The Visible Church and the Body of Christ: the Bible

Continuing from here to the Bible, let us start again with the first two paragraphs of the Westminster Confession chapter 25:

1. 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 fullness of him that filleth all in all.

2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion [1CO 1:2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours. 1CO 12:12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. PSA 2:8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. REV 7:9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. ROM 15:9 And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. 10 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. 11 And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. 12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.]; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God [EPH 2:19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God. 3:15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.], out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

Wait a minute! That’s not what I posted last time. It is far longer. And it contains the statements about the body of Christ in the paragraph about the visible church (I thought the reference to saints was also interesting, but I will say no more about it).

No officer in the PCA is required to believe that the Scripture proofs are the best. In fact, despite recent SJC experiments in informal constitutional revision, it is perfectly legal to regard them as erroneous. But it does show us that at least some of the Reformed ministers at the Westminster Assembly thought Paul’s statement about the body of Christ in First Corinthians 12.12, 13 had to refer to the visible Church. It is one thing to disagree with a prooftext; it is quite another to say that agreeing with them is a violation of the system of doctrine in the Westminster Confession itself.

But can any other view of First Corinthians 12.12, 13 really make sense? Here’s the passage in context:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

Now, in what world of discourse are teachers invisible? And how can one honor others in an invisible society? Is Paul asking for us to display an invisible unity in our diversity of invisible gifts?

This is obviously all about the visible church, the body of Christ which is equipped with visible people, including visible officers:

Our blessed Saviour, for the edification of the visible Church, which is His body, has appointed officers not only to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments, but also to exercise discipline for the preservation both of truth and duty.

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