What Does the Church Do?

This is my December newsletter article. It is published here for anyone who might be interested.

“What do you do?”  Our first-time meeting with a person often revolves around a discussion commonly focused on our employment and the duties required of us in it.  But this is only one aspect of a person – oftentimes the most obvious and easily approachable aspect.  As we get to know each other, perhaps the conversations move beyond a focus on this “safe” topic and into other, more personal ones.  Sometimes things never become that intimate.  Many of our relationships reflect only a superficial, face value knowledge of one another.

What does the Church do?  Ask yourself this question.  Ask your spouse, your pastor, your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Does your answer reflect only the superficial, comfortable, visible-on-the-surface aspect of the Church?  This summer, at my ordination, Pastor Jeffrey Pulse asked the question of both me and the congregation, “What are you doing?”  It’s the same question, isn’t it?  The answer given can so easily roll off our tongues: we’re preaching the Gospel!  We’re reaching the lost!  But do we know what that means?  Can we dig deeper?

Also this summer, our Synod in convention elected a new Synodical President: Rev. Matthew C. Harrison.  At the start of his term, President Harrison unveiled a theme – a theological foundation, really – for what the Synod (nationally and locally) will be focusing on over at least the next three years.  What does the Church do?  This theme provides a scriptural and robust answer to the question.

The answer is found in three words which are found throughout the Scriptures: Witness, Mercy, and Life Together.  Martyría, Diakonía, Koinonía in Greek.

Witness – “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” 1 John 5:7-8

We bear witness (testify) to the Truth.  As John puts it a few verses later, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  What does the Church do?  First, we witness, testify, confess to the one true story that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that God so loved all the world that He gave His one and only Son.  This is for the hope of the world.  This is so that the world might have light overcoming all of its darkness.  Therefore the Church preaches this message to the world.  This isn’t one of several messages which the Church preaches.  This is the message that the Church preaches.  A former president of the Synod put it this way – keep the message straight and get the message out.

Mercy – “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

Those who can help themselves have no need of a Savior.  Put another way, every man is unable to save himself; therefore to think he can is to reject the one who gladly offered up Himself for the world.  By grace we have been saved, not by works.  This blessed Gospel which we receive through the Witness of the Church frees us from having to do works for ourselves.  Instead, we can do the good works prepared for us in service to others.  “We give thanks to you, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another.”  We pray this petition following the Lord’s Supper each week.  This prayer, originally penned by Martin Luther, sums things up perfectly.  We receive forgiveness through the testimony of the meal we receive from the Lord, and then we pray that this would at the same time move us to serve on another in love.  “Love one another,” our Lord speaks to us through His Word.  Not for salvation, mind you.  But instead because He bids us to show mercy to one another just as He has shown mercy to us.  We do this through our efforts with North Dallas Shared Ministries, through our prayer for and financial partnership with LCMS World Relief and Human Care, and through our prayers and support of one another in times of trial, distress, or adversity.

Life Together (fellowship) – “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:9

You’re not alone.  You don’t exist in a vacuum.  On one hand faith is intensely private and individual, but on the other it is also communal.  One Lord, one faith, one baptism are shared together by every single man, woman, and child in Christ, whether in the past, present, or future.  When we go up to the altar together on Sunday morning, we each individually receive the body and blood of our Lord, yet at the same time we receive it in the confession of the faith that we hold in common.  And as we are gathered there at the altar, we are there which “angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven.”  You may be an ear, a toe, an individual hair upon the head, but we are all one body in Christ.  Even our “social” gatherings reflect this reality of justification.  This is true fellowship in the Scriptural sense.

This is what the Church does. We receive.  We serve.  We love one another.  Because those of us still on this side of death remain not-yet-completely-sanctified-yet-redeemed sinners, the efforts entrusted to us aren’t done perfectly.  Yet, the forgiveness which we have is perfect.  Ask yourself “What does the Church do?”  Read Acts 2:42-47.  And then think to yourself, what most can we do at these things which our Lord has entrusted to us?