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September 01, 2005

Ch. XXIII. Q. 127. How is the Church visible?

THE CHURCH is visible because she is a society which can be distinguished by visible marks and possesses visible membership, organization and institutions.1

2. Her membership may vary but is visible, because (a.) her members are made such by the visible rite of Baptism: (b.) They are officially recognized and controlled by visible acts of communion and discipline: (c.) None of her members cease to be such, even though excommunicate, until the day of judgment, when their exclusion will be visible to all: (d.) Her great Head, Jesus Christ, is visible in His glorious Manhood to those who have entered Paradise. The visibility of the Church does not, of course, signify that all men can before the last day see and distinguish all her members, but that her members on earth are visible by nature, and can be distinguished by visible means. Those who are in the Church Expectant and the Church Triumphant are, of course, invisible to those on earth.

3. Her organization is visible because it is founded upon the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone2; and it ever continues to be perpetuated and focused in a visible Ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, by means of the Apostolic succession which Christ ordained. As has been shown, the Head of that organization is visible in Paradise, at the same time that the Ministry which He visibly appointed is visible on earth (Q. 122. 2).

4. The Church possesses visible institutions of permanent nature, e.g.: (a.) her Sacraments, whereby Christ has ordained the bestowal of grace until the end of the world: (b.) her common worship, in which her members are required in Holy Scripture to participate3: (c.) the Lord's Day, which is a distinctive institution of the Church, the observance of which characterizes her members:4 (d.) her discipline, which, of course, she can administer to those only who are visibly her members.

5. The distinction between the visible Church and an invisible one consisting of holy persons only, is not scriptural, (a.) No Biblical passage can be quoted in which it is recognized: (b.) No one is spoken of in the New Testament as a member of the Church for which Christ died, who is not also a baptized member of the visible society established by His Apostles: (c.) Our Lord's command to hear the Church 5 implies that there is but one Church to hear and that a visible one: (d.) The New Testament describes the visible Church as exercising a spiritual discipline6 which would be impossible if she were not the Church which the Holy Ghost resides in and sanctifies. The only Church of Christ to which either holy or sinful persons belong is visible and always will be so. Some use the phrase invisible Church in an orthodox sense, but in an unnatural one. They mean that, since we cannot discriminate between the holy and sinful members of the Church, we cannot see how many of her present members will remain in her after the day of judgment. Christ clearly intended, however, that sinners as well as the righteous should be retained in His Church until the end of the world.7

1 Isa. II. 2: Dan. II. 35, 44: Matt. V. 14:XVIII. 17: I. Cor.VI. 4: XI: I. Tim. III: Tit. I. Palmer on the Church, I. iii: Forbes' 39 Arts, XIX. 265-267: Staley's Cath. Church, IIL v. 87-90: Mason's Faith of the Gosp. VII. 9: Sadler's Second Adam, XIII: Church Doc., ch. III. § 1: Norris' Rudiments, 122, 128: Maclear's Introd. 222, 223: Schouppe, III. 79-86, 215-221: Moehler's Symbolism, §§45-51: Hammond's Christian Church, ch. XV., XVI: pp. 235-288: Gore on the Ministry, ch. I: Hooker's Ec. Pol., III. 1. 3, et seq: V. 68. 5-7.

2 Ephes. II. 20

3Acts II. 42: Heb. X. 25

4 Acts XX. 7: I. Cor. XI. 1, 2: Rev. I. 10: Hessey's Bamp. Lec's., Lec. I

5 Matt. XVIII. 17

6 cf. I Cor. V

7 S. Matt. XIII. 37-42, 47-49: Q. 129. Palmer; Staley's Cath. Church, 87-90: Schouppe, III. 48: Moehler §49.

Posted by Trevor at September 1, 2005 10:14 AM