The phrase “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” illustrates how the church lives and works together to proclaim the Gospel and to provide for our brothers and sisters in Christ in our congregations, communities, and throughout the world. In all that we do, Christ is at the center, leading us, sustaining us, keeping us focused on the mission of the church.
The familiar term martyr comes from a Greek New Testament word often translated “witness.” In its simplest use, a witness is merely one who recounts the facts observed. The apostolic band was told by the Risen Christ, “You shall be my witnesses to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). John’s Gospel and letters show a particular interest in such “bearing witness” — an understandable fact since John was writing late in the first century as the eyewitnesses to the events surrounding Jesus were quickly passing into eternity.
The greatest witness, however, is Jesus Himself. Paul bids Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith, take hold of the eternal life for which you were called when you confessed the good confession before many witnesses.” For, as Paul continues, “Jesus Christ Himself bore witness to Pontius Pilate in the good confession”. (1 Tim. 6)
Today the gift and task of the Lutheran Church is to bear witness to Jesus Christ. We exist to bear witness — to salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone. This Gospel is God’s own testimony about Himself. This is the very confession of Christ, the witness of the apostolic Church, and the Church of all ages.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Heb. 12:1)
Our church teaches that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins.
In the Gospel, God imputes, reckons, regards, credits, accounts faith in Jesus as righteousness. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your doing; it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Thus I am reckoned, justified, sinless, not guilty on account of Jesus. Faith merely grabs hold of Jesus. The good boasting in the Bible is about Jesus! (Gal. 6:14). In Jesus, God recognizes me as somebody. In fact, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). There is not a living soul in this world who is not worth the very blood of Jesus. God accounts each individual as just that precious.
God’s solution for our sin, and for our deepest need in time and eternity, has been to regard us as valuable as “His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.” And this frees us to regard those around us in the same way—to acknowledge, to recognize, to value, to listen, to forgive, to have compassion, to speak up for, to act in mercy.
The third aspect of LIFE TOGETHER is how we’ve rendered the New Testament word koinonia. The word means “participation,” “having something in common,” or “a sharing in something.” Quite often in the writings of St. Paul, when he mentions this sharing, he also notes what is shared. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship [koinonia] of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).
“God is faithful.” He’s the One who is acting. He’s doing the primary sharing too! What Jesus says to His apostles applies also to us: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). “You were called into the fellowship of His Son.” Because of God’s action, God’s doing, God’s calling, we have been brought into a “fellowship,” a “communion,” a “sharing.” As Paul notes, we share in “His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This life in Christ also creates a “life together” with others in Christ. Even with Christians with whom we do not share official church fellowship, we believe koinonia exists, though in a hidden way. For we believe, with our Lutheran Confessions, that wherever Jesus is with His Word and Sacrament, there are believers there.
The great importance of koinonia as LIFE TOGETHER is marvelously displayed by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10–12, his great teaching chapters on the Lord’s Supper and the Church. Paul writes, “The bread that we break, is it not a participation [koinonia] in the body of Christ?” In the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we share Christ’s body and blood, so Paul continues: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”. From our sharing in Christ’s body come deep ramifications. Because we are one body in Christ, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together”.
What do we share? What finally brings us together and holds us together? Jesus. And our life together is a gift – a life to be shared with others.