Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Choose Terms Carefully When Describing What the Church Does with the Gospel

by Rev. James Strand

St. Athanasius was quick to extend the right hand of fellowship to anyone who used different terms than he did, but still taught God's Word faithfully. I certainly agree with St. Athanasius. And I gladly extend the right hand of fellowship to anyone who uses different terms, but still teaches God's Word faithfully. However, I urge all of us, especially pastors, to be careful that our terms do not confuse our people or give them a wrong idea about what God's Word says.

And so I urge our pastors and people to use such caution when using words like “share” and “reach out” when it comes to what the Church does with the Gospel. Such words were developed in the Evangelical churches and can carry with them the Evangelical idea that it is up to us to find ways to convert people, whether by using God's Word, feelings, personal testimony about what Jesus means to me, getting people fired up for the Lord and even gimmicks.

The words “share” and “reach out” never occur in the Bible when it comes to what the Church does with the Gospel. However, the word “proclaim” (“preach”) occurs nearly 100 times. God calls on pastors to proclaim the Gospel in their pulpits, services and classrooms. He calls on teachers to proclaim the Gospel to their students. He calls on parents to proclaim the Gospel to their children. He calls on Christians to proclaim the Gospel to anyone who asks them about their hope. He calls on the Church to proclaim the Gospel to all creation.1

If someone who teaches God's Word faithfully uses the words “share” or “reach out” to mean “proclaim,” then their teaching is certainly true and we extend the right hand of fellowship to them. But as we consider these difficult times for true Lutheranism and how the American Evangelical churches are always trying to confuse our people, may we always strive to become more Lutheran instead of less Lutheran. May we carefully choose the terms we use, so we don't inadvertently lead our people to think that personal testimony about what Jesus means to me and feelings, getting fired up for the Lord and gimmicks will convert people.

I urge us as true Lutheran pastors and people to stick to the words the Bible uses like “proclaim” and “preach” and to avoid the Evangelical terms like “share” and “reach out” when we are describing what the Church does with the Gospel.

  1. With the false ideas about evangelism that have also filtered into our true Lutheran church from the Evangelical churches, it is important to point out that God does command each individual Christian to: 1) proclaim the Gospel to his or her children (Ephesians 6:4); 2) Give a true answer from Scripture when asked (1 Peter 3:15). However, God never says that every Christian has the same abilities and opportunities to knock on doors, strike up conversations about Jesus at work, etc. Some have this ability and opportunity more and some less. Franz Pieper described the Bible's teaching on evangelism very well with these four points: “1) God gave the Great Commission to the Church; 2) God calls on Servants of the Word to diligently do their duties; 3) God calls on all Christians to discipline fellow believers; 4) God calls on all Christians lead a blameless life before world” (Pieper's Dogmatics, Vol. 3).


Joe Krohn said...

Then WELS would do well to distance itself from "make disciples" as the NIV (an 'evangelical' translation...or should we say 'interpretation'?) calls out in Matthew 28 in direct conflict with the KJV. The KJV is consistent in regards to Matthew 28 and Mark 16...but the NIV skews in the Matthew passage and this is what WELS and the Evangelicals have chosen to run with. The Prussian Union is haunting WELS to this day.

Brian G. Heyer said...

This message is very meaningful for the laiety. As we're out knocking on doors or talking at the water cooler, if our 'outreach' efforts fall on deaf ears, is the fault that our own words aren't clever enough and fall short? If I'm not making enough disciples, am I not 'sharing' effectively? Have I failed?

Or is it my comfort that the Lord is the One calling His sheep, and it is merely my voice and pen He uses to proclaim and teach?

Daniel Baker said...

The timing of the posts on this blog is impeccable! I was recently told that one of the key characteristics required of lay leadership in the congregation is the ability to "share" one's faith in Jesus and its meaning on a personal level. "Reach out" was not used (as far as I remember, but it easily could have been), but the ability to adequately "shepherd" was cited as of primary importance.

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Daniel @7/6/2011:12:06PM: the ability to adequately shepherd was cited as of primary importance...

