Two weeks ago I explained that the ‘invisible’ church is all believers in Jesus Christ. For the next few weeks I want to look at what are ‘visible’ churches.
‘Visible’ churches, in contrast to ‘invisible’ churches, are all local churches where we can see visibly who are members and who are not members. Thus, Drummoyne Baptist church is a ‘visible’ church. But if the word ‘church’ means a ‘gathering of people’ what are the necessary ingredients that make a Christian church more than a gathering of people. Are two Christians having coffee at Gloria Jeans considered a ‘visible’ church?
Historically it has been understood that a ‘visible’ church consists of at least two essential ingredients: the true gospel being preached and the administration of the ordinances/sacraments of baptism and communion.
The first ingredient, that the gospel must be preached, is obviously essential. If a group of people are gathered together and believe that Jesus is not their saviour from sin, then they are not a Christian church. This is why Christian churches do not recognise many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches as ‘visible’ churches. While they preach that man is saved through Jesus and good works, they are preaching a false gospel that denies the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. We cannot accept them as Christian brothers and sisters.
The second ingredient, the administration of baptism and Lord’s supper, is also obviously essential. The ordinances are functioning as basic membership controls. Baptism is a recognition of admittance into the church and the Lord’s Supper is a sign of continuing membership – the church signifies that it considers those who receive baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be saved. Therefore if a man preaches the gospel on the street but does not celebrate the ordinances with those gathered, they have not formed a ‘visible’ church, even though the gospel is being preached.
Over the coming weeks we’ll look at other characteristics of ‘visible’ churches, but for now we need to recognise that if the gospel is not preached and people are not distinguished as believers or unbelievers, you cannot have a ‘visible’ church. Are you part of a ‘visible’ church at its most basic level? Do you regularly meet with others to hear the gospel preached and to see people officially recognised as believers?