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The Unseen Church


“The hand is quicker than the eye” is a very familiar adage. This saying was demonstrated to me quite thoroughly just last year. Our town had a festival at which a street magician was performing. Time and again this man astounded the gathered crowd with his sleight of hand. One trick in particular had me flummoxed, because I knew the trick. I had seen videos on the preparation and deception, and yet I couldn’t see this man’s execution. I saw the result, as we all did, but how did he get there?

There are many things invisible or unknowable in this world. Thankfully, the most important of them are revealed to us by our heavenly Father in His Word. In the Nicene Creed we confess that our heavenly Father is “Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.” Throughout Scripture we hear of one of God’s most majestic invisible creations. It is a vast building, made of living stones, stretching throughout time and into eternity—the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. This invisible creation of our God is made up of saints, redeemed sinners washed in the blood of Christ. It extends from Adam and Eve, who heard and believed the first Gospel promise, down to the last individual the Lord will call to Himself.

Throughout the world one can see the evidences of the Holy Christian Church—believers gathering together with like-minded individuals in visible churches and armies of missionaries going out to preach the Gospel to the poor in spirit are some examples. But, how does this Church come into existence and grow?

A magician, better termed an illusionist, uses items for his tricks. Whether with cards, coins, foam balls or rabbits, he will attempt to astound the audience. However, it is with sleight of hand, misdirection, or tricky apparatus that the deeds are accomplished.

Our God, the Holy Spirit, needs no such trickery to accomplish His building and expanding of the Christian Church, for He is almighty—an eternal Person of the Holy Trinity, as are the Father and the Son. Although the Spirit has the power and might to do as He chooses, He has chosen tools or means by which He gets the work done. The Gospel in Word and sacrament is the tool the Holy Spirit uses to build the Church on earth. When the Gospel is taught in its truth and purity and when baptism is performed according to God’s command, the Holy Spirit has the means to create faith in the heart of a lost soul.

As amazed as people are over tricks, illusions, and being fooled, the result of the work of the Holy Spirit is truly miraculous. Lost and condemned sinners, destined for an eternity in hell, are transformed by the Spirit’s work into righteous children of God with a new heavenly destination. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that we become something altogether different through our faith in Jesus, supplied by the Holy Spirit. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

What a blessing that we have been called and gathered by the Spirit into this marvelous Church! What a privilege that we can share in the expanding of the Church by spreading the Gospel message of sins forgiven in Christ! And what a joyous consummation when Jesus will gather His Church to Himself where we will praise the Lamb perfectly and eternally together!

David W. Bernthal is the principal of Luther Memorial School in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.