Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sharing the faith is. . . messy. . .

Evangelism or evangelization, you choose the term, has fallen on hard times.  On the one hand, we have a competing marketplace of religion or none to fight against when we are set to proclaim the Gospel.  On the other hand, we have a world of people who once believed but now have fallen away and this presents a very different target than a culture of people who have not yet heard the Gospel at all.  In the midst of it all is the so-called Christian virtue of toleration (I say so-called because I do not believe toleration of error or acceptance of those who are perishing is at all Christian!).  Gone are the days of Kennedy's Evangelism Explosion and the many wannabes that followed his lead.  Gone are the days of an organized group of people knocking on doors (in some places you cannot even get into the apartment or condo building to get to the door).  So what has replaced it all?  Sadly, not much at all.  While many still feel that the faith is worth sharing, they are not at all sure what to share or how to share it.

Roman Catholics are less likely to share their faith than evangelicals or Christians of other stripes.  Lutherans, never quite at home with Dialog Evangelism or another baptized Kennedy program, are caught in the midst of desire, fear, and uncertainty.  We would like to believe that works replace words (so we don't have to actually say what we believe -- just in case people might argue or, worse, ask us what that means).  We wax eloquent on the pseudo statement of St. Francis:  “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” So why don't we evangelize?

Cultural Christianity: Too many of us assume that religion is like ethnicity -- you are born into it.  So we figure if you are German or Swedish or some other Northern European, you could be Lutheran.  If not, well, then why would you want to be?

Worship Anxiety: This is the fear that people will not get who we are on Sunday morning and so we fear asking them to come with us to Church.  In other words, this is the justification for abandoning the liturgy and trying to find a non-threatening (read that non-Christian) form of worship which won't make people ill at ease.  Plus, what do you do with closed communion?  How unwelcoming can you be to invite people to the meal and not feed them?  At least that is the fear. . .

Instruction Illusions: What do we do to instruct people not "born" Lutheran (well, nobody really is "born" Lutheran!).  We are not sure that we are not insulting people, especially people who may already be Christian but not Lutheran, that they need "instruction."  Meanwhile Pastor Bob at the Dream World Emergent "church" says, “Y'all come; just show up and you are in.” Besides, does anybody really know what the word "catechesis" means and do you really believe it is necessary?  (After all you have not learned anything since confirmation and you are just fine!).

Are Inviting Them To Church or Jesus? Church is fine for those who want it. . . or need it. . . but we all know that you can be a fine, upstanding, and godly Christian without it.  Right?  So what is the real reason we invite people to church?  Ahhhhh, you know, cause we want their money more than we want them.  At least this is the fear that people have (even those who do go to church every Sunday).  We see a big distance between getting to know Jesus and coming to church and so we are not really sure what we want them to do.

Social Gospel: Better to love them to the Lord than preach them, right?  Too many of us feel like the church is not doing all that much to love people into the kingdom and we think that the effort put on such things as feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, bringing justice to the oppressed is better than and substitutes for actually saying the name of Jesus.  The problem is that without the name of Jesus, no one knows why we are doing all that good stuff or whom to show their gratitude.  Soup kitchens are good.  Food pantries are good. But actually speaking the Gospel is also good and necessary.

Dare I Say It?  Ignorance: Too many of us (who have not learned anything since catechism days of yore) simply do not know what we believe much less how to share it.  This is a big problem.  We have to know our faith well enough to share it.

Better Let the Professionals Do It: Isn't that why we hire a pastor?  Isn't that why we have deacons or councils or boards or committees?  For too long we have suggested that sharing the faith is soooo difficult that either you need tons of training or, better, leave it to the professionals.  It is as if living the faith is easy and sharing it is hard.  Sharing it is not as difficult as living it.  Training is good but everyone of us ought to be ready to give answer for the hope that is in us.  That even sounds Biblical!  And just to make it clear, shepherds do not give birth to sheep.  Sheep do.  Sheep well provided by their shepherds, guided by those shepherds, and guarded by those shepherds.

