09 July 2007

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

If a person becomes a true Christian, he does more than lay aside vices and take on virtues. He becomes a totally new person in his heart and in his mind. A true Christian is a child of God, born anew by the Holy Ghost. -- C. F. W. Walther, *God Grant It* p. 556


FORGIVENX7 said...

Question for you. If the LC-MS Church Body was reviewed/judged by Jesus Christ, the way the churches in Revelation were reviwed/judged. What faithfulness would he honor and what would he condemn?

I ask because in all the Lutheran Churches I have visited, I can find no regular outreach, no primary goal outside of sharing the Gospel at the pulpit, that shows me that the church is honoring Matthew 28:19. The church has not grown in over 20 years. Many smaller congregations are dying. When I ask the pastor of these congregations, "what needs are you meeting in your community", I have been looked at with silence. Even after I explained that the reason I asked the question was because I wanted to plug into whatever ministry is making a difference in the lives of others, I was still met with silence. I could sit in on meetings talking about the newest plan to reach out to others but that plan was often to simply create something in the church, expecting stangers to come to it, etc.

If you have time, I would love to hear your comments. Have I just been going to the wrong congregations?

William Weedon said...

Dear Forgiven,

It is an interesting question, but I'm not sure how to answer. In Revelation, the Lord addressed the repentance needed in various congregations; and just as they didn't all need the same kind of repentance, so today doubtlessly across the Synod parishes vary significantly in what the Lord would take us to task for, I suspect.

I believe that the single best approach for evangelism in a Lutheran context is the one used in the ancient Church: the adult catechumenate. We use something along those lines here. The Catechumenate is built upon the faith that the Word of God exerts its power to do its saving work in the Divine Service and in further encounters with the Words read in the Divine Service. That means that the Church's great task of evangelism is a matter of crying out: "Come and see!" As the people of God gather faithfully around the weekly reading and preaching of the Word and the weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist they are drinking from the living water of life. They are then sent out into the world to call others to come and share this life with them: a life where our Lord gives His very self in the Scriptures broken open and fed to the people and in the Body and Blood.

This "come and see" evangelism is great in so many ways. It relieves the person doing the inviting of trying then and there to effect a conversion - for many people, conversion happens slowly through encounter with the Word of God which utterly changes them - and this way, the person's witness is centered in on their experience of God's grace: "Come with me. Here's where I have found solace, peace, hope and joy. Here's where I have learned that I have a heavenly Father who loves me, a Savior who died for me and for you and for all the world and who lives in an immortal body that has become the source of incorruption, and the gift of the Holy Spirit who brings us to faith and keeps faith alive in us. Come and taste the waters! I don't have all the answers, but I know that here in the Divine Liturgy I experience a taste of heaven on earth."

Some passages from the Book of Concord that have some powerful implications for this way of evangelism:

“So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel, that is to say, in those who believe that God, not on account of our own merits but on account of Christ, justifies those who believe that we are received into grace on account of Christ. Gal. 3:14b: ‘So that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.’ They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Spirit comes to human beings without the Word through their own preparations.” AC V

“Places, times, persons, and the entire outward order of worship have therefore been instituted and appointed in order that the Word of God may exert its power publicly.” Large Catechism, I:94

“On the other hand, when we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that it never departs without fruit. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devotion, and it constantly creates clean hearts and minds. For this Word is not idle or dead, but effective and living.” Large Catechism, 1:101

“Therefore in his immeasurable goodness and mercy God provides for the public proclamation of his divine eternal law and of the wondrous counsel of our redemption, the holy gospel of his eternal Son, our only Savior Jesus Christ, which alone can save. By means of this proclamation he gathers an everlasting church from humankind, and he effects in human hearts true repentance and knowledge of sin and true faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. God wants to call human beings to eternal salvation, to draw them to himself, to convert them, to give them new birth and to sanctify them through these means, and in no other way than through his holy Word (which people hear proclaimed and read) and through the sacraments (which they use according to the Word). SD II:50

“All who want to be saved should listen to this proclamation. For the proclamation and the hearing of God’s Word are the Holy Spirit’s tools, in, with, and through which he wills to work effectively and convert people to God and within whom he wants to effect both the desire for and the completion of their salvation.” SD II:52

“A person who has not yet been converted to God and been reborn can hear and read this Word externally, for in such external matters, as stated above, people have a free will to a certain extent even after the fall, so that they can go to church and listen or not listen to the sermon. Through these means (the preaching and hearing of his Word), God goes about his work and breaks our hearts and draws people, that they recognize their sins and God’s wrath through the preaching of the law and feel real terror, regret and sorrow in their hearts. Through the preaching of the holy gospel of the gracious forgiveness of sins in Christ and through meditating upon it, a spark of faith is ignited in them, and they accept the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake and receive the comfort of the promise of the gospel. In this way the Holy Spirit, who effects all of this, is sent into their hearts.” SD II:53,54

“Because the natural powers of the human beings cannot do anything or help in anyway (1 Cor. 2:4-12; 2 Cor. 3:4-12), God comes to us first, out of his immeasurable goodness and mercy. He causes his holy gospel to be preached, through which the Holy Spirit desires to effect and to accomplish this conversion and renewal in us. Through the proclamation of his Word and meditation upon us he ignites faith and other God-pleasing virtues in us so that they are the gifts and the activities of the Holy Spirit alone.” SD II:71

“The Father wills that all people should hear this proclamation and come to Christ. And Christ will never thrust them away from himself, as it is written, ‘Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away [John 6:37]’ That we may come to Christ, the Holy Spirit creates faith through the hearing of the Word, as the Apostle testifies when he says, ‘So faith comes from hearing God’s Word’ [Rom 10:17] when it is proclaimed purely and clearly.” SD XI:68,69

“According to his normal arrangement, the Father draws people by the power of his Holy Spirit through the hearing of the divine Word, as with a net, through which the elect are snatched out of the jaws of the devil. For this reason every poor sinner should act in such a way as to hear the Word diligently and not doubt that the Father is drawing people to himself. For the Holy Spirit wills to be present with his power in the Word and to work through it. This is the drawing of the Father. The reason why not all who hear the Word believe it (and thus receive the greater damnation) is not that God has not allowed them to be saved. Instead, it is their own fault, for they heard the Word not so that they might learn from it but only to despise, revile, and ridicule it; and they resisted the Holy Spirit, who wanted to work in them through the Word, as happened at Christ’s time with the Pharisees and their adherents [Matt 23:26-36; Luke 11:37-54; John 7:48; 8:13; 9:16, 41; 12:42]” SD XI:76-78