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The Flesh and Bones of a Confessional Church


“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
(John 8:31-32)

What is more important to the human body, the flesh or the bones? It’s an absurd question, really. Take away either and life would be impossible. The bones provide the necessary framework for whatever the body does; they support everything else so that the body can function as intended. The flesh, of course, is the living, breathing part of the body that makes us who we are. Organs, muscles, circulation and nerves make perception, motion, emotion, and interaction possible.
The same is true when it comes to the body of Christ, namely His Church. The “bones” of a true-teaching church or church body constitute its confessional nature. The content of what we confess to the world—the entire message we proclaim—must always be anchored on Jesus’ teaching as found in the word-for-word inspired Holy Scriptures. That’s why Jesus said in John 8, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” For a confessional church, to “abide” means that everything we teach reflects true Bible doctrine without compromise; that is, with nothing added and nothing taken away. This is the necessary framework on which our lives as individuals and congregations must be built. Here is just a sample of God’s direction on the subject of our doctrinal “bones”:
“If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.”
(1 Peter 4:11)
“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
However, just as a skeleton by itself is dead, doctrinal purity without the joy of Gospel freedom is also a lifeless proposition. That’s why Jesus added this promise when He directed us to abide in His word: “and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Do you revel in that freedom? Does your congregation and your church body? The more we truly see our pitiful and helpless state in sin apart from Jesus and His cross, the more we’ll know our great need for Him. The more we truly see our glorious redemption and newfound status as beloved children of God because of Jesus and His cross, the more holy freedom we’ll enjoy, and the more we will want to confess Him as Savior of all. Our perception, motion, emotion, and interaction as a church should all be animated by joyful love toward Him who loved us first. The Bible speaks frequently about this joy. For instance:
“The LORD has done great things for us, and we are glad.” (Psalm 126:3)
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
So, what’s more important? True Bible doctrine, or the joy of Gospel freedom which we share? Just like the flesh and bones, we need both. One cannot exist in a living body without the other. We pray that our families, our congregations, and the Church of the Lutheran Confession will continue to have both, in ever greater measure. May we always abide in Jesus’ true Word, revel in the freedom of His grace, and confess Him joyfully to the world!
Bruce Nauman is senior pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.