe.

Secondly, the Invisible Church is without corruption. A person may say, “I am part of the true universal church, and I am corrupted with sin. How can the true Universal Church be without sin if I am in it?” As God looks upon the church, and sees the imputed righteousness of Christ on the church (on believers) He sees nothing but the glory and undefiled Christ who fashions the church without spot or wrinkle and ultimately glorious.[10] In a local church and in Christendom as a whole on the earth, this is far different. People in a local church who are not saved corrupt the local body in the sense that, the local body is not perfect. In the invisible church, made up of the elect only, there is no corruption because Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for their sin. God sees a “glorified” church unspotted and unwrinkled in His eternal decree.[11] Ephesians 5:27 states, “That He might make it unto Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blame.” All this is due to the work of Christ and His imputed righteousness to the church. All our righteousness is as filthy rags, and the best duties which we may try to perform are tainted with sin. Christ’s righteousness alone makes His church a body without corruption.

Thirdly, the Invisible Church is made up of individual members who consist of one body; it includes those alive on the earth right now, and the saints who are in heaven. 1 Corinthians 12:27 states, “Now ye are the body of Christ and members for your part.” Paul is speaking to the regenerate in the church at Corinth. Each believer, who is sealed with the Spirit is part of the body of Christ. Each person who is a true believer must, then, function in that body to which he/she is called. It is robbery to the body and to God, not to use your gifts. Imagine if your eye, one day, decided that it was not going to look or see anymore. Or imagine if you had a stroke and half of your body became handicapped. It would be a limited body with limited use, where the body in reality, to be a full functioning body, needs to use all of its parts. The whole church must work together to be a body. Paul says the body is not one part but many parts. Even those saints in heaven, though you cannot see them, nor fellowship with them now, are part of this universal body. One day we will be with them. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 states, “Nevertheless, we are bold, and love rather to remove out of the body, and to dwell with the Lord.” When we die, we shall be with the Lord, together, in the household of faith as a body serving Christ forever. We will one day be with them all in paradise. The True Universal Church will then be one body in Christ in location as well as spirit.

Fourthly, a distinction between what the Reformers thought and what I concentrating on as a distinguishable element of the invisible church, is that the invisible church has visible elements to it, both in its Christian nature as a whole in any historical time (Christendom) and as a visible local body responsible for a geographic region. It is an important point to make plain. When someone makes a promise to you, and then time comes when they are to deliver, and they do not, they make an excuse. They were not able to fulfill their promise; though they professed to something, they did not live up to their profession. In the same way the visibility of the Invisible Church rests on the profession of faith but also in obedience to Christ’s commands. The professors have to deliver what they say. These people in the Invisible Church are known by their profession of faith coupled with a wholehearted obedience to Christ’s commands.[12] This makes up both the visible nature of Christ’s church which is everywhere based on profession (as the Westminster Confession stated) but also in specific geographic regions in local bodies that take up privileged parts of Christ’s commission in their ministry of the Word to that area that God has given them to sanctify.

Regeneration and a profession of faith are prerequisites to being in the Invisible Church. Hebrews 10:23 states, “…let us keep the profession of our hope without wavering.” We are to keep this profession together. However, that profession is then worked out in the body of Christ, throughout human history, in Christendom (as a unit) and in local bodies, as covenanted believers come together to hear the Word of God preached, and to deliver that Word in obedience to Christ’s command through evangelism. We should be able to see our profession of faith at work among the body. The body should be able to visibly recognize what they audibly attested and professed. Our profession is not just saying, “I believe in Jesus.” It is also fused together with “I will obey Jesus.” It is not enough to believe in God. The demons believe in God but that does not make them saved.[13] God desires more than just simple belief. True belief brings forth the fruit of obedience which is seen by others, and this obedience coagulates the local body in a geographic region. When we see the fruit expressed in the life of a church and in the life of those individual covenanted members of a church, this is one way in which the church is a light. We act differently than the rest of the world. Philippians 2:15 states, “shine as lights in the world…” We are to shine forth the truth of our profession in our obedience. Matthew 5:16 states, “Let your light so shine before men…” People should see that we are Christians. They should have no doubt that we are Christians when we act accordingly in our heavenly conversation.[14] You have professed what Peter professed, and they know it, and you live it and they see it. That is the visibility of the invisible church in the world (Christendom) through the local church (in a geographic area).

