Anyway, I did get through the section about the visible church and decided to pick up again next week with the invisible church. Therefore, with no further ado...The Privileges of the Visible Church: Q. 63 What are the special privileges of the visible church? A.: The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in Him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto Him.
First then, the special care and protection of God:
He cares for His church and protects her as her “good shepherd,” leads her to rest, safety, nourishment and healing, gathering her, leading her, protecting her through all the hazards of life, John 10. He cares for her as a “father” cares for his children with tender and compassionate concern for their safety and welfare (Deut. 32:7). (523)
The church enjoys the personal, liberating, preserving government of God in Christ by which she is distinguished from the world: The Lord Jesus, as king and head of his church, hath therein appointed a government in the hand of church-officers, distinct from the civil magistrate (WCF, XXX, i). (524)
Christ governs His church so that it will be preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies. (525)
The Lord God Himself destroys the enemies of Christ’s church in history, whenever they direct their machinery of war against her. God will strike them with confusion and insanity, causing them to be a terror to themselves. On many occasions, whom God would destroy, He first drives mad. “They are deprived of their reason, of the power of strategic planning, by their insane fury, their fanatic hatred of the Lord and His Church.” 303 Laetsch, Bible Commentary on the Minor Prophets, 480. (528)
The Westminster Confession of Faith has an entire chapter (XXVI) explaining the meaning and implications of the communion of saints, in which chapter we are given a definition of this communion and its basis in Christ (XXVI, i), the responsibilities of the saints to each other (XXVI, ii), and a clarification of the nature of this communion, (XXVI, iii).
All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man (WCF, XXVI, i).
All true believers are united to Jesus Christ in a legal union with Him, and in a spiritual union with Him. ...
Being in vital union with Christ in His life, death and resurrection, true believers are united to one another, and have communion with each other. They form one body, and are united to Christ their common Head: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many,
are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:4–5).
Saints by profession, are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other
spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus (WCF, XXVI, ii).
First, we are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of the God. Therefore, like the apostolic church, the visible church today ought to assemble regularly for the public worship of God: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). ...
Second, we are bound to perform such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification. We ought to be “kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another, to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ, to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep,” to offer up fervent “supplication for all saints,” and “as they have opportunity, do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith.” ...
Third, we are bound to relieve each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Members of the church will try to take care of each other physically and materially, as well as spiritually, as they are able. ...
In fact our communion with and charity toward our brothers is not limited to one family or one congregation, rather, this communion, concern and charity is to be extended unto all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 1:1f).
This communion which the saints have with Christ, doth not make them in any wise partakers of the substance of His Godhead, or to be equal with Christ in any respect: either of which to affirm is impious and blasphemous. Nor doth their communion one with another, as saints, take away, or infringe the title or propriety which each man hath in his goods and possessions (WCF, XXVI, iii).
This paragraph guards against two heretical opinions. (a) The communion of the saints with Christ does not in any way involve a participation of human beings in the essence of the Godhead—the blending of the finite with the infinite—nor does such communion constitute any kind of equality between the believer and the Almighty God. (b) The communion of the saints with each other does not in any way take away or infringe upon the rights of the private property of the saints. This doctrine may not be used to support the common ownership of property as in communism.
God-ordained aids to faith are often called “the effectual, or effective means of salvation” or “means of grace.” These “external” means or instruments of the saving grace of God include the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the reading and preaching of the Word of God and prayer. They are the instruments which
God has provided for us to use diligently, through which He brings the benefits of salvation into our lives. As we use these means of grace, we are to pray earnestly that God would use them to work His grace in our hearts. (535)
We must not use these means of grace and salvation in a careless, haphazard, indifferent or superstitious manner, as though we neither expected nor desired to receive anything from God through them. We should use them diligently, which implies taking advantage of every opportunity to use these means of grace, and earnestly desiring and expecting God’s grace through them. (536)
In the reading and preaching of the Word of God Jesus Christ is offered to sinners...Or, as the Catechism has it: The visible church hath the privilege… of
enjoying… offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto Him (WLC, Q. 63). (536-537)
When the Word of God is faithfully read and preached in the visible church, in and through it the living Christ Himself offers Himself and His saving grace to all the members of that church: “He [i.e., the LORD] declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel. (537)
In the preached Word, Christ personally and spiritually comes to His church and preaches the gospel of peace (Eph. 2:17) in irresistible omnipotence; so that,
whatever Christ preaches happens. (538)
The facts to which the living Christ testifies, according to the Larger Catechism Q. 63, are two: (1) Whosoever believes in Him shall be saved, and (2) None [will be excluded] that will come to Him. (538)
The Westminster Confession of Faith (XXV, ii), makes the statement that the church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. This is quite a statement. ...
"There is no ordinary possibility of salvation out of the visible church. This is widely different from the doctrine of the Romish Church, which affirms that the Roman Catholic is the only Church, and that there is no salvation out of that Church.…
[W]e are not so presumptuous as to confine the possibility of salvation within the limits of any particular Church, neither do we absolutely affirm that there is no possibility of salvation out of the universal visible Church. Our Confession, in terms
remarkably guarded, only asserts, that “out of the visible Church, there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” There is, then, a possibility of salvation without its pale; for a person may, by some means, such as by the perusal of the Scriptures,
be brought to the knowledge of the truth, and have no opportunity of joining himself to the Church; but such cases are extraordinary: and, as God usually works by means, there is no ordinary possibility of salvation out of the visible Church, because those who are out of the Church are destitute of the ordinary means of salvation." 314. Shaw, The Reformed Faith, 265. (540)
The point is that everyone who desires to be saved from sin is obligated to join the visible church, to remain with her and not to separate himself from her. (541)
According to Candlish the kingdom and the church can be identified in two
essentials. (1) “The subjects of Christ’s kingdom are the same who are members of the Church invisible.”318...(2) In both the church and the kingdom, the persons are gathered into the name of Jesus Christ, “by the vital power of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ, brought to bear upon them through the Holy Spirit.”319 So then, if one is to count himself as a citizen of the kingdom of Christ and a participant in
the peace and salvation of that kingdom, he must be a member of the visible church, ordinarily.
318. Smith, Systematic Theology, 2:532.
319. Smith, Systematic Theology, 2:532. (543)
In so far as the visible Church is instrumental in the establishment and extension of the Kingdom, it is, of course, subordinate to this as a means to an end. The Kingdom may be said to be a broader concept than the Church, because it aims at nothing less than the complete control of all the manifestations of life. It represents the dominion of God in every sphere of human endeavor. 323 Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 570 (545)
The Bible also portrays the visible church as the house and family of God. (546)