Katechismus

6 The church of Jesus Christ

The church of Jesus Christ has been established on earth by the Lord Himself. In it salvation is made accessible to human beings. In it human beings bring worship and praise to God.

6.1 Concerning the term "church" Back to top

The word "church" is derived from the Greek kyriake ("belonging to the Lord"). The New Testament uses the term ekklesia ("those who have been called out"). The word ekklesia can be translated as "assembly", "congregation", or "church".

In general speech, the term "church" has various meanings. On the one hand it can mean a Christian house of God as a place of assembly for the believers. On the other hand it can refer to a gathering of people of Christian faith, that is a local parish. Beyond that, the term can also describe a Christian denomination. The following remarks refer to the "church" as an object of faith.

Those human beings who belong to the church of Christ have been called forth by God for eternal fellowship with Him, namely with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The focal point of church life is the divine service. In the midst of the church, Jesus Christ prepares His bridal congregation through Apostles for His imminent return and the "marriage in heaven".

6.2 Biblical foundation Back to top

On the one hand, the purpose of the church of Jesus Christ is to make salvation and eternal fellowship with the triune God accessible to mankind and, on the other hand, to bring worship and praise to God.

6.2.1 Old Testament references to the church of Jesus Christ Back to top

After the fall into sin, human beings could not remain in direct fellowship with God. They had to leave the environment in which God had granted them encounters with Himself. Through sin, mankind had fallen prey to death. God wishes to redeem human beings from this condition of deterioration into death, grant them salvation, and allow them to have eternal fellowship with Himself.

From the very beginning, God provided for mankind. Upon their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the Creator clothed them and promised that a descendant of the woman would defeat the tempter (Genesis 3: 15).

The recognition that mankind is fundamentally dependent on God is brought to expression again and again in the Old Testament. This finds direct expression in the building of altars and the offering of sacrifices.

In the course of time, sin became overwhelmingly powerful, and mankind increasingly turned away from God. For this reason, God caused them to perish in the flood, a divine judgement. God granted grace to Noah and his family. They were saved in the ark. God made a covenant with them in which He promised all descendants of the human race that He would preserve and care for them. He gave the rainbow as a sign of this covenant.

These events are already a reference to God's acts of salvation which would later be carried out in the church of Christ: God inclines Himself to mankind, cares for and protects them, and takes them into His covenant. Deliverance in the ark is expressly interpreted in 1 Peter 3: 20-21 as a model for baptism, through which deliverance is effected in the new covenant. As a result, Christian tradition understands the ark as an image for the church of Christ.

The covenant with Noah included all human beings. Through God's election of Abraham, a further covenant was established, which called Abraham and his descendants into a special relationship with God: they became the chosen people of God. The outward sign of this covenant was circumcision. This covenant was confirmed with Isaac and Jacob.

When Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai and passed them on to the people of Israel by God's commission, God revealed His will in the form of a law. This was proclaimed to a particular assembly, a congregation.

The law defined the relationship between human beings and God, as well as their relationships with one another. It established rules for proper divine service. The latter consisted of the sacrificial rite performed by the priests in the tabernacle, in addition to worship of, and devotion to, God by the people through prayer, profession, and obedience. As the people chosen by God, Israel was called to this divine service.

These elements of the old covenant also point to Jesus Christ and to the establishment of the church: the old covenant points to the new covenant, the old covenant mark of circumcision points to baptism, the proclamation of the divine will points to the preaching of the word of God, the priestly sacrificial service points to Holy Communion and its administration by the authorised ministry, and prayer and profession point to the worship of the triune God in Christian divine service.

The divine service of the Old Testament had its central place in the temple of Jerusalem, where it was celebrated in solemn fashion. It was there that the house of the Lord stood, and it was there that the people came together in order to praise God (Psalm 122) and bring Him sacrifices. This changed with the destruction of the temple and the ensuing Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people. During this period, the Jews gathered in synagogues for divine service, in which the word of Godthe lawwas read aloud and interpreted. The sacrificial service could not be performed there, however. In this respect, these divine services were deficient. Even once the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt after the Babylonian exile, and after sacrificial service had once again become possible, the believers continued to gather for divine service in synagogues, in which the proclamation of the word was the focal element.

This serves as a reference to the church of the New Testament, in the centre of which Jesus Christ is present as the Word incarnate (John 1: 1). The epistle to the Hebrews interprets the old covenant with its law, sacrificial service, circumcision, and priesthood as a "shadow"–that is an anticipationof the new covenant (Hebrews 8: 5; 10: 1). A shadow is not the object itselfit merely refers to the object. It is not the old covenant that is God's perfect institution of salvation, but rather only the new covenant which Jesus Christ established.

