When Protestants speak of the distinction between the visible and the invisible church, it is not without good reason. We make this distinction because we recognize Scripture's clear portrayal of the church as both the elect people of God, whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life (Rev. 21:27), and the visible community of faith established on earth (Matt. 28:18-20). Yet, as Scripture also shows us, these two are not always one and the same. There is the church as we see it and the church as God sees it. Thus, Protestants have included specific language in their confessions to uphold this important distinction as part of their ecclesiology. In the Reformed churches, for example, we confess in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession that there are "hypocrites, who are mixed in the church along with the good and yet are not part of the church, although they are outwardly in it." Likewise, Chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession of Faith points out that "the catholic or universal Church which is invisible consists of the whole number of the elect" and that "the visible Church... consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion and of their children."
Michael Brown is pastor of Christ United Reformed Church (Santee, California).
Issue: "Has God Failed?" Sept./Oct. 2006 Vol. 15 No. 5 Page number(s): 10-13
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