Assessing the Visible-Invisible Church Distinction: A Progressive Covenantal Approach

This paper seeks to explicate the visible-invisible church distinction as used in theologies. Historic Protestant ecclesiology acknowledges a distinction between those who visibly belong to the new covenant community and those who also invisibly (internally) are included in the new covenant (i.e., the elect). Yet, much confusion over the terminology. For covenant theology, the visible-invisible church language has been used to advance their understanding of a mixed view of the church. For those holding a regenerate view of the church, the terminology of visible-invisible church is used in a different way. The purpose of this paper is to argue that the visible church is what we see locally as those who have covenanted together, but that the presence of false professions does not mean that the church is constituted by nature with unbelievers. Stated differently, baptistic churches can consistently acknowledge a distinction between the visible new covenant community (the church) and the invisible new covenant members (those who are elect and united with Christ) while maintaining that the church is constituted as a regenerate community. Alternatively, acknowledging the visible-invisible distinction need not result in the admission that the church is constituted as a mixed community of believers and unbelievers. Clearly, a fundamental difference in understanding of the constitution of the visible local church exists between covenantal theologians and Baptist theologians. The thesis will be demonstrated by (1) presenting representative variations of the visible-invisible distinction in covenant theology (with their entailments that the church is a constitutionally mixed community of believers and unbelievers); (2) posing five arguments for the church’s constitutional, visible identity as a believing, regenerate community, and (3) answering biblical and theological critiques.

3 thoughts on “Assessing the Visible-Invisible Church Distinction: A Progressive Covenantal Approach”

  1. Scholarly Goal?
    The thesis should be improved. Is the goal an attempt to demonstrate that some people know they are Christians and some do not know? The thesis should be articulated better.

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