There is only one Church. We confess this in the communion liturgy when we say that we are lauding and magnifying God’s glorious name with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. The one Church consists of two parts: those of us still on this side of glory who are waiting for the completion of the good work begun in us and those who have come to their reward. We sometimes refer to ourselves as the visible church and those already in heaven as the invisible church. We also speak of them as the Church Triumphant and of ourselves as the Church Militant, which is to say that we are still fighting. They are at peace and without sin. We are at peace with God and our sins are forgiven, but our sin still clings to us. The saints in heaven don’t fight. We do fight and we must fight.
It is right and necessary that we contend for pure doctrine, for the best in hymnody and practice, and that we warn our brothers and sisters in Christ about spiritual dangers. It is also necessary that we keep our eyes on the mission. But we must do all of this with humility, with patience, and careful always of the log in our own eye. Voters’ Assemblies and Church councils are given important work to do, work that is worth fighting about, so also pastors have taken a vow to teach and practice purely. These are serious matters that we cannot neglect and serious Christians are bound to get somewhat emotional about them.
Our fighting is meant to be against the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, but the fight is not simply metaphysical. It takes place in flesh and blood. Since we are not yet free of our fallen flesh, we don’t always fight fair or even fight what we should. We don’t fight without sin, with pure motives. Families and congregations both suffer from this.
All of us need to be called to repentance in this regard. We should speak the truth in love and gentleness. St. Paul is no slouch when it comes to defending pure doctrine, but through him the Holy Spirit tells St. Timothy to remind his flock of what God commands and to “charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” (2 Timothy 2:14, ESV)
This is not a call to stop contending against falsehood or to pretend that all is well no matter what in the Church Militant. It is not a call to stop caring about doctrine and practice. We are called to be the Church Militant, and our congregations and synod need zealous men and women who care about Christ and His Word. At the same time, our flesh needs to be curbed, our sins confessed, and our zeal channeled lest we forget that our fights in the Church are not against one another but are for one another.