Yet, we also want to take into account those who seem to be spiritual who fall away, or even those who are wicked who come to true a understanding of electing faith. Some men may seem truly converted and yet still be lost. Sometimes people may exemplify the works of the greatest Christians, but then ultimately they leave the church and fall away.[15] Or there are others which we would have thought were the most detestable people on the planet, desperately wicked, and yet, Christ saves them. Here God gives us no room to judge the heart.[16] Even though we may not know the heart of a man, God requires we still push and prod a person to be sure of their election. 2 Timothy 2:19 says, “But the foundation of God remaineth sure, and has this seal, the Lord knoweth who are his; and let everyone that calleth on the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Saved people are God’s property. Not only does God know all His sheep in the visible church, and also who are the goats, but all His sheep are to outwardly demonstrate that they are real sheep, not just covenanted members of a local church. The local church must demonstrate fruit to the world in order that the light of Gospel will shine. They are to put off iniquity and must have obedience to Christ. The Church is not invisible in this respect, but in obedience to Jesus Christ the church manifests itself as the light of the world on behalf of its Savior. The invisible church is very visible in this manner.

Fifthly, the next characteristic of the Invisible Church is its unity. How are we unified together? My wife likes the Little Rascals. Alfalfa and Spanky used to promise something to each other by the “spit pact”. They had a secret club house (The he-man women haters club) where only those who had the special knock could get into. You then were part of their “gang” if you followed their rules and used the special knock to gain entrance. That special knock and the spit pact knitted the members of the club together. That which knits the church together is the Spirit of God. He is not a secret knock, but the living fountain of eternal life, which, though foreign to us, has been given to us without money and without price through Jesus Christ. The inward dwelling of the Spirit is that which binds the church together and the fruit of the Spirit is that which outwards unifies us together.[17] Ephesians 5:30 shows us, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” Acts 4:32 states, “And the multitude of them that believed, were of one heart and one soul.” In the idea of being unified together we act in like-mindedness with one heart and soul. When that works in us it then goes out from us. 1 John 5:1 says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is that Christ, is borne of God: and everyone that loveth Him, which begat, loveth also which is begotten of Him.” Our unification then moves us to love one another in the Spirit. All that is begotten of God, all the saints, will love one another in the unity of the Spirit and bond of peace. When we come together in that mindset, and in worship, we come to glorify God greatly. Acts 2:1 teaches us that worship is bound in unity; “And when the day of Pentecost was come they were all with one accord in one place…” One accord in one place characterized those saints who worshipped God together.

Those who are not unified receive the rebuke Paul gives to the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 1:13, “Is Christ divided?” Christ is not divided but unified together. We are to work in the unified power of God’s Spirit. We are linked together then, in love and we exemplify that love. Division is almost always wicked. People divide over petty issues that they should not divide over which ultimately hurts the Kingdom of God. And yet, sometimes people divide over things they should divide over which shows they are holding steadfast in one mind to the doctrines which Christ teaches us in the Word.[18] The color of the pew Bible or how much money the Sunday School should spend on material is not something to divide over; and more churches do this than naught. The invisible church manifests itself locally though the unity that a covenanted church has together in its doctrine, and in its sanctification.

Sixthly, the Invisible Church is distinguished from the local church by its organization. There is God, Christ and the saints. Other than that organizational hierarchy, there is none in this respect. The Invisible Church has no visible organization like the local church. There is no humanly constructed organization, rather it is a unity created by the Spirit of God. Christ is the builder. He makes the church what it is. Christ says, “Upon this rock I will build my Church…” Jesus does this and as a result the universal church grows. Acts 2:47 states, “the Lord added to the Church from day to day, such that should be saved.” Human beings are incapable of this; God is the great Architect and Builder. We will see that in the local church there is organization which is visible. But for now, we must see that the Invisible Church is the household of faith; the kingdom of brothers and sisters before Jesus Christ, organized not by human effort, but by God in the spirit of men.

