John Murray on the Concept of the Invisible Church

During our one week of study on Ecclesiology, I was introduced to John Murray’s understanding of the invisible church which he found somewhat questionable once we see the texts that are used to support this idea. Here are some quotes from his book, Collected Writings of John Murray Volume II. Chapter 26: The Nature and Unity of the Church

It is in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians that the inclusiveness and oneness come to the fullest expression. It is easy to conclude that here the church is viewed transcendentally as the whole body of the elect in all ages, and is to be equated with what has been called the church invisible. This would appear to be the necessary concept in Eph 5:25-26... There are reasons for calling in question this interpretation. 

1. The first instance (Eph 1:22,23) is sufficient to warn us against this facile solution. When the Father is said to have given Christ to be head over all things to the church, this refers to the investiture that took place on Christ's exaltation, to Christ's mediatorial lordship as the exalted, ascended God-man. It is not something that antedates his mediatorial exaltation.
2. The church is here said to be Christ's body. We are bound to think of Matthew 16:18 where christ speaks of His church as that to be built and administered in the  way stated in the context.
3. The church is said to be subject unto Christ. In the context there must be a concreteness taht is parallel to that which is enjoined, namely, that in like manner wives should be subject to their husbands. The exhortation would be bereft of its strongest appeal if the analogy is something that belongs simply to the invisble and transcendental realm.
4. When Pauls says that he fills up the things that are lacking of the afflictions of Christ in his flesh 'on behalf of his body, which is the church', he is again thinking of the benefits that accure to the church in concrete existence of the existential. 

It would be, therefore, far too abstract to find in these two Epistles reference to the church viewed transcendentally and invisibly. It is the church, exemplified in the saints and faithful brethren in Ephesus and Colosse, which Christ loved and of which he is the head... What is emphasized is that in these Epistles where the universal and eschatological motifs are so much in prominence, we must not conceive of the church as anything other, on the broadest scale, than that which the church in Corinth or the church in Judaea is... What needs to be observe is that, whether the church is viewed as the broader communion of the saints or as the unit or assembly of believer in a home or town or city, it is always a visible observable entity. The spiritual facts which constitute persons members of the church, though invisble, nevertheless find expression in what is observable. The people of God do come together, in accordance with Christ's institution and prescription, for purpose of collective worship and tedstiony, fo the administration of divinely instituted ordinaces, for mutual edification, and for the exercise of government and discipline. Hence visble association and organization are necessary to the church. [325-6, Emphasis mine]
"...the unity of the body of Christ, is not a tenet that may be relegated to the transcendental realm of invisible, spiritual relationship, but a truth that governs, regulates, and conditions the behaviour of the people of God in that communal, covenant relationship which they sustain to Christ in the institute of the church." [332]
"We cannot escape from the implications for us by resorting to the notion of the invisible church. The body of Christ is not an invisible entity, and the prayer of Jesus was directed to the end that the world might believe. The unity prayed for was one that would bear witness to the world, and therefore belonged to the realm of the observable. The implications for visible confession and witness are unavoidable." [335]

To God be the glory!

Published by Jeff Chavez

Sinner saved by grace

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