Beckett: The Table of Duties – My Congregational Duty

“In the congregation, Christians are gathered by God’s Word” (SC, p. 349).

Why go to church at all? Because it is your calling as a Christian—your first and foremost vocation as a baptised child of God. In the Confessions, we confess that the Church “is the assembly of believers among whom the Gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel” (AC VII, 1). It’s that simple. Church is where God’s people gather to receive Word and Sacrament for the forgiveness of their sins.

What about the “invisible” church and the “visible” church? Many Christians, without realising it, are Platonists in this regard and have two different churches in their minds: the little c church here on earth, which is visible; and the big C Church consisting of all believers, especially the dead, which is invisible and the “true” Church. For them, the church here on earth is merely a shadow of the more real or spiritual Church in heaven. The problem with this platonic thinking is that it segments the Church as the Body of Christ. In this thinking, there are two churches rather than a singly unified—or catholic (universal)—Church.

Christ’s body is not segmented, for He is not a worm. (This is a biology joke. Worms have segmented bodies.) His body is one. The Apostle Paul wrote extensively on this subject to the Corinthians, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). This is why we can properly speak of the Church as Christ’s actual body, rooted in His anointing at His Baptism in the Jordan through which we become participants in our own baptisms. Thus, St. Augustine writes, “Not only has our Head been anointed, but we ourselves too, who are his body… We are all the body of Christ because we all share in the anointing and, in him, we are all Christ’s and Christ, since in a certain way the whole Christ consists in both Head and body” (Cantalamessa, 16).

The Church is one, both visible and invisible. As Marquart succinctly puts it, “The one church is invisible in respect of the ‘who,’ and visible in respect of the ‘where'” (Marquart, Loc 621). In other words, the “who” or proper sense of the Church are those who believe in Christ on earth and in heaven since the faith of the heart cannot be seen via physical means; this is the invisible church. The “where” or wide sense of the Church are the believers gathered around the Means of Grace (Word and Sacrament); this is the visible church. (We also describe the visible church on earth as the church militant and the invisible church in heaven as the church triumphant.) Both of these are one and the same Church; they are not different and neither one is better or more important than the other. Both are under the same Head. To put it succinctly: The Church is invisible in that she is all the people of God who believe in the past, present, and future; the Church is visible in that she is wherever the saints gather for worship and fellowship around the Means of Grace.

Apology VII and VIII, 1-5 affirms AC VII that states “the church is the assembly of saints,” which is the visible/wide sense; and it further explicates the Church is also “principally an association of faith and the Holy Spirit in the hearts of persons,” which is the invisible/proper sense.

What does this ontology of the Church have to do with the first part of your table of duties? You were baptised not into yourself, but into a body—the Body of Christ, the Church. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). While the immediate context of this has to do with sexual immorality, it also relates to what Paul later writes about your body belonging to the Body of Christ, the Church, in chapter twelve. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price,” which is the price of Christ’s precious blood—His very body. You belong to Him now, not to yourself.

The primary reason for you attending church is to hear God’s Word and receive the forgiveness of sins in the Means of Grace. “But I can do that at home!” Of course you can, but you belong to a body now—a community, the community of Christ, the kingdom of God. Just like every earthly society, the kingdom of God is not a people of self-isolated lone wolves but εκκλησία (ekklesia)—church—which literally means a physical assembly of believers who live life together. You can bring up personal devotion or church online all you want, but you are lacking a shepherd. You are that one sheep who has gone astray from the pasture whom Jesus is seeking eagerly (Luke 15:1-7). When Jesus saw the people of Israel as He went throughout the cities and villages to Galilee in His earthly ministry, “He had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Without a flock to which you belong, you are like such helpless people. By remaining in the wilderness of life without a shepherd, you leave yourself to be harassed by the serpents of the world without any respite in Christ on the Sabbath in His body.

As shepherd, the pastor is assigned with the duty to protect his flock—protecting them from things like heresy, false doctrine, sin, the world, and the devil. How can you receive Christ’s gifts if you neglect going to His body? You cannot survive by yourself; no one can. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Likewise, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you'” (1 Corinthians 12:21). If you were to cut off your perfectly good hand from your body, it would wither and die, and you leave your body wounded. If you deliberately sever yourself from the Body of Christ, your faith will wither and die, and you wound the Body of Christ. (This perhaps begs the question, “What about shut-ins? They don’t come to church.” This is a good question, but such inquisitiveness of so great a tragedy is an object-lesson in the limitations of sympathetic understanding. By their physical and/or mental weakness, the devil has robbed them of their own volition to attend the Body of Christ. Nevertheless, they are still part of His body, which is why their pastor brings them Communion and the Divine Service, as well as the visitation of the elders and other church members.)

Consider also your Confirmation vows. If you were confirmed into the Lutheran faith, you took an oath not just before the entire congregation but also before God Himself. The pastor asked you, “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?” And you vowed, “I do, by the grace of God.” He also asked, “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, even to death?” And you swore, “I do, by the grace of God.” And he asked, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.” And you pledged, “I do, by the grace of God.” Of course, all this depends on the grace of God, but His grace does not mean He picks you up like a marionette and takes you to church; you must use your own legs. Don’t be lazy.

By the grace of God, you swore an oath before your brothers and sisters in Christ and God Almighty that you would be dutiful in hearing God’s Word and receiving the Supper faithfully, living according to God’s Word (which includes meeting together), and continuing steadfast in our confession and Church (which emphasise Scripture’s mandate to attend Divine Service). We live in a culture where oaths mean nothing, which is why divorce happens so frequently because it is viewed as a simple business contract that can be broken with little to no consequences rather than a physical and spiritual union that cannot be separated (Matthew 19:6), so it’s no wonder why so many view falling away from the Church as no threat to their salvation. By severing yourself from Christ, at worst, you’ll fall into the snare of the devil; at best, you reveal how little your word means to you and so wound your integrity.

As a sworn member of your congregation, you can take on additional duties, such as serving on a board, a ministry effort, attending voters’ meetings (please do!), or some other capacity to help the operations of your local congregation. The most important thing, however, is that you attend Divine Service to hear the Word preached to you and to receive the forgiveness of sins in the Sacraments. Don’t forget the 3rd Commandment as well, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” As vital and helpful as they are, you cannot do that in your daily devotions or YouTube videos, and digital church is just a counterfeit church built on a sandy foundation.

You were baptised into the Body of Christ, which here on earth is called His Church. It is a corporeal vocation into which you were called to receive His Word and Sacraments and to love your brothers and sisters in Christ, encouraging one another as the Day of the Lord draws near. For as John strictly warns in his epistle, if you do not love your fellow brethren—and how can you love them if you do not meet with them in Christ’s Church?—how can the love of God abide in you (1 John 3-4)?

“But I don’t trust organised religion.” “I’m spiritual, not religious.” Get over yourself. We don’t trust religion; we trust in Christ, who was religious enough to keep the Law on your behalf, preach His Word in synagogues, and to die liturgically as the Lamb of God who has taken away all your sins.


Cantalamessa, Raniero. The Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1994.

Marquart, Kurt E. Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics: The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance. Edited by Robert Preus. Kindle Edition. Fort Wayne: Luther Academy, 2015.


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