January 28, 2013 - Trusting God's Means of Grace in Evangelism

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Trusting God’s Means of Grace
in Evangelism
Among many of the congregations of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, evangelism has become the hallmark of their purpose for existing as a congregation. Becoming “Missional” has become the mark of “successful” congregations, while those congregations who have not demonstrated numerical growth have been identified as “dysfunctional” or in need of "revitalization" (a case in point is the work of the "Transforming Churches Network"). In order to become more “Missional,” many LCMS congregations have radically changed the way they “do Church.”
It was for the ostensible purpose of achieving numerical growth that many congregations of our Synod abandoned or limited the use of the historic liturgies of the Church and often redefined the role of the pastor as being the one who is called to feed God’s sheep by rightly proclaiming the Word of God and administering the Sacraments to one who is called primarily to work within the community to evangelize for new members. Other congregations restructured their governance to become “Mission Outposts” to the community in which the Lord has placed them. Counting “Critical Events” (one person sharing their Christian faith with another) became the subject of a Synodically posted “Tote Board” (which has now thankfully been removed from the Synod’s website).
Many District Presidents jumped on the “Missional” bandwagon, openly promoting such changes, while those pastors and congregations which opted to conduct their ministries by concentrating on the marks of the Church (Word and Sacrament) as a primary focus were often seen as obstacles standing in the way of  “progress” in achieving a new “Missional” Synod. Such pastors were often either not placed on call lists or else described in their District President’s evaluation to a calling congregation as “inflexible” or “rigid.” Sociological studies from the Barna Group (which showed the shrinking numbers of people coming to Church) were often employed by some District Presidents as a way of demonstrating that pastors weren’t carrying out their jobs of adequately adapting to our culture, when all these surveys really reveal is that our culture is simply becoming more secular.
Behind all this was a clear “warning” that if we did not become more “Missional” and become more proficient at our evangelistic task, that there would be people going to hell who otherwise wouldn’t go there at all. This is nothing more than a guilt trip – not to mention false doctrine! From Holy Scripture we learn that not a single one of God’s elect will ever be lost and that their number is set before the foundations of the world were laid. As our Lord put it:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)
This is most certainly not Calvinism’s double predestination! Rather this is quite simply what Scriptures tell us regarding God’s desire that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth – that of all whom God has graciously called, gathered and enlightened, He will lose not a one. (I Timothy 2:4 and Luther’s Small Catechism)
Sadly, many aspects of our Synod’s attempts to become more “Missional” reflect an errant theology of glory rather than the Biblical doctrine of the theology of the cross. The theology of glory (as Luther ably pointed out) is all about what we do to grow the Church rather than what Christ has done to grow the Church. The theology of glory is all about how “successful” our congregations look to the world with growing numbers in attendance in worship, ever larger budgets, and ever expanding facilities that appeal to the world’s expectations about how the Church ought to look. How very different this is from what Holy Scripture says about how the Church will look in the end times.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:9-13)
Or as our dear brother, Martin Luther put it: “Since the Gospel is so despised, I suppose that Judgment Day is not far away ... God’s Word will decline again and fall; and, because of a lack of upright and faithful servants of the Word, a great darkness will come. Then the whole world will turn wild and epicurean and will live wild and abandoned lives in all security. But then the voice will come and ring out ‘Behold, the bridegroom cometh’ for God will not be able to put up with conditions any longer.” (What Luther Says, # 2166, Concordia Publishing House, p. 697.)
Rather than embracing the theology of glory as a model for our evangelistic task, let us rather embrace a theology of the cross! What does such a theology look like in practice? First, it trusts in the power of God’s means of grace to accomplish what God promises. Pastors are called primarily to faithfully feed God’s sheep with His precious Means of Grace – Word and Sacrament. It is then that these well-fed sheep will naturally share that faith with others in their various divine vocations in whatever venue God has placed them. The divine vocations of God’s people are the sacred places in which we all live: family, friends, career, leisure, recreation, in Church, etc. It is in these places where the powerful witness occurs in already existing, credible relationships in the home, at work or wherever we may happen to be. This is precisely the way the early Church grew – and grew exponentially!
By the way, numerical growth is not promised us by God in every time and at every place. Such growth comes only where, when, and as He wills it. Again, quoting Dr. Luther: “...the preaching of the Gospel is not a constant, permanent, and continuing proclamation. The Gospel is rather like a pelting rain that hurries on from place to place. What it hits it hits; what it misses, it misses. But it does not return nor stay in one place; the sun and heat come after it and lick it up. Experience also teaches us that in no section of the world has the Gospel remained pure and unadulterated beyond the memory of a man. On the contrary, it stood its ground and flourished as long as those remained who had brought it to the fore. But after they had passed from the scene, the light also disappeared. Factious spirits and false teachers immediately followed.” (What Luther Says, # 1742, Concordia Publishing House, p. 573.)
As Lutherans, we joyfully proclaim and give witness to the Gospel of salvation whenever and wherever the Lord gives us the opportunity in our God-given vocations. It is our great and high privilege to be the instruments of His grace in such circumstances. However, there is no need to resort to the theology of glory with respect to our evangelistic efforts. Instead, we must rest secure in the theology of the cross and trust God’s Word that He will bring about the result He intends.
As Isaiah the prophet said: “For as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Rev. Richard A. Bolland
Assistant Pastor - Emeritus
Gloria Christi Lutheran Church
Greeley, Colorado
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