Organizations and institutions come and go. They are modes of the adaptation of principles to circumstances; or, better stated, institutions are means of the functioning of spiritual (or demonic) forces in the changing situations of history.
The redemptive program of God has in all ages functioned through a visible congregation (ecclesia) of God’s people. This congregation is described in the Westminster Confession (XXV, ii) as follows: “The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal … consists of all these throughout the world who profess the true religion.…” The “invisible Church” in all ages consists of “the whole number of the elect …” (ibid., par. i) and in any particular time consists of those persons who are born again, members of the “body of Christ.” Through the invisible Church the Spirit moves to express the redemptive program of God in the visible Church.
According to the Bible, and according to the provisions for discipline in all Bible-adhering denominations, the visible Church is never perfect in this world but is to be kept as pure as possible. In this regard the Church is analogous to the individual. We do not have sinless perfection in this life, but the Christian must constantly strive against sin. Similarly, the Church must constantly strive to maintain purity of life and testimony.
The Corinthian Epistles explicitly set forth the doctrine of the purity of the visible Church. In First Corinthians 10:14–22, Paul declares that the forces behind false religion are demonic. “You cannot partake from the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” In First Corinthians 5 he teaches that one must not eat the Lord’s Supper with a wicked idolator. Put that man out from your communion, he says; thus the flesh ...1
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