Therefore the chosen people of the old covenant already foreshadowed that which would become reality in God's people of the new covenant, in the church of Christ.

6.2.2 The beginning of the church of Christ Back to top

Everything that church is, and everything on which it is based, has its origin in the person and deed of Jesus Christ, who both is and brings salvation. "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Galatians 4: 4-5). Jesus, the Son of God, was born as a human being into God's chosen people of the old covenant. God became ManHe entered into human history and became part of it.

He called human beings to follow Him, gathered disciples, preached the kingdom of God, revealed Himselffor example, in the Sermon on the Mountas a lawgiver, healed the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead, forgave sins, and promised and sent the Holy Spirit.

The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is the essential prerequisite for the existence of church. All other events pertaining to the foundation of the church are founded upon, and have derived from, this event: the choosing of the Apostles (Luke 6: 12-16), the establishment of the office of Peter (Matthew 16: 18), the institution of Holy Communion (Matthew 26: 20-29), the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the great commission (Matthew 28: 19-20).

The first historical manifestation of the church of Christ was on Pentecost, with the outpouring of Holy Spirit. Apostle Peter preached in the power of the Holy Spirit and the first congregation came into being. Baptism, forgiveness of sins, and the receiving of the gift of Holy Spirit are elements that impart salvation on the path of redemption (Acts 2: 38). The early Christians "continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2: 42). These characteristics are of decisive importance for the church of Christ.

SUMMARY Back to top

The church of Jesus Christ has been established on earth by the Lord Himself. (6)

The term "church" is used to describe a Christian place of worship, a local parish, or a Christian denomination. In the theological sense, however, the term refers to the church of Jesus Christ. (6.1)

Those human beings who belong to the church of Jesus Christ have been called forth by God for eternal fellowship with Him. (6.1)

The purpose of the church of Jesus Christ is, on one hand, to make salvation and eternal fellowship with God accessible to human beings and, on the other hand, to bring worship and praise to God. (6.2)

Already in the Old Testament there are many references to the church of Christ. (6.2.1)

The letter to the Hebrews also interprets the old covenantwith its law, sacrificial service, circumcision, and priesthoodas a "shadow", that is, a foreshadowing, of the new covenant. Thus the old covenant already intimated that which has become reality in the church of Jesus Christ in the new covenant. (6.2.1)

Everything that church is, and everything on which church is based, has its source in the person and deed of Jesus Christ. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is the essential prerequisite for the existence of church. (6.2.2)

In history the church of Christ was first revealed on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (6.2.2)

The early Christians continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. These characteristics are decisive for the church of Christ. (6.2.2)

6.2.3 Images for the church of Jesus Christ in the New Testament Back to top

The New Testament does not provide a self-contained doctrine of the church. There are, however, multiple images and examples through which the nature of the church is revealed. Each of these images refers to one or several aspects of the church. These images can be interpreted in various ways. Even the Bible uses them inconsistently.

6.2.3.1 The body of Christ Back to top

The image of the church as the body of Christ occupies a central position. It is often applied to those who, through baptism, faith, and profession, belong to Jesus Christ. In Romans 12: 4-5, believers are described as "members" of the one body of Christ. This image picks up on a common metaphor of the time, in which the state was envisioned as an organic body and the individual as a member of it. The gifts of the individual members of the congregation vary, as do their tasks. However, they are all interconnected and serve one another. Accordingly the church is an organism in which all are dependent on each other.

Despite the diversity of the individual members, together they comprise a single entity. As members of the body of Christ, they care for, and are united with, one another: "But now indeed there are many members, yet one body" (1 Corinthians 12: 20).

In Ephesians 1: 22-23, Christ is shown as the head of the church and the ruler of all things. This builds on the hymn recorded in the epistle to the Colossians in which it says: "He is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1: 18). In this imagery, the church of Christ is equated with the "body of Christ". It shares in the perfection of its Lord.

The image of the body is also used for the local congregation, in which imperfect human beings are to "come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4: 13).

The growth of the bodyapplied to the church as a whole, as well as to the local congregation and the individual believersoccurs through the activity of God (Colossians 2: 19). This growth is oriented toward Christ. As the head, He is the Lord, the standard, and the goal (Ephesians 4: 15). For the edification of the body of Christ, God provided ministries and commissions.

6.2.3.2 The people of God Back to top

The image of the people of God refers to the fact that God has chosen a single people from among all the various peoples: "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers ..." (Deuteronomy 7: 6-8).

