Posted in ,

Fruit Inspectors

20 March 2012 by Daniel

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.

From the scriptures one is left to conclude that most of the Jews in Christ's time were convinced that their lineage made them inheritors of God's promises to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. I find it telling then, that the Holy Spirit chose to summarize the entirety of Christ's ministry in Matthew 4:17 in this way, "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"

Can you imagine that message in the ears of a Jew who was convinced that the kingdom of heaven was already his? When Christ taught the parable wherein a field was sown with good seed by its owner, and then sown again with tares by his enemy (cf. Matthew 13), the lesson was that not everyone who appeared to be in the kingdom of heaven was in fact a son of of the kingdom. The Apostle Paul echoes this same sentiment in the ninth chapter of his epistle to the Romans when he says, "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel". In that chapter Paul explains clearly that God's promise to Abraham is inherited by those who are of a like faith, rather than by those who are simply descended from Abraham in the flesh.

I expect that many who read the parable of the field will automatically assume that Christ was speaking about the NT church; since it should be clear to everyone that there are presently tares among the wheat in the NT church. But Christ was preaching about the kingdom of heaven to the very people who were the object of the parable: a mixed crowd of OT Jews; some whom were of the same faith as Abraham, and some whom were not; that is, some of whom were wheat, and some of whom were tares.

Recognizing that Christ was applying this parable to those who were there does not mean that this parable does not apply to present day christian congregations; the parable does apply, and I believe was intended to apply. The question is: how do we know a parable directed at a group of OT Jews applies to the church today? The answer is that it applies to us because we have the same mixed group in our churches today: those who are of genuine faith, and those who are deceived. The faithful OT Jew has this in common with the faithful NT believer: genuine, saving, faith.

In the parable, the good seed sown by the owner pictures the sons of the kingdom - or said another way, it represents those who (by faith) were the inheritors/recipients of the promises given to Abraham. The tares were those Jews who even though they rejected Christ believed themselves to be in the kingdom on account of their ancestry. Christ Himself described these as "sons of the evil one". The distinction Christ was making, even though He was addressing only OT Jews at the time, applies to the church today because it identifies in the church the same two groups: those who are in the kingdom, and those who are not.

The Westminster Catechism identifies genuine believers as the "invisible" church. Invisible because you can't tell (by looking) whether the person is genuine or not. Since some make a genuine profession of faith, and some make a false profession of faith, it follows that both genuine and false believers are going to claim to be Christians. The world makes no distinction between false and genuine Christians: if you claim to be a Christian, and believe yourself to be one, then you "are" one as far as the world is concerned. Consider how CNN lumps Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism under the same label ("Christian") and you get the idea.

Simply stated, among all who profess to be Christians (the "visible" church), only some are genuine believers (these are the "invisible" church). The labels help to simplify discussions where stating the distinction in full each time might so clutter an explanation as to confuse the person receiving the instruction. Take for example how God supplies the invisible church (i.e. those who are genuinely His children) with such blessings as being under His rule. Some might not consider this a blessing, but the command to love one another, to look after one another's needs etc., is quite a blessing to those who are in the congregation. If an unsaved person believes himself to be a Christian, and joins himself to a church, he immediately begins to benefit from hanging around with people who are surrendered to God's rule. One could say that God's blessing, which is directed at the invisible church, spills over into those who are in the visible church, but not in the invisible church. One could just as easily say, I suspect, that the tares benefit from the blessings God pours out on the wheat, even as the tares in the field benefit from the sun and rain that God sends to bless the wheat.

On a practical note, a lot of people, especially those who are younger or less mature in the faith, react to the knowledge that there are unbelievers seeded throughout every Christian congregation by trying to weed them out. They forego God's instructions concerning how to keep the church pure (church discipline) and instead consider themselves to be fruit (of the Spirit) inspectors, judging one another to find out who is and who is not, a Christian. Unhindered by the fact that angels who are greater in wisdom and knowledge are not wise or knowledgeable enough to discern who is who; these take it upon themselves to thrash about boldly (and more or less blindly) where angels are too wise to tread.

What we want to be on guard against is going beyond scripture in our application. There is a distinction made between the children of God's promise, and those who are counterfeit - and we must be aware of that. We must understand that false believers who share our pews receive real, tangible benefits for being there, and that many may, through the grace that is being poured upon them every time they gather, may eventually come to see themselves as lost, and in doing so become found in Christ, but we must be on guard against using such doctrine for practices (or even new doctrines) that cannot find support in scripture.

Leave Comment

The Calvinist Gadfly doesn't generally offer open comments for these blog posts. These posts are reflection and commentary on historical Christian documents and theology offered as affirmation of our faith.

However, from time to time we open the comments for the sake of giving our readers the opportunity to discuss the items posted in the same spirit the items are provided -- for encouragment and self-assessment so that those in the Christian faith can live for the sake of the truths we believe.

Mind your manners; interact with each other charitably and thoughtfully. The contributors to this blog may or may not respond to questions, but they may also use editorial good judgment on comments out of line without comment or appeal.