10 Lessons on the Lutheran Faith

Lesson 8:   The Christian Community

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Getting Started
 

What does the Word church mean?

What is a church?
 
 


The Bible Teaches

1. The Christian Community is called the Church

"Church" can have many meanings in our language. It is used to mean any of the following:

  • a denomination: i.e. The Lutheran Church
     
  • all denominations: i.e. The Church throughout the world
     
  • a building i.e. Our first church was built in 1850
     
  • a congregation i.e. Trinity Lutheran Church in Cincinnati
     
  • all believers i.e. The Holy Christian Church

     

When we read the term in the Bible, it means either all those who believe in Christ or those Christians who are assembling in a particular place.

  • NAB Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:
  • NAB Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household,

Excursus: The One Church and Rome

The Roman Catholic Church insists that it is the only valid church because only it is in fulfillment of Matthew 16:18.

  • NAB Matthew 16:18 "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

The Roman Catholic Church says that only they can trace the lineage of the popes back to St. Peter. However this understanding is operating on a misunderstanding of the above Scriptural passage.

Jesus had just asked His disciples who they thought He was. Peter had spoken up and confessed Jesus to be the Christ. Jesus then turned and spoke the words above to Peter. However, in the original Greek language something stands out. Peter is called "petra". A word of feminine gender, it referred to a small rock. But Jesus says He is going to build on the "petros" or the one big rock. Petros is masculine. In the Greek language a masculine noun cannot modify or rename a feminine noun. Both would have to be used in the same gender. Hence Jesus is making a point. Peter has done well to confess Him as Christ, but the rock is not Peter, it is Jesus and the confession or belief that Jesus is the Christ. This corresponds to the Scriptural teaching that we are saved by faith in Christ alone.

  • NAB 1 Corinthians 3:11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
  • NAB Colossians 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

The Church is not built on Peter, Paul, the pope, Martin Luther, nor any other great figure. IT is built upon Jesus Christ, the only true foundation. Jesus saves us and adds us to His body, His church.

  • NAB 1 Peter 2:5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

The Christian Congregation

While in this world there are many visible churches. The true Church is the body of Christ. It is composed of all people who believe in Jesus. The Church is not first a visible body or organization, but rather is the people who believe in Jesus Christ.

  • NAB Romans 12:5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

In a sense you can say there is a visible church and an invisible church. We see the visible one. This is usually the one we think of as having buildings, signs, even television ministries. This is the church that gathers around the Word and professes the Christian faith. But within this church are found not only those who truly believe in God, but also those who do not believe. But only God truly knows who is and who is not in His church, for only He can look at a person and know they truly have faith. In this sense, the church is invisible.

Local congregations are very important though. These are places where believers may gather together around Godís Word and sacraments to be nurtured in their faith and to express their worship of the Lord.
 
 

As members of a faithful congregation we receive many blessings:

  • The gifts delivered through the sacraments
     
  • The proclamation of Godís Word.
     
  • Pastoral care
     
  • Friendship and fellowship.

     

As members of a church we contribute much to its fellowship. As members of Christís church, HE desires certain things for us.

  • He desire that we remain in saving faith and a part of His body by always trusting in Him. He does not want us to take our faith for granted, but rather to examine it and study His Word so that we grow stronger.
    • NAB 2 Corinthians 13:5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you -- unless indeed you fail the test?
    • NAB John 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
  • Jesus desires that we make a confession of faith. Membership in a Christian congregation is such a confession. To say I am a member at this or that church means to say I believe what this assembly believes.

     

    • NAB Matthew 10:32 "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 "But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

Jesus desires that as we affiliate with a congregation, we confess His name as it is in truth. He wants us to observe all His Word and to keep all of its teachings. It is important to be affiliated with a church that teaches Godís Word in truth and purity, for not only is that one way to confess Jesus as He truly is, but we are nurtured by the truth, not by error and falsehood.

