What is the church? It is a question that comes up more frequently these days amid technological and cultural shifts. Amazingly, Martin Luther actually wrestled with that same question 500 years ago. And thankfully for us, Martin Luther expressed what a church is by writing down what he called the seven visible marks of the church:
- The Word of God
- Holy Communion
- The Office of the Keys (Confession and Absolution)
- Called ministers
- Prayer, public praise and thanksgiving to God
- Bearing suffering patiently
Luther called these the seven principal parts of Christian sanctification or the seven holy possessions of the church.
I like that concept of all of these being “holy possessions.” We can so often take for granted the fact that we pray and read Scripture and have the opportunity to confess our sins with other people of God in church. But these are privileges and blessings and sacred activities that God has graciously put into our possession.
We need to treat these seven visible marks with care and reverence. They are the outward manifestations of what God has done for us in Christ and they are the window to all the world of the nature of our God.
Through these marks, we as the church tell the world that God wants to talk to us and listen to us. God wants to make us his children. God wants to forgive us. God wants to shepherd us through life through his under shepherds. God wants to celebrate and sorrow with us.
When we look at church in this light, we have a better grasp of what God had in mind for the energy and vitality of his people on earth behind the brick-and-mortar steepled structures.