Mark G. Schroeder
How would you describe the perfect congregation?
Would the perfect congregation be one in which every sermon is clear, interesting, practical, and holds your attention for 20 minutes? Would it be a congregation whose pastor has a winsome personality that appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds? Would the perfect congregation have members who are all friendly and welcoming to strangers? Would that congregation have Sunday worship that is consistently uplifting, edifying, and beautiful, with a style that appeals to all members?
Would its pews be filled with dozens of young families whose children who are perfectly behaved? Would it be a congregation that places outreach and support for missions as its highest priority? Would it be a congregation whose only problem is how to accommodate the new members who are constantly joining?
If you are looking for a perfect congregation, those things might well describe it. But you won’t find such a congregation. It doesn’t exist, and it won’t exist this side of heaven.
How would you describe the perfect synod?
Would the perfect synod be one in which every single member is perfectly united in what they believe and has a full understanding of every biblical doctrine? Would it be a synod in which all existing congregations are growing and mission congregations are being started in dozens of new communities?
Would the perfect synod have ministerial education schools filled to capacity with young people willing to serve as pastors and teachers? Would it be a synod in which vacancies in the pulpit and classroom are virtually nonexistent?
Would the perfect synod be one in which all decisions made by its leaders prove to be exactly correct, always bringing about the hoped-for results?
Would the perfect synod be one in which no congregation or called worker or member ever strays from the truth and leaves?
If you are looking for a perfect synod, those things might well describe it. But you won’t find such a synod. It doesn’t exist, and it won’t exist this side of heaven.
There is a good reason why we refer to the church on earth, whether congregations or synods, as the church militant. The church on earth comprises 100 percent sinners, and because it comprises imperfect people it will never be perfect this side of heaven. And besides that, the church is under constant siege from Satan and his allies. This side of heaven, the church struggles with temptations within and attacks from outside.
Yet, even with the church’s faults and weaknesses, God can and does work to overcome both the attacks of Satan and the imperfections of his people. He does that through the life-giving power of the gospel. In Christ, through faith, God’s people recognize that their weaknesses have been overcome by his gracious strength. Unity that is fractured by sinful attitudes and deeds is restored as God brings sinners into his family and keeps them there through Word and sacrament. Motivated by the love of God in Christ, God’s people gather together into congregations and synods and, to the best of their ability, “declare the praises of him who called [them] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Looking for the perfect church? Searching for the perfect synod? You will find the perfect church if you are looking for the right thing: a church where the gospel is proclaimed in all its saving truth and beauty. When we have that, we can view our congregations and our synod in a completely different light—as gatherings of flawed sinners who have been made perfect by the blood of the Lamb.
Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019