"... Church is not only the fellowship of outward objects and rites, as other governments, but at its core, it is a fellowship of faith and of the Holy Spirit in hearts. Yet this fellowship has outward marks so that it can be recognized. These marks are the pure doctirne of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with Gospel of Christ."
-- Apology of the Augsburg Confession
What is church? What is it? What does it mean? My beat up American Heritage Dictionary defines it this way:
1.Often Church All Christians regarded as a spiritual body. 2 A public building for worship 3. A congregation. 4. A religious service 5. Ecclesiastical power to distinguished from the secular; the seperation of church and state 6. The clergy.
When I say I belong to the Luthern Church Missouri Synod, what do I mean. Are those just words? Is there any meaning meaning behind them? What does it mean to be Lutheran? Am I a Lutheran Christian, or am I a Christian who happens to be a Lutheran? Do I put the Book of Concord ahead of the Bible or is it vice-versa?
Why? Am I worthy? Was Jesus really thinking about me when he spoke the words of John 17 when he prays:
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
These questions are, in many cases rhetorical. They are my own personal faith gut check. I find myself asking these questions often. Not because I don't believe, but because I do, sometimes I think I become complacent in my faith and don't move forward enough in it. I don't work at it. I find myself just kind of sitting back and relaxing on what I have. I find myself sometimes looking for God when I know in my heart He already has me.
I think it is because of these questions that I read the Fifth Article of the Apology so slowly. It took me a good week and half to get through it. I read it at short intervals (usually on breaks at work) I had to let the mantras "faith alone" and "through faith you are justified by God' grace" sink in; and, when I read this:
The Gospel compels us to make use of CHrist in justification. THe Gospel teaches that through Christ we have acces to God through faith. It taches that we ought to set Him as Mediator and Atoning Sacrafice against God's anger. The Gospel teaches that through faith in Christ the gorgiveness of sins and reconcilliation are recieved, and the terros of sin and death are over come. Paul also says that righteousness is not of the Law, but of the promise... (p. 154, BoC, Reader's Edition).
What promise? Again, from the BoC: "The promise of grace in Christ is not in vain." Or better put in John 3:17:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
I have the Promise in my heart and in my mind. Through grace I am saved. Simple. Clear cut. Why is it that I ask the same questions over again? Someone once told me that the stronger the faith the harder Satan works looking for a hole, a weak link in the armor of God:
...be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Eph 6:10-18a)
Its a twisty road my faith. It can be bumpy, too, but more than anything, it is comforting. And for that I am thankful.