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What Luther Says

What Do You Think About The Church?

While surfing the Internet the other night, I somehow ended up at the "Pastor's Page" for Hope Lutheran Church in Aurora, CO where Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller from Table Talk Radio serves.

One section that caught my eye was the "Pastor On The Street" videos from 2006 (already 8 years ago now!). Here's the description...

We took a video camera and a microphone to downtown Denver and surveyed nine people about their religious thoughts. We asked if people were religious, what they thought about Jesus and the church, what the Gospel is, and how you get to heaven. The answers provide a small glimpse into some of the broad currents of popular religious thought. These audio files include only the answers to these questions. Much thanks to Pastor Joe Burnham for doing all the hard work on this project.

Given my affinity for Apologetics, I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight each 2-minute video and then offer up a little Bible study and truth-telling.

What Do You Think About The Church?

Unlike Jesus, in our questions, Jesus' Church didn't escape criticism. The church is "hypocritical" and "an institution of man which is corrupt," out, it seems, "to ruin everyone's good times."

Interesting, huh?

That got me thinking though. We know what others think about the Church, but do we ourselves think about the Church? How is it different? How is it the same? Why does it ever matter?

The following is taken from "The Lutheran Understanding of Church Fellowship" that the LCMS published back in 2000.

While it doesn't directly answer the question "What Is Church?" it does indirectly answer it by presenting what we Lutherans believe about Church and Church Fellowship in general, which I think can be very helpful for us these days as well as helpful in providing a good commentary after watching the above video regarding what other people think about it.

Besides, it's always good for us to pause, take a step back, and recall what the Bible and our Confessions say about Church (and Church Fellowship) so that our perspective can be informed by the Lord and not the world around us.

Here are some excerpts that I personally enjoyed reading.

A. The Holy Trinity is the source and pattern for the fellowship Christians have with one another in "the one holy Christian and apostolic church" (Latin: una sancta).

The unity that exists among Christians finds its foundation in the unity that exists among the three persons in the Trinity. The Son and the Holy Spirit share in the deity of the Father. As the Nicene Creed states it: the Son is "of one substance with the Father" and the Holy Spirit "together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified." The triune God, therefore, is an indivisible communion of persons by virtue of their common participation in the one divine substance. Through the coming of the divine Son into the flesh, this communion of persons in the Trinity is proffered to us. For when Christ was incarnated, He united Himself indivisibly with human flesh, so that His flesh became the very instrument for the communication of His divine nature. When, therefore, Christians are buried and raised with Christ in Baptism and when they partake of Christ’s flesh and blood under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, they become participants "in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) that Christ shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. By union with Christ, we believers become one with the triune God and so become one with one another.

B. The one church, the assembly of believers, is an article of faith.

Like other articles of faith, the church’s unity cannot be seen but is believed: "I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church" (Nicene Creed). As Christ’s mystical body and temple (Ephesians 2:20–22), the church’s unity is as invisible as her holiness. Hermann Sasse writes, "The Christians in Corinth had to believe that they were God’s people and that in, with, and under their visible assembly the spiritual body of Christ was present --  just as they could not see, taste, or feel that the consecrated bread and the consecrated wine in the Lord’s Supper were the true body and true blood of Christ. They had to believe that." The Gospel and sacraments are the church’s marks through which the Holy Spirit creates faith in Christ who is present in them and joins Himself to us as His church. The one church, the fellowship of all believers, expresses herself outwardly as the assembly around the Gospel and sacraments. The internal and external fellowship are facets of the one church. Internal fellowship is constituted by faith and the external fellowship is expressed by confession.

C. The church’s internal unity, known only to God (Ephesians 1:4), is expressed by an external or outward fellowship based on confession.

While the church’s internal unity is perfect and known only to God (Ephesians 1:4), the limits of external fellowship are determined by whether the Gospel is preached purely and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution. The Gospel and the sacraments are in themselves always pure. In this way they create and preserve the church in her hidden unity throughout the world. Yet, when church bodies make public confession of the Gospel and the sacraments, tragically some obscure or explicitly contradict the teaching of the Gospel and the proper administration of the sacraments. For this reason the limits or boundaries of the external fellowship are creeds and confessions. Churches in altar and pulpit fellowship share the same confession, including the rejection of errors that contradict this confession. Where churches cannot agree on a common confession, the basis for church fellowship does not exist. The original form of the Nicene Creed condemned those who did not believe that the divinity of the Son was equal to the divinity of the Father. Twelve centuries later the Lutheran Confessions identified agreements and disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church. But they also listed their differences with the Reformed, and in the case of the Formula of Concord, with other Lutherans.

Don't you just love all of that?

As Martin Luther said, "Thank God, today a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray, 'I believe in one holy Christian church.'"

We'll wrap things up with something from Rev. William Weedon.

The definition of Church here is Christ's own, right out of John 10. Dr. Kenneth Korby, of blessed memory, pointed out that we must get the correct sense. It's not sight; it's hearing. Don't go looking for the Church with your eyes! Do the looking with your ears! Listen for where the voice of the Shepherd sounds, gathering His flock together around His divine promises. There you will find the one gathering of all believers, living - literally living -- from the promises of our Lord.

"This holiness does not come from albs, tonsures, long gowns, and other ceremonies they made up without Holy Scripture, but from God's Word and true faith."

The holiness of the Church can't be "put on" externally, but only believed internally. You won't see it with your eyes, but it is given and bestowed in the Words of God's promise and made our own by the faith that holds tight to those promises. Again, you are directed away from what you can see and directed toward what God says. Find the Gospel being taught and preached and you find the Lord Jesus gathering, feeding and nourishing His flock.

In the context of the Smalcald Articles, the Lutherans were confessing: the Words of Jesus keep the Church the Church and we do not need the papal superstructure to do so, and when the papal superstructure contravenes the Word, far from speaking as the Church, it actually subverts the Church. From from the Smalcald Articles' confession of the Church one can understand the sung prayer of our spiritual ancestors:

Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word!

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, it's important that we not only know WHAT we believe, but that we know WHY we believe it so that we can engage in these kinds of conversations with people when they come up within our vocations and give a faithful confession.

I hope that this entry was helpful in some small way to that end.

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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