The Visible Church

Chapter XXV of the Westminster Confession of Faith has an interesting statement describing the visible Church of Christ on earth:


The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will. (XXV.v.)


First of all, we are all humbled by the fact that even the “purest Churches” have a mixture of error in their doctrine because we all still “see through a glass darkly.” Of course, our biggest problem is that we are not sure what those errors are. If we knew, we could repent, make them right, and all would be well. We struggle because we are still living between the “already” and the “not yet,” and will not have perfect knowledge until the new heavens and the new earth come into being at Christ’s return. Then, of course, we will all be Presbyterians. (Just kidding about that last sentence!)


Secondly, we are warned by the fact that some “churches” have gone so far in their errors that they can not even be called Churches of Christ. Any church that has forsaken the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and has added anything to justification by faith alone, should be abandoned by a true Christian. Our justification is by “grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” and as Paul has written, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:9)


Last of all, we are encouraged by the fact that “there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will.” Although churches will not be perfect, true Christians will always be an integral part of the visible Church somewhere. As I alluded to in my last post, there are no “Lone Ranger Christians.” “Going home” is never the solution for church troubles because you “are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27)



  1. April 21, 2009 at 7:04 PM

    The trouble I have is getting other people to see this. Yes, as followers of Christ, we are held to a higher standard and should live accordingly. But as you said, we’re still stuck between “degenerate sinner” and “glorified saint.” Whether intentional or not, we are going to hurt people. I just wish that when we did, we could be shown the same grace that we are expected to give others. If a self-proclaimed heathen hurts someone, little notice is made because it is expected. But if a follower of Christ hurts someone, then not only is that person held responsible, but everyone he fellowships with, and our church attendance dwindles. How can we reconcile those who have expected perfection and been hurt with those who pursue perfection and hurt others?

    Another long comment. Maybe I should just make a blog called “My response to Bro. Clifton’s blog” to save space on WordPress’s servers. In any event, you have definitely struck a chord here that runs deep with so many of us. I just hope and pray that somehow we can repair the damage done.

    • cliftonr said,

      April 21, 2009 at 7:31 PM

      It’s in finding the proper balance between church discipline (applied redemptively) and teaching people that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Granted, that is a “sticky wicket,” but it is something that the church must seek.

      Sometimes it will be misunderstood and people will leave (or be disciplined), but it must be sought. As one person said about Noah and the Ark, “If it wasn’t for the storm outside, no one could have stood the smell inside.” That is why I tell people a “bad church” (if not heretical) is better than “no church.” Sheep are not safe alone outside the fold.

  2. Brent said,

    April 23, 2009 at 12:35 PM

    Amen. No matter how bad things appear to be inside the church and how much we may get discouraged, in the midst of it all we must remember that it was Christ who said “I WILL build my church, and the gates of hell WILL NOTprevail against it.”

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