The Untold Story of Sodom Lutheran Church
When the church adds to, or subtracts from, her mission and evangelical task, we are robbed of the comfort of the Gospel.
An LCMS pastor was Called to a congregation in Sodom. His congregation consisted of two Christians who gathered in Jesus’ name to feast on the pure Gospel each week. They also, in their vocations, spoke the Gospel to others as they had opportunity. The pastor and two members did everything they could to win souls by using the means of grace (God’s Word), but to no avail. Not one convert was ever made. And even worse than that, because the cultural current was too strong, the Lord gave one member over to a reprobate mind (Rom. 1).
So, it was just the pastor and the congregational president left. Then the pastor said, “The Holy Spirit just isn't working in the Means of Grace, so let’s see what we can do to help.” So the LCMS pastor stopped preaching against sin and so stopped preaching the Gospel. He advertised his sermons as practical advice for the everyday Sodomite. They built a gymnasium, offered free beer and coffee in worship, and passed out condoms at the local high school – they even made the news for such a public service. Man, did their membership start to grow. They were no longer rejected, but celebrated by the Sodomite world. The pastor boasted, “How proud the Holy Spirit must be of us! We do evangelism right!” They finally had numbers and worldly success, but fire reigned down from heaven and killed them all, pastor and president included. The end.
Whenever and wherever the Gospel is preached purely – that is evangelism. And, it is through that means (means of Grace) that the Holy Spirit creates faith when and where He pleases. (Jn. 3:8, 20:22; AC V) Sometimes in some places, the Holy Spirit adds many converts to a congregation, and other times not. However, mere numbers in the church are no indication of faithful evangelism.
Many churches make it their goal to add numbers and think that is evangelism. Nope. Many also think if they just come up with the right ‘special sauce,’ then they will get numbers. Again, no. Sure, you can add numbers in the pews using your own reason and strength, but Jesus never tells us to make that our goal. Additionally, just because your 'special sauce' fills the pews, doesn’t mean one single soul was added to the Church, since this is the work of the Spirit alone (I Cor. 12:3; Rm. 10:17; Jn. 3:8, 20:22; AC V).
We must recognize that our sinful flesh wants to ignore the alone part. We think we can help the Holy Spirit in the Gospel. If we just get the right pastor, music, facility or programs – “If we build it, they will come.” No surprise that there are many LCMS churches swimming in debt with empty gymnasiums and coffee shops. And the ones that aren’t empty, does that indicate true evangelism?
We can’t grow the church, nor is that what Jesus has commanded us to do. He doesn’t command us to be vacuum salesmen or to use the old “bait and switch” routine. His command is to preach the pure Gospel in season and out – to Baptize and teach all that He has commanded (Matt. 28). It is by the net of the Gospel alone that Jesus fishes for men. How many are His elect? None of my business; but I know I can’t add one fish to Jesus’ catch. The Church’s mission and evangelistic task is the proclamation of the pure Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments. That alone makes a faithful pastor, congregation, and Synod – the numbers are up to our Lord.
Consider reading the ACELC’s error document, “The Church’s Mission and Evangelistic Task,” and joining the ACELC in our work by encouraging your congregation to become a member, or by becoming an Associate Member yourself.
Technology & Media Chair, ACELC