Lastly, there is the consistency of the Invisible Church. Psalm 46:5 says, “Even the Sanctuary of the Tabernacle of the most High, God is in the midst of it, therefore shall it not be moved…” The Invisible Church is built on the character of God because God is in its midst. It’s His nature; He is the Rock, Cornerstone, Head, and sets His church in stone. Christ loves His church and came to build it, and it does not matter if you do not like it or others want to destroy it; it will always prevail. Lone Ranger Christians can say whatever they want about the church, but God is building it whether they like it or not. It may be (and I emphasize “may be”) that the Lone Ranger Christian may be saved. He may be part of the Invisible Church. And he may be, in this way, part of the visible church as one in “Christendom”. But he is not part of the visible local body, which, importantly, Christ commands that he be a part (Hebrews 13). Jesus loves His church so much that He intercedes for His church; John 17:24, “Father I will that they which Thou hast given me, be with Me even where I am, that they may behold that My glory, which Thou hast given Me; for Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world.” This church is unified together under the Head of the church until one day, when He sees fit, to bring us all to heaven that we may all behold His glory. We will be so exuberant excited about this God which has built His church, that we will remove our reward, the golden crown, and cast it before His throne.

You may say, “I have never studied the Invisible Church and distinctions of the visible church, and I do not know how this really applies to me and my life? Why do I need to know this?” The Invisible Church is not an abstract idea which does not concern you. The nature of the church concerns all of us from the least to the greatest. The church houses the purpose of Christ in it and the salvation of men; the very purpose of creation itself. Outside the Invisible Church and the Visible Church people will burn in Hell forever; as the Confession stated, “outside of which there is no possibility of salvation.” I have to say, they were not kidding when they wrote that. You must be part of the Church to gain heaven. You will never experience the joy that Christ has to offer without being part of it. How can you love Jesus and not love His church, or want to be part of His church? You will not have a crown to cast before the throne of Christ because you will be in eternal torment under the wrath of God by rejecting that which Christ came to build, and that which He came to die for – Acts 20:28, “to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” This is not a doctrine to throw away. You need to care about the Church in its entire array.

We are not talking about a building; rather, we are talking about people. Some churches do not have a church building to meet in. They may meet in a school or in a City Hall. But the church is not a church just because it does not have a building since the church is the people, not the wood and the stone of the structure. 1 Peter 2:5 tells us, “Ye also as lively stone, be made into a spiritual house…” That is the church. The body is a redeem group of people, not an abstract idea. Think of the idea of the Army. The US Army went out one day and fought the Russians. In that last sentence I made the Army an abstract entity. The Army went out one day to fight. But what is the Army? It is people. People who make up the fighting forces of our nation are labeled “Army”. But that does not make them any less people. The Army is not an abstract idea, especially when the telegram comes to the wife’s home that tells her that her husband was killed in the war.

Redeemed people constitute the church. The church is people. This concept is not for ivory tower theologians; rather, it is for you. And you must ask yourself, “Do I have an interest in Christ and His visible church? Am I knit together by the same Spirit in the same body? Am I fighting corruption? Am I delighting in the commands of Christ? Am I on the road of holiness? Is there a war going on between my flesh and the Spirit of God which dwells in me? Do people see me as a Christian? Do Christians see me as a Christian? Am I a light in a dark world? Am I visibly a Christian?” It is not enough to say that you are part of the invisible church and that you live, today, in Christendom. Jesus is more practical than that. He desires your sanctification. Hebrews 13:12 states, “ So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” Where does Jesus do this? He does this under the preaching of the Word. Ephesians 5:26-27, “…that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Again, how can you say you love Christ, if you do not care for “organized religion?” Jesus came to be professed by people He saved and organized into a body to affect not only the greater “realm of Christendom” but individually in geographic areas all over the world.

The Reformers often talked about the visible church as a separate theological idea from the practicality of the local body and its privileges and membership. Here, I hoped to knit together the uniformity of the distinguishable nature of the invisible church in and through the visible local body. In an age where church hopping and covenant breaking is so widely acceptable we must hold much closer to the reality of the profession of our faith in Christ’s work to build His church as a local body expressing the true intent of Christendom and the invisible church. It is not enough to simply say we are Christians, rather, we must demonstrate that our profession is credible. You will not believe me if I say one thing, and do another. I am only as valuable to the kingdom of God is my profession matches the realities that stand behind that confession – as Peter.