    • NAB John 8:31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
  • Jesus desires that we watch out for and avoid associations and organizations that would harm our faith through misinformation and false teaching.
    • NAB 1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
    • NAB Galatians 1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!
    • NAB Matthew 7:15 "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?

The Church in the world is split into many denominations each of which has a distinct group of teachings. It is important for a Christian to examine the teaching to be sure it is in accordance with the truth of Scripture. God desires us to stay away from false teaching. It is for this reason that not only does this church make it a high priority to preach and teach Godís Word in purity, but also does not participate in ecumenical and unionistic services and activities that would tend to suggest that differences in beliefs are not important.

    • NAB Romans 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.
  • Jesus desires us to be active and contributing to the life and ministry of the congregation we are in by giving faithful witness to others about Himself, through prayer, and by sharing our time, abilities, and material resources.
    • NAB 1 Peter 3:15 "&ldots; always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
    • NAB 1 Peter 2:9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

The Augsburg Confession:

Article 7. The Church

It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places. It is as Paul says in Eph. 4:4, 5, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism."

Article 8 What the Church Is

Again, although the Christian church, properly speaking, is nothing else than the assembly of all believers and saints, yet because in this life many false Christians, hypocrites, and even open sinners remain among the godly, the sacraments are efficacious even if the priests who administer them are wicked men, for as Christ himself indicated, "The Pharisees sit on Moses' seat" (Matt. 23:2).

 




2. The Christian Community is created by the forgiveness of sins.

All people are sinful and need to be forgiven of their sins and cleansed of their sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As soon as someone becomes a believer in Jesus, they become a saint. Saints are not people who after a lifetime have achieved some level of holiness. Rather every Christian is a saint by virtue of having their sins forgiven and Christís righteousness given to them. And so included in the Creed is the statement that we believe in the "forgiveness of sins".

  • NAB Romans 5:17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
  • NAB 2 Corinthians 5:19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

How is it possible for sins to be forgiven? Jesus died for our sins taking our punishment. In place of the punishment we deserved, He has given to us His perfect righteousness.
 
 

  • NAB 2 Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Often you hear people say, "I donít have to go to church to be a Christian." While it is true that membership in a church does not mean we are a Christian, and if we were without official membership in a congregation, we could still believe in God, it is still important to go to church. Why? Because God offers the forgiveness of sins through His Word and His Sacraments. These we find the church gathered around.

  • NAB Luke 24:47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
  • NAB 2 Corinthians 5:19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

This teaching about salvation is the most crucial teaching of the church. It includes these elements:

    • Salvation is a free gift from God. We are saved by grace.
       
    • Salvation means our sins are forgiven.
       
    • Forgiveness was earned by Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.
       
    • We are saved only through having faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ.

       

  • NAB Acts 4:12 "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

We receive this forgiveness created by Christ on the cross, announced and delivered to us through the Word and the Sacraments, by means of faith. But faith is not our human work, it is the work of the Holy Spirit who enables us to trust and hold onto what we have heard.
 
 

  • NAB Romans 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
  • NAB Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

The Augsburg Confession

Article 4

It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5

 




The Office of the Keys

The Office of the Keys is the expression used for the retaining and forgiving of sins. When sins are forgiven, the door to heaven is unlocked. When sins are not forgiven that door remains closed. Jesus gave the power of the keys to church to exercise as His spokesmen.
 
 

  • NAB John 20:21 So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

The authority to use these keys includes everything connected with proclamation of the free gift of forgiveness from Christ and the withholding of this gift. This includes: the formal proclamation of forgiveness we hear from a pastor, preaching, witnessing, administering the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline for the unrepentant.

Sometimes it is necessary to retain the announcement and promise of the forgiveness of sins. Why would the church be required to do so? It is not the gravity or seriousness of any particular sin. God can forgive any sin. Rather it depends on a personís attitude. Is the person repentant or does he refuse to repent of his sin?

