In the Nicene Creed, from the original Greek, we confess, “We believe in… one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” What is this Church? The Augsburg Confession, which we affirm as a Lutheran congregation, also gives us a definition. “The Church is the assembly of saints where the Gospel is preached in its purity, and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel” (AC VII:1). So, what is the Church?
A disease strikes, and you need help in fighting the illness. So you go to a hospital. The doctor diagnoses and prescribes the cure. Now, if your illness or injuries are severe, you may be in intensive care for a long time, receiving medication and treatment. For healing may take a while, as you recover your strength and, perhaps later, go through rehabilitation.
In this Church, you are the sick patient, and Doctor Jesus comes to heal you. Why? “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick do…. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:12-13). The Healer uses His Commandments like a scan and blood test to reveal where the sickness of sin is afflicting you.
In this hospital, we are all patients who need our doctor, Jesus, to heal us. The disease of sin and death infect us, and Jesus provides us with the life-restoring medicine. A blessed restoration comes our way, as we also encourage and help others, for one person may be stronger than another.
Still, no one’s flesh is free from sin’s corruption until the Last Day. On the Day of our Lord’s return, the hospice is over. A sin-free, death-free life—in both body and soul—will be ours.
Another picture of the Church is of a body (1 Cor 12). Now, this is not any, old body—but the Body of Christ Himself! The Lord Jesus is the Head, and we are the members, the body parts (Col 1:18, 1 Cor 12:27). To be part of a body means we are not individual members who do whatever we want. Think of an ear demanding to be an eye! “For as a body, though one, contains many parts, and its many parts form one body, so also with Christ” (1 Cor 12:12).
In this Body, we belong to someone greater than ourselves. To survive and live, we need the Head, Christ Jesus—and one another. The portrait of the Church as a body shows we cannot cut ourselves off from one another on a whim. No one cuts off a finger or toe unless he must!
The Holy Spirit grafts us into our Lord’s Body, connecting us to one another because we are attached to Jesus Himself. “So, if one part suffers, every member suffers, and if one part receives an honor, every member rejoices” (1 Cor 12:26). In this Body of Christ, we are joined and strengthened to live together in Him, which includes the Body and Blood He delivers to us in His Sacred Meal!
In their epistles, both Peter and Paul promote a radical way of viewing oneself, which involved a reversal of first-century, social values. In ancient times, the ideal person is someone independent, with much money and political influence, self-sufficient, needing no one.
The Church is the reverse. The person is dependent, relying on and needing others, like a wife, child, or a servant in the first century. So, Scripture calls the Church “the Bride of Christ” (Rev 21:9). All Christians are children of God and servants of Christ.
The Christian is no longer the master, with an earned status, wealth, or power. For if someone comes to the Father based on who he is in himself, his righteousness, he only secures eternal death (Rom 6:23).
The point of justification by faith, with faith being a gift the Almighty creates in someone, is not to rely on yourself but Him (Rom 3:28, Eph 2:8-9). So, being under God is the norm for those brought into His Church. All Christians are secondary to their Savior, to God the Father, and to His ways (Eph 5:21-23, Heb 12:9, James 4:7, 1 Pet 2:13). To be a Christian is to be under the Lord’s leadership and authority—if not, someone is not a Christian.
The Church is a family. The Bible tells us Christians are “children of God” (Gal 3:26). Not yet done, we also learn God is our Father, Jesus is our Brother, and the Church is our Mother (Heb 2:11, Gal 4:26).
Considered the third greatest theologian in Lutheranism, Johann Gerhard wrote:
The holy Church of God is a mother, a virgin, and a bride. A mother because every day she gives birth to spiritual children of God. A virgin because she keeps herself blameless from any association with the devil and the world. A bride because Christ promised her to Himself in an eternal covenant and gave her the pledge of the Spirit.
The Church, and her local gathering, in particular, are family. By Jesus’ blood, we become blood relatives and should realize ourselves to be family.
The Spirit breathes spiritual life in us, bringing us into the Father’s family when we are born from above in Baptism (John 3:3, 5). Mother Church nurtures us in this life of faith as she feeds us on the words and the Body and Blood of our brother Jesus.
What does this mean? With this biblical understanding of Church, we don’t jump from congregation to congregation like consumers on a shopping spree. For God makes us family. Now, brother and sisters may bicker and argue, but they are still siblings in the family. Nothing changes this reality.
A family also strives to work out problems—to live like who we are in Christ Jesus. How can we run away when life batters and bruises us? To do so is to flee from our brothers and sisters. No, we choose to live together in the peace our Lord Jesus gives us, learn to confess our sins, and pray for one another (James 5:16).
The Church is the Father’s creation because, in her, we receive the new life He gives us in His Son, our Redeemer. May we understand and love her, as we grow in faith, trusting in Jesus all the more for our salvation. Amen.