Do you find your identity, community, and purpose at your church?

Identity, community, and purpose are common to why people stay passionate and participate in organizations. I believe that a Christian congregation should be equipped to answer these three motivations. I want you to think with me about how successful your congregation does supporting in people and in families identity, community, and purpose.

Hebrews chapter 10 does a good job helping me understand how the church can answer our personal desires for identity, community, and purpose.

Identity

Our identity is shaped by our Baptism. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

We are baptized children of God who are loved and redeemed by Jesus Christ. The accusations of our wrongs and the judgments of our sins are no longer held against us, because our shame has been washed away in the water of Baptism. We do not get our consciences clean through our own redeeming acts. Jesus is our identity. As much as I rely on Jesus for my identity as a child of God, I desire daily for God to give me the vision to see others as ones for whom Christ died and rose again. Who are you? You are not defined by your sins or shame. You are a child of God loved by Jesus Christ.

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Community

Our community is shaped by holding in common that we are all sinners deserving of judgment who have been brought together by the awesome good news that Jesus Christ saves us through His life, death, and resurrection. Jesus has brought us into the family of God. The writer of Hebrews continues by writing, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:23-25a)

The good news of Jesus Christ brings together people. The love of Jesus Christ unites us into community and keeps us caring for each other. We hold each other accountable by encouraging one another to love and do good works. When we live together connected to Jesus, we do not neglect the needs of one another. We are the family of God.

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Purpose

Our purpose is shaped by the Day of the Lord that is drawing near when judgment will come and the dead will be raised. Those who believe in Jesus Christ will be raised to eternal life and those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Lord will be damned to hell for eternity. I trust that God desires all people to be saved. Amazingly, God wants to use us to share this good news. We witness in our words and deeds to the world that we have confidence in the promise of God to deliver us to salvation through Jesus Christ. The section from Hebrews I have been quoting from finishes with the line, “and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25b). The decision of what you are going to do with your life is a big question. Living on purpose is a lot less stressful when we trust that God loves and cares for us. We are free from the burden of having to prove ourselves, and we are completely free to serve others. I love that God promises to use us as His instruments to share His love in this world.

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One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

I believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. These are the words from the Nicene Creed that we regularly confess at St. Paul Lutheran Church. We say these words together with the confidence that we are united in our common faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One

There is only one church. Yes there are many buildings, congregations, and denominations. There are fractions and divisions in this world among God’s faithful people that may make the oneness of the church difficult to see. You may have an urge to join a non-denominational church hoping that you will find a community where all the differences go away. Keep in mind that even when differences are not talked about or recognized, they still exist.

If we look at the church from God’s perspective, something else will be noticed. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians about their unity with all believers in the world, “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, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

The one true church is not identified with any one congregation or denomination. The one true church consists of all believers in Christ. One common image utilized in Scripture to describe this truth is the body. There is one body that has many members and has Christ as the head. There is only one church, and it is made up of all who believe in Christ.
If you want to find the church, do not simply look for the sign out front or observe the holy works of the people. Look for Christ. Look for Jesus proclaimed in the Word of God and shared in the Sacraments of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and in the forgiveness of sins. The oneness of the church is not found at a church that calls itself one label or another. The oneness of the church is found where Christ is proclaimed.

Holy

We believe in one church that is holy. It may seem absurd to people to describe the church as holy since we know so well scandals and abuses have filled Christian history. Some may avoid organized religions because they are tired of hypocrites and pompous displays of holiness. I know I do not have much patience for people parading their good works for all to see. Church history is filled with the stories of sinners, and we do not help the defense of our faith if we try to whitewash this history. In fact we will help our defense of the faith if we are willing to share the ugly stories of our history because then we will no longer rely on the crutch of our own good works to be our publicity. The church is holy because her members have been clothed in the holiness of Jesus.

Catholic

Some may be uncomfortable with the confession that our church is catholic. Even the translation of the Nicene Creed in our hymnal replaces the word “catholic” with the word “Christian.” By definition, catholic is not the name of a denomination but is a state of the universality and unity of the church. Catholic is a word that describes how the members of the church come from every tribe, language, and nation throughout the world.

Apostolic

This word simply describes that what the 12 apostles witnessed from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry through his death, resurrection, and ascension is still being taught today. The apostolic and prophetic Scripture is still the only source and norm for what we believe, teach, and confess. The true Christian church does not invent new doctrine to suit the itching ears of the day, but we remain faithful to the inspired Scriptures, the teaching of the Apostles.

I am a Lutheran pastor because I believe that in the Lutheran Church I have an opportunity to participate in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. I want you to be a member of a Lutheran congregation because you will find the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church in a Lutheran congregation that proclaims the Word of God and administers the sacraments. This confidence is not rooted in the label Lutheran. Our cornerstone is not a denominational label. Our foundation and cornerstone is Jesus Christ.

 

Gottesdienst – Divine Service

The word “worship” in America often brings focus on the activities of a person or congregation. The word’s first definition is about the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.

The Lutheran Divine Service does not fit into the first definition of the word worship. The service that gathers Christians together, is not about our feelings or expressions of adoration to our Lord God. The subject of the work in worship is not us. God is the subject. We are the object of his work. God delivers in the Divine Service his love and mercy. We come to the Divine Service as broken and wearied sinners and we receive this good news of the forgiveness of sins through the Word of God that is read, preached, and delivered in the Sacraments. Faith is that worship which receives the benefits that God offers. God does not desire empty of faith outward actions of adoration. God desires our faith that receives from him all that he promises and offers.

A successful service at church on Sunday morning is not evaluated by how the people feel after the service nor is it successful if the actions of the people can be diagrammed for their precision. The rubric for success is if Christ is proclaimed. Without Christ, the service can have no positive impact upon the hearts and lives of the people. If Christ is proclaimed and so therefore the promises of God our offered to the people, then the worship of the people is to have faith in the heart and the fruits of that faith.

Adoration that is a response to the reading of God’s Word, preaching of God’s Word, and distribution of God’s Word in the Lord’s Supper will be adoration rooted in response to God’s gracious good news of rescuing us from sin, death, and the devil. Outward acts of worship apart from faith in Christ are not God-pleasing. Worship of God is not an outward set of rituals. The liturgies of the church are in service to the proclamation of Jesus. The liturgies of the historic church are to be retained because they proclaim Christ, not simply because they are beautiful or traditional.

The call to worship God in our Sunday services is built on the foundation of what God has done for us in the righteousness of Christ. People are called to the services of the church on a Sunday morning to be strengthened by the hearing of God’s work in Christ Jesus.