Church Fellowship: Bond of Peace Between both Preachers and Hearers
Before I begin my delayed vicarage, I need to finish my treatise. I am writing on the church in the theology of John Andrew Quenstedt and David Hollaz, and their emphasis on the synthetic church. One of the major features of the synthetic church is the understanding of it being made up of both teachers and hearers. The following is a revised section of my treatise, in which I argue the importance of a good relationship between pastors and hearers in obtaining church unity.
The concept of the synthetic church consisting of both teachers and hearers is vital when considering church fellowship. Paul reiterates in his own words Christ’s final mandate from Maundy Thursday: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) The apostle writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal 6:2) He continues in verse 6, “Let the one who is taught the Word share all good things with the one who teaches” These are not empty commands. They denote the reality that God has filled His church with those who teach and those who hear. They express in different words what Paul expresses in Ephesians 4, “bearing with each other in love.” The church bears the vicarious marks of Christ; therefore, as Christ has loved us by bearing our burdens, we are to love one another, both hearers and teachers. Paul makes a point of expressing that.
That law for the church to love one another is not a string attached to God’s favor, nor is it a random set of ethics. Rather, it presupposes the love of Christ which binds all together (Col 3:14). It is still law, which accuses the sinner, but Paul never says it without the gospel of peace in Christ. The peace and Word of Christ unite and identify His holy bride. The unity of the church does not exist without the proclamation of the vicarious atonement of Christ, who knowing no sin, became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. This is what Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians 5 when he teaches the reconciliation of sinful man to God wrought by Christ. It is on this basis that Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be reconciled to God. Paul sees no separation between what God accomplished in Christ and his mission to proclaim it. Likewise, his desire for unity among the saints is non-existent without the peace of Christ, and the preaching of that Word of peace by called servants and ambassadors of Christ through whom God makes His appeal. The godly relationship between teachers and hearers is crucial for the building up of the body of Christ (Eph 4:12). Paul does not leave it to the Ephesians to figure out how they might obtain that bond of peace. He goes on to explain that the ascended Lord has given to His church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (4:11).
The present pains of the church are largely due to divisions. Many people write off Christianity all together for this very reason. If acknowledged, divisions lead to uncomfortable confrontations. If ignored, they lead to doctrinal nihilism and theological apathy. Pastors are often criticized for preaching against the errors of other confessions or for giving the Lord’s Supper only to members of orthodox Lutheran congregations. The destruction of church fellowship will inevitably follow the distrust and division between hearers of the Word and preachers of the Word. When the hearers ignore Jesus’ words, “he who hears you hears Me,” or when the preachers refuse to preach the pure Word of God to His children in season and out of season, church fellowship becomes an idle and hopeless fantasy. It becomes even more detrimental when called preachers of the Gospel hinder other pastors from delivering to God’s children the pure bread of life, or when pastors simply use their office as a way to pep-talk the people into sharing the gospel but fail to clearly proclaim God’s free favor in Christ to them. I recall Pastor Todd Wilken discussing the difference between evangelizing, that is, preaching the gospel, and preaching about evangelizing. If pastors only preach about evangelizing, how can they expect to have fellowship with their hearers?
The marks of the church are not impersonal. They are given to us through the mouths and hands of God’s unworthy yet called servants. We personally sin, so God personally forgives. He does this through His pastors whom He calls to serve His people in particular places. Why should we not grumble against our pastors? Because, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, they watch out for our souls. Why should pastors not neglect to preach the pure Word of God? First, because God commands them to preach it, and second, because God’s children are entitled to hear it by virtue of their baptism. God has already given His promise to His children. A pastor who refuses to continue to give it behaves as a hireling.
So how do we pray for unity and peace among us? By praying that God’s teaching remain pure so God by His Holy Spirit takes us sinners out of death to life. It is in this way that our Lord maintains the bond of peace among His preachers and hearers.