Visible Church and Body of Christ: a logic test for the PCA

OK, which one of the following constitutes an exception to the constitution of the PCA:

  1. The visible church is not the body of Christ.
  2. The visible church is the body of Christ.

Here is the relevant data. First, the the Westminster Confession states:

CHAPTER 25: Of the Church

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; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

Second, at the beginning of the PCA’s Book of Church Order, in part two of the Preface we read:

The Presbyterian Church in America, in setting forth the form of government founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God, reiterates the following great principles which have governed the formation of the plan

There then follows a list of these principles. The third one begins:

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.

So we have a straightforward definition of the invisible church as (among other things) the body of Christ.  We have a definition of the visible Church that doesn’t include a statement that it is the body of Christ.  And we have a statement that the visible Church is the body of Christ.  In fact we have more than one.  For example, again in the BCO:


The Visible Church Defined

2-1. The Visible Church before the law, under the law, and now under the Gospel, is one and the same and consists of all those who make profession of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, together with their children.

2-2. This visible unity of the body of Christ, though obscured, is not destroyed by its division into different denominations of professing Christians; but all of these which maintain the Word and Sacraments in their fundamental integrity are to be recognized as true branches of the Church of Jesus Christ.

2-3. It is according to scriptural example that the Church should be divided into many individual churches.

Note the consistency. If the visible church was not the body of Christ, then the divisions in the church could not possibly either obscure, or raise the issue of destroying, the unity of the body of Christ.

So it follows inexorably that, to doctrinally agree with the constititution of the PCA, one must teach that

  1. The invisible Church is the body of Christ.
  2. The visible Church is the body of Christ.

This should not be controversial.  And it should be understood that one cannot amend the constitution of the PCA by a study committee, no matter how stacked, and no matter how many votes it accrued.

2 thoughts on “Visible Church and Body of Christ: a logic test for the PCA

  1. garver

    I suspect that the language of the PCA BCO here is due to its descent from the Westminster Assembly’s “Form of Presbyterial Church-Government” (adopted by the Kirk of Scotland in 1645).

    While it’s not quite so explicit as the BCO, its preface includes the affirmation that Jesus Christ was appointed “head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all: he being ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things, received gifts for his church, and gave officers necessary for the edification of his church, and perfecting of his saints.”

    In context this seems clearly to refer to the church visible in part because it speak here of “officers” but also as the next section goes on immediately to say, “There is one general church visible, held forth in the New Testament. The ministry, oracles, and ordinances of the New Testament, are given by Jesus Christ to the general church visible, for the gathering and perfecting of it in this life, until his second coming.”


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