Well, of course. If "everyone is a minister," then, naturally, everyone must also be a "shepherd." This phrase "everyone is a minister" was hashed into mincemeat over on Bailing Water through 2008. One of the excuses for this phrase which was quoted during that time, an excuse which still sticks with me, was that "The term minister is really a slippery term" -- as if, all of a sudden in our post-modern era, long-standing historical interpretation and manifest practice notwithstanding, we really don't know what the word means. Well, I submit, it's only become "slippery" as it has fallen into careless usage, and/or as those who use it have become infected with relativistic, post-modern linguistic proclivities. Then again, maybe they really don't know what the word means! -- in which case, they shouldn't be using the term at all. Regardless, and recognizing differences between the Missouri and Wisconsin positions on the doctrine of the Holy Ministry, in either case the fact is no one is a Minister or a Shepherd who is not formally Called and Approved by the Congregation -- thus no true Lutheran, if he has any interest in retaining confessional continuity with his Lutheran forebears, has any business applying these terms, "Minister" and "Shepherd," to laymen! And no, I can see no Scriptural evidence or responsible chain of reasoning by which the congregation can delegate to a single individual or sub-group of the congregation, or be said to have so delegated, its collective sanctified judgement regarding who is, has been, or is to be "Called" into the "Ministry" -- at least not among those Lutherans practicing a "congregational" theology of Church and Ministry.

Of course, this sort of phraseology is entirely consistent with pop-church Evangelical usage, which is, again, laced with Arminian angst and intended to ride the hearer with an "evangelical guilt trip" -- "functional Arminianism" -- i.e., if the lamen is not a "shepherd" then he isn't a good Christian evangelist. This is a prime example of the confusion that is wrought by adopting non-Lutheran pop-church Evangelical speach patterns and terminology, a point which Rev. Stand so succinctly makes, above. Laymen are "shepherds"? Hogwash! Nor are they "ministers". That role is, and these terms are, reserved to those so designated by the congregation through the Divine Call. Period.

Daniel Baker said...

Mr. Lindee,

It is heartening to know that I'm not the only one who took exception to the use of the term "shepherd" in reference to the *laity*. Unfortunately, this was in a committee meeting, so I am hesitant to go into more detail.

One thing I will say, however, is how unsurprising the adoption of "Evangelical speech patterns" is in my congregation, considering the fact that certain lay leaders imagine that our synod is a part of the broader Evangelical community. Apparently, it is not hypocritical to stay in a Church body with which 'we' doctrinally disagree on a plethora of issues because, after all, there is no perfect Church body. But, perhaps I have said too much already.

Pastor Spencer said...

You have hit upon a very popular concept these days, especially among our leaders - i.e. that of ignoring or belittling doctrinal differences within the WELS simply because there is no such thing as a "perfect church body" here on this earth.

I for one am sick to death of hearing this!

There is a HUGE difference between acknowledging the fact of the "Church Militant" on the one hand, and allowing persistent errorist free reign in a church body that professes confessional orthodoxy (to the extent humanly possible, of course) on the other hand.

The fact that we are all sinners and make mistakes and don't always express doctrine correctly or carry out practice perfectly does not mean we are to allow false teachers and or errant practices to run amok in our midst!

If the later were the case, we'd all still be in the Church of Rome!

This silly notion needs to be put to rest among us - and soon!

Pastor Spencer

Daniel Baker said...

I think there is this idea that, as long as an individual or church body professes that the Word of God is the sole, inerrant, and authoritative source of doctrine, it doesn't much matter what those doctrines actually are.

Joe Krohn said...

"...and we will not change our plans to help lay people teach God's Word to God's people."

This was in our email of excommunication from Pastor Patterson and the Holy Word leaders.

Joe Krohn

Anonymous said...

Concerning Matthew 28:19-20: My understanding of Greek is quite limited...mainly to some Greek Tuesday segments of Worldview Everlasting. It seems though, from my limited understanding of Greek that even the KJV seems to get the translation wrong. Most translations translate an imperative, whereas the Greek originally has a participle. Rev. Fisk [in X Marks the Discipled] explained that the Greek is a participle followed by an independent clause followed by two participles, so a more correct translation would be something like:

"As you go, disciple all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to cherish all things I have spoken, and behold, I will be with you until the end of the world."

