This We Believe–the Theological Declaration of Barmen, affirmation 3

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“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined and knit together.” (Ephesians 4.15-16)
The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and Sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

Here we are reminded of a few really important things—one, that the church is the body through with Jesus acts in the world as Lord and Savior; two, the church is made up of sinners who are forgiven, not of perfect people who need no forgiveness; three, the church’s purpose is to show God’s love in the world in word and in deed, always obedient to Christ; four, that the church belongs to God, not to us, and we rely on God for everything from vision to direction to resources to teaching.
It is so tempting to see the church as “ours” and to try to form it into yet another organization that helps us to be good people or to pursue our goals, but that’s not what the church is for. The church’s purpose is to follow Christ, to do his will, and pursue his goals. Not the goals of the government, or the goals of an individual, or the goals of the culture, but the goals of the gospel.
What are the goals of the gospel? To make the love of God known in word and sacrament, to form a community of the forgiven, to show us God’s ways and teach us to rely on God’s grace. To help us grow up in every way into Christ, becoming more and more in his likeness each day.
Easier said than done, of course—it’s much easier to pursue our own goals than to listen for God’s, easier to follow our own direction, easier to be formed into our culture’s likeness than Christ’s. To live this part of the confession requires a willingness to be transformed, and time spent in prayer and study that helps us grow up into Christ.

Have you ever realized that the goals of the gospel and the goals of an individual (or agency or culture or government or even yourself) were not the same? How do you choose to pursue the gospel?

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