  • NAB Matthew 18:15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 17 "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

These are the four stages for church discipline:

    1. The individual speaks to the offending fellow Christian
       
    2. If this fails, he or she secures the help of some other Christians.
       
    3. If this fails, the matter is brought before the congregation.
       
    4. If the person in error still refuses to repent, they are to be excommunicated.

       

Excommunication means to be excluded from the fellowship. This does not mean they are excluded from heaven on the authority of the church, but the church announces that a personís unrepentence has itself excluded a person from heaven. The key to this discipline is love. The goal is that the person may repent of sin and return to trusting in the grace of God. When such a one repents, they are to be loved and accepted as a brother. Church discipline is never a tool of revenge or vindication.
 
 

The Pastoral Office

God is a gracious God. He wants to be sure that the news of His forgiveness is proclaimed and that the treasures of heaven are bestowed through His Sacraments. Therefore Jesus instituted the office of the ministry. That is He established that there would be those who would teach and administer the sacraments in His name.

  • NAB Matthew 28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
  • NAB Ephesians 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;

The office of the ministry is established by God as a gift to help Christians grow in the faith and to become equipped for works of service. The pastor is to shepherd or care for his flock. He is to proclaim Godís Word to the flock in its truth and purity. He is to admonish the erring and encourage the suffering and discouraged. HE is to instruct and protect his flock from error.

  • NAB Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
  • NAB 1 Timothy 4:13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.
  • NAB 1 Timothy 5:20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.
  • NAB 1 Timothy 4:1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, &ldots;6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.

The Augsburg Confession

Article 5

The Office of the Ministry

To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this.

 


Confession and Absolution

God invites us to be bold and come before Him to confess our sins. God knows the truth about us. But He invites us to trust in His mercy and grace.

  • NAB Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
  • NAB 1 John 1:7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Sometimes a particular sin causes a great burden of conscience to a Christian. God invites us in these and any circumstances where we feel a need, to confess our sins to one another so that our fellow Christian can reassure us of the grace of God. You can also speak to your pastor of your sins knowing that if you repent, that the promise the pastor shares with you is certain.

Private confession with a pastor is not a commandment or duty, but something for those times when we need a special word of comfort from God through His spokesman. Pastors are not permitted to discuss what is shared with him in confidence.

  • NAB 2 Samuel 12:13 Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.

 
3. The Christian Community is waiting for the return of Christ and the fulfillment of the promises of eternal life
 

Christians have heard and trust the promise from God that our sins are forgiven even now. But we are in a time of waiting. A time when we look forward to the promises of God in Christ.

  • NAB 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

The greatest promise we have to look forward to as Christians is the resurrection. The Scriptures teach us that Jesus is going to return. ON that day He will raise all the dead. The very same bodies that died will be made alive.

  • NAB John 5:28 "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
  • NAB 1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

However, there is a difference in the resurrection of believers and unbelievers. Believer shall rise with glorified bodies and have eternal life with God in heaven. But unbelievers rise to shame and torment in hell forever.

  • NAB John 5:28 "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

Christians are raised with a true physical body. It will be the same body we had in this life, only cleansed of sin and all the consequences of sin.

  • NAB Philippians 3:21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
  • NAB 1 Corinthians 15:51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.

The passage above also reminds us that not everyone will die. For some will be alive when Christ returns. Even those believers who are alive will have their bodies transformed and purified of all sin.

Everlasting life is the gift of God to ever person who believes in Jesus Christ. Every person who has faith in Christ, already has this gift.

  • NAB John 11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"

When the Christian dies, his soul goes immediately to be with Christ in heaven.

  • NAB Ecclesiastes 12:7 then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
  • NAB Luke 23:43 And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."

Beginning on the last day, believers will begin their full enjoyment with Christ in both body and spirit. It will be a great and wonderful existence.

  • NAB Matthew 25:34 "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
  • NAB Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
  • NAB 1 John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

 
  copyright Rev. David D. Reedy, 1999-2005