How Many Resources Sit Unused?  It is not for lack of resources that do not evangelize.  Goodness knows that we have prepared and published and put out videos up the kazoo but they are not going to do anything unless we use them.  In the same way, we go to Bible studies so that we can use what we learn to share the faith (with spouses, children, neighbors, strangers...).  You can produce all the professionally produced, orthodox, relevant, attractive, interesting, and dynamic resources you want but unless they get used, it is a waste. There are plenty of good resources; what we need are good people who will use them.
 I Am Not Sure I Care: The sad truth is that too many of us are indifferent to the need or the reason for sharing the Gospel.  Perhaps we presume that everyone believes the same thing anyway (or will get to heaven no matter).  Perhaps we believe that if people wanted to go to church they would.  Perhaps we feel that as long as they are sincere it does not matter what they believe or if they go to church.  In any case, we would be wrong.  Churches do not believe or teach the same thing.  In too many of them, Christ crucified is not proclaimed.  Salvation rests in sentiment or sincerity or something else.  Wake up!  The cause is urgent and the time is now.  God works through His Word and His Word is spoken through our voices.

I Am Not Sure What I Do Matters: If you are not indifferent, perhaps you are not sure anything ultimately matters.  It could be that you believe in universalism — the teaching that God loves everybody and will relent in the end so that no one will ever go to hell. Perhaps you believe that nobody can really know for sure if their "way" is right or not — so in the end nobody has enough truth to evangelize anyone.  Perhaps you believe that hell should not or does not exist — that if God were merciful, He would open the doors to anyone and everyone without bothering to check belief or works.  May it does not matter to you that Scripture clearly says salvation is in Christ alone.  Or maybe you are not sure Christ is the only name of salvation.  In any case, you have decided you can't do much so you need not do anything.

These are the lies and half-truths we tell ourselves to give cover to the fact that we really don't want to speak the Gospel in words (or in deeds).  And then we wonder why nobody is doing anything and somebody is not doing something. . .


Anonymous said...

For more perspective on evangelism read "A Biblical and Confessional View of Missions: four-part workshop by Rev. Heath R. Curtis"

Rev. Curtis uses Scripture to reveal things I had not considered before.

Martin R. Noland said...

Dear Pastor Peters,

Thanks for this discussion. It is a good outline of all the excuses we make, verbal or mental, to excuse the lack of personal sharing of the Gospel.

My personal experience: I will give my home pastors and the laymen of my home congregation (Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Cupertino, CA) credit for really being "on the ball" in the area of evangelism. I can't say that any of the congregations that I have served have been as active or motivated in this area as my home church, though they were all fine Christian people and good Lutherans.

Evangelism in the LC-MS today: You are right to note that we have had many fine programs, videos, conferences, etc. in the LC-MS. I am looking forward to review, and probably using the latest "Everyone A Witness," because the title seems to agree with our theology of the priesthood of all believers.

Our LCMS problem with Evangelism: When I was attending seminary in the early 1980s, the LCMS adopted the latest fad in "evangelism" known as "church growth." The problem with "church growth" is that it is not evangelism. "Evangelism" by definition means the "propagation of the Evangel," i.e., the propagation of the Gospel, which is a message about God's grace, Jesus, his suffering and death as atonement for the world's sins, justification by faith, and eternal life. "Evangelism" is about sharing that message (sowing the seed), its germination (faith in the Gospel), and reaping the fruit (baptisms, catechesis, confirmation, new members, etc.).

"Church growth" has to do with increase in membership and contributions, but the means are not limited to the Gospel and the means of grace. Usually those who adopt "church growth" lose the focus on the Gospel that "evangelism" has. As Lutherans, we know that when and where we lose focus on the Gospel, the result will be either short-term, negligible, or negative results when it comes to the matter of faith in the Gospel.

An interesting aside: In reading the eulogies by church leaders for Billy Graham, I noticed that the Institute established in his name at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was originally called "Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth." But now it is called "Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry." I find it significant that the Southern Baptists, who are among the most aggressive evangelists in our the US, recognized the contradictions in "Church Growth" and dropped that name and idea from their school. It will probably take us LC-MSers another fifty years before we realize the same. I do not say that to our credit.

Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

Cliff said...

A few years ago a Lutheran pastor stated that the Lutheran church stopped growing when the boats stopped coming to North America.
Our initial founding and growth was dependent on immigration, we never really understood nor practiced evangelism. This has come back to haunt us in the modern era. Lutherans in general are very reserved and we are uncomfortable sharing our faith in an effective way.

I do agree with Pastor Peters that we need to make a sincere effort to reach out with the true gospel.