Denial of Easy Identification of Divine and Human
“There is doubtless a danger of ‘spiritualizing’ the church with such affirmations. It is clearly important that this emphasis on the priority of divine action over the church as an act of human association not be allowed to eclipse the ‘visibility’ of the church. The polemical portrayal of Protestant religion as bare subjectivism without objective social form or endurance is doubtless a caricature, but it nevertheless identifies a potentially disruptive element in the dogmatics we have just outlined. Can a society which is in its essence ‘invisible’ ever be really human—that is, historical, material, bodily? In an evangelical ecclesiology, the gesture—rhetorical and theological—towards invisibility must certainly be made, and its absence from an ecclesiology may be symptomatic of other disorders—a lavishly over-realized eschatology, an eliding of the distinction between the gospel and its human representations, an atrophied sense of the church’s fallibility, above all, perhaps, a routinization of the operations of the Spirit.
Properly defined, the concept of the invisibility of the church is a standing denial of any easy identification of divine and human work. Talk of the church’s invisibility secures the all-important point that ‘[o]nly as creatura verbi divini [creature of the divine word] is the Church an object of faith, because God’s action in establishing and disclosing the true relationship between the creator and his creation that makes faith possible can be confessed as the content of faith’. Yet when this necessary gesture takes over, and is allowed to become the only constitutive moment for ecclesiology, other problems quickly emerge, and a picture of the church is promoted in which the human Christian community is unstable, liminal, and so incapable of sustaining a coherent historical and social trajectory.”
[John Webster, “The Self-Organizing Power of the Gospel of Christ: Episcopacy and Community Formation”, IJST 3:1 2001]