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Theology > Church > Nature of the Church > Visible and Invisible


With reference to the Church the words “visible” and “invisible” are not Biblical words, but the concepts they depict are surely Biblical. “Visible” speaks of the local assembly of believers which meets in a particular locale, while “invisible” refers to all the believers, living and dead, that comprise the body of Christ. While the visible is what man sees, the invisible is what God sees. While the words do not appear in Scripture, they were chosen by believers in order to give verbalization to two definitive concepts found in the Scriptures.

Both perceptions, visible and invisible, are referred to in Scripture by the same word, ekklēsia. In each perspective the central concept still controls: the Church is an assembly of people which has been called out of the world into fellowship with Christ and into fellowship with each other. The writers of the New Testament used ekklēsia in these two senses:

Local or Visible: Acts 15:41; Rom. 16:5, 16, 23; I Cor. 1:2; 16:19; II Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:2; Col. 4:15-16; I Thess. 1:1; 2:14; II Thess. 2:1; Philem. 2; Rev. 1:10; 2-3.

Universal or Invisible: Matt. 16:16-18; Acts 2:47; 5:11; 8:3; 9:31; 15:22; 20:20, 28; Rom. 16:5; I Cor. 10:32; 12:13, 28; 15:9; Eph. 1:22-23; 3:10, 21; 4:4-16; 5:23-30, 32; Col. 1:18, 24; Philem. 2; Heb. 12:23.

The local Church is the visible expression of the invisible; the local is a manifestation of the universal; “The visible church of professing believers and their children, not the invisible church of the elect, is available to us now” (Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, 854). Being visible it is also spoken of as the professing Church or the historical Church; additionally, being local and visible means that there are many manifestations, so there are many churches.

The universal Church is composed of all those who are redeemed in Christ, those dead and those alive—the ones whose names are in the Book of Life (Rev. 21:27); being invisible it is sometimes referred to as the mystical body of Christ. Therefore, being universal and mystical this manifestation is one. There are other phrases that speak of this oneness:

Jew and Gentile are both “one” (Eph. 2:14);
“one new man” (Eph. 2:15);
“reconcile them both to God in one body” (Eph. 2:16);
“the household of God” (Eph. 2:19);
“the whole building” (Eph. 2:21);
“a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21);
“a dwelling place” (Eph. 2:22);
“the general assembly and church of the firstborn, who are registered in heaven” (Heb. 12:23);
“the people of God” (I Pet. 2:9).

The above two distinction are made in order to clarify, present, and discuss the concepts of Scripture regarding the Church. But the two are essentially the same, because there is only one Church, which is the Body of Christ. As the Head is one, so the Body is one; as the Groom is one, so the Bride is one; as the Foundation is one, so the Building is one. The closeness of the two concepts is understood with the realization that each single Church is merely a representation of the one Church.

The multiplicity establishes the unity—the many reflect the one.

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