They [Protestants] came to believe that the Church Christ founded was not a visible institution, was not even visible at all, even though some still used the term ‘visible Church.’6 For many, if not most, the Church is an entirely spiritual entity to which one is fully united by a merely spiritual act of faith, such as a sinner’s prayer.
This is false. The question at issue is not whether Protestants believe in a visible church, but how the church is manifested in history. Put another way, how is our invisible bond with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, under the invisible headship of Christ (who is presently in heaven), visibly manifested in time and space?
The visible church is the outward flowering of God’s invisible grace (e.g. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” Jn 3:8).
Christians have an inner life which is, in turn, lived out in our tangible, embodied, communal existence. In fellowship with other members of the family of faith.
What is unseen gives rise to what is seen. The spiritual dimension animates the physical dimension.
But it doesn’t necessarily work in reverse. For appearances can be deceptive. What is seen is sometimes just an empty shell.
Likewise, Protestants don’t identify the visible church with one particular expression of the church on earth.