Saturday, September 22, 2007

Our Church

Here is a fascinating bit of trivia that is not at all trivial. In the New Testament the words our church and your church are never used. Not even once.

The New Testament writers always are very careful in their identification of the Church. They speak of the church of God, and the church in X town, and the churches. When St. Paul writes to Philemon he addresses the church in thy house/household. This is a wonderful distinction, very carefully articulated by the apostle to the Gentiles.

Because it is cumbersome to speak of the Church in the way that the New Testament does, we often shorten the phrase to our church or your church or even my church. Even the Lutheran Confessions, in distinguishing between the churches that embraced the true faith versus churches that did not, took the shortcut of identifying the faithful churches as our churches.

This type of shortcut we would do well to avoid because of the shortcomings of this phraseology. In fact, when we make the shift to identifying the Church or even churches as ours/yours/mine, we also make a shift in our thinking regarding the Church and churches. Suddenly, our thinking is no longer based entirely upon the Church as God’s creation and possession. Suddenly we no longer look to God alone to preserve and maintain the Church and churches. We shift from Second and Third Article thinking to what we must do.

This is a very dangerous shift. It leads to outright idolatry and blasphemy. It causes the kinds of divisions that St. Paul counters in 1 Corinthians. It leads to the vain thinking that in some way the sanctity of the Church and churches depends upon us rather than depending purely upon the Word and the Sacraments through which the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

As Christians we will do well to make the effort to speak of the Church and the churches with the clarity that the New Testament writers do. While speaking as they do may take a few more moments, what is that compared to the eternal blessings that such language conveys?

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