By Paul Koch –
Finding myself in a sort of post Easter crash after all the services, preaching and planning of the past week, I have begun to wonder again about the essence of what we are as a church. I have this constant worry that we are drifting off from our mission and mandate into something other than a church that is driven and empowered by the Word of God.
It is hard to beat Melanchthon’s words in the Augsburg Confession (art. 7) for a concise definition of the church:
“The Christian church is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel.”
Here we are reminded that the church is a place of the Word. The church is a place where preaching happens and giving of the Word in sacramental form goes forth. So when you strip off all the layers when you remove all the outward details that we have built up in our current conception of the church this is what lies underneath.
What this means is that our local congregations are simply an expression of the demand and work of the Word to go forth, to be preached and given to others. But is this actually the way the church functions, is this how its understands itself?
Too often I doubt we would answer that with a resounding “Yes!”
Most often the church tends to view itself as a sanctuary, a place to separate oneself from the trials and temptations of daily life. The focus often becomes one of lifting men out of their setting in life and cultivating a solidarity within the walls. Sometimes this can be a fellowship of shared religious experience. At other times belief in the authoritative nature of the structure itself will bind them together. But no matter what focus it takes the centrality of the preached Word is lost.
While we can certainly speak of the church as sanctuary, to center her life in such a notion would be to cut short the proclamation of the Word. We would only fill our days with maintaining our interests over and against this world, with justifying ourselves against those outside the walls. All the while trying to lure those on the outside to join us on the inside.
But if at our core we are a church of the Word then of course everything is different. The pastor is not a craftsmen of religious experience but a preacher who exists that the Word and sacraments might move outward. For out beyond our walls; in our communities, in homes and places of work the conflict between God and Satan is being fought. And so to these places the Word must go. The life of the church is the life of the Word, and the Word goes where our brothers and sisters go about their vocations and bear their burdens.
It is “out there” that the Word will restore the life of man. I suppose a church of the Word would care little about issues of membership, associations, districts or even synods.