Wednesday, June 27, 2007

God's Faithful Remnant: In Church & Mission

Over against those who would measure the faithfulness and effectiveness of the church and her mission in terms of numbers -- whether those numbers be in the form of head counts or financial statements -- from Noah and his family, to the people of Israel, to the New Testament church, Scripture paints a picture of the faithful as a few folks on a narrow road. The faithful are always relatively few in numbers as compared to the world, and those who hear the Word and believe are greatly outnumbered even by those who hear and still do not believe.

Even the largest congregations (some, perhaps even many, of whom are not truly church at all) are dwarfed in size by the community of "unchurched" living apart from their baptism and the One True God and Savior of us all.

And yet, in the end, the company of saints in heaven will be, "as many as the stars of the sky in multitude-- innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore." (Heb 11:12, NKJ)

Dear people of God, no matter what the numbers and those who would measure you by them would have you believe, you are both among God's remnant on earth and His multitude in heaven.

You have God's Word on it -- it has been imprinted on your hearts even as it has been poured over your heads and placed upon your tongues.

So don't ever let anyone measure your faith, your church, or your mission mindedness by their apparent magnitude. Rather point them to the gifts of God upon and from which your faith, your church, and your mission is founded, formed, and grown.

After all, God does not stop with the Second Commandment in describing and prescribing His relationship with us. So that we might know what it means to “call upon [His name] in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks,” He goes on in the Third Commandment to tell us not to “despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Thus we see the marks that identify God's church and define her mission have nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with "the pure preaching of God's Word and the administration of the sacraments according to Christ's institution." [Walther’s Fifth Thesis”Concerning the Church”]

The Lord did not send the disciples forth with an order to plant a certain number of churches to convert a certain number of souls. He sent them forth into all the world to make followers by baptizing them and teaching them everything He had commanded, that is, what he had taught and revealed to them about who He is and how He saves [Matt. 28:19-20].

Where thousands, tens of thousands, or even 100 million are gathered without the pure preaching of the Word and the proper administration of the sacraments, there neither Church nor mission can be recognized with any certainty.

Yet, "where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." (Matt 18:20, NKJ)

Lord grant that our Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod will always be a people that defines and measures its worship, teaching, and outreach by the pure preaching of God’s Word and proper administration of His Sacraments – rejoicing and taking encouragement whether among 100 million . . .

. . . or even two or three.

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