by Jordan McKinley
The Church confesses, “And I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” We often pass over these words in the Divine Service without giving them much thought, but perhaps it is time we pay attention to these words.
What does it mean to believe in the Church? Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” By saying we believe in the Church, then, we are saying that the Church is hidden from our senses. We often refer to congregational buildings as the church. This isn’t quite accurate. We ought to think of the Church as the saints gathered around Word and Sacraments. What happens inside the building, then, as the Holy Spirit “call, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith (SC III)”—that is the Church!
However, the Church doesn’t only exist for an hour on Sundays. We ought to think of the Church as Luther did—in connection with Baptism as an ongoing reality, wherein God gives us the forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake. In the Small Catechism section on Baptism, Luther writes, “[Baptism] indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness in purity forever.” This daily reality is when the Church becomes elusive to our eyes and other senses.
So, we must rely on our ears (see Rom. 10:17) to know the Church is there and that we are part of it. In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, we read, “We know that the church is present among those who rightly teach the Word of God and rightly administer the sacraments (AP XIV).” These marks of the Church are what let us know she’s there. So hear this: just as Jesus promised that the Kingdom of God is in our midst (Luke 17:21), wherever the Word is purely taught and the Sacraments rightly administered, there is the Church, whether it is around the altar at your Church building or in the nursing home room or in prison cell or in the hospital room or in your family devotions, there is Christ with His Church, giving His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.