The Time of the Universal/Invisible Church

(more thoughts on time and ecclesiology prompted by Graham Ward’s Cities of God)

Recently (for about 2 years now) I have raged against the motion of the Universal or Invisible Church first promoted by Augustine and later used by the reformers to justify their separation from Catholicism, and currently used (by evangelicals) to refer to all those who are truly saved throughout the globe. I don’t like the idea of the Invisible Church because it is usually deployed as a justification for the lack of unity with in the Church, even it bitter divisions. In a time when the most effective witness to the power and peace of the Gospel is the visible unity among diversity of the Church amid warring communities, (race, gender, class, tribe, state), it seems the doctrine of the Invisible Church engenders a lack of concern for how the visible church is doing. “It’s alright that the visible Church is as fragmented as the rest of the world, because it’s the Universal/Invisible Church that really matters!” they say.

But perhaps I may have been too hasty… As I mentioned in the previous post, just as there is no place of cultural engagement between the Church and culture, but a Time; so too there is not place of the Universal/Invisible Church (as if it were an ideas to be mapped onto the globe), but rather a Time of the Invisible Church. The Universal Church is attainable in Time (the Final Judgment), not an escaped into an ideal space. In this way this doctrine becomes a motivation for unity rather than an excuse for division. Or have I missed something?

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