The church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly.
VII. [The Church] 1 Our churches also teach that one holy church is to continue forever. The church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly. 2 For the true unity of the church it is enough to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. 3 It is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies, instituted by men, should be alike everywhere. 4 It is as Paul says, “One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,” etc. (Eph. 4:5, 6). The Augsburg Confession
By now you probably already know I think a lot about the church, you might expect this considering I am a pastor who serves as a bishop. I’ve been wondering lately though – what is it that makes a church? What are the essential ingredients? Not just any church but a healthy, vibrant church focused on Christ.
The early protestors (that is what Luther’s gathered followers were called) wrote this in the Augsburg Confession, “The church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly.” They focused on a several basic ingredients – a gathered people, where the Gospel is taught and sacraments administered – boil it down and that is church. Notice there is nothing about a building, not a word about pot-lucks, youth group, quilting, the Fall Dinner or anything else. Church is people gathered, Word of God proclaimed, water splashed and wine and bread given for you.
I wonder what might happen if we focused our energy on these essential things? Gathering in worship of a God who is worthy of praise. Gathering because the body needs all of its members to be complete, the body lacks when a member is missing. Gathering because that is what followers of the risen Christ do, they gather to rehearse the Story and find their place in God’s story. Central to the Gathering is the speaking of the Word – the stories which have been told for generation upon generation – honest stories of God’s faithfulness in-spite of human unfaithfulness. The Good News or Gospel is that God’s Holy Spirit continually seeks us out, drawing us back to life through Jesus death and resurrection, even though we don’t deserve to be found. This gathered community with Gospel ringing in our ears then is invited to splash and feast – marked as children of God we are invited to taste God’s grace given freely for each of us, all of us gathered.
What should the space look like? I am not sure it really matters as long as there is room for all to see and hear. What should the music sound like, traditional, contemporary, folk or whatever? I don’t think it matters as long as the people will sing – lift their voices together toward God. What does matter – that all are welcome, invited, encouraged, truly given space to worship God with their neighbor.
I wonder what would happen if the weekly Gathering around the Proclaimed Word and shared Sacraments became the centering point of our lives? The event so important we would not miss it. The event which fed our lives in such a way nothing could stop us from being present. I just wonder…
Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The Augsburg confession : Translated from the Latin (The Confession of Faith: 2, VII-, 4). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The Augsburg confession : Translated from the Latin (The Confession of Faith: 2, VII, 1). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.