Being Christ’s gathered-sent community

March 1, 2013


  1. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
  1. I believe that the Son of God
    through his Spirit and Word,
    out of the entire human race,
    from the beginning of the world to its end,
    gathers, protects, and preserves for himself,
    a community chosen for eternal life
    and united in true faith.
    And of this community I am and always will be
    a living member.

    -Q/A 54 from the proposed new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism

Earlier this year—and for the second time—President Obama took the oath of office to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Whenever we as a congregation renew the baptismal covenant—or when we baptize someone—I always place the sign of the cross on each believer with oil saying these words from the Book of Common Worship:

Defend, O Lord, your servant [name of person baptized]
with your heavenly grace,
that he/she may continue yours forever,
and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more,
until he/she comes to your everlasting kingdom.

In its commentary on the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism speaks of the triune God’s commitment through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit to gather, call, preserve, and protect the Church forever. The Church is Christ’s beloved, for whom he lived, died, rose, and ascended, and for whom the Father through Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to continually gather and send the Church to testify in words and in works of the Good News.

Christ’s enduring call upon the Church for all generations in every place is to continually be about gathering around Spirit, Word, and Sacrament; then to be sent out to be Christ’s witnesses; then to re-gather; and then to be sent, ad infinitum.

It’s that enduring identity of being the Church—ecclesiology—that we need to recalibrate this Lenten season. Even as we face enormous challenges as a denomination, where our first response might be to restructure our structures or rewrite our bylaws, what we need is to first consider Christ’s durable and enduring call in what the Church is to be and to do.

I invite you to participate in a colloquium on ecclesiology on the campus of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary from April 23–25, 2013. The event is open and registration is free. If you are unable to attend in person, I hope that you will plan to join us by a live teleconference and a live Web Stream* (*details to come in the weeks ahead) and follow Twitter hashtag #ModCE.

This will be a focused conversation on just that: our Christ-given identity of being the Church of Jesus Christ, Christ’s “gathered-sent community.”

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