We believe, teach, and confess, as Martin Luther wrote in his Smalcald Articles, “That even a seven year old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd (John 10:11-16). The Church is given many names in Scripture: the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the new Creation, the new Israel, the new people of God made by Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22). Christ’s Church is found where the Word is preached as God would have it preached and the sacraments rightly given out (Isaiah 55:10-11). The reason the Church exists is for the sole purpose of offering God’s free gift of forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7). That is why, what many churches call “worship,” we call the “Divine Service”.
In Divine Service, God serves His people with the forgiveness of their sins – to take what was accomplished on Calvary two thousand years ago and give it to be ours today. We can have confidence that when we hear the Pastor say “your sins are forgiven” that they are truly forgiven. It was what Jesus said to His disciples (His first ‘Pastors’), “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16) and this is what Jesus said, “I forgive you your sins.” That’s why the Pastor tells us our sins have been forgiven. It’s not because he’s more spiritual or has some special powers or higher education. It’s that he’s been called by our congregation and placed under orders (ordained) to tell us what Jesus says to people when they say the same thing about themselves that God says about them in His Word.
Many people see the Church more like a social club or a like-minded political organization. We do our best to keep politics and political action a part of what we don’t do. On the other hand, we do many social things for ourselves and for the community into which God has placed us. But our reason for existence is to declare the forgiveness of sins in Christ. That’s first and foremost in all we do. Instead of thinking of the Church as a social club, it might be better to think of it as a spiritual hospital where God offers His grace and forgiveness as “medicine”. That way, when you go to Church and find sinners there, it will come as no surprise to you. We’re not hypocrites about sin. We call ourselves poor miserable sinners at the beginning of each Divine Service because that’s who we are apart from Jesus, and we’re here to receive the only hope there is in all the world – God’s forgiveness of our sins. That, He freely offers to all who ask for it.