We’ve been going through an old list of questions and answers contained in the Westminster Larger Catechism published in the 17th Century. Recently we’ve been answering questions about God’s church. We saw that there is a ‘visible’ church which is a society made up of people who profess to be believers in Christ and share in each other’s gifts. But if there is a ‘visible’ church, what is the ‘invisible’ church?
The ‘invisible’ church is the whole number of the elect Christians that are gathered under Christ as their head, or one day will be. In other words, the ‘invisible’ church is made up of all Christians – past, present and future.
Jesus speaks of the invisible church using the illustration of a sheep pen: ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd’ (John 10:14-16).
Jesus is gathering his people together into one group. Some are already gathered with him in paradise. Some are gathered to him now on earth. Other members are yet to come into the church. But the good news is that all will have the Lord Jesus Christ as their shepherd and enjoy salvation in heaven for the rest of eternity.
So why is this church called ‘invisible’? Because we as humans don’t know precisely who is a part of the church of God – it is ‘invisible’ to us.
Some members of God’s church are invisible to us because they are no longer here on earth, they’re rejoicing in paradise out of sight.
Some members of God’s church are invisible to us because they have not come to Christ yet. They are unsaved at this stage.
The rest of the members of God’s church we may be able to physically see, but they are invisible to us because we cannot truly know if they are part of God’s elect. The apostle Paul warns the Ephesian elders that some who are in the church are not true sheep of God: ‘I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them’ (Acts 20:29-30).
So the church of God is ultimately invisible to us. Only God can see into paradise, and see into the future and see into the human heart. So only God is able to see the ‘invisible’ church.
So what is the difference between the ‘visible’ church and the ‘invisible’ church. The theologian Wayne Grudem says that the visible church is ‘the church as Christians on earth see it’ while the invisible church is ‘the church as God sees it’.
So how do you become a part of the ‘invisible’ church and get to go to heaven? You need to trust that Jesus Christ died for you. If you do that, you are included in Christ’s sheep pen and have eternal life.
Have you trusted in Jesus’ death for you and are part of the ‘invisible’ church?