Excerpts from selected CLC documents on this
Web site regarding Church and Ministry
Dr. F. Pieper, (1852 – 1931; Professor, Missouri Synod):
“We maintain that the formation of Christian congregations, and membership in them, is not a human but a divine mandate. On the other hand, the union of congregations into larger church bodies, such as conferences, synods, etc., has not been ordained by God. The command ‘Tell it unto the church,’ according to the context pertains to the local church, or congregation, and it must be restricted to the local church.” (Christian Dogmatics Vol. III, page 421.)
For complete text see ;This Scriptural Position We Still Hold (Theses on the Doctrine of the Church and Ministry)
30. The Original and True Possessors of All Christian Rights and Privileges — Since the Christians are the Church, it is self-evident that they alone originally possess the spiritual gifts and rights which Christ has gained for, and given to, His Church. Thus St. Paul reminds all believers: “All things are yours,” I Corinthians 3:21-22; and Christ Himself commits to all believers the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 16:13-19, 18:17-20, John 20:22-23, and commissions all believers to preach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments, Matthew 28:19-20, I Corinthians11:23-25. Accordingly, we reject all doctrines by which this spiritual power or any part thereof is adjudged as originally vested in certain individuals or bodies, such as the Pope, or the bishops, or the order of the ministry, or the secular lords, or councils, or synods, etc. The officers of the Church publicly administer their offices only by virtue of delegated powers, and such administration remains under the supervision of the latter, Colossians 4:17. Naturally all Christians have also the right and the duty to judge and decide matters of doctrine, not according to their own notions, of course, but according to the Word of God, I John 4:1; I Peter 4:11.
For complete text see Brief Statement of 1932
In Scripture, the word “church” is used in TWO different religious senses. On the one hand, it is used to designate the Communion of Saints, Christ’s spiritual body, consisting of all and only true believers in Him as their Savior. Since true faith in the heart cannot be seen, the membership of this Church is invisible to men and known only to God. Hence the Communion of Saints is often called the INVISIBLE CHURCH.
(Bible References: Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18; Eph. 2:19-22; 5:25-27; II Tim. 2:19; Luke 17:20,21.)
The Bible also uses the word “church” in speaking of local Christian congregations. This, of course, does not mean that there are two different kinds of churches; for the local con gregation, as God sees it, consists only of the believers in it. But the word “church” in Scripture, also designates local congregations as MEN see them, that is, where immediate membership is determined (and can only be determined) by the profession of faith. In such VISIBLE CHURCHES or congregations there may, of course, also be hypocrites or pretend-Christians who masquerade as believers. This mixed body is the “church” with which we mortals must deal when, for example, we preach, teach, exhort, admonish and comfort. It is this church, this visible local congregation, to which the Savior refers when He says, “Tell it unto the church,” Matt. 18:15-17.
(Bible References: I Cor. 1:12; II Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Matt. 13:47,48; 22:2,11; Rev. 1:11; Matt. 18:17; III John 9,10.)
According to Scripture, it is God’s will and ordinance that Christians establish and maintain local churches a) for the regular hearing and learning of His Word as it is proclaimed by their divinely-called pastors; b) for the regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper under the loving watchfulness of the flock’s own overseer (inasmuch as the Holy Supper according to Scripture is to be celebrated only in the context of the local congregation; c) for the continuous exercise of the duties of Christian fellowship and love, and d) for the careful, evangelical exercise of church discipline in obedience to Christ’s command.
(Bible References: Tit. 1:5; Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:2,3; I Cor. 11:23-29; Heb. 10:23-25; Col. 3:15,16; Matt. 18:15-17.)
Scripturally speaking, therefore, the “church” in the local sense is NOT just any chance gathering of Christians, nor a gathering of Christians at different places, nor gathering of Christians without the specific and consistent public function of the Keys. (Examples of such gatherings are: Fellowship socials, ladies’ societies and youth groups, summer camps, conventions, pastoral conferences, and so on.) The Church, that is, the local visible congregation) may gather together regularly and consistently in various ways for the preaching, teaching, hearing and learning of God’s Word, the administration of Sacraments, and the carrying out of the business of the church including the final stage of church discipline. If such gatherings are, by their very nature, intended only for a certain group within the local congregation, such as, certain Bible classes, confirmation instruction classes, even seminary classes, or whatever other form such gatherings may take, these must not be confused or identified with the local congregation itself, neither do they in themselves constitute local congregations or churches. However, in the light of Holy Scripture, it must be understood that the Voters’ Assembly, as the decision-making body within the congregation, composed only of men, is rightly called “the church” because Christ Himself has committed the leadership and decision-making power to the men of the congregation. In the local sense the word “church” is used only of the LOCAL CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION, which, in its visible form, is the only divinely-ordained external fellowship.
All other uses of the word “church” are of human origin and usage, such as the designation of a building, a denomination, a synod or conference, and a non-Christian cult (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, The Church of Christ Scientist, etc.). Synods and conferences, therefore, are not so-called “super-churches” with the combined church-power of all their member congregations, nor are they churches at all in the Scriptural usage, but are rather humanly-devised organizations OF churches, established BY local churches in their liberty for the purpose of carrying out joint endeavors and projects which may be difficult for an individual church to handle locally.
(Bible References: Titus 1:5; Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:1-3; Rev. 1-3; Matt. 18:15-17; I Tim. 2:11-14; I Cor. 14:34ff.)
For complete text see Sketch of the Doctrinal Position of the Concordia Lutheran Conference
SUMMARY AND COMMENT
The 112 times in which “church” (ekklesia) is used in the New Testament (with reference to a Christian group) fall only into one of these three categories: 1) The Holy Christian Church or the Communion of Saints (Una Sancta). 2) The Local Congregation of True Believers. 3) The Local Visible Christian Congregation in which there may also be hypocrites. This word is never used in the Scriptures for any other gathering of Christians. Reaching for straws, as it were, to defend their position, the heterodox Lutheran bodies try to make a sedes for their doctrine out of Matt. 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” But it must be obvious to the most unlearned that this passage does not set forth a definition of “church.” This passage is simply a gracious and wonderful promise of our beloved Savior’s presence wherever even the smallest group is gathered in His name. That a group of this size, under certain circumstances, could be a local congregation and thus a church in the Scriptural sense is possible, but highly unlikely. It is obvious, however, that the Lord Jesus, in this text, is not at all telling us that two or three gathered together in His name is “church.” This is simply reading something into the text which our Savior does not say! Notice that in verses 16 and 17 the same number of people are spoken of, yet, they are not called “church” but are told rather to “tell it unto the church.” To say that any group of people assembled “in Jesus’ name” are necessarily true believing Christians also cannot be proven from Scripture because we may see people outwardly gathered together “in Jesus’ name” who may be hypocrites, and then to say that any such group is therefore “church” is consequently an unscriptural deduction.