Monday, June 10, 2019

What does he mean and does it matter?

Sometime ago in a discussion with other Lutheran pastors, the subject of mission came up.  A voice asserted that it was not our job to grow the Church but simply to tell the message of Jesus.  Others added to the scandal of mission that actually expected a congregation or community of faith around Word and Sacrament to be the outcome.  No, it was said, it is enough in mission to bring people to Jesus.  Give them food, fellowship, a welcome, and show them you love them and they will see Jesus.

When some of us complained that bringing people to Jesus implies bringing people to a place where Jesus is accessible, as He has promised, in the Word that does what it says and in the Sacraments that deliver what they sign, we were told we were being sectarian.  Yet the conversation continued.  If we bring people to Jesus, what then?  Where do we leave them?  With the germ of a faith and no means of grace to bring that to fruition?  Was not Saul quickly catechized and then departed for a time for a more intense instruction and formation in the faith?  Where was he in this time apart?  Was he on his own in the wilderness?  Or was he with the household of disciples, learning from them and growing in grace and favor with the Lord through the means of grace?  Read it yourself.  Ananias was not so keen on his role as catechist but the Lord prevailed over him.  Barnabas walked with him on the way talking about what, the weather?  Read Acts 9. 

Paul did the same for those whom he brought up in the faith, those to whom he became a father in the faith.  There was no early version of the sinner's prayer, a life dedicated to the Lord, and then the folks went back home.  Read Acts 2.  What happened after Pentecost.  They continued in the apostles' doctrine, fellowship, prayer, and Eucharist.  Was this simply a ritual soon to be abandoned and they went off on their own to live out life with Jesus in the spirit?  Or was this the very pattern of Christian life from the beginning?  The notion that you can bring people to Jesus and not leave them within the community of faith where Christ is voice in His Word, absolver of sins in confession, baptizer in water by the Spirit, and priest and victim in the breaking of bread/Eucharist is hogwash.

Yet none other than Pope Francis has picked up on this blather.  Apparently a month or son ago he ad libbed in a prepared address to warn of the danger of proselytism. There is a danger that is popping up again - it seems overcome, but it pops up again: confusing evangelization with proselytism. No. Evangelization is testimony to Jesus Christ, dead and risen. It is He who draws in. This is why the Church grows by attraction, and not by proselytism.  But what does he mean?  Is Rome in danger of pushing people against their will or threatening them into conversion?  Is that a real danger among any major Christian group today?  I think the danger is timidity rather than the pursuit of those not of the household of God.  I only wish we had to warn people to be less enthusiastic in their witness for the faith and their pursuit of those who do not yet believe in Jesus Christ.  I have not witnessed that problem in Rome or in my own church.  Just the opposite.  Yet Pope Francis has joined the bandwagon and raised up the old canard about the difference between bringing people into the church and bringing them to Jesus.  Admittedly, this is the not the precise theological language we ought to be using for all of this but let that pass for the moment.

... the presence, the concrete presence, through which they ask you why you are this way. And then you proclaim Jesus Christ. It is not seeking new members for this ‘Catholic society,’ no, it is showing Jesus: that He should show himself in my person, in my behavior; and with my life opening up spaces for Jesus. This is evangelizing. And this is what your founders had in their hearts.  Hmmmmm.  What does Francis mean?  Is the Roman Catholic church merely a society with members or does it believe it is the body of Christ?  Do we Lutherans believe that we are merely an external organization that only bears slight resemblance to the Church or do we believe that where two or three are gathered in Christ's name (meaning where Christ's Word and Sacraments and, by implication, ministry are present) there is Christ the head and His body the Church (at least as much of that body as we can see with our eyes)?  Did St. Paul live waiting for people to see in his life evidence of Jesus to prompt their question or did he go to the synagogues proclaiming to those who had not yet heard or to the altar of the unknown God to reveal Him who had made Himself known in Christ?

What about faith comes by hearing the Word of God?  Is imitation of life the only tool for the Church's witness?  Really, how goofy it is when people presume that to preach Jesus is overkill and the passive evidence of a Christian life is all that God intended!  Pope Paul VI, not one of my favorite fellows, also appealed to holiness of life and the silent witness of example and yet he did so understanding this was not sufficient.  Nevertheless this always remains insufficient, because even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified - what Peter called always having ‘your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have’ - and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.

Nobody is advocating arguing people into the Kingdom or that human effort alone brings people to the knowledge of the truth but we are witnesses in word and in deed and God has promised to work through this witness and therefore we had better be faithful and fervent in the preaching of Christ and in the living of the holy life worthy of our baptismal calling.  That is what Lutherans ought to be saying, what Pope Francis ought to be saying, and what all orthodox Christians ought to be saying.  Of this, there is not enough.  Christians strive less for holiness of life than to fit into their culture (at least most of those in the West).  Christians are fearful of speaking boldly Jesus Christ and Him crucified because they fear being rejected, persecuted, or labeled as voices of hate.  These are a greater danger than proselytism.  


Archimandrite Gregory said...

Amen, my brother!

Anonymous said...

Mission without discipleship is simply salesmanship. Close the deal. Sell the product, move on to the next potential recruit.