This passage really is the institution of Baptism, and should not be used as a sedes doctrinae for evangelism. Acts 13:48 and I Peter 3:15 work better for that. Perhaps someone can shed more light on the Greek.

Jerod Butt

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


In Greek, there is a common construction in which participles serve as dependents of the main verb. The construction in Matthew 28:19 is best regarded as an "attendant circumstance" participle. In other words, the main verb ("make disciples" or "teach") is in focus, while the action of the participle is assumed as taking place together with the main verb. "Go and teach" or "Go and make disciples" are fine translations, but the real command (the imperative) is the "teaching," not the "going." Luther had no problem translating this "gehet hin und lehret" - "Go and teach..." "As you go" isn't quite accurate.

I searched through the Gospel of Matthew and found ten occurrences of this exact construction (aorist participle linked to an imperative). Here they are (continued in the next comment):

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Matthew 2:8 – (Herod to the wise men), “Go (participle) and search (imperative) carefully for the child.” (The going will result in the main thrust of the command to "search!")

Matthew 2:13 – (The angel to Joseph), “Get up! (participle) Take (imperative) the child and his mother…flee (imperative) to Egypt…stay (imperative)…” (Getting up was necessary in order to get the child and flee.)

Matthew 2:20 - (The angel to Joseph), “Get up! (participle) Take (imperative) the child...and go (imperative) to the land of Israel.” (Same thing.)

Matthew 5:24 – “Leave (imperative)your gift there in front of the altar. First go (imperative), be reconciled (imperative)with your brother, and then come (participle) and offer (imperative) your gift.” (The offering is the main thing here, but it was necessary to come to the temple in order to make that happen.)

Matthew 6:6 – “But when you pray, go (imperative) into your private room, shut (participle) your door and pray (imperative)to your Father who is in secret.” (Shutting the closet door is obviously not in focus, but rather the praying that would take place there in private.)

Matthew 9:6 – “Get up (participle), pick up (imperative) your mat, and go (imperative)home.” (This is the only example in which the "getting up" of the paralytic seems to be just as important as the two imperatives.)

*Matthew 9:13 – “Go (participle) and learn (imperative) what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. (This verse uses the exact same word in the Greek as in Matthew 28:19 for "Go and..." Obviously, the learning was the main emphasis here.)

Matthew 9:18 - “My daughter is near death, but come (participle) and lay (imperative) Your hand on her, and she will live.” (The real plea of Jairus was that Jesus should lay His hand on his daughter. "Coming" to his house would necessarily precede that action.)

*Matthew 11:4 - “Go (participle) and report (imperative) to John what you hear and see.” (This verse uses the exact same word in the Greek as in Matthew 28:19 for "Go and..." "Telling John" was what Jesus really wanted these disciples to do. The going was simply a necessary step in order to carry out that command.)

*Matthew 28:7 – “Then go (participle) quickly and tell (imperative) His disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’” (This verse uses the exact same word in the Greek as in Matthew 28:19 for "Go and..." "Telling his disciples" of the resurrection is the main emphasis. The "going" was necessary in order to accomplish that command.)

*Matthew 28:19 – “Go (participle), therefore, and make disciples of (imperative) all nations…”

So it is, I think, important to understand where the emphasis is in Matthew 28:19 - not in the going, but in the teaching. The apostles didn't have to "go" anywhere in order to "make disciples" on the day of Pentecost, for example, because "all nations" came to them. In the future, it would be necessary for them to "go."

But it's not necessary for every Christian to either "go" or to "teach." This command is given to the Church in general, and is carried out through the called ministers of the Word. My grandma never made it to all nations, never went door to door in her community, never even left the area where she grew up. She participated in the "making of disciples," however, by simply "going" to the nursery and teaching her children about Jesus, by "going" to church where her children heard the Word, and by supporting all called ministers with her prayers and her own called minister with her offerings.

Joe Krohn said...

Thank you Pastor Rydecki...as usual you cut to the heart of the matter. God puts us where He wants us to be...there is no imperative for us to 'go outside the means' of what He has provided...

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