Dear members and friends of Grace,
We recently commemorated the Ascension of our Lord and will soon recall the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In a recent article in our synod’s magazine, Forward in Christ, Pastor John Braun shared some helpful thoughts about our role in the church. The title of the article was, “Witnesses, Not Guardians.” Here are some of those thoughts.
Martin Luther wrote, "We are not the ones who can preserve the church, nor were our forefathers able to do so… We are not the church’s guardians. It is not preserved by us… If it were up to us, the church would perish before our very eyes, and we together with it…" These quotations from Martin Luther were part of one of his many articles against false teachings, in an article called, “Against the Antinomians.”
What Luther said might be very different from the way we think of our role in the church, and especially in its current history. When we see that the church is battered and beaten in the world, we begin to assume that it is because we have not done enough to support the church or that our church leaders have failed. The same happens when we see statistics and studies that show the church is losing its influence and becoming obsolete. So the questions come: What are we going to do…?
It is good to examine our efforts in the Lord’s kingdom often. But we have to be careful about questions that tend to place blame and create guilt, rather than looking for encouragement. When we put our primary focus on what we can do or how we must change in order to succeed, we imply that we are not only the guardians of the church but also those responsible for its growth and even its existence in our world.
Something else that Luther wrote was this: "A thousand years ago you and I were nothing, and yet the church was preserved at that time without us. He who is called the one 'who was and who is and who is to come' had to accomplish this." The church of God, the church of Christ Jesus, is the church that belongs to him and the one which he upholds with his powerful word and with the grace that sends it. That puts us in our place, I think. It brings us to our knees, robs us of our pride, and directs us to Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the church’s head.
If you want another dose of humility, Luther went on, "Likewise we will contribute nothing toward the preservation of the church after our death." As important was the work was which God accomplished through Luther in his day, the church did not depend on him during the days of the Reformation and still does not depend on him or his words. The church owes everything to the Lord of the church, Jesus himself.
We do play a role in the current state of the church and its future, but not in the way we so frequently like to imagine. Jesus told his disciples of all times what that role is when he said, "You will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). That directive is for all believers, and believers have filled that role throughout the centuries. We have been touched by the message of the gospel. We have forgiveness, life, and salvation. We all are witnesses.
God entrusts to our feeble and weak hands the gospel, the same powerful message of Christ that has worked within our hearts. And he promises that it also will work in the hearts of others. So Peter stood up and proclaimed the gospel on Pentecost. Luther too preached, wrote, and taught the gospel. And what God accomplished through it he continues to carry on today.
We might wonder about the church in our world today. It may seem to be slipping off to a status of marginal importance. Certainly the world around us thinks that way. But as his witnesses, we will continue to do our best to proclaim the gospel. And we will leave the history of the church where it belongs. No revolution has deposed the King of heaven. He has not abdicated. Nor has he abandoned his disciples in our time.
Won't you find joy and purpose in being his disciple in your time?
In Jesus' name,