In another article (144) we made two claims that are heavily rejected these days. One is the claim that the visible church of Jesus Christ is not a legitimate object of our faith; the other is that the Bible has been validated as the true Word of God over many centuries. The first claim is an offense to people who want the luxury of not having to find the truth for themselves--they just want the church to be infallible and tell them what they need to believe. The second is an offense to people who don't want to have a Word from God in the church or in the Bible. So, these two truths need some explanation.
Let's begin with the issues that surround our attitude toward the Church. We will deal with the issues of biblical veracity at another time.
The issues involving the Church are legion. Where should we start? How about the true nature of the Church? When Jesus said He would build His Church, He was speaking about a unique organism, not a monolithic organization. Visible Christianity (that aspect of the faith that people can see in the lives of those who profess Christ) and true Christianity (that aspect of the faith that God alone sees) are not the same. The visible Church is not the same as the invisible Church of Jesus Christ.
What makes them different? The visible church is organized and controlled by men. The invisible church is organized and controlled by God. The visible church is known by its structures, its teachings, its adherents, and its organization. The invisible church is ultimately only known to God.
Who is involved in them? In the visible church, people who subscribe to the various doctrines and practices that a particular organization sets forth as its vision of the will of God are those who are involved. In the invisible church, people who have believed God in respect to their need to repent and believe in His Gospel are those who are involved. At any given point in history there is an intermingling of the visible and invisible. The visible church is made up of people who believe the true Gospel and people who do not. The invisible church is made up of only people who have been genuinely born of God.
How do we tell them apart? Ultimately we cannot. However, there are some tell-tale indicators. The final answer is in the Bible because it is the Word of God. Whenever a humanly controlled organization strays from the teachings of the Word of God by substituting tradition and dogmatic claims of infallibility, we can tell that it is no longer a legitimate reflection of the true Church. Whenever a church membership and leadership are willing to submit their beliefs to the Bible to see if it supports what they have been setting forth as the Truth, the true church is becoming visible.
This raises a key question: how do we know that our church is a part of the True Church? It is not by organizational ties. It is not by traditional longevity. It is by the harmony between what the Bible says and what the church teaches and attempts to practice. Do you know the Bible well enough to know the difference? Why not?