Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cross-Examination of Frank: Q3

Q3: Frank, an interesting albeit long answer, with various false assumptions however.

In your second answer, you mentioned that the “local church is the visible church,” and then continued with a long excursive on the local church. I note that your answer differs from the traditional understanding of the visible church being the universal church, not the local church. Regardless, the invisible church was not mentioned again in your answer. So to restate the question, is there any use of the concept of the invisible church in Church practice besides the belief that souls are saved not by church attendance but by grace?


  1. My understanding of visible/invisible doesn’t vary from the traditional understanding in any meaningful way. For Daniel to do more than merely make that accusation, he’ll have to pony up some evidence of the “visible church” which isn’t actually a local church (3 marks, after all), and how it is that the “invisible” church is discerned apart from God’s final judgment and the ultimate glorification of the saints.
  2. The visible/invisible distinction Daniel ought to hold to is in WCF XXV. It requires (which his demand for separation completely ignores) that only inside the visible church is where the 3 marks he thinks are necessary for “the church” can be demonstrated (specifically WCF XXV.3). These things don’t exist apart from local bodies who are actually doing them.
  3. I like it that Q3 intimates that only those with an active theology of the “invisible church” (meaning: you have to account for them all, therefore accounting for those in the visible but not in the invisible) have a decent ecclesiology, and therefore a decent theology. The only mention of the “invisible church” in the WCF is in XXV.1, and my use of that term is in-line with the WCF’s use and weight of the term.
  4. What is utterly evident in the Larger Catechism is that men aren’t required to discern the invisible church inside the visible church. Q61 makes the distinction that church membership doesn’t equate to salvation, but Q90 makes it transparently clear that only at the final judgment will God make the final sorting of goats and sheep. In reformed baptist circles, (a people I would love to hear Daniel’s opinion of, unless he parrots R. Scott Clark) that means we don’t baptize infants in order that we don’t admit unbelievers to the visible church. In more paleo-reformed circles, the baptism of infants is taken to be the expression of the broad offer of the Gospel to believers and their children. Because we cannot discern the elect from the non-elect, says the paedobaptist, we must assume the sovereignty of the God and therefore the inviolability of His promises. If the promises are “to the children”, then we must assume they are in the church without regard to the status of their own faith or confession. For those at home, this is why Paedos practice confirmation and credos don’t.

But the point for this discussion is clear: how the paedobaptist then won’t extend the full benefits of those promises to visible members he sees as still needing grace is utterly beyond explanation. You cannot hold a confessional view and then demand a doctrine of separation which has actual church discipline absent from the process. Separation cannot be a matter of private judgment but a matter of ecclesiastical practice for the sake of pastoral ends.

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