The True Church exists in two simultaneous modes; the visible and invisible church.
By the visible church we refer to the local assemblies of God’s people, who believe in Jesus, worship Him, break bread and who observe and propagate the teachings of the Apostles.
The visible church, can be referred to as the churches. They are the witness of God (for better or worse) in every community where they are established. Churches come and they go, they can shine brightly, or they can apostasize, they have differing histories, experiences, expressions of worship, and they can be seen by men.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven” (Matthew 5)
Our local church, ‘Believers in Grace Fellowship’, came into existence in 1982. It was founded by a few couples, (including my wife and I), in my home town of Cedar Rapids , Iowa. We had been in prayer, and seeking the LORD, and had also immersed ourselves in the study of the Pastoral Epistles ( I and 2 Timothy, and Titus), and came to the conviction that we were being called to begin a fellowship. We first met in our home, with about ten people, for worship, prayer, communion and of course Bible preaching and teaching.
We were merely following a pattern that has been uninterrupted for the past two thousand years, among people on every continent, language, culture, environment, for all of these twenty plus centuries. Millions of people have organized themselves, some in the humblest dwellings, others in more grandiose surroundings, often in very hostile circumstances, and other times in peace and tranquility, in order to form assemblies as visible expressions of the Church.
This is the Visible church, and it is God’s plan, his program for the time being.
What is the invisible Church? It is the Church (singular), Church with a capitol C. The Invisible Church was founded by Jesus Christ, and built upon the teachings of His Apostles, and it began in Jerusalem, shortly after the Resurrection of Messiah.
The Invisible church doesn’t “come and go”, for it is a fixed reality, and nothing Satan or the Kings of the Earth can ever do will be able to confound it. Jesus said , “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it…”.
The History of the Church is the history of nonstop assault by the powers of darkness; persecution, false teaching,rival false churches, false Words, corrupted leadership…it goes on an on, but there is still a real Church and always will be.
Local churches can ‘come and go’ or they can go bad, succumbing to the Spirit of the Age, or they can be crushed by persecution, but the Church isn’t going anywhere, until God takes her to Heaven to rule with Christ.
Why do some call it ‘the Invisible Church’? This expresses several ideas…
* Most of the Church has gone on into heaven, and is awaiting the completion of the plan of God. We do not see them, but they are there and real. There is a great cloud of witnesses, a good many Martyrs, and Saints of whom the world is not worthy, whom no one on this earth can see. They are the Church, just as well as we on earth are. They believe in Jesus Christ, love God and have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and make up the congregation of the saints.
* The Invisible Church also refers to the fact that only God can see who is really and truly born again. Only born again, regenerated People make up the church. The Church may be much larger than we thought it was, or it may be much smaller, but God sees who His people are. How many professing Christians are truly saved? How many in History really believed in Jesus?
* The World cannot ‘see’ the true church, it doesn’t ‘get’ us, because it doesn’t (or won’t) see Jesus, our Lord.
There is a passage in the book of Hebrews about the true nature of the Church, which has always blessed and encouraged me,
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. ( Hebrews 12:22-24)
We in the church are a part of something much bigger than our little Assemblies. We are in continuity with the Apostles and martyrs through the centuries, and we are part of something that shall never pass away, and that cannot ever be quenched.There are Angels at our Assemblies! The Church we are part of is called ‘the church of the firstborn’ and our fellow members are ‘the spirits of just men made perfect”!
Most importantly of all, in the church… we come to Jesus…He is there where two or more are gathered in his name. We must never forget that, and lose the sense of mystery and awe of what Church means. Jesus himself is in our Assemblies, and He stands in the congregation and joins in our praises to God, according to the books of Psalms and Hebrews,
For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,
Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.
And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.( Hebrews 2:11-13)