Called, Gathered, Enlightened, and Sanctified

We finish our consideration of the Apostles’ Creed this week in our whirlwind tour of Luther’s Small Catechism. We have been considering the Third Article, which reads, “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.”

And now we will reflect on the second half of Luther’s explanation of the Third Article. He writes, “In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church day after day he fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day he will raise me and all the dead and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”

You get the idea that the Church is important to our faith! But this cuts against the grain with the sensibilities in our culture today. I think part of the problem is the language “a personal relationship with Jesus” that is used by some of our Protestant brothers and sisters in the faith. Surprisingly to many when they look, this is not particularly a Scriptural way to talk. Instead the word “united” or “joined” to Christ by faith is found.

I cite three examples. In Baptism we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. In 1 Peter we are directed to be joined to Christ as living stones built upon Christ the living stone which together with other stones are being constructed into a spiritual house. And finally, in Ephesians 5 we are collectively joined to Christ as a bride to her husband! Unfortunately, the language of “personal” lends itself to notions of being “private” or “individual”.

But as Luther rightly understands, the forgiveness of sins takes place among those gathered around Word and Sacrament, that is, in the Church, the Body of Christ.

Since You Asked…

What good purpose is there in signing oneself (making the sign of the cross with the hand over one’s head and breast)?

This gesture’s main purpose is to remind us of our baptism where the sign of the cross was first made on our foreheads. The cross is a powerful symbol which reminds us of the depths of God’s love for us – He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. In Holy Baptism we have been joined to Christ. Every time we sign ourselves we declare that we belong to Christ and that we desire to live for Him. We give visible expression that we serve the One, True God who has revealed Himself to us in three persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.