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Lutheran Evangelism; Not An Oxymoron

25August2011

I am an active participant on the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau‘s Online Forum.  I haven’t posted as often the past few months because of everything surrounding the call process and the move.  There has been some discussion, primarily among the LCMS clergy on the board, about evangelism and the doctrine of election.  Rather than re-hash those discussions, or delve deeply into the doctrine of election from a Lutheran perspective, I wanted to keep things simple and consider American Lutheran evangelism.

My favorite joke about Lutheran evangelism is this:  “What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Lutheran?  Someone who will knock on your door, but won’t say anything when you answer it”

The cultures of origin for much of American Lutheranism are not boastful or prideful or arrogant.  In fact, if they are arrogant or prideful or boastful about anything, they are proud of their humility.  Because humility is a sought after characteristic, it seems as though many American Lutherans then have difficulty talking about how wonderful their God is, or how great it is to be loved by God, or even talk about their (hopefully!) wonderful congregation.  But it isn’t just humility which slows our zeal for evangelism… there is also the question of works.

Any Lutheran worth their salt knows that we are saved by God’s grace through faith apart from works of the law.  In other words, my good works do not earn my way into heaven.  One of my proudest moments (I guess I need to re-read the prior paragraph about humility!) happened when I read through a going away present from the Sunday School kids at one of my former congregations; a student wrote that what she learned from me is that she doesn’t earn points to get to heaven because she is saved by Jesus.  The notion that you have to earn enough brownie points to get to heaven is often referred to as works-righteousness and Lutherans try to avoid this like the plague.  What does this all have to do with evangelism – the fear of good works…

Because the doctrine of justification (saved by grace through faith, faith which is itself a gift of God – see Luther’s explanation of the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ creed at http://www.bookofconcord.org) is central, some Lutherans have taken the position that we be extremely wary of engaging in good works, certainly public good works, just in case someone gets the idea that we do the good works to try and earn salvation rather than doing the good works in response to the gifts given to us or that the good works are a result of the gifts of God.  To extend that line of thought, we ought not to make evangelism a priority or focus because we might confuse Law and Gospel or the doctrine of justification.

All of which is, of course, hogwash.

Lutheran Evangelism is just what is needed; not for our sake, but so that the world (your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers) may come to know that God loves them so much that He died for their sake and rose to new life.  We do not proclaim the love of Jesus for our sake (not to earn brownie points), but for the sake of others.  We share our story so that they may know God’s story.  The world knows there is evil in the world.  The world knows that people, even our very best and brightest, fall short of being good or right or perfect.  So what is the answer to a broken world?  The love of God.  No more (for there is nothing more) and no less.

KMF@CCD

P.S.  I keep throwing these questions out there, but they don’t get answered… I’m still going to try.  We all have heard or experienced negative stories about evangelism… what POSITIVE experiences can you share about evangelism?

 

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