Tuesday, June 2
Today is the final day of our three-day journey exploring what we believe about the Holy Spirit and the church. To help us on our journey, we are using the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed and the words of Martin Luther in his Small and Large Catechisms, which are handbooks on the basics of the Christian faith. Today, we will focus on the nature and purpose of the Church.
Properly speaking, when we say the word “church,” we’re not talking about buildings or institutions. The church is not made of concrete and steel, but rather, the church is made of flesh and blood. The church is the people of God, the body of all believers, or in other words, the people who trust in God’s promise through Jesus Christ.
The Apostle’s Creed states, “
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
What does this mean? Martin Luther explains it like this in his Small Catechism:
“I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the Last Day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”
Luther further explains the phrase, “the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins” in the Large Catechism:
“The Creed calls the holy Christian church a communio sanctorum, “a communion of saints.” Both expressions have the same meaning… This is the meaning and substance of this phrase: I believe that there is on earth a holy little flock and community of pure saints [those who have been made holy] under one head, Christ. It is called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith, mind, and understanding. It possesses a variety of gifts, and yet is united in love… Of this community I also am a part and member, a participant and co-partner in all the blessings it possesses. I was brought into it by the Holy Spirit and incorporated into it through the fact that I have heard and still hear God’s Word, which is the beginning point for entering it. Before we had come into this community, we were entirely of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ. The Holy Spirit will remain with the holy community or Christian people until the Last Day. Through it he gathers us, using it to teach and preach the Word. By it he creates and increases holiness, causing it daily to grow and become strong in the faith and in its fruits, which the Spirit produces.
Further we believe that in this Christian community we have the forgiveness of sins, which takes place through the holy sacraments and absolution as well as through all the comforting words of the entire gospel… Forgiveness is constantly needed, for although God’s grace has been acquired by Christ, and holiness has been wrought by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word in the unity of the Christian church, yet we are never without sin because we carry our flesh around our neck.
Therefore, everything in this Christian community is so ordered that everyone may daily obtain full forgiveness of sins through the Word and sacraments appointed to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live on earth. Although we have sin, the Holy Spirit sees to it that it does not harm us because we are a part of this Christian community. Here there is full forgiveness of sins, both in that God forgives us and that we forgive, bear with, and aid one another.
Outside this Christian community, however, where there is no gospel, there is also no forgiveness, and hence there also can be no holiness.”
Prayer: Holy Spirit, thank you for giving us the holy community that is the church. Although we have not gathered together in person because of our current circumstances, we are thankful for the unity that we have through faith. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to continue to hear your Word of forgiveness through online worship and the daily devotions emails. As we begin navigating what it looks like to gather in person together, give us wisdom, protection, and unity. Thank you for forgiving us and help us to forgive, bear with, and aid one another. In Jesus' name. Amen.