19 So then, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:19-22 (NKJ)
Dear brothers and sisters in the one true faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The practice of playing down sin & God’s Word, and playing up acceptance of even the most grievous types of sins and man’s notions is becoming the norm. But God speaks differently. And lest some say that churches still holding firmly to the teachings of our blessed Savior Jesus Christ are immune to such atrocities, one only has to consider that what’s going on in Christendom today did not happen overnight. Just as illness often remains unnoticed until the symptoms bear themselves out, so the disease of false doctrine often creeps into the church unnoticed, and damage is done even before any acknowledgment of a problem exists.
Therefore, it is necessary for God’s people to be ever vigilant in the Word of their Lord. This is so in order that “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:14). “Nor should we be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds in the doctrine of Christ Jesus (Romans 12:2).
“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” And, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:6-8).
The proclamation of God’s church throughout the ages that distinguishes Christians from nonChristians is the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death on the cross. But this cornerstone of the Christian faith is being molded and formed into an entirely different message, even a different Gospel, one which falls under God’s anathema (Galatians 1:6-9).
The church today is seen more as a place for man’s activity over and above God’s and more emphasis is placed on man’s endeavors and actions rather than on what God is doing in Christ through the blessed Word and Sacraments of our Lord. God’s Word has become less important than man’s determination and will power to do. It’s no longer Christ that unites God’s people into one body through faith, but man’s efforts which unify under the same cause.
Christ is preached as example, not as Savior. Lip service is given to the Word of Christ, but hearts are far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8). Ambiguity of speech is the common practice. What is said is not what is meant and what is meant is not what is said. Words are given different meanings and cause greater confusion rather than drawing together to Him who is the Head of His body. Hearers are motivated and even encouraged only to hear what they want to hear rather than fight sinful temptations and listen to God’s law which condemns sin and God’s grace which forgives it.
The gospel in today’s church has not to do with God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness for Christ’s sake. That doesn’t work. That kind of message doesn’t have a place in today’s world where results and what is seen run the show. Thus, a new kind of gospel has been established. In the place of the historic gospel of the Christian faith of God’s love in Christ, tolerance and acceptance of anything and everything, as well as whatever works, is the proclamation that liberates and frees from the tyranny of oppression.
Houses of God have become houses of man, going the way of the world, having left their first love (Revelation 2:4). The state of visible Christendom is in disarray, to say the least. It appears broken, disunited, and worldly. Regardless of the attempts to bind together, unify, and sanctify, of ourselves we have no ability to accomplish these worthy, but unattainable, goals.
The church of Christ, contrary to popular belief, is not bound together because of common activities and agendas. Instead, according to Holy Scripture, it’s not what we do that unifies in the true and godly sense, but what God has done and continues to do in Christ Jesus. This is the glue that binds God’s people as one. Christ and Christ alone is our peace that breaks down the wall of hostility between us.
It is the unity of a common faith in the Lord Jesus as Savior, Him and no other. This is what brings God’s people together and joins them together into the living body of the living Christ. There, no one who believes is a stranger or foreigner, whether Jew or Gentile, for all are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
For this reason, visible Christendom remains divided – because not all hold to the clear teachings of Scripture. Though Christ is not divided, there are dissensions and schisms among the visible churches and congregations of Christendom because not all believe and confess what God has given to believe and confess. Some simply flat out deny the very Words of God, even rejoicing with pride in their sinfulness.
But what a different and true picture St. Paul paints of the true church in His letter to the saints in Ephesus! Just as Christ is not divided, so His beloved Bride, the Church, is not divided, “for there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
In Christ Jesus, those who were strangers and foreigners to one another are no longer these, but members of God’s household, “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). They who were far off are brought near by the blood of Christ. Those having no hope and without God in the world now are hopeful and with God in the world, they with Him and He with them, having faith in Him whom God sent and believing that Christ is where He promises to be in His Means of Grace.
The reality of what is visible in churches and church bodies across the nation cannot be ignored, but neither can God’s inspired Word given through St. Paul. What we see is not always what we get and what we get is not always what we see.
There is another church that is completely unified, not at all broken, disjointed, or worldly. It is a glorious church, not having blemish or wrinkle. It is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone. This church we confess in the creed as we say, “I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.”
This church we do not see with the eyes. But God’s true church is as much as a reality as the churches that we do see. The hidden church which is confessed among us is Holy because of Him who sanctifies. It is Christian because of Him who is its head. It is Church because it is the assembly of all who believe in Him who died and rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. They who belong to this Church are strangers to the world, but not to Christ. Nor is He a stranger to them. They are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God by adoption into God’s kingdom through water and the Word, even the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
This Communion of Saints, the fellowship of God’s people who believe Christ to be their Savior, who hope in the Lord and wait upon Him, these are all united in Christ Jesus by faith. Here there is no denominational demarcation or Christian classification in the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church.
Only one thing distinguishes members from nonmembers in this Church – belief in the Lord Jesus. Those who call upon the Lord for mercy and trust in God’s beloved Son are already members. Those who do not, though they be members of local congregations and be affiliated with this or that denomination, are not.
As we believe in the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, so we will also rejoice on account of God’s kindness and favor. His Holy church will not waver nor will if fail, nor can it be destroyed. It is eternal, not temporary as earthly and worldly churches are. It is built on the foundation that has already been laid and that cannot be unlaid.
It continues to grow, even though it appear not to grow according to human perception and recognition. It’s growth is not observable by statistical figures and demonstration of numerical strength because it does not grow in ways that we see, but according to God’s Word that “shall not return to Him void, But shall accomplish what He pleases, And prosper in thething for which He sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
This article of faith concerning the Holy Christian Church will not be a visible physical reality seen in our day, as if it is a goal for which we are to strive. But it is a present reality. Though unseen, God has revealed this teaching of Christ’s Holy Church in Scripture. And what a blessed comfort and assurance it gives to all who grow weary with the reality of church struggles and its spots and blemishes before its members and in the sight of the world!
There is one church, true and faithful, which will endure for all eternity. This church is not affected by the world or its ways. It is founded only on God’s Word and united in the faith of her Lord Jesus. Though hidden, wherever God’s Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered according to their institution, there you will find members of this Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints. This we believe and this we confess. Amen.
The Book of Concord
The Augsburg Confession, VII. The Church
1 It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. 2 For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. 3 It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places. 4 It is as Paul says in Eph. 4:4, 5, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
The Smalcald Articles, XII. The Church
2… a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd. 3 So children pray, “I believe in one holy Christian church.” Its holiness does not consist of surplices, tonsures, albs, or other ceremonies… invented over and above the Holy Scriptures, but it consists of the Word of God and true faith.
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