The Westminster Confession was not unwise to the idea that the visible church is divided into two parts. In Chapter 25 of the Confession they write, “Unto this catholic visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto. (Isaiah 59:21; Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-13).” They specifically state that the visible church is seen in its ministry. This is a description of its usefulness and practicality as a local church in a geographic area. It becomes clear that they are following this line of thought when they write in the fourth point, “This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.” Particular churches are seen, and sometimes they are more or less visible as a result of how close they hold the reality of the profession of Christ, which in turn demonstrates their doctrine. How close one may understand the words of Peter about Christ, and Christ’s commentary about Peter’s words (which came from the Father), will in turn demonstrate the reality of a more pure church or not. But, the point here is that the Confession separates, or rather expounds the visible church not only into the larger “professed church” of “Christendom”, but more “particularly” expounds the nature of the effectiveness of the invisible church and its visibility in the world. This is not abstract theology. This is talking about how well your church is “Christ’s church” and stands upon the Rock of God in doctrine, purity, worship, life, ministry and the truths of the Word of God.

It may be, Christian, that you don’t love your church. Maybe you are finding fault with its worship. Maybe you are finding fault with its leadership. Maybe you are finding fault in some of its doctrines. Maybe you are finding fault in its members, or lack thereof. There are no perfect churches. But the church that resides on the earth, which in the very least glimmers the truths of the Gospel and the Christ of the Bible, and holds to the faith once delivered to the saints, is still God’s church that He is building. It is not built just yet. It is in process of being built. The Invisible Church alone is without corruption. The visible local meeting house is sometimes more and sometimes less visible because it sins, and there is truth to that, but is still God’s church, and it is still being built up. It is disheartening and sad when particular churches are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them. Yet, if they hold to the faith once delivered, they are still God’s church, and they are still the very same church that Christ was building in Matthew 16. (That is a big “if”, but an “if” nonetheless.) Think for a moment about those disciples. What a motley crew they were! And yet, these are those Spirit-filled men in which Christ desired to build His church along side of the man-made church of the Pharisees. If God can build a local congregation of Christians out of those men, who in turn were used greatly of God, what about you? It may be that your church is not what you hoped for. But think about how Jesus Christ views your life. Is God ashamed to be called your God?

God is taking sanctifying steps to wash His church clean. It is His church, and He will cleanse it in the time and manner He sees fit. When God is finished, Christ will return, and in the twinkling of an eye, the church will be made perfect. It will then be the Universal Visible Church. That does not now discard our Spirit-filled ability to be sanctified daily. But it does causes us pause when we look at the church we attend. Our churches, in every individual case, are a works in progress. If they were fully sanctified, all those people in those churches would be in heaven. Now, equally true, it may very well be that you are not in Christ’s church. It may very well be that the “church” that you attend is not a church that holds dear the truths of the Gospel, and the faith of Matthew 16. It may not be a church Christ is building, even though it has pews, bibles, and stained glass. It may even have thousands of people. But if it is not one of Christ’s churches, the lack of growth, vigor, preaching, true worship, sound doctrine and love for the brethren will be apparent. The Bible and the Westminster Confession calls such places “synagogues of Satan.” Those are not visible representations of the invisible church. They are counterfeits that give Christianity a bad name. They are not true, visible local meeting houses. They are part of “Christendom” because they “speak Christianese”, but they are fakes. The Confession states that various churches may in fact “so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.” This is a tragedy, but does not hinder the work God has begun in His people, and visibly seen in the local body.