The history of Israel is founded on God's activity of redemption. He liberated the people from slavery in Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land. It was to this people that He sent His Son, and it was in the midst of this people that God became Man. Israel, however, rejected Jesus as the Messiah and did not believe in Him: for God's people of the old covenant, the Son of God became a stumbling stone and a rock of offence.

By contrast, there are those who, as God's people of the new covenant, believe in Jesus: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people ... who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (1 Peter 2: 9-10).

Here the church of Christ is shown both in its present state as well as in its intended form. At present it prefigures what it will be in perfect fashion in the future.

6.2.3.3 The city of God Back to top

In the image of the city of God, the church is shown as the place where God dwells among all those who belong to Him. On earth, church is the place where Jesus Christ, the Mediator, makes salvation accessible in various ways and grants fellowship with God. In this respect, church is the place of encounter with God, as well as the place of worship and divine service.

The church of Christ transcends human imagination. It is both of this world and of the world to come, it is both present and future. These manifestations belong together. Hebrews 12: 22-24 gives an indication of the grandeur of the church in its ultimate perfection. The words, "you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," are directed at the church in its absolute fullness. In this respect, the earthly side of the church is interwoven with its heavenly side. God rules in the heavenly Jerusalem. This includes the angels, "the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven", the perfected righteous souls, and Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant.

In heaven God is worshipped and praised by the heavenly creatures (Psalm 29: 1; Revelation 4). Believers do the same on earth, namely in the earthly side of the church of Christ.

In the future city of God, New Jerusalem, God Himself will dwell with mankind (Revelation 21: 3).

6.2.3.4 The kingdom of God Back to top

The image of the kingdom of God refers to the reign of God in His church. Jesus described the kingdom of God in many parables and with various emphases (Matthew 13). The "kingdom of God" can, for example, represent:

  • Jesus Christ, the present Lord Himself (Luke 17: 21),

  • His church, which is present on earth,

  • the kingly reign which will be revealed at the marriage feast in heaven (Revelation 19: 6-7),

  • the kingdom of peace which Jesus Christ, the returning Lord, will establish on earth,

  • the eternal kingly reign of God in the new creation, and

  • the realm of eternal life.

In John 3: 3, 5 it states that the kingdom of God is only accessible to those who have been born of God: "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God ... unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." To "see the kingdom of God" means to see God face to face. For the firstlings, this will already come to pass on the day of the Lord (1 John 3: 2): they will see the realm of eternal life.

6.2.3.5 The flock of God Back to top

The image of the flock of God portrays Jesus Christ as the good shepherd. He knows His own and gives His life for them. He calls sheep to Himself who are from other placesHe continuously calls upon human beings to believe in Him and His church. In the end, there will be one flock and one shepherd (John 10: 11-16). Jesus speaks to His own through the Holy Spirit. Those who believe and follow Him will receive eternal life from Him (John 10: 25-28).

Prior to His ascension into heaven, the Risen One entrusted His lambs and sheep to the care of Apostle Peter (John 21: 15-17). This Apostle bore responsibility for the care of those who belonged to the church of Christ. Nevertheless, as the flock of Jesus Christ, the faithful remained His property.

In 1 Peter 5: 2-4, the ministers of the church are called upon to shepherd the congregation as the "flock of God". In doing so, they are not to act as lords over the congregation, but rather serve as examples. They fulfil their tasks with a view to the return of Jesus Christ, the "Chief Shepherd".

The image of the flock shows the church as a community that follows Christ. It receives its care, protection, and leadership through Jesus Christ, the good shepherd.

6.2.3.6 Further images for the church Back to top

The New Testament contains other figurative descriptions that underline the above-mentioned hallmarks of church and illustrate its additional characteristics. These include: God's field, God's building, the house of God, the dwelling place of God, the temple of God, the woman clothed with the sun and the male child, as well as the bride (1 Corinthians 3: 9; 1 Timothy 3: 15; 1 Corinthians 3: 16-17; Revelation 12, Revelation 21: 2). The interpretation of these images is dependent on their respective biblical contexts. Depending on its context, one image can therefore be used to make different statements. It is significant that in some biblical passages several images are linked to each other.

Thus the individual image should not be viewed in isolation. When viewed together, however, the images allow us to recognise that the church is one, apostolic, universalthat is all-encompassingand holy.

