Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Visible Church or Visible Churches?

OK, this will be the last post in which I mercilessly pick apart C.S. Lewis's church-as-house metaphor, I promise. Poor Clive Staples, I can just imagine him up in heaven yelling down at me, saying "Blimey, it was just an illustration for crying out loud! Lighten up."

That said, off we go....

On the one hand Lewis's house can't be the invisible church since the invisible church is one and therefore not divided into rooms (it's to this church that we traditionally have applied all those "unity" verses like Eph. 4:3-5 and I Cor. 12:12).

But on the other hand it can't be the visible church, either. Technically, we don't really believe in a visible church, do we? Sure, we believe in visible churches (self-governing bodies, whether independent congregations or denominations), but if that is what we're trying to illustrate then we should use the metaphor of a neighborhood comprised of individual homes, some bigger and some smaller. But in order for Lewis's house to illustrate "the visible church" then all the individual churches throughout the world would have to be visibly united in some way, just like the individual rooms in the house are visibly connected by a single roof (which, after all, is what a house is in the first place).

So if the point of the visible is to make apparent the invisible (as much as possible given the necessary qualifications), and if the invisible church is one, then wouldn't it follow that the visible church must be one as well? And to press it further, if what unites the invisible body is its Head, then wouldn't the visible body need a visible head in order to make its unity, well, visible?

Now if we deny this by saying that the visible church only needs an invisible Head and not a visible one, then doesn't that prove too much? Why do visible churches need a visible shepherd if the visible church doesn't?

So when all is said and done, it seems more Protestant to speak of "the invisible church" on the one hand, and "visible churches" on the other.