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Unread 09-03-2016, 08:34 PM   #1
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"The Invisible Church"

When I was Protestant, I rather uncritically accepted the idea that there was an 'invisible Church' that was made up of all of those who were 'truly saved'.

However, now that I've left that camp, I have a hard time making sense of this doctrine. The Church I see described in the New Testament and in the Church Fathers who immediately succeeded the Apostles is very visible indeed. It can be pointed to - one can point to the Apostles who were the first bishops of their respective dioceses (territories) or their successors (St. Linus I, Bishop of Rome, who succeeded St. Peter the Apostle, for example). The Church gathered around that Bishop and around his presbyters ('priests', which word is nothing more than a contraction of 'presbyter') in the Eucharist. If the authorities wanted to persecute the Church, they knew exactly who to persecute to best accomplish their aims - the Bishop, his priests, and the deacons.

So I'm afraid I don't get where this idea of a separate, 'invisible Church' comes from, apart from the highly visible and public Church. Could someone explain?

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Unread 09-03-2016, 10:34 PM   #2
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Ekklesia does mean "congregation," so this makes sense. However the NT also talks about how the church is the new Israel, and how true Israel wasn't necessarily a visible nation but rather a remnant of those who were faithful to God. So the idea of the invisible church is that the true Church would be those who are faithful to an invisible God, not necessarily those who are faithful to a visible institution.
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Unread 09-04-2016, 02:31 AM   #3
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Are all those within the visible church truly believers in Christ? Are there not apostates and those who cling to the name of a church and perhaps even some vestiges of tradition? If these exist, and I think we can agree that they do as several books of the New Testament and certainly the church fathers all acknowledge this, then there is a difference between what we see and can identify as mortals as the church, and that which truly is. That is the distinction I see. A side note, some have also used the term to include those who have gone before and kept the faith and reference those as well as part of the term, as a reference to believers who kept the faith, living and dead, whom we as mortals without omniscience cannot differentiate.
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Unread 09-04-2016, 04:38 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by IsaactheSyrian View Post

So I'm afraid I don't get where this idea of a separate, 'invisible Church' comes from, apart from the highly visible and public Church. Could someone explain?
What do you mean by "comes from"? Are you looking for a historical account of the phrase?

Besides that, do you think all who are part of the Church are highly visible, or should be?

What about those hidden members who must be reluctant about broadcasting their allegiance for fear of severe repercussions? Here, thinking of China or other nations where religious freedom is stunted.
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Unread 09-09-2016, 09:05 PM   #5
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The Westminster Confession of faith is, of course, a document with both highs and lows. The lows include grammatical acrobatics and enigmatic proof texting. One may recognize this as the result of compromise between a large number of people who are in general agreement but each have their own very strong, very particular convictions.

In the case of the discussion of the invisible Church, it appears in the section on the church, chapter 25. In its distinction between the invisible and visible Church comma it begins by identifying the invisible church as consisting of all who have been, or, and will be. This is much bigger than the simple desire to distinguish the "real" Christians from the false ones. In fact that very chapter goes on to be clear but there is a mixture of righteousness and wickedness within the Church Catholic, any individual church, and indeed any individual believer.

In this way, the confession distinguishes between the church that is now only partially visible and the church that will be fully seen eschatologically. I would argue that that makes it more catholic, more universal and embracing -- though the same words may be used to describe something sectarian.

(Edit: that is, by recognizing that what is currently visible consists only of the church in the present, while past and future Christians are just as much a part of God's church as are present-day Christians -- though the term "invisible" is strange to our ears 350 years later, we can readily see how the presently visible church is only partial and that the eschatological fullness of the church is therefore yet "invisible" in some sense.)

Apologies for any typos or grammatical enigmas of my own, this was dictated through speech-to-text.
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Unread 09-09-2016, 09:49 PM   #6
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Right, it's just a weird phrasing. And often times, at least in my experience with Reformed folks, it's used to refer to 'real Christians' as opposed to 'fake Christians'.

The problem I have with the phrase is that the Church is visible, and can be pointed to. The Church in its eschatological fulness is brought together in the Divine Liturgy, so that past, present, and future are all together in one. If one doesn't have a theology that somehow permits that eschatological fulness to be celebrated in the here and now (the ancient Church understood that such fulness is celebrated in the Divine Liturgy, or the Mass, as the Latin West called it), the 'invisible church', to me, seems like a platitude. What is she? How do we interact with her members?

Historic Christianity has answered that question in two ways. Firstly, by celebrating the Divine Liturgy, an act which, in the sacrifice of the altar, calls to mind and makes present as though standing at the eschaton "... all things which have come to pass for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection, the ascension into heaven, the sitting down at the right hand and the second and glorious coming..." (to quote directly from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom), offering to God "...Your own of Your own ... on behalf of all and for all".

And secondly, by encouraging the faithful to call upon the intercessions before the throne of God of those who have gone before us, especially she who has great maternal boldness before Christ the Saviour - Mary, the ever-virgin God-bearer (Theotokos).
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Unread 09-17-2016, 05:40 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IsaactheSyrian View Post
Right, it's just a weird phrasing. And often times, at least in my experience with Reformed folks, it's used to refer to 'real Christians' as opposed to 'fake Christians'.
Right, which is chauvinistic and dualistic.

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The problem I have with the phrase is that the Church is visible, and can be pointed to. The Church in its eschatological fulness is brought together in the Divine Liturgy, so that past, present, and future are all together in one. If one doesn't have a theology that somehow permits that eschatological fulness to be celebrated in the here and now (the ancient Church understood that such fulness is celebrated in the Divine Liturgy, or the Mass, as the Latin West called it), the 'invisible church', to me, seems like a platitude. What is she? How do we interact with her members?

Historic Christianity has answered that question in two ways. Firstly, by celebrating the Divine Liturgy, an act which, in the sacrifice of the altar, calls to mind and makes present as though standing at the eschaton "... all things which have come to pass for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection, the ascension into heaven, the sitting down at the right hand and the second and glorious coming..." (to quote directly from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom), offering to God "...Your own of Your own ... on behalf of all and for all".

And secondly, by encouraging the faithful to call upon the intercessions before the throne of God of those who have gone before us, especially she who has great maternal boldness before Christ the Saviour - Mary, the ever-virgin God-bearer (Theotokos).
Irenaeus and the real Chrysostom may be gathered together around the Table with us, present at the Table together, but we can't see them. For that matter, you and I may be gathered around the Table together, but we cannot see one another. Yes?
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