The Church 13

Ephesians 5:28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body.

Col 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 15
I. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.
II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.
III. Unto this catholic and visible Church, Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world; and doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.
IV. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less, visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

It is hard for me to understand how the WCF (Westminster Confession of Faith) does not step over the biblical bounds in terms of the nature of the church at this point. The Belgic Confession seems to be far more careful at this point than Westminster. The true Church is, as the WCF sets out in section 1, “consists of the whole number of the elect”… “and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” However, when it goes on to set out the visible Church, it certainly appears to be less than consistent with the teaching of section 1, though it would perhaps be better to say that section 2-4 seems to become more important or at least takes over in terms of the focus (as set out by the WCF) than section 1.

It is the invisible Church, that is, the true Church that is united to Christ and is the very essence of the true Church. There is nothing that should override the basic teaching of Scripture on the essence of the true Church. The visible church is not and cannot be the same in terms of being universal. If the invisible Church is the very body of Christ, then the visible church is not the very body of Christ. This is a vital distinction.

The WCF goes on to assert that the children of those who profess true religion, which would not be the same thing as children of true believers, are members of the visible church. Even more, it says that the visible church is the “kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” This is bringing in a “good and necessary consequence” that seems to be brought in at the expense of Scripture. The Scriptures tell us that a person must be born from above or regenerate to be in the kingdom.

John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Colossians 1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,

It is very dangerous to override the teachings of Scripture on the essence of the Church regardless of how it is done. The WCF is a wonderful Confession overall, but at this point it can be very deceptive. It tells us that there is ordinarily no possibility of salvation outside of this visible church. The Bible has many warnings about being a true follower of Christ, but it never has this particular warning in it. The Bible gives many signs concerning salvation, but it never tells us this one. We can be sure that many if not most of the writers of the WCF would agree that it is no sign or evidence of salvation to be part of the visible church, so it is amazing that they wrote what they did here.

As the WCF notes in section 4, particular churches are more or less pure according to the doctrine of the gospel they embrace. Luther, however, was more clear on this point and more accurate as well. He said that “justification by faith alone is the article upon which the Church stands or falls.” It is true that the WCF was written in different times than ours, but it is hard to find a church that preaches the Gospel as set out in Scripture. Should one join themselves to a visible church that does not preach the Gospel of grace alone? It seems that it is far more dangerous to join a local and visible church that does not preach the Gospel than it is not to join one.

A visible church can have wonderful people who are very moral and nice and a wonderful man as pastor who holds to orthodox creeds. However, that does not mean that the minister or the people are part of the invisible church and that a believer should be part of that congregation. Surely it does not reflect negatively on the salvation of a person or person who do not wish to be part of a visible church that does not preach the true Gospel.

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