Firstly, welcome to our weekly Question and Answer column. As pastors, one of the great joys of our work is to dig into the Scriptures and provide insights when members ask about specific issues that are on their minds. Together we grow through that process, as the Spirit strengthens and enlightens us through his Word! So, if you have such a question, email the office or drop it off anytime …
The first one that was sent has to do with a situation that families often face. We raise up our children in our church. We hope that they will stay with us, that is that they will remain in our same fellowship and confession, because we are convinced it is faithful to God’s Word. Yet, sometimes as they turn into adults and make their own way and meet new friends or a spouse, they attach themselves to churches of other denominations. We think to ourselves, “It’s better than not going to church at all.” But we secretly wonder, “Will their faith be ok, or is there a danger?”
Is “it depends” a complete enough answer? Probably not. But, it’s accurate. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) What makes a church correct or good is faithful adherence to and teaching of the Word of God. What makes a member blessed is when he or she hears that Word and holds to it – believes it, takes it to heart and stands firmly upon it.
We confess that “We believe in the Holy Christian Church”. We know that where the Gospel is present, the Holy Spirit will be present to create and sustain faith. Members of the Holy Christian Church (an invisible membership to us – but not to God!) exist wherever the Gospel is taught, by whatever name a visible church might be called. Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
At the same time, we’re cautioned: “Do not believe every spirit (spiritual preacher), but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (I John 4:1) God sent his Son in love to provide salvation to a world of sinners. The way he brings his Son to us is through the Gospel in Word and Sacraments. That’s where we find the clear, confident message of forgiveness through Christ. Satan, however, will look for any way possible to cloud that clear message with additions or subtractions. And there will be teachers who intentionally or carelessly become false teachers by providing those additions or subtractions in regard to the Word. There is reason to beware. There is reason for concern. Hence, the reason for the question that was posed today. Poison in the spiritual food may not be enough to kill a person’s saving faith. But it might.
So back to “it depends” … Our church doesn’t, of course, claim to be the only church that preaches the Gospel. We strive to do it faithfully, however, and we hope that all others do as well. Yet, as the Scriptures say, not all will strive for that goal. And we hope our members, wherever they move, will be listeners of the Gospel who “hold to his teaching” and “test the spirits”. That’s what we want to instill in our children!
Taking a look at the question from the positive side, we certainly have much to be thankful for when we belong to a visible Christian church that strives to teach the Word of God faithfully in all its parts. May God preserve our own church in that faithfulness. May he guide our children to such churches as they grow and move to other places. And finally, when we think of our families, may he comfort our hearts with the promise of the Good Shepherd who says: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
Blessings in Christ!
Pastor Ethan Steinbrenner