One, Holy, Invisible Universal Church

Have you ever wondered why some churches included the phrase “we believe in the one, holy, invisible universal church” in their statement of faith or confession?

Well, I’m glad you asked. 🙂

The reason is that for a few hundred – no, make that a thousand or so – years a lot of believes believed that there was one, universal visible “church.” Like a lot of things, this visible church started out united, but became fragmented over the years leading to the development of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, the Coptic Church, the Nestorian Church and, eventually, the Protestant Church (or, should I say, churches).

Unfortunately, this fragmentation did little to change the view that there was one ‘visible church’. Instead, folks simply assumed that THEIR church was the ONE, and everyone else was not. (sigh)

Sometime during the 1500’s this view (thankfully) began to change – as noted in the Westminster Confession of 1646 which states:

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 fulness of Him that fills all in all. (Ch. XXV)

However, this was not to be the end of the debate (double sigh).

Remember our small church from yesterday that required all new members to be baptized by them?

Well, they are most likely part of a ‘visible church’ undercurrent that swept through the USA Baptist churches in the mid-1800’s.

To this group, the “church is not in any meaningful sense universal but is rather local and visible” (quoted from Mark Noll’s “A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada”). In other words, it did not matter if you were “baptized” in another church – whether that church be five miles or 500 miles away. The only thing that mattered was what happened at their local church (i.e. the visible church).

Now you know why some churches talk about the one, holy, invisible universal church. 😀

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