The Three Things Wherever Christ’s Church Wishes to Be

During these hours, we will ponder the miracle of the Church as we speak of the Lord’s Supper, because the Church and the Sacrament of the Altar belong together in a completely different manner. There are three marks by which the teachings of our confessions recognize the Church: The Gospel, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Everything else that the Church may have can be done without in time of need, but these three things must be wherever Christ’s Church wishes to be. The Church must proclaim the Gospel. I must baptize in the name of the triune God. And It must celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And these three things are only found in the Church. There are many heart-rending spiritual messages in the world, but there is only one Gospel. Because the Gospel is the only grace-filled message of the forgiveness of sins according to Christ’s will. According to Christ’s will! It is the glory of Jesus Christ and the nature of his office as the Redeemer of the world that there is forgiveness of sins in him and his will alone. It is not found anywhere else in the world. “That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin ho knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:19-21). That is the Gospel and nothing else. With this Gospel, the Church as come to the people of the world. We should ponder for a moment the possibility of her coming to the world without the Sacrament, as for example the so-called Christian Quaker churches did. Can the Church call to men and cultures with the word of the Gospel alone? The answer is a definite: No! Without the Sacraments, the call of the Gospel would die, as a voice dies in the wind. Perhaps, it would echo softly for a while, but it would die. Therefore, the Sacraments must accompany the preached Word. This is shown by example at Pentecost where the first missionary sermon the apostles was followed by the first missionary Baptism! “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). So a congregation was instituted, and there was a Church in the world. If one only preached on the mission field, and did not baptize, no Christian congregation would ever be instituted, but merely an institution for the care and support of a new worldview. If a congregation of baptized Christians abandons the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, she will soon lack an understanding of Baptism. She would then become a religious organization that could not be distinguished from any other human institution.

… The Church is not only a spiritual congregation, like a school of philosophy, a society for the cultivation of a worldview, or what is called a “think tank” today, but it is a spirit-body congregation. Because that is so, the Church does not hover high above the lives of men like a Platonic or Hegelian School. Rather, it dwells deep within the real lives of men and cultures. Christ gave the Sacraments to the Church because she is one such spirit-body congregation that the whole of man belongs to completely. These Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are not merely metaphors or symbols of what God does for us; God actually works on us in them. They are not mere illustrations of the Gospel, visible representations of Christ’s Word and deposits of his promise, but they are particular acts of God in which his Word is served by an earthly element through which the whole man, body and soul, is redeemed. These Sacraments are as completely incomprehensible to the world as the Church to which they belong as her essential characteristics. They are as incomprehensible to the world as Jesus Christ and the miracles that tell of him. But we who believe in Christ cannot endeavor seriously enough to understand them in faith. And perhaps the right understanding of the Sacraments is an issue of life and death for our Church today in a way that most Evangelical Christians can no longer understand.

Hermann Sasse “Witness: Erlanged Sermons and Essays for the Church 1933-1944″
trans. Bror Erickson
The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church
Week of the Church in Nürnberg
January 5, 1939
p. 261-263, 265-266

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