SUMMARY Back to top

The New Testament contains a great number of images and examples in which the nature of the church is revealed. (6.2.3)

The image of the church as the body of Christ is often applied to those who, through baptism, faith, and profession, belong to Jesus Christ. It demonstrates that the church is similar to an organism in which all are dependent on one another. The growth of the body is geared toward Christ, who as the head is Lord, standard, and goal. (6.2.3.1)

Just as God chose the people of Israel out of many nations, He has also chosen a people in the new covenant, namely His church. (6.2.3.2)

In the image of the city of God, the church is shown as the place where God dwells in the midst of all those who are His own. (6.2.3.3)

The image of the kingdom of God refers to the rule of God in His church. (6.2.3.4)

The image of the flock shows the church as a community which follows Jesus Christ, the good shepherd. (6.2.3.5)

Other images for the church include the house of God, the temple of God, the woman clothed with the sun and the male child, as well as the bride. (6.2.3.6)

6.3 The church of Jesus Christ–a mystery Back to top

Everything that church is and will ever be is founded upon the word, work, and nature of Jesus. Jesus Christ is true God and true Man, and thus exhibits two natures (see 3.4.3). This mystery remains unfathomable. Likewise, the nature of the church of Christ is unfathomable: it is also a mystery, it also has a dual nature, and it can likewise only be grasped in faith.

Through Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and mankind, human beings can obtain salvation. These glad tidings are to be preached and passed on by Apostles (1 Timothy 2: 5-7). In the words of the sermon, the word of Christ is brought to expression in various ways through the activity of the Holy Spirit. It is by hearing this word that faith comes into being (Romans 10: 16-17). In this capacity, the church shares in Christ's ministry of mediation through the proclamation of the gospel.

In its nature, the church of Christ reflects the dual nature of Jesus Christ. His divine nature is concealed or invisible, whereas His human nature is visible or manifest. In His human nature, Jesus aged just as every other human being. He felt pain and fear, and He knew hunger and thirst. Hence He shared in the fate of all humanity, albeit without being subject to sin.

Likewise, the church of Christ has a concealedor invisibleand a visibleor manifestside. These two sides of the church of Christ can no more be separated than the two natures of Jesus Christ. Although they are different from one another, they belong together indivisibly.

Like the divine nature of Jesus Christ, the concealed side of the church is ultimately indescribable. Its presence, however, can be perceived in the salvific effects of the sacraments and in the word of God. In the concealed side of the churchwhich is comprised of those who are properly baptised, who genuinely believe, and who profess the Lordthe four identifying features of church (unity, holiness, universality, and apostolicity) are present in perfect fashion. This side of the church is addressed in the Third Article of the New Apostolic Creed.

The revealed side of the church of Christ, like the Man Jesus, shares in the general history of mankind. In contrast to Him, however, the human beings at work within the church are subject to sin. Hence the errors, aberrations, and lapses inherent in mankind are also to be found in the church. However, the deficiencies of the visible church can neither damage nor destroy the invisible and perfect church, namely the church to which the true believers and elect (see 4.5) belong.

This interconnection and simultaneous distinction between the visible and invisible church can only be grasped in faith. The visible form of the churchthe church of Christ in its historical manifestationis not the object of faith. Rather it is the institution in which, at present, salvation and the nearness of God can be experienced.

6.4 Belief in the one, holy, universal, and apostolic church Back to top

Salvation is accessible in the church of Jesus Christ, which has been established by the Lord Himself on earth. Those human beings who belong to it have been called forth by God to eternal fellowship with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is worshipped in the church. The focal point of church life is the divine service.

In its spiritual nature and perfection, the church of Christ remains concealed, and can only be grasped in faith. In its historical manifestation, however, it can be perceived and experienced. In the Third Article of Faith we profess: "I believe in ... the one, holy, universal and apostolic church." Thus the church is an object of faith.

The first three Articles of Faith profess belief in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the same manner, Christians throughout the ages have professed belief in the church. This makes it clear that the church is not an external or trivial thing, but rather one of the fundamental elements of Christian faith. Without church, it is impossible to be a Christian.

SUMMARY Back to top

Everything that church is and ever will be is rooted in Jesus' word, work, and nature. (6.3)

In its nature the church reflects the dual nature of Jesus Christ. His divine nature is concealed while His human nature is visible. The church likewise has an invisible and a visible side which belong together inextricably. (6.3)

The invisible side of the church is perceptible in the salvific effect of the sacraments and in the word of God. (6.3)

Like the Man Jesus, the visible side of the church shares in the general history of humanity. By contrast to Him, however, the people at work within the church are subject to sin. It is for this reason that the same errors, aberrations, and lapses inherent in human beings are also to be found in the church. (6.3)

The triune God is worshipped in the church. The focal point of church life is the divine service. Without church it is impossible to be Christian. (6.4)

6.4.1 Distinguishing features of the church Back to top

The Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople states that the church is the one, holy, universal, and apostolic church. These distinguishing features of the church are called notae ecclesiae.

6.4.1.1 The church is "one" Back to top

The profession of the one church arises from the belief in the one God. The triune God has founded and preserved the one church through the