What do we find in the church? That was the question asked last month. The Lutheran Confessions and, consequently, the Scriptures were very clear.
“Our churches teach that one holy Church is to remain forever. The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.” (Article VII, Concordia, p. 34)
What is found in the Church is the Gospel, purely taught in the Word of God and rightly administered in the Sacraments which our Lord has instituted. Jesus and His forgiveness are what we will find wherever Christ’s Church truly exists.
But notice that there is one other thing found in Christ’s Church. Christ did not become man just for kicks. His eternal Gospel doesn’t exist solely as an idea that’s just to be talked about and debated. Christ gave His life for the sins of the world. He commands that His saving work be proclaimed and thus received!
“[Jesus said,] ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.’” (Luke 24:46-49, ESV)
The Gospel must have an audience. And when the Word of God is preached, the Holy Spirit works on the hearers, bringing them to repentance and faith in the very one who is proclaimed in the Gospel – Jesus. So something else is found in the Church – those who believe in the Gospel. Christians are found in the Church!
“Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!” (Psalm 149:1, ESV) “The Church is the congregation of saints” is what the Lutheran reformers wrote in the quotation from the Lutheran Confessions above, echoing the words found at the beginning of Psalm 149. When Luke writes about the very early Church at the end of Acts 2, he writes about the activities of the believers. Jesus’ Word and Sacraments are found in the Church for the benefit of the believers who make up the Church, the Body of Christ. He strengthens us in the faith through them, He brings us again to repentance through them, He nourishes and sustains us with them through all trials. And He instructs us with them, that we might have an answer for those who ask us for the hope that is in us.
The Church from very early on met together; saving faith is found in us individually, but the expression of that faith in love is found in our life together, in the “communion of saints”. Paul describes the believers who make up the Church as different members (or parts) of one body: feet, hands, eyes, etc. Believers – Christians – make up the Church and gather together to receive from Christ His gifts. Christ’s gifts aren’t intended to sit undiscovered and unknown, unexposed to His Church. Conversely, the believers who make up Christ’s Church aren’t intended to stand on their own, either. Christ bids us to come together in the assembly (one of the early descriptions of what we now call “church” or “congregation”) so that we can, as one body, receive the gifts from our Head. Our Head, Jesus, even describes the believers who make up the Church as a family.
So every Sunday our family goes to church together. If we are Christians, there should be no question about whether we go or not. If we are well, and can safely be around others, then we should be with our fellow believers. We hear the Word together, we sing together, we receive Christ’s body and blood together. We rejoice when a new member of the family is welcomed in the waters of Holy Baptism. We mourn together when a member of our family dies. We pray together, for one another and the whole world, for every need and for every thanksgiving.
The Christian life is not one lived alone. It is not one lived in isolation. Let there be no misunderstanding of this. Christ intends for us to gather together in the congregation, every Lord’s Day, as often as we are able. That’s why He established His Church in the manner He did. And Christ bids us all to be there as we are physically able, from the infant to the oldest member; in the assembly! Not chatting in the parlor, working on a project or a meal, or even playing in the nursery. We are all the same in our baptism – we have faith and forgiveness, and we have an eternal need to receive Christ’s gifts for the strengthening of our faith and the assurance of our forgiveness, for the entirety of our lives.
“Come to me,” Christ says. Out of love for every one of us, He bids His whole family to come. “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” Paul writes in Romans 10. If there is a reason you cannot make it on Sunday, please talk to me. At times you cannot find a way to escape from the demands of the world. I want to pray with you, and help you in any way I can to hear Christ’s Word. Hearing it or not has eternal consequence, and I am given nothing else to do by my Lord except to make sure that you hear His voice.