Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We might be tempted to say that the church is dying. You can come up with all kinds of reasons, such as the huge gaps on our Parish Council, the inability to get a full day care board together, missing faces from the congregation, or our great deficit in the budget. It would be very tempting to say that the church is dying.
To say so could not be further from the truth, and would be breaking the First Commandment. The life of the church doesn’t come from the faces you see in the congregation, nor does it come from a congregation’s budget, or a full parish council. Nor does the life of the church come from daycares. These are all good things, but they don’t bring life to the church, and to say that they contribute to the life of the church is to make them an idol that we wrongfully put our faith in.
The church receives her life from Jesus. Her life is a derived life, a life that she doesn’t have by her own right, but by the One who sanctified her and gave Himself for her so that she may have His life. Jesus has made the church His bride, He’s made the promise to take care of her, give her His life, and renew her in the Word and sacraments. Jesus is so linked to His bride, the church, that the two have become one flesh, as we see the Bible often referring to the church as the body of Christ. His body is her body and her body is His body. Jesus is the church’s head that gives His body life through the Word, through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Where Jesus is preached, where Jesus’ death and resurrection for the free salvation of sinners is proclaimed, there is Jesus giving life to His church. Where Jesus’ body and blood are distributed to God’s people for their forgiveness, life, and salvation, there is Jesus giving life to His church. Where the forgiving waters of Baptism wash God’s people in the death & resurrection of Jesus, there is Jesus giving His church life. Where these things are, there is Jesus, and there is life.
Where these things disappear, where they are neglected, or despised, then yes, the church can and does, die. When it walks away from the preaching of Jesus, the proclamation of Jesus’ death & resurrection for the free salvation of sinners is set aside, despised and neglected, then the church dies. Where His body & blood are neglected as Jesus’ life-giving body and blood, there the church dies. Where the forgiving waters of Baptism are set aside, there the church dies. Where these things cease to be present, His Word ceases to be heard, there there is no church. She dies. Regardless of how many people are in the services, how balanced the budget is, or how full the council is. Jesus gives life to His church, and He gives life in His Word, in Baptism, and His Supper.
Where Jesus is, there is no death. To say that the church is dying is to say that Jesus is dying. And that’s just not true. Do we have great and various struggles? I won’t deny that, and where I have erred, I beg for forgiveness and I yearn to do better. Does that mean we’re dying? No. That’s impossible. It can’t happen. Jesus doesn’t die, and so neither does His church. We walk by faith and not by sight, and we have faith in Jesus’ Word, in Jesus’ promise, He cannot die again, and so neither will His church.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Tim Schneider