by Michael Schuermann
“Thank God, today a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.”
Those are words from the pen of Martin Luther, found in the Smalcald Articles of 1538. These Articles are part of the Confessions of the Lutheran Church, contained in the Book of Concord. In context, I’d guess that Luther had a bit of a sarcastic tone as he wrote these words. Yet for me they are tremendously comforting. It often seems that so many people I know, love and care for have lost track of just what it means to be in the “one, holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church.” In our great weakness, we often forget that the Church is the place where sinners are gathered to receive the healing medicine of Christ’s forgiveness. We’re tempted to think that the Church is our social club, self-esteem booster or networking organization. And far too often, we rely on these misguided ideas for comfort. I, too, am so often tempted to look somewhere in mankind for comfort. Lord, have mercy!
So what do we find in the Church? Or, perhaps a more important question for us Christians as we wander through the wilderness of this broken, sinful world, so full of temptations into false comfort: What should we expect Christ’s Church to look like?
Let’s turn again to Luther. Herr Doktor, what is your answer?
“In this Christian Church, wherever it exists, is to be found the forgiveness of sins, i.e a kingdom of grace and of true pardon. For in it are found the gospel, baptism, and the sacrament of the altar, in which the forgiveness of sins is offered, obtained, and received. Moreover, Christ and his Spirit and God are there. Outside this Christian Church there is no salvation or forgiveness of sins, but everlasting death and damnation; even though there may be a magnificent appearance of holiness and many good works, it is all in vain.” (AE 37:368)
In anything, we should always be certain that the Scriptures support any teaching in the Church. Does Luther’s answer hold up, in light of the Word of God?
“[Jesus said,] ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you’” (Luke 24:46–49).
“And they [the new believers converted at Pentecost] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
My help comes from the Lord. As does yours. There is no help apart from Jesus. He is so eager to help us that He is present with us to give us His gifts. He does this in His Church, where there is an endless supply of His gifts for all who have need of them! And we all have a great need of them.
When I sin, when I am sinned against, when I hurt, when I am troubled, when I am ashamed, when I am grieved, when I despair of myself, it is good for me to remember that there is comfort and reassurance for me. It’s found nowhere else than in Christ’s Church, where Jesus Himself is present for me, for you, and for the whole world.
Lord, make me as that seven-year-old child, that I would always seek the voice of my Shepherd where He may be found.
The Rev. Michael Schuermann is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sherman, Ill.
Smalcald Articles quotation from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Paul Timothy McCain, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005).