I can assert with great confidence: Jesus, promising that his Church would never pass out of existence, conceived of his Church as a single, visible institution. Therefore, his single, visible Church has survived until this day, united and tangible.
This claim rests on faith in the inerrancy of Scripture and very simple logic.
- If Jesus gave Peter the authority to bind and loose, but an invisible group of believers needs no universal disciplinary guides, then the Church must be visible.
- If Christ instituted Peter as his chamberlain (cf. Is 22), making Peter the earthly leader (of the house of the new David, the Church) in his absence, but an “invisible” (non-institutional, non-authoritative) lot of believers needs no visible leader, then the Church is visible.
- If Jesus indicated the Church has the power of excommunication (“…treat him as you would a Gentile and a tax collector”—i.e., as an outsider), but an invisible body has no need or power of excommunication (Who would even assert that one may be invisibly treated as an outsider?), then the Church is necessarily visible.
- If Jesus spoke of the singular “my Church,” not “my churches,” not a collection of visible institutions, then it is singular.
Christ spoke of ecclesia only twice in the gospels—in Matthew 16:18 and 18:18. In light of these two passages, Christ’s ecclesiology does not allow the idea of an invisible, non-authoritative Church. Early Church historian J. N. D. Kelly (Early Christian Doctrines) has pointed out that the early Christians did not have the concept of an “invisible” church.
This is one small step in explaining what the Nicene Creed means by “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”
(see Jimmy Akin’s work)