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Not Seminarians

19 March 2012 by Frank Turk

One of the things that's important to note about this effort -- and I mean this specific blog -- to talk about "Calvinism" or "Reformed" theology is that there are no Presbyterians in our ranks as contributors.  So from time to time we run into things which the contributors of the blog may or may not understand (just to be fair to our friends who would critique us), and we disagree with it.  Slavishness to covenantal theology is one of those areas, and it trickles over into a couple of other subjects which are related to how we reason through the question of God making a covenant to save.

One of those areas is the next section of the catechism:

Q. 61. Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?
A. All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.

Q. 62. What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

Q. 64. What is the invisible church?
A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.

So one of the consequences of having a "covenantal" theology is that God has a visible covenant we has declared, and there are beneficiaries of that covenant, but some of them don't seem to be very good beneficiaries. This whole thing gets wrapped up in baptism and boundary markers and all manner of seminarian shop talk, but it winds up looking like this when people who aren't seminarians find themselves faced with this problem:

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Which is amusing, but not very helpful.  I mean: if we really believe all that stuff about God making and God doing and people believing as Calvin has helpfully discussed, how do we get ourselves tangled up in this kerfuffle of "invisible" church and "visible" churches?

Here's what I think:

I think we don't like it when Jesus is less clear than we want him to be.  I mean: he's the one who gave us the parable of the Wheat and the Tares, and that ought to be good enough -- the Tares aren't invisible in that parable, but in fact hard to pull up without destroying the Wheat.  There's no invisible church -- just visible tares.  We can act like that's to our discredit, or the Gospel's discredit, but Jesus was simply saying, "it's not your problem."

So those of us here representing "Calvinism" are going to take some effort to expose some of the challenges (good and bad) which the Catechism provides on this topic.  We'll leave the comments open on the more-inflammatory statements we'll make so that those who disagree with us (both more Reformed and more needing-Reform) can have a fair shake at saying something useful about our reflections on this issue.

Enjoy.