Who are you? Who are we? The Church’s one Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. But what is the Church? Who are we?
What we are not is a club that has joined together because we have the same interests, or the same talents, or the same hobbies, or because we’re the same age, race, or sex. The Church is made up of those whom God has called to be His people in His Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are a Trinitarian people who have been marked with that holy Name in Baptism. And we are a chosen people. God chose you and made you a member of His Son.
Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus is perhaps the first fully-developed description of the Church of Christ. First, Paul describes how one becomes a member of the Body of Christ: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:1-2a, 4-6, 8-9, ESV).
Second, Paul describes what the Church of God is to look like: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them…And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints[,] for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 2:10; 4:11-16, ESV).
This is who we are. When you say you are a member of the Christian Church, you are not saying you have joined a community of the like-minded. You are saying that you have been joined to a Body. To separate yourself, to refuse to care for the other members and to let them care for you, to refuse to join with them in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ (by which His body is fed and nourished) is to violently tear apart the Body. What God has joined together, let no one rend asunder!
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:15-21, ESV).
*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”
Pastor Timothy Winterstein
September is a month of busy beginnings. School starts (if it hasn’t already started in August), Bible class and Sunday School start, as well as Confirmation classes and Christian information sessions.
As your pastor, I urge you not only to come to the Divine Service on Sunday, where Christ feeds you with His Body and Blood and His Word, but to make a commitment to come to Bible class at 10:00am and to ensure that your children come to Sunday School at 9:45am. And if you or anyone you know would like to know more about how Lutherans teach the Christian Faith and the Holy Scriptures, I encourage you to come to our Christian information sessions, which will begin on Wednesday, September 12 at 7pm. (On the 12th we can talk about whether that is a good day and time, or not.) We will talk about the basics of the Christian Faith, as well as what Lutherans teach and confess together with the universal Christian Church. There is no obligation to become a member if you come to this class, though it is necessary if you become convinced that the Lutheran Church teaches the Scriptures faithfully and you do wish to join this congregation. All backgrounds and questions are welcome!
All of these educational opportunities are ways that you can dig deeply into the bedrock of our Faith: Jesus Christ, as He presents Himself in the Scriptures. Come and join us on Sunday mornings, as we gather to hear the Word of God as the Third Commandment directs us. As Martin Luther explained, “What is meant by ‘keeping [the Sabbath] holy’? Nothing else than devoting it to holy words, holy works, and holy living…But God’s Word is the treasure that makes everything holy…At whatever time God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or pondered, there the person, the day, and the work is hallowed, not on account of the external work but on account of the Word that makes us all saints” (Large Catechism, The Third Commandment, Kolb/Wengert ed., 398:87; 399:91-92). So come be with us as God’s Word hallows us (makes us holy)!
Quote for the Month:
“Of human fellowship we have two kinds. There is the natural fellowship into which we are born. This is there before we are, and we are born into it without our consent. Such is the fellowship of our family and people. Then there is the fellowship which occurs because we wish it to, a fellowship we enter voluntarily. There is such a fellowship when we more or less voluntarily join a gymnastics club, a party, an association that has a purpose with which we sympathize.
“But the fellowship which binds together the members of the church never arises in such a way. We are not born into the church, nor can we join it. These are two very serious misunderstandings. ‘Those who received his word’—the words of Peter’s Pentecost sermon having gone into them working faith—‘were baptized, and they were added that day about three thousand souls’ [Acts 2:41]. They ‘were baptized’—passive voice. They ‘were added’—passive voice. The One who added them was the One who called them by the Gospel and kindled the light of faith in their hearts.
“In this way, and in no other, did we also become members of the church. You also were added by the Holy Spirit when you were baptized. Baptism is not some symbolic action, an initiation rite done or devised by men. It is a sacrament of Jesus Christ …
“Your resurrection began when you were baptized. ‘We were buried therefore with Him [Christ] by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life’ (Rom. 6:4). With Christ you died at that time, with Him you were buried, with Him you shall rise. With Him, for you have been made a member of His body. That is the deep secret of the fellowship of the saints. So we, ‘though many, are one body….For by one Spirit we were baptized into one body’ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). And again: ‘Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread’ (1 Cor. 10:17). That is certainly a fellowship which the world does not know and can never understand. It is the imperishable communion of saints.”
–Hermann Sasse, “The Church Lives! A Sermon on Acts 2:42-47 for the First Sunday After Trinity” in We Confess the Church, 133, 134