Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Confessional Lutheran Evangelism: Confessing Scripture's Message about Easter

Easter Sunday: The Festival of Christ's Resurrection

The Church Calendar and Evangelism: Easter

In my previous post, entitled Confessional Lutheran Evangelism: Confessing Scripture's Message about Good Friday, I promised to feature the postcard we distributed for Easter Sunday, mailing it in time for arrival late in Holy Week, either on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. Like the postcard developed for Good Friday, this Easter postcard was initially developed as a tri-fold pamphlet (8.5x11 inch sheet of paper folded twice), it included the full Resurrection account and apologetic material along with much different imagery. However, as we reviewed these mailings each year, adjusting and improving them, the decision was made to completely redevelop the Easter mailing with new artwork and a simpler message for this large postcard format.

But I also promised to include our rationale for who we selected to receive these mailings. Our resources were limited, so we couldn't mail them to everyone in the county... but there were doctrinal concerns involved, as well, so our selection wasn't entirely random, either.

To Whom Should We Tell the Gospel?
The answer is, Everyone. Law and Gospel, rightly divided and rightly used, applies to everyone equally – both believers and non-believers – and the Holy Spirit works equally in all who hear His Word to create and strengthen their faith. This is why a Lutheran Pastor, who preaches Law and Gospel every Sunday morning, doesn't have to work up a special theme-based series of sermons that applies to a unique segment of the population in order to be “relevant.” Law and Gospel teaches the saving message of Justification. Law and Gospel is always relevant, and the Holy Spirit always works, as He wills, through this Message: it is His Means of working. It doesn't matter if a person is a believer or not, the pastor doesn't have to preach one kind of sermon that applies only to believers and a special one that is especially relevant only to unbelievers: in the latter case, the unbeliever needs to hear the Gospel so that the Holy Spirit can use it to create faith in his heart; in the former case, the believer needs to hear the Gospel so that the Holy Spirit can use it to strengthen his faith. They both need to hear the Message of Law and Gospel – and frequently, too. It is for this reason that Lutheran preaching follows this pattern, and for this reason that Lutheran preaching is always Evangelical. So it is with any communication of this Message, whether it comes to a person from a church pulpit, through a stained-glass window, or off of a sheet of paper. We have full confidence that the Holy Spirit works through this Means to produce and strengthen faith as He wills, and we are fully content whatever the results, as we see them, knowing that His Will is being accomplished through His Word.

So if we had unlimited funds, and since we were distributing a directly stated message of Scripture, we could have very easily been indiscriminate, and sent these mailings to everyone in the county. But our funds were limited, so we were forced to work through, as well as we could, the question of who we should send these mailings to.

Our chief concern was Evangelism – that is, telling the message of the Gospel to the lost. But who are the lost? People without faith. So how can we tell who has faith? We can't. Only God can see a person's faith. But we can see “evidence of faith,” and the Bible tells us the evidence to look for – a person's confession and his works. Observing such evidence is the basis for recognizing a person as a Brother. So how do we observe these evidences among people we've never met? The only thing we could think of was to find some way of determining whether they were members of a church. If they were, that is, if they had placed themselves under the spiritual oversight of a Shepherd, then we concluded that was sufficient “evidence of faith” to remove them from our Evangelism efforts. And this reasoning worked out well in another way: to fail to go to the effort of determining whether those to whom we endeavor to communicate the Gospel are already believers – that is, to remain willfully ignorant of this – is tantamount to interfering with another Shepherd's Divine Call, otherwise known as “Sheep Stealing.”

So how do we figure out who goes to church and who doesn't? The data told us that fifty percent of the residents of each county straddled by our community were in the “unchurched” category (county population minus reported church membership). Who were they, what were their addresses? We had no way of finding out. What we did know, however, was that it was reasonable to assume that new members of our community – people who had recently moved to our community from outside of it – were likely not yet “churched,” that is, even if they were believers, we felt that, with data that was up-to-date, we could safely assume they had not yet found a church home in their new community, and thus, they had not yet placed themselves under the spiritual care of a Shepherd, minimizing the likelihood that we would interfere with another Shepherd's Call by sending these materials to them. So, new members of our community became the recipients of these mailings, while we worked on additional ways of carrying the Gospel to the community.

[As an aside, let me observe how damaging the pressures of “being effective” are, and especially so once financial constraints are placed on the propagation of the Gospel. Financial benefactors usually invest their money with the expectation of measurable and specific return. The result is that in our Christian effort to carry the Gospel to the lost, we mistakenly take on the role of the One who seeks and finds them. That is to say, we know the Gospel works but we have limited funds, so to maximize the effectiveness of those funds we are tricked into thinking that we have to find the unbelievers before we can distribute the Gospel to them. This is wrong thinking, and in our world of fallen reality, we all fall victim to this thinking to some degree – the “I can do it” mode of thinking, that is. The truth is, Jesus already came to seek and find the lost, and He did it by giving us the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. All we are directed by God to do is herald the Message. We don't need to find the unbeliever first, the Gospel Message will find him.]

The next post in this series will feature the tri-fold brochure we sent in time for arrival before Pentecost Sunday – the third most important Holiday of the Church Year. It will also include a description of the results we expected to see from them. The simple answer is, “nothing” – but more on that next time.

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