The Good News in the Bible

The "Visible" and the "Invisible" Church of Christ
William Diehl

Regarding the matter of keeping church records of baptism and membership, the churches of the Protestant Reformation are profoundly different from the Papal system in regards to the matter of church membership and salvation unto eternal life. To express this difference, the Reformers articulated the concept of the "visible" and the "invisible" church of Christ. Rome does not recognize these two concepts as being two different entities. Rome only sees the visible Roman Church as the sole institution with the "keys to the kingdom" and membership in the Roman Church is the only way to obtain eternal life because only through receiving the sacraments through priests ordained by the "Holy Roman Catholic Church" may one be saved. Thus to Rome the "invisible and the visible" church are one and the same.

Protestants however recognized that a believer in Jesus is only saved by personal faith in Christ and His atoning death on Calvary, not through membership (baptism) into an organization no matter how much that organization teaches true doctrine. Thus a believer in Jesus has the forgiveness of sin, eternal life, and is a member of the "invisible" church because his name is written in heaven and he shares in the Life of all believers regardless of membership in an organized body of believers.

Recognizing the existence of the "invisible" church however does not do away with the concept of a "visible" church organization which conducts church services, ordains full time paid ministers and gospel workers, educates children and college age students in a parochial school system, seeks to systematize doctrine and defend true doctrine, develop methods to evangelize and proclaim the gospel, examine baptismal candidates, and discipline and disfellowship those members who depart from the common faith of the body of believers or who depart into open disregard for outward obedience to the commandments.

Paul recognized the authority of the body of believers to "judge" whether a certain believer could still be considered a part of the "visible" church or not. Those in open rebellion to the commandments or in open departure from the common doctrine were to be "delivered unto Satan" or dismissed from membership so that they may consider the seriousness of their offense and come to repentance. At the same time however the apostles recognized that only God knows the heart of a man and only He can have the final say as regards the eternal destiny of any person.

So keeping records and managing finances and administering schools and all the other functions of the "visible" church are God approved duties of the Church, but these must never be confused with the "invisible church" whose builder and maker is God and whose "record keeper" is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the true Book of Life. Membership in this spiritual body is membership in His true Kingdom which is not of this world but a heavenly kingdom against which the gates of Hell shall not prevail.

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