Preached during the week of Invocavit 2014
James 1:2-15 + Luke 22:24-32
As we gather together in these five midweek Lenten services, we’ll continue to hear the Scriptures, as the Gospel this evening again points us to Jesus as the Greatest One who willingly made Himself the greatest Servant in order to save us from our sins, as the Great One who got down on His knees and treated you and me as if we were the truly great ones. And we’ll sing Lenten hymns during these services, to help us focus our attention during this season on Jesus’ voluntary humiliation and His sacrifice of Himself for our salvation.
But during this Lenten season, we will also continue to examine the confession of our faith, the Augsburg Confession, because as believers in Jesus, we care about everything He says. We live off of His every word, and we recognize that His teaching, His doctrine, is one united whole, not a series of disjointed doctrines that you can pick and choose from, or ignore. Think of the doctrine of the Gospel as a great sphere, with the death and resurrection of Christ at the center and everything else radiating out from that central truth, and then pointing back toward that central truth. So now, during Lent, is the perfect time to focus even more on catechesis, on hearing and learning the doctrine of Christ—all of it.
In fact, that’s the very thing that defines the Church in the world and keeps her united, as we confess in Article VII of the Augsburg Confession.
Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4, 5. 6.
One holy Church is to continue forever. Why do we confess that? First, why do we confess that there is one Church? There is one Church, because there is only one cornerstone of the Church, which is Christ, and only one foundation of the Church, which is the Holy Scriptures. Paul says to the Ephesians, Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
So there is only one household of God in heaven and earth, one, holy temple in the Lord. Why “holy”? Because God calls it holy. How so? Because this household of God, this temple, this Church, though made up of sinners, has been declared holy by God through Holy Baptism, which washes us into the holy Person of Christ.
And what about the word “church”? What does it mean? The Church is the assembly of the called, the congregation, the assembly of those who have been called by the Gospel to believe in Christ and who, therefore, have been baptized into Christ. One holy Church, throughout the world. One holy assembly of people who have been called by the Gospel to repent and believe in Jesus, people who have been sanctified by the blood of Christ, by Baptism and by faith in Christ.
This one holy Church, we confess, is to continue forever. Jesus said to His disciples, on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. So, we’re not talking about any single congregation or church building in a given city. We’re not talking about any human institution or any single “denomination” or synod, or about a single bishop or succession of bishops. The Roman Church may not endure forever. The Anglican Church, the Lutheran Church, the Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc., the ELDoNA, the WELS, may not endure forever. This church building, this gathering of believers may not gather here forever. But one holy Church, throughout the world, will continue forever.
Which Church is that? It is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. Just as the Scriptures do, our Confessions repeatedly refer to baptized believers in Christ as “saints,” holy ones. But notice that the Church isn’t that saint over there, or this one over here doing his or her own thing. It’s the congregation (the coming together) of saints. Whenever possible, the saints come together around God’s Word rightly taught and the Sacraments rightly administered.
Nor is the Church only made up of the hearers of the Gospel. It’s the congregation of saints where there is also a pastor preaching the Gospel, a pastor or pastors who rightly teach the Gospel to them and rightly administer the Sacrament to them. The gathering of the hearers of the Gospel + those who preach the Gospel to them rightly = the Church. Or to put it another way, Pastor + Laity, gathered together around Word and Sacrament, anywhere and everywhere in the world = the Church.
Notice that we speak of the Gospel rightly taught and the Sacraments rightly administered, in accordance with Christ’s command. This is serious business. There are not multiple “versions” of the Gospel out that around which the Church gathers. There is only one saving Gospel, and there are any number of false gospels. St. Paul said to the Galatians, warning them about the false teachers, I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
You know how Luther summarized the Apostle Paul’s doctrine? “Therefore my doctrine is true, pure, sure, and divine. Nor can there be any doctrine that is different from mine, much less better. Therefore any doctrine at all that does not teach as mine does—that all men are sinners and are justified solely by faith in Christ—must be false, uncertain, evil, blasphemous, accursed, and demonic. And so are those who either teach or accept such a doctrine.” Serious business, isn’t it? That’s why I can never recommend to people that they submit to the teaching of a church or a pastor whose doctrine I don’t know, of whose doctrine I know to deviate from the doctrine of Christ.
Finally, we confess in this article that to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. What do we have to agree on in order to practice fellowship in this one holy Church? Do we have to agree on the color of the carpeting? The number of candles on the altar? What vestments the pastor should wear? What ceremonies we should observe? No, not as long as we agree on the doctrine of the Gospel. As we confess, Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.
It is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. By “doctrine of the Gospel,” we don’t just mean John 3:16. We mean the whole doctrine of Christ, which we’ve been confessing in each article of the Augsburg Confession and will continue to confess in the articles to come. If there are those out there—and there are—who disagree with or teach contrary to the doctrine of the Gospel, then we don’t commune with them or pretend to be unified with them. Instead, we warn them of their deviation from the doctrine of Christ. As Paul wrote to the Romans, Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.
But, if we agree on the whole doctrine of Christ, then we recognize that unity created by the Holy Spirit, and a blessed unity it is. We worship together, pray together, commune together, and recognize the ministers in this Church as Christ’s ambassadors, as coworkers of Christ in His vineyard. And we take seriously the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4, to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
This is the Church, the body of Christ of which He is the Head. This is what we confess in Article VII of the Augsburg Confession. Amen.