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.
- 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).