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From the Word: 14 But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For circumcision is nothing, nor is uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as many as will walk by this rule, peace and mercy upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:14–16)
From the Confessions: The Small Catechism
The Third Article
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church,* the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen
What does this mean?
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith. In the same way, he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and preserves it in unity with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church, he daily forgives abundantly all my sins and the sins of all believers; and at the last day, he will raise me and all the dead and will grant everlasting life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true!
*or “holy Christian Church” (“catholic” here refers to the fellowship of all believing Christians)
Pulling It Together: What is this holy catholic church? Let us look to the defining words; and let us do so in reverse order, allowing the descriptive words to address the direct object. What is the church? It is an assembly (ekklesia)—in the case of the New Testament authors, an assembly of believers. In the instance of the Creed, it refers to a singular assembly of believers throughout time (Rev 4:4; 5:11; 7:9–17; 14:3; etc.). All believers in Christ will be assembled together around the throne of the Lamb of God. We see in Revelation the church or assembly of believers as it will be. And so it begins, even now.
Catholic. This is the archaic word for “universal.” We believe in the assembly of all Christians everywhere and throughout time—or as we may think of it, in the Old Testament and the New. You may ask how there may be Christians in the Old Testament. Paul refers to this wonder of the church, calling the muster of God’s people throughout time as “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). To better understand how Lutherans and Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Baptists, Jews and Gentiles, and other combinations you may imagine, may be part of the catholic church, let us consider the second descriptive word.
Holy. “There’s the rub.” The whole church throughout time is comprised of those who are holy. Their holiness does not come from living a certain life, though indeed, they make the attempt at a pious life. Instead, the catholic church is they who have put their whole trust in God’s industry, not their own. They believe in his Christ, not their religion. They put their trust in God’s grace, not human works. This is how those of the Old Testament are accounted in the catholic church. Like Abraham, they looked with hopeful faith for the promise of the Messiah. Faith then, is how they too receive their reward (Heb 11:1–2).
Is it not the same with us? We live in the so called church-age, and like our Old Testament counterparts, have never seen Christ. But we believe; we have faith. All who do, in any time, are the holy catholic church.
Prayer: Thank you for gathering me, Lord God, unto your elect. Amen.
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Views of Baptism is written for a range of readers including the parent or sponsor about to baptize a child, the adult who wants to understand baptism more fully, and the professional teacher or preacher who needs the truth about baptism stated simply but backed by careful research. This books explores three views of baptism: the individual-centered view, the means-of-grace view, and the Roman Catholic view. It includes a description of how Christian baptism came to us in stages from its Jewish roots. A question and answer section addresses specific matters often raised when people contemplate baptism.