American Christians have a tendency to see their own denomination, local church, association of partner churches, and so on, as “the church.” With this reduction comes a number of blind spots about what the church looks like around the world.
The Westminster Confession of Faith makes a distinction between the invisible church, those who have been or will be united to the Triune God by faith throughout the entire history of God’s people, and the visible church which is “catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion: and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” The 1960 Manual of Church Doctrine according to the Church of Scotland also explains that “we who are alive represent in place and tie the whole which God alone sees in completeness. The great procession of the faithful crosses the world’s stage–and only such part of as is actually crossing that stage is visible; and it passes through the world.” As such, because the visible church is fully international already, American Christians have a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the flourishing of “the church” which is never simply about America nor the West.
While secular humanism continues to dominate the cultures of Western Europe and North America, the visible church is growing and expanding in ways that nicely represent the rich and ancient diversity of the people of God, which Pew Research estimates about 6.9 billion. Pew Research explains,