Matthew 13 and the Visible/Invisible Church Distinction

Whatever one’s exegesis of the parable of the sower is, there is a clear and unmistakable pointer to the visible/invisible church distinction in the parable of the net. Here is the text:

 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And in Greek:

47Πάλιν ὁμοία ἐστὶν βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν σαγήνῃ βληθείσῃ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ ἐκ παντὸς γένους συναγαγούσῃ: 48ἣν ὅτε ἐπληρώθη ἀναβιβάσαντες ἐπὶ τὸν αἰγιαλὸν καὶ καθίσαντες συνέλεξαν τὰ καλὰ εἰς ἄγγη, τὰ δὲ σαπρὰ ἔξω ἔβαλον. 49οὕτως ἔσται ἐν τῇ συντελείᾳ τοῦ αἰῶνος: ἐξελεύσονται οἱ ἄγγελοι καὶ ἀφοριοῦσιν τοὺς πονηροὺς ἐκ μέσου τῶν δικαίων 50καὶ βαλοῦσιν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν κάμινον τοῦ πυρός: ἐκεῖ ἔσται κλαυθμὸς καὶ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

So, the kingdom of heaven (note that: the kingdom of heaven) is like a net which drags in all sorts of different things IN THE PRESENT. That is the import of “fish of every kind.” Fish of a good kind, and fish of a bad kind. The net, by the way, is a long net (250-450 meters long, 2 meters wide, according to Luz, pg. 283) manned by quite a few men. It is being filled now (vs. 48). Then, at the close of the age, the angels will do the sorting. As a matter of fact, then, there are people within the kingdom who will not be sorted out until the final reckoning. But this is a clear passage supporting the present distinction between visible and invisible church.

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19 Comments

  1. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    Parable of the sower?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    Right. The parable of the weeds (oops: not sower) in the earlier part of Mt. 13. Except for verse 38, one could see it saying the same thing as the parable of the net.

  3. markhorne said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    Irrelevant. The WCF defines the invisible church as all the unconverted fish and not-yet-existing fish. So the fact that there could be a way of speaking of an invisible church (those who will persevere) doesn’t mean that is in fact the issue regarding the doctrine in question.

    In any case, everyone agrees that there are those who will persevere by God’s sovereign election to eternity and those who won’t because God has withheld saving grace from them. So the parable of the net is a point of agreement between us.

  4. markhorne said,

    December 28, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Or, for that matter, this proves both are in the net. So we both are in the net until one is cast out. Sounds pretty FV to me.

  5. theologian said,

    December 28, 2006 at 2:00 pm

    Let’s just keep in mind that it’s not one cast out here and another there. All of the bad fish will be cast out at the end of the age.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 2:25 pm

    However, Mark, the difference between the FV and the Reformed position on this parable is the following: FV believe that the difference is eschatological only. The parable says that they are good or bad now, even though we may not be able to tell. Wilkins says that there is an ontological difference (and to a certain extent, I see a retreat from his former position on this) between the elect and the non-elect in covenant. However, he does not go far enough in elucidating what those differences are.

  7. markhorne said,

    December 28, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    “FV believe that the difference is eschatological only.”

    If your are going to make things up, Lane, there is no point in talking to you.

    “he does not go far enough in elucidating what those differences are.”

    This is the explanation you offer for calling a PCA minister a heretical teacher?

  8. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    Make things up, Mark? Who are you kidding? As I have repeatedly said, Wilkins says one thing with one hand, and then takes it away with the other. If you cannot grasp this point, then so much the worse for you. In summary form, he winds up compromising the ontological differences.

    And Mark, I have posted at least five posts now elucidating why Wilkins is not honoring his vow. I can hardly believe that you would say that my whole explanation rests on one statement. Ridiculous argument, Mark.

  9. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    “FV believe that the difference is eschatological only.”

    This is the statement that Mark accuses you of “making up.” I tend to agree. No one says “the difference is eschatological only.” Putting things like this only creates a straw man. The FV guys say the opposite.

    You may believe that the FV claims are contradictory. That’s a claim worth debating. But to assert that they actually believe the opposite of what they claim to believe is the way to lose your credibility as a commentator.

    Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to demonstrate, rather than merely assert, that there is real contradiction. But putting their views into your own words–in a “form” they would reject–and then arguing against that, is irresponsible.

  10. greenbaggins said,

    December 28, 2006 at 7:20 pm

    You and Mark seem to forget my qualification of the said statement: “Wilkins says that there is an ontological difference (and to a certain extent, I see a retreat from his former position on this) between the elect and the non-elect in covenant.” This comes immediately after my statement which has been targeted. Do some contextual study yourself, Todd and Mark.

  11. Todd said,

    December 28, 2006 at 7:26 pm

    So you’re saying both

    “FV believe that the difference is eschatological only.”

    and

    “Wilkins says that there is an ontological difference (and to a certain extent, I see a retreat from his former position on this) between the elect and the non-elect in covenant.”

    I think you’re gonna have to choose, Lane.

  12. December 29, 2006 at 3:09 am

    Todd, as usual you seem to miss the fact that much of the FV error is rooted in inconsistency. Both of the things Lane said are absolutely true. FV believes IN SUBSTANCE that the difference is eschatological only, even while, FORMALLY, affirming otherwise. FV believes all sorts of good things formally. The problem is in, as Lane put it, how Wilkins “says one thing with one hand, and then takes it away with the other.”

  13. Todd said,

    December 29, 2006 at 8:37 am

    David G., it’s nice to “see” you again. I believe that Xon has already shown that your argumentation along these lines is weak and inconsistent. Others can judge for themselves.

  14. greenbaggins said,

    December 29, 2006 at 10:40 am

    David G is right on target, as usual. That is exactly what I’m saying. One could argue for Hegelianism in the FV, I suppose. I’m not going to do that. I’ll just settle for double-talk.

  15. Todd said,

    December 29, 2006 at 10:50 am

    You’re the one making contradictory statements, man.

    “FV believe that the difference is eschatological only.”

    “Wilkins says that there is an ontological difference (and to a certain extent, I see a retreat from his former position on this) between the elect and the non-elect in covenant.”

  16. greenbaggins said,

    December 29, 2006 at 10:52 am

    Notice the difference between “believe” and “say,” Todd.

  17. Todd said,

    December 29, 2006 at 10:53 am

    Then you’re claiming to read minds?

  18. greenbaggins said,

    December 29, 2006 at 11:20 am

    No, I’m reading their works. To the extent that they have revealed their minds in their writings is the extent to which I’m reading their minds.

  19. H.S. Parvath Gowda said,

    February 21, 2007 at 4:36 am

    the exposition is good for knowledge thank you


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