What is the difference between the visible and the invisible church?

by Matt Slick

The visible church is the outward structure and appearance (church buildings, clergy, etc. ) of those who claim to be Christians. The invisible church consists of those were truly born again and are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The Visible Church

The visible church consists of the manifestation and appearance of those who identify themselves as Christians. This outward appearance consists of the denominations, buildings, pastors, elders, church attendees, and ceremonies like preaching, communion, and baptism. It is what is visible to anyone and everyone.  However, not all who attend physical churches are truly Christians.  The visible church can be true or false. It can be true if it holds to biblical theology or it can be false if it denies one or more of the essentials of the Christian faith.

There is no singular official pattern of the visible church. Christians can meet in buildings, parks, deserts, beaches, or anywhere there is a gathering of professing believers. Some visible churches have multiple pastor, and some do not. Some have regimented, traditional worship services and others are more casual. Music can be hymns there set to organ music or praise songs that use drums and guitar. The visible church as a wide variety of manifestations and is not limited to geographical, denominational, or cultural boundaries.

The Invisible Church

The invisible church consists of those who have been redeemed and are truly Christians. They are regenerate, born-again, made new creatures, and are indwelt by God (John 14:23). They are the ones who have trusted, by faith alone, in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and have repented of their sins. They believe in Jesus as God in flesh (John 1:1, 14; Colossians 2:9), who died on the cross, and physically rose from the dead as a payment for our sins. These people are the ones who have been justified by faith (Romans 3:28; 5:1).  They are born again members of the invisible church. 

  • "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,'" (John 3:3).
  • "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation," (Galatians 6:15).
  • "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come," (2 Corinthians 5:14).
  • "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit," (Titus 3:5).
  • "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead," (1 Peter 1:3).

Christianity is not comprised merely of religious patterns, attending of churches, tithing, taking communion, etc.  True Christianity is the manifestation of the regenerate, those who are saved and are indwelt by God.  They often gather in church structures and participate in church practices.  They are redeemed, true Christians.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.