In its beginnings after Jesus’ death, the church had something of a struggle to establish itself in the Roman and Greek world. In short, Christians for their faith and beliefs were tortured, put to death, and subject to periodic persecution by the authorities. These tortures and executions included crucifixions and putting Christians to death in the gladiatorial arena. As time went on however, Christianity triumphed and, under the Roman Emperor Constantine, the Christian religion was established as the state religion in the Roman Empire east and west.
As time went on and the centuries passed, the Church unfortunately acted in an unchristian manner at times. One cannot account for this but the fact of the matter is that the church in the inquisition tortured and killed many people, usually by burning at the stake Jews and people perceived as heretics, whether Muslims or Protestants. Indeed throughout the centuries both the Protestants and the Catholic churches have attacked, killed, persecuted and tortured each other. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Protestants in England persecuted Catholics for some time.
One can explain this behavior, which is clearly contrary to the teaching and life of Christ, as a result of the church being societally-connected, or better put, as result of the fact that it was more fashionable to be a church member, than it is now. So-called Christians made Africans slaves. So-called Christians in England let the Irish peasantry die in the Potato Famine in the 19th century.
I think I would like to offer a better explanation as to why the church, members of the church and so-called Christians engaged in obviously great evil and wickedness. The church is composed of weak, fallible, and corrupt human beings. Thus one must distinguish between the physical or actual church on earth—which, as I said, consists of sinful human beings—from the invisible church which consists of faithful and believing Christians who not only believe that Christ is the Son of god, rose from the dead, and died for their sins but exhibit this belief in loving, human, and ethical behavior.
One might even say that many Christians may be found outside of the church walls. Those persons who do not attend church of verbally profess the Christian faith may nevertheless be more actual and authentic Christians than those who make verbal professions within the church institution. Thus, the invisible church, which consists of authentic believing Christians, exhibiting Christian behavior and living the Christian life, is the real and actual church.
The visible church, however, often consists of corrupt and sinful human beings and it can also be infected by a corrupt political thinking. One can say that the invisible church exists, but who its members are we will never know, since only God and Christ like an x-ray will examine our souls and hearts and know who we really are. Of course, one cannot exclude and say that authentic Christians are not found in the visible church, but ultimately the church will consist of those persons who truly believe in Christ and follow Christ to their death.
When the City of Rome was under siege by so-called barbarians who now may be found in most of Western Europe, St. Augustine wrote a great book called the City of God in which he distinguished between the visible and invisible church. That distinction he made exists to this day. The church, like any other human institution, whether government, charitable institution or any other institution human beings may erect, build, and create, will always be corrupted by blackened and sinful human nature which seeks dominance, power, and importance within that institution. The church is not an exception to frail and broken human nature which in any institution may rein the greatness and vision of that institution.
The answer to the critics of the church who point out its defects is that those defects are the defects of every one of us who fails. The church does much good and has always done so. Throughout the world, both the Protestant and Catholic churches erect free schools and give free medical care. The church has always done so from its very beginnings and, in the world seeks out the poorest and most unworthy and seeks to lift them up. Society, however anxious to do so, cannot deny this fact. The criticism that is leveled at the church is a criticism that we must not point the finger at others’ doing or not doing, but we must unfortunately take a look at ourselves and whatever defects the church may have are our defects.
At the end of time, the invisible church will be known and those Christians who presented themselves as such for social, faddish , or other reasons will not be counted. I end this essays with the note that perhaps it is good that it is no longer fashionable to belong to the church, since those who do so now do so at their own risk and the invisible church may well now be found in the end in the visible church as an institution since in our society today there is no particular political favoritism given to believing Christians. In the end, the invisible church will be and is the true church.
Let me say a few more words on this. For all men and women, Jesus still stands before the waters bidding them to follow him, rich and poor, peasant and wealthy, and, in the course and trials and tribulations of their lives and in their death will come to know him and who he is.
The deplorables that Hillary Clinton spoke of—the uneducated, unsophiscated, and poor—are the true and, if you will, invisible church. The Pharisees did not follow Jesus; the sinners did. Hillary Clinton recently cautioned that perhaps open borders was not such a good ideas since it is leading to the election of populist governments. Does Mrs. Clinton object to the people perhaps not so powerful, that they should have power in their societies, or more to the point, that countries should be democratic and in the hands of the people rather than the international elite? Again, the people without elite finance and power are the invisible church. Finally, the left media often paint President Trump as a rural hick, unsophiscated, uneducated, and backward and say the same of those who voted for him and did vote for him. The label draws us again to the invisible church of the poor, and powerless. The question the left media must answer is the question that was said of Jesus: “Who is this man that eats with publicans and sinners?” and “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and the ultimate and final question, “Who is this man that was executed as a criminal and for a criminal beside him on the day of his death? (Matt 9:11, John1:46).