On earth, now, as through all history since the time of man, God has taken “the Rock” and broken that Rock up in little geographical areas all over the earth (to use that imagery). Jesus is the Rock, and the affects of His work are seen daily in the life of believers all over the world. But you see, when I say it like that, it is far too abstract. Let’s think of it this way – Jesus is the Rock, who builds His church out of individual regenerate saints that profess Him outwardly to the world they live in, and He gathers them together into bodies under the authority of His ambassadors who preach and teach the word of God in order to sanctify those bodies all over the world. Why? It is because those local meeting houses must affect the “history” that they live in. They must, in fact, make history by the way they affect their fellow covenanted believers, their neighborhoods, their co-workers, and their families. It is not enough to simply be content with being part of the invisible church and part of Christendom as a whole. Instead, one must be radically enthralled with the vitality and usefulness of their local church in the hands of God. So you don’t like organized religion? Well, then you do not love the Christ of the Bible. Christ is organized. Not only has He organized His church theologically into the invisible and visible church, but He has made the visible church practically important by heightening the worth of the local meeting house. 1 Peter 2:5, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”


[1] Regeneration is both a biblical term and a theological term used to describe the renewing of the heart in salvation. The heart is the inner being of man, that which makes up the man as a human being and living spirit. It does not mean to take what is already there and “fix it up.” It is not as if we are a dilapidated old build which needs a new paint job. Rather, the Spirit completely destroys the building and builds a new one in its place. There are various Scripture references that communicate the idea, and two explicit uses of the word itself. Matthew 19:28 and Titus 3:5 use the word unequivocally, where Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26, Jeremiah 31:31, Romans 2:29, 2 Corinthians 3:3, and the like use it in its sense.

[2] Oftentimes the reference “Son of Man” is deemed as a low, meek title ascribed to Christ in his human nature. But the term designates far more than that. It designates the exalted Lord who, in time, took the form of a man, veiling his glory, yet never lessening his power—only the immediate use of it through the human nature in His incarnation. In Daniel 7, though we are made aware of Daniel’s prophecy of things to come. Here is the Son of Man, exalted, and given all authority, where the books are opened and the judgment of all mankind is handed to him to execute in righteousness and power. Here he is to rule the nations with a rod of iron. Daniels shows the moments after the ascension of Christ. He leaves the earth and enters into heaven in Luke 24:51, and Daniel 7:13 shows us that entrance.

[3] This is not the same kind of direct revelation that the self appointed prophets of 21st Century Christendom claims. This is the affect of the regenerating power of the Spirit of God bearing fruit in the life and soul of a believer. Because God saved Peter, he now had eyes to see and ears to hear. It was not dreamed up of his own accord, or carefully placed together through rationalism alone. Peter, in the moment of Jesus’ question, scanned through the evidences which he had already previously seen while being with Jesus and hearing him preach, and mixed that with faith. The outcome of a rational biblical theology mixed with faith is Peter’s confession.

[4] We find this same idea in Matthew 7:24 in the parable of the one who built his house on the petra or the rock of Christ. Also 1 Cor. 3:11 tells us that no other foundation can be laid except that of Jesus Christ. Jesus, then in essence, states that upon the immovable rock of himself he will build the church. Satan and all the powers of hell cannot, and will not prevail against him. He is the rock that will smash his enemies and crush them under foot. John Gill and Matthew Henry, in their respective commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew agree with this interpretation, as does Francis Turretin in his Institutes (page 162-63, volume 3). Calvin agrees somewhat, in that he sees the passage teaching that Christ is “almost as if he descended from heaven itself” in the profession of Him being the Son of God so that the profession is so vitally linked to Christ that they are inseparable. (see Calvin’s commentary in his harmony of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, page 294ff)

Images of Christ being the Rock can be found in Genesis 3:15 (the one who crushes the serpent), Exodus 17:6; 33:21; Numbers 20:8; Deut 32:4; 2 Sam. 22:3; Psalm 18:2; 31:2; 118:22; Isaiah 17:10; Romans 9:33; 1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Peter 2:8.

[5] Theology oftentimes, has it experimental roots in the aversion to heresy. The Roman Catholic Church is built upon an ecclesiastical system created by man, and not the Bible. The Reformers, in juxtaposition to this, desired to define the church more specifically. For the task at hand, the Reformation, they did this.

[6] For an introductory study of the basic views of the Roman Catholic Church, see Loraine Boettner’s book Roman Catholicism, or Calvin’s work (soon to be published by Puritan Publications) on the Council of Trent.

[7] To utilize the word “universal” would have been playing into the hands of the word “Catholic” which literally is translated “universal” from the Latin. The reformers could have justly used this word, but it would have taken away from the force and vigor of the argument and point they sought to teach.

