This Sunday at University Lutheran we are starting a new series about the Seven Marks of the Church according to Martin Luther. These Seven Marks were a big deal for Luther and the first Lutheran performers. They had been kicked out of the Roman Catholic church, and now they had to answer a very important question: “If they were not a part of the Roman Catholic church, were they really a part of the Church, or had they become a heresy or cult?”
This same question was asked by the first Lutherans that came over from Saxon Germany to the United States. They had traveled with their Bishop, but their bishop had been accused of several improprieties and they had exiled this bishop to the other side of the river in Illinois. Now that they had split with the usual custom of church, having an overseeing bishop, were they really a part of the church? or had they become a heresy or a cult?”
Today, the question “are we Church?” or even “where is the Church?” may not seem that pressing. Especially here in the South, we still have a multiplicity of church buildings and gatherings all around us. But perhaps even more so in this “church saturated market” we should be asking what are the signs of the true church, and are we exhibiting those signs if we consider ourselves to be a part of the Church.
These seven marks of the church then are (below is Luther’s numbering, we’re going to be taking the marks in a different order to go along with where they show up in our lectionary readings from Acts):
- The Word – The Church is marked by a love and engagement of God’s Word in all of its forms – read, discussed, studied, preached, and meditated upon.
- Baptized People – The Church isn’t a building, it’s not a pastor, it’s a group of Baptized people whom God by His Holy Spirit has called and gathered in a particular place.
- The Lord’s Supper – The Church is a living, breathing thing, and as such, it needs nourishment. The nourishment of the Church is found in the bread/Body and wine/Blood of Holy Communion.
- The Forgiveness of Sins – This is the mission of the Church. It is what Jesus tells His disciples He is sending them to do, forgive the sins of people, both assuring them of God’s forgiveness, and when wrong is done to us, assuring them that we will forgive them personally.
- Pastors – The Church isn’t a pastor, but God calls pastors from within the church because God recognizes that leadership is important.
- Public Worship and Prayer – The Church is marked by its gathering to pray and praise. If you had a church that never met to do this stuff, it wouldn’t be much of a church.
- The Possession of the Holy Cross/Suffering – The Church is Christ’s Body on earth. Christ’s Body has nail holes in it. The Church is called to bear the Cross, to suffer in this world. The word “passion” means to suffer for. We as the Church are to suffer for the world, because that is what Christ does – and we together are communally Christ.
As we go through this series, we are asking the same question we have been throughout the year – “What does this mean?” – How can we reflect on what God’s Word tells us about the Church and apply it to our local church? We look forward to sharing this time of reflection.