First of a 2 part Series
An essay titled “What place does the church (small “c”) have in a Christian’s faith-life?” was presented to a CLC Pastoral Conference at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Cheyenne, Wyoming, in September, 2013. This is a first of two parts from that essay (abbreviated by the editor).
During Israel’s wilderness journeys children lost their parents and wives lost their husbands. At such times it was comforting for these believers to know that they were not left alone as orphans or widows. The Lord was watching out for them. The psalmist declares, “God sets the solitary in families…” (Psalm 68:6). The community of Israelites was the support group for the orphans and widows.
The reassuring divine message that “God sets the solitary in families” applies not only to temporal familial relationships but also to the spiritual family of God. The Lord gathers His children into religious communities. In our New Testament times these religious communities are known as churches or congregations. In our religious heritage, the larger spiritual community God has brought together is known as a church body or synod.
As God’s children travel through the wilderness of this life with all its spiritual pitfalls, threats, and dangers, it is especially reassuring to know they don’t have to go it alone. The Lord Himself is with them as an ever-present help in time of need. In addition, God provides His spiritual family with religious leaders to minister to their spiritual needs and at the same time groups His family of believers together so that they can be of help and support to one another.
St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” (4:11-15)
During our formative years, parents help us grow. Their nurturing promotes our physical growth, but they also help us become mature adults. The most important kind of growth is spiritual. The Lord wants us to grow in knowledge, faith, and love so that we become spiritually mature.
While parents have the primary responsibility of teaching and training their little ones in the Lord (see Deuteronomy 6:6,7; Ephesians 6:4), God also supplies pastors and teachers to assist in that teaching and training.
Jesus gave to the apostle Peter—and to all His called servants of the Word—the holy charge to “feed My lambs” (John 21:15). This role is carried out in our congregations through the Worship Services, Sunday Schools, Christian Day Schools, Catechism Classes, Vacation Bible Schools, Christian Secondary Schools, Youth Outings, Retreats, and Camps. (We realize some families may not have a Christian congregation nearby with the great blessing of pastors and teachers who are specially trained to carry out this work.)
As the apostle Paul spells out in the Ephesians passage (above), the great blessings which come through ongoing Christian education include coming to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, becoming more Christ-like, not being easily misled by destructive false teachings, and being better equipped to carry out the work of ministering to others.
Shepherding the Flock
When the Lord calls pastors to serve in local congregations, they are His under-shepherds. A pastoral ministry is a distinct blessing because sheep have the tendency to stray from the paths of God. As shepherds of God’s flock, pastors provide counseling and guidance in dealing with various issues of life; they minister to the sick and distressed; they comfort those who have suffered loss; they encourage those who are experiencing trials.
Think of it, dear Christians. Those who are not part of a congregation miss out on receiving a shepherd’s care. In the animal kingdom, how dangerous it is for sheep when they are out in the pasture all by themselves. Similarly, life in a world filled with wolf-like predators is neither easy nor safe for isolated sheep of the Good Shepherd.
Additional Uses of the Keys of the Kingdom
During Jesus’ ministry He conferred on His Church of believers the keys of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 16:19; 18:18,20; John 20:22,23), entrusting to them the use of the Means of Grace, the gospel in Word and Sacrament. Each believer has the authority to use those keys in his personal life for the benefit of others (such as parents with their children, as mentioned above).
By gathering Christians into congregations and calling servants of the Word to minister the keys of the kingdom in their stead, members of the congregation are richly blessed.
Through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, both law and gospel, members of our congregations are spiritually comforted, uplifted, and strengthened in their faith. They are especially comforted through the words of absolution and forgiveness, as well as through the administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
The isolated believer misses out on receiving these great benefits of the local church.
(to be continued)