"What is the church?" Thus far we have discussed how the church is:
1) Pillar of truth (I Timothy 3:15) of God's Word.
2) The Visible Means of grace (Gospel and Sacraments)
These two distinctions eliminate many things that we often associate to be the church. The confessions made these very important distinctions due to the nature of the church in the 16th century. The church was defined more by political structure leading to the pope than it was by the Gospel and God's Word. This understanding leads us to depend on men more than on Christ (an obvious issue).
Today we look at probably the biggest distinguishing factor in this discussion in Luther's time and also in our own. "Who is the church?" The Apology of the Augsburg confession sums up who the church is in a few words, "The Church is a spiritual people." (Ap AC, VII & VIII, 12).
The old definition of church centered on the political structure, building, and membership roles. Therefore, someone could be attending church, love the pope, work on the building, and automatically be "the church." However, it is conceivable that one could do all of those things and not believe in the grace of Christ and His atoning work on the cross. So who is the church?
The Reformers centered on the people and the "invisible" church. No longer is the church only what is visible, but the church is made up of believers throughout the world no matter their denominational affiliation. "For Christ enlivens His true kingdom by His Spirit, whether it is revealed or is covered by the cross, just as the glorified Christ is the same Christ who was afflicted." (Ap AC, VII & VIII, 17). The church therefore is made up of people where the Holy Spirit has taken a dead unbelieving heart and resurrected it to faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. We would argue this happens in our Baptism.
At the end of the day, how do we know one has true faith? By their reception of the visible means. Our judgment can only be based on their worship, reception of God's sacraments, and living a repentant life in the name of Christ. A person knows they and others are saved by God's Work which points us instantly to our Baptism (I Peter 3:21).
What is the church? Spiritual people who believe in Christ. How do we know they believe? By the phyiscal means God uses (Word and Sacrament)? Who makes the final call on who is in? God.
Lord have mercy