[8] Jesus and the disciples made up the first “gathering” of this new organization of the people of God as redeemed elect believers (not including Judas Iscariot) subsequent to the coming of the promised Messiah. Yet the presence of Judas Iscariot argues more for a pattern after the local body – a group of professing Christians made up of the elect and reprobate.

[9] Take careful note of John the Baptist for “there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). He is the last Old Testament saint in the Bible according to Jesus’ own testimony. (See Matthew 11:12ff)

[10] The church is the perfect bride. It is being washed by the Word of God day in and day out. As the Spirit sanctifies the remaining sin in believers the church becomes more holy in the visible world. But in the judgment courts of heaven, where the books are opened and the Lord God sovereignly rules over the salvation and reprobation of men, the imputed righteousness of Christ is resting on the church. The church can be seen in type in Zechariah 3:1ff where the high priest is brought before God, and Satan accuses him of being defiled. The Lord then rebukes Satan and silents him, and replaces the filthy rags of the priest with new clothes, white and clean. He receives a new robe and a new turban on his head. Then God makes a solemn oath to Joshua and states that the righteous Branch shall come forth and God will “remove the iniquity of the land in one day.” God did this for the church through the death of Christ.

[11] Romans 8:29-30 teach us that God sees Christian as already glorified though they are not in heaven.

[12] Luke 6:46 states, “Why do you call me Lord and do not do the things which I speak?” It is not enough for the sinner to profess to follow Jesus, he must abide in Christ and His Word. Without an earnest striving and yearning after the commands of God, the sinner’s profession is nothing more than lip service. 1 John 3:9 states, “Whoever is born of God does not commit sin.” The present active 3rd person singular form of the word (poieow) poiei. means to continue habitually in sin. The saved redeemed elect do not continue habitually in unhindered sin; they are in war with the flesh and are constantly desiring to mortify the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13). It is abhorrent to God and blasphemous to Christ to believe that men can be saved and never change. The very intrusion of the Kingdom of Heaven into time pushes us to see the truth of it.

[13] Faith is more than belief. It consists in notitia, assensus and fiducia. Notitia is the noting of a thing; like saying, “I see the chair”. Assensus is assenting to the truth that you do, ipso facto, see the chair. At this point, you have the same amount of belief that the demons do. They note and assent to the statement, “Jesus Christ is God’s Son, the only Savior of men.” But they do not have fiducia. Men can rationally work out, from the pages of the Bible, that Jesus claims to be the Son of God, the only Savior. They can have notitia and assensus, but only God can cause them to have fiducia. They must wholly lean on Jesus, trusting in Him with their whole being. This can only be done (seeing the truth of it, assenting to the truth, and wholly leaning upon that truth for sustenance) if God, in His mercy, regenerates the sinner’s heart, grants repentance and then implants the divine influence of faith.

[14] Our heavenly conversation is that disposition which a believer carries out because he knows he is a child of heaven and should act like one. Jeremiah Burroughs gives an exemplary treatment of this in his book, Gospel Conversation (Soli Deo Gloria Publishers, 1995) using Philippians 1:27 as the base text.

[15] 1 John 2:19

[16] It is not an ordinary working which He allows, but sometimes this does happen; more the former than the latter.

[17] The symbol of Christianity is not the cross; it is love (John 13:34). Love is to be shown to the brethren. If we love one another, we will show the world we are Christ’s disciples. To love is only possible if we know the God of love and if His love is alive in our hearts. Unless the Spirit of God dwells in us we can never love. It is the work of the Spirit in our souls, towards each other that show the world we are something different. The Spirit of the living God is inside of us if we are born anew. He is the symbol, in love, which the crux of Christianity. Defining the symbol of Christianity is easy once we understand it is an internal work expressing itself: it is the love of God procured by the Holy Spirit burning in our heart to such a degree that it motivates us to love one another.

[18] Jude v3 states that we should “contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints.” This contending is to be an agonizing over, or contention over the truth of God’s Word. The “faith” is the body of doctrine delivered to the church. It has once for all been delivered and is so sacred and important, that the saints are required to guard it, to contend for it no matter what.

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Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind