Invisible Church? Where else can I find unity?

The church fathers listed the invisible church a key tenet of the Nicene Creed, an essential Christian belief. The Nicene Creed lists it as “I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic church.” Catholic means universal. Apostolic means continuing from the teaching of the apostles, the church which composes the body of Christ.

Invisible Church? Where else can I hope to find unity? We strive toward the unity called for by Jesus in John 17:20-22  as individual Christians looking to and following Christ. Who can achieve this between organizations called churches beyond a superfluous acknowledgement? Too frequently some of these organizations came into existence to perpetuate other purposes or motives beyond the glorification of Christ and the making of disciples. People attend churches, but do they live as disciples? Only God knows. Thus we have the invisible church. How is it possible to achieve unity between groups of individuals ignorant of the creeds of their organization? They might not submit to them, nor even believe them. Modern marketing and program driven organizations have worsened the problem by drawing in numerous people for a multiplicity of reasons beyond following God.

So I will not officially participate in the ecumenical movement. I will fellowship, pray with, pray for, and love my brothers and sisters who attend other churches. The ecumenical movement exists for the sake of dialogue. For this I am thankful, just as I am thankful for the existence of the United Nations as a place for global dialogue.

I can only view the true church as invisible as I cannot place faith in organizations created and marketed by men. Sometimes, I may work with them as imperfect instruments, but I will not try to cobble them together. I will focus on Christ and encourage others to do so. I will encourage other believers to seek out a community of believers, but caution them about looking for the perfect church. When someone speaks to me about restoring the new testament church, I ask them which dysfunctional church do they want to restore? Rome? Corinth?

Disregard of Invisible Church Simplistic and Heretical

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson in Lament for a Divided Church says ‘The protracted religious wars in 16th- and 17th-century Europe were proof enough that the notion of an ” invisible church” couldn’t stop Christians from killing each other.’ This is too simplistic, too general, and glazes over the complexity of each of these wars. Referring to the invisible church as a notion borders heresy.

Frequently people called these wars religious to glaze over true base motives of greed or lust for power. The 30 Years War was far too complex with far too much self interest and nation building to say it was just about confessional differences. A poor example or reason to disregard the concept of  the ‘invisible church.’ This does not give attention to Christians opposed to the wars. Nor does it properly distinguish worldly people who called themselves Christian in order to gain and maintain status, influence, titles, and land. In contrast, many believers opposed the crusades. I lament, not divisions between organizations. I lament divisions among true believers, true members of the invisible church.

Where I can Work Toward Unity of the Invisible Church

Only within the space of my influence can I achieve unity with the Holy Sprit working through me, within hearing of my voice in my home, neighborhood, church, and community among those who have submitted to one Lord. Television, newspapers, or blog posts will not report it. Unnoticed by media, it exists between living individuals in submission to Christ. We find members of the invisible church as we meet and form relationships.

Unity in the body of Christ exists between believers not organizations. As when Elijah protested to God, “Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” Romans 11:3-4. Elijah could not see nor know the seven thousand, but God knew them.

The Invisible Church becomes Visible During Persecution

During times of persecution we most quickly recognize members of the invisible church as fear drives away goats. And until the end when our Lord sorts us out, goats will contaminate the organizations where we meet with the motives and ideals of the world. Hopefully, we can minimize dust worship and find a community of believers inside these organizations. Great opportunity exists with this corruption. With so many unbelievers among us, we can use our fellowships as mission fields. Within my own congregation I can go and make disciples.

Those that Deny the Invisible Church have a Difficult Path

Those fellowships that do not acknowledge the creeds have a more difficult path. Frequently straying from orthodox belief, many have cut themselves off from history and the traditions of the church. Many of these fellowships declare, “the Bible only,” but lack a uniform consensus as to the meaning of some scriptures. Although declaring “the Bible only,” their familiarity with contextual meaning is often shallow and fragmented.

In this environment, heresy both intentional and unintentional runs rampant. Pride in the guise of “special knowledge” drives intentional heresy. Ignorance drives unintentional heresy. My brothers, sisters, and I  in my pray for them frequently this prayer, “More especially we pray for thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.”

Unity will only be achieved through the answer of God’s prayer and will, not with ecumenical movements tempted to substitute and compromise a faith built of the wisdom of man rather than the power of God. God will reunite the invisible church in his time. May it be so. Lord come quickly. Meanwhile we must do what we can within our own space driven along by the Holy Spirit and let God do his work as he sees fit.

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