When most of us think of the Church and Ministry, we think of the place where we attend worship, share fellowship with other Christians, sing, and take our children to Sunday school and VBS. The Church is also the place where the minister leads the liturgy, preaches sermons, baptizes, and teaches Bible and confirmation classes.
But according to the Augsburg Confession, the Christian Church is "properly speaking, nothing else than the assembly of saints and true believers" (AC VIII). In his Small Catechism, Luther writes, "The holy Christian Church is the communion of saints, the total number of those who believe in Christ." In the Smalcald Articles, he says, "Thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd" (SA XII).
Christ is thus the centre, basis and life of the Church. St. Paul in Ephesians 2:19-20 says that the Church is founded on "the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone."
The true Church is a matter of faith, a reality which is believed, not an outward organization through which we must be saved. In the Apostles' Creed we confess, "I believe in the holy Christian Church." The Nicene Creed similarly says, "And I believe in one holy Christian and Apostolic Church."
The Church is universal, extending through all places, time and eternity. But she also manifests herself locally. She is the assembly of all believers gathered around the Word purely preached and Sacrament rightly administered (Mt. 28:19,20; I Cor. 11:23-30; Titus 3:5). We can always recognize the Church by these 'marks' or 'signs.'
St. Peter in I Peter 2:5 says the Church is a "holy priesthood." All believers in Christ are priests, having direct access to God through Christ. Their salvation depends only on Christ, not on themselves or anyone else.
It is to His whole Church—this priesthood of all believers—that Christ has given the task of proclaiming the Gospel to the world, declaring "the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (I Peter 2:9), and again, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19,20).
The Church publicly fulfills this task through the divine Office of the Ministry, the Office of Preaching. The Augsburg Confession says, "To obtain such faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, that is, provided the Gospel and the Sacraments" (AC V). In Eph. 4:11 St. Paul says that Christ "gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers." Christ says in Luke 10:16, "He who hears you hears me."
The Office of Preaching is rooted and grounded in Christ and the Apostles and is conferred upon qualified men by a regular call of the congregation (AC XIV; Ap. XIV, Treatise, 66,67,70). Those filling this office must be competent to teach and of sound moral character (I Tim. 3:2). They must proclaim "sound doctrine" and "refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9). Upon being called to his first congregation, the minister is then ordained, that is, 'set apart' for the public ministry in that place (SA X ).
The Office of Preaching is distinct from the priesthood of all believers in that it requires qualified men to fill it and preserves order in the public worship service (Walther, Ministry, I ; Pieper, III, 441-2). All cannot speak at once. St. Paul in I Cor. 14:40 says, "Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way." Luther says, "Though all of us are priests, we may and should not on that account all preach or teach and govern" (Pieper, III, 442). At the same time, those in the Office of Preaching remain servants of Christ and to the congregation.
While all Christians witness to Christ and enjoy the fellowship of other believers in the Church, God has graciously provided the Office of Preaching to publicly proclaim the Gospel, to comfort us with the forgiveness of sins, and to give us hope in the resurrection of Christ. When the minister proclaims the Word of God to us every Sunday and administers the Lord's Supper to us often, we are encouraged in our journey here on earth, receiving a "foretaste of the feast to come." The Church is the place where a minister baptized us, and it is in the Church where we finally will be laid to rest, surrounded by God's Word, preached by a minister. Church and Ministry go together.