Throughout the Bible, God has a heart for His people in groups. That’s why He put us together in congregations. It’s one reason congregations matter – congregations are the creation of God for His purposes. We’re always and only found in community with Him and others.
We know that we are supposed to live this way as the Body of Christ together. That’s clear from the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible did God ever make an individual Christian. Just read Ephesians 4. In it St. Paul talks about the gifts of people God gives to the Church. He tells us some of them are “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.” He reminds all of us of the responsibility of the “some” (including the pastors and teachers): to equip His people to do His work and build up the Church, the Body of Christ (verses 11 and 12).
In God’s plan, People Do His Work.
It is in the building up of the Community of Believers – the Church as expressed in local congregations – that the end of God’s vision for us is seen. The Church is not a building…or an organization…or a structure…or a commission or committee or board. The Church is not Synod in St. Louis. The Church is God’s people gathered around Word and Sacrament. That’s why congregations matter to God.
The Pathway Back: Truth and Love
So how do we get back there? And how do we stay unified around the centrality of the local congregation in our Synod?
There is no unity of the Church without truth – and love. Those two go together. And the only way for us to grow up to the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (verse 13) is to live in that truth and love.
The Pathway Back: Humility, Gentleness, and Patience
But there’s more. There are some attitudes that we must take on whenever we seek to grow in Christ. St. Paul begins the chapter with these words of exhortation:
“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3 (NLT)
Paul’s first exhortation is to humility and gentleness. Patience, too. All this for the sake of unity in the Spirit and peace.
Except for God’s Grace
Congregations Matter© seeks to change the Synod by refocusing the LCMS on the Scripture, the Confessions and our history. That’s a pretty heady goal. It would be easy for any of us to lose ourselves in pride, self-interest, self-righteousness, judgment – and worse. Any of us can fall into these sins at any moment, were it not for the grace of God.
Martin Luther helps us keep the right attitude about our plight:
“God created the world out of nothing, and as long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.”
The truth is, we are nothing without our Lord Jesus and His love. Whenever we endeavor to make a positive change in the Church, we must always be about truth and love. We must be about our work with Christ’s humility in our hearts.
We Got This Way By Drifting
Without truth spoken in love, we all tend to drift away from God’s purpose for us in the Church and into hierarchy, organization, and structure. It’s not that we intended to go that way. It’s just that sin, Satan and our flesh have such a pull on us that way. Unless we live under the power of the Holy Spirit and tied to the Word of God, we will drift as a wind-driven boat on the sea and forget that congregations matter.
Lord Jesus, keep me always humble and my eyes on Your cross. By Your Spirit, bring Your gentleness to my words and deeds so I reflect Your compassion and love. Let me be the “nothing” You make into “something.” Help me speak the truth in that love and so build up Your Church. Amen.