How would you answer the question, what is a church? The Greek word for ‘church’ in the Bible can refer to any gathering of people. So you could call a crowd at a football match a ‘church’ (and for some people sport is indeed their religious ‘church’). But when the word ‘church’ is used in the New Testament it is re-defined to mean Christ’s church – a group of Christians. But even then the word ‘church’ is used in two ways. Sometimes it refers to what theologians call the ‘invisible’ church and at other times to what they call a local ‘visible’ church (such as Drummoyne Baptist). This week I want to look at what is the ‘invisible’ church and next week what is the local ‘visible’ church.
One Christian Confession defines the invisible church as the ‘entire number of the elect, all those who have been, who are, or who shall be gathered into one under Christ, Who is the Head.’ Thus all true Christians who have repented of their sins and put their trust in Jesus’ death on the cross for their sins are part of the ‘invisible’ church. We call this church invisible because we cannot be a hundred percent certain who is in it. Only God knows which people the Holy Spirit has invisibly worked upon to make them be members of this church. Whereas a local ‘visible’ church knows exactly who the members are – those who have been formally accepted into membership.
A number of Bible passages use the word ‘church’ when referring to the ‘invisible’ church. For example the author of Hebrews says: ‘But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven’ (Hebrews 12:23). The ‘church’ here is all whose names are recorded in God’s book of life – no unbelievers allowed. Therefore the word ‘church’ here cannot be referring to a local ‘visible’ church – it must be the ‘invisible’ church.
So when you see the word ‘church’ in your Bibles ask yourself which church is it referring to, the ‘invisible’ or ‘visible’. But before you do that, ask yourself whether you belong to the ‘invisible’ church. It is very easy to join some local ‘visible’ churches, but that does not guarantee you are saved from your sins. Just because you are a member of a local ‘visible’ church doesn’t mean you have eternal life. Only those who have truly repented of their sins and believed in Jesus have joined the ‘invisible’ church and are saved. Is that you?