Built by the Lord and belonging to him
Richard E. Lauersdorf
When the Bible speaks about the church, it refers to people like me. But I’m not the only one. There are many, many more like me. Young and old; rich and poor; past, present, and future; Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic—they all make up God’s church.
Who belongs to God’s church?
Who are these people? The word church tells me. In the original Greek it means “called out.” God’s church is composed of all whom he has called out of unbelief to faith. That’s how Peter described it: “You are . . . a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
This church belongs to God. In his marvelous grace he calls people to faith—not just generic faith that trusts in almost anything, but specific faith. Though some would claim that it makes no difference what you believe, the Lord speaks otherwise. Very specifically Jesus says, “I am the way. . . . No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Very clearly Peter proclaimed, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The answer is plain—only those in whose hearts God’s grace has worked faith in Jesus as their Savior belong to his church.
If we want an easy way to remember this important truth, we need only remember ABC. God’s church is composed of All Believers in Christ.
The family of God is another picture Scripture uses for God’s church. Paul writes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). God is our heavenly Father, and believers are his dear children. What a warm, comforting picture. We have a Father whose love is out of this world. We belong to a family that includes our loving brother Jesus and more brothers and sisters than we can even imagine. And all because his grace has numbered us among the ABCs.
Are we sure of this blessed truth? How can we know that we are members of God’s church? For the answer, it’s best to look more at God’s heart than at our own. In his Word he has laid open his heart to us. What does he show us in his Word? “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness,” he assures us (Jeremiah 31:3). When we look into God’s heart, it’s love that we see, not just for the world, but also for us!
What is God’s church like?
Only the Lord knows who belongs to his church. We can look into our own hearts but not into someone else’s to see whether faith exists there. Only God can do that. Paul reminds us, “The Lord knows those who are his” (2 Timothy 2:19). Every time we say the words of the Apostles’ Creed, we remind ourselves of this truth. We don’t say, “I see,” but rather, “I believe in . . . the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.” Though Scripture does not use the term invisible, the concept is there. We can see who belongs to earthly churches and denominations, but only God can see who the ABCs truly are.
Moreover, his church is one. In the world today there are almost more denominations than we can count. Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Nondenominational, and others swirl around us. But God’s church is one. There is only one body of believers in Christ. “One flock and one shepherd,” Jesus says in John 10:16. “You are all one in Christ Jesus,” Paul reminds us (Galatians 3:28). Though denominations may serve a useful purpose and though we need to be careful which we join, we need to remember that God’s church is one.
Another adjective might give us pause. “I believe in . . . the holy Christian Church,” we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. What does that mean? Looking at myself, I can see more sin than holiness. The devil and I are engaged in a lifelong 15-rounder that often leaves me flattened on the canvas. The sinful world and my sinful heart don’t mind ganging up on me with the devil. They know exactly where my weak spots are and punch away at them. Yet at the end of the day I can pray, “Forgive me, Lord, for thy dear Son the ill that I this day have done” (Christian Worship 592:1), and know it’s true. And when the eternal day approaches, I can stand “faultless . . . before his throne” (CW 382:4). When God looks at us, he sees saints. The church is holy not because it does not sin but because it is clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
The Nicene Creed describes the church as “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” The word Christian literally means “catholic.” Now before we wrinkle our brow and think that word refers to a church body headquartered in Rome, we need to realize catholic really means “universal.” Of course, God’s church is universal. No one is excluded because of race, gender, or social standing. People I’ve been privileged to meet in mission fields in Africa, Colombia, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and elsewhere are numbered in God’s church. The apostle Peter told the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius, “All the prophets testify about [Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). God’s church is truly catholic because it includes all believers of all times and all places.
Sometimes we wonder how long the church can withstand the buffeting it receives from ungodly foes. The church militant we call it, because it’s under attack and constantly at war. While we wait for the return of the Captain of the church, we can grow weary and worry about the church’s survival. Then we need to hear the Lord of the church tell us that his church is imperishable. “The gates of [hell] will not overcome it,” he promises (Matthew 16:18). “[My sheep] shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand,” he assures us (John 10:28). The church militant will endure and become the church triumphant when it stands in perfect peace at its Savior’s side in heaven.
How come we are included in the ABCs? How come we can stand along with Adam and Eve, Abraham and Aaron, Moses and Elijah, Peter, James, and John in this select grouping? How come we’ll be numbered in the great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language before the eternal throne of the Lamb? There’s only one answer. It’s entirely the working of the Lord of the church. In his grace he “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith” (Explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed).
Richard Lauersdorf is pastor at Good Shepherd, West Bend, Wisconsin.
This is the first article in a four-part series on the holy Christian church.
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Author: Richard E. Lauersdorf
Volume 102, Number 1
Issue: January 2015
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