Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Church, Growth, and the Gospel...

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?

How to grow the church?  What methods and programs are most effective?  How to shepherd visitors into becoming church members?  How to keep members active?  

I have to admit that these questions, as I type them, sound off-key.  It's like the Christian who, introspectively self-focused on his growth, is asking questions like, "How can I become more spiritual?  What are the best methods I can employ in order to become more sanctified?"  It's usually the one most focused on his personal progress who is least likely to be growing in true godliness.  Yet in both instances (church and individual Christian) growth is meant to occur.  And in both cases that which is central and indispensable, though too often assumed or ignored, is the same one thing.

From Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians:

But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother. (Gal. 4:26) ASV
26.  The spiritual Jerusalem corresponds to Sarah, the true lady and free woman who is the mother of us all, bringing us into liberty, and not into slavery as Hagar does..The heavenly Jerusalem is the church--that is to say, the faithful scattered throughout the world, who have one and the same Gospel, one and the same faith in Christ, the same Holy Spirit, and the same sacraments.
The word above should not be understood of the church triumphant in heaven, but the church militant here on earth. Godly people are said to be citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), but Christians are in heaven when they believe and lay hold of those inestimable, heavenly, and eternal gifts (Ephesians 1:3).  We must distinguish heavenly and spiritual blessing from the earthly.  The earthly blessing is to have a good civil government, to have children, peace, riches, fruits of the earth, and other physical things.  But the heavenly blessing is to be delivered from the law, sin, and death; to be justified and brought to life; to have peace with God; to have a faithful heart, a joyful conscience, and spiritual consolation; to have the knowledge of Jesus Christ; to have the gift of prophecy and the revelation of the Scriptures; to have the gift of the Holy Spirit and to rejoice in God.  These are the heavenly blessings that Christ gives the church.
Therefore, the Jerusalem that is above--the heavenly Jerusalem--is the church that is in the world now, not the city of the life to come or the church triumphant.  She gives birth through the Holy Spirit, by the ministry of the Word and sacraments, and not physically.
So Sarah, or Jerusalem, our free... mother, is the church itself, the spouse of Christ, of whom we are all born.  This mother gives birth to free children unceasingly, to the end of the world, as long as she preaches the Gospel, for this is truly to give birth.  She teaches the Gospel in this way:  we are delivered from  the curse of the law, from sin, death, and all other evils, by Jesus Christ, and not by the law or by doing what it commands.  Therefore, the Jerusalem that is above--that is to say, the church--is not subject to the law and its obedience, but is free and a mother without the law, sin, and death.  That is the sort of mother she is, and that is the sort of children she bears.
This allegory teaches that the church should do nothing but preach and teach the Gospel truly and sincerely, and by this means should produce children.  So we are all fathers and children to one another.  I am born of other people through the Gospel and now give birth to others who will also give birth to others later on, and this will continue to the end of the world. Everything is done by the ministry of the Word.  (Galatians - Luther, edited by Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer; pp. 230-231)

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