Thursday, October 4, 2012

Confessional Lutheran Evangelism: Confessing Scripture's Message about Pentecost

The Feast of Pentecost

We Lutherans Believe in the Holy Spirit!

The Church Calendar and Evangelism: Pentecost

In my previous post, entitled Confessional Lutheran Evangelism: Confessing Scripture's Message about Easter, I promised to feature the tri-fold brochure we mailed to new residents in our community for the Feast of Pentecost – the third most important holiday of the Church Year – and as the reader can see, Pentecost was used as a pretense to talk about the second and third person's of the Trinity. And we had much to say! Part of the reason for this is that the Bible's teaching about the Holy Spirit is not just located in a few conveniently located sections of Scripture, but in many places and in many contexts. Another reason is that the work of the Holy Spirit is so broad and so important that it is difficult to be meaningful in only a few words. Most important, however, is the fact that in contemporary times, with the confusion over the Holy Spirit wrought by Pentcostalism, Charismaticism, and Holiness Movements within Christianity, and the growing dominance of wretched Eastern and New Age “spirituality,” we felt that to discuss the Holy Spirit at all, meant that we also had to remediate the rampant false notions surrounding “God's Spirit” and how it is that we “commune” with Him.

There is a big smile on my face, as I chuckle to myself while writing this. This was the last straw for the pamphlet format. Mostly for good, or at least justifiable reasons. These 8.5x11 inch tri-folds, and the 8.5x14 inch quarterfold we used for Good Friday, were full-color, double sided prints. Up to this point, we had relied on a printing service that provided us an astoundingly good deal on printing costs, making it possible for us to print enough pamphlets and envelopes to send them to all residents in our community who had recently moved there. That source became unavailable to us, causing costs to rise sharply, and making it impossible for us to continue distributing the message of Law and Gospel to all new residents in this format. A second reason was the labor involved. A team of us spent quite a bit of time for each one of these pamphlet mailings, just preparing them to go in the mail – inserting the pamphlets in the envelopes, affixing labels and stamps to envelopes, and sealing them. While we enjoyed the work, and were happy to do it, there was also a desire to reduce the labor involved, if possible... A third reason – well, let's face it, there's simply a whole lot of words on that page. Who would ever read such a thing? Many folks in the congregation expressed some embarrassment over this fact. After some investigation, we found a service that, if we could reduce/redevelop our mailings to 5x8 inch postcards, would print and mail them for around $.67 per card – and that included full color printing on both sides (the opposite side containing the addressee and the return address of our congregation, which in our case included a color logo, service times, directions, etc). With the cost of data around $.30 per address, that was a total cost of about $1 per mailing, resulting in a significant reduction in labor and cost, and allowing us to continue sending these mailings to all new residents, and even others if we chose (like those on our prospects list, or special names that people in the congregation asked us to include). And, for better or worse, we were forced to be more concise.

But there is another reason for smiling.

Just WHAT were WE expecting?
Nothing. We were expecting nothing in return for our effort. We, by this point, had completely rejected any and every notion that, as a result of our efforts, God owed us an increase of some sort – either in visitor count, prospects, church membership, or the church revenue such increases inevitably result in. Since we weren't owed an increase, we weren't looking for one. Rather, out of pure Joy and Gratitude, our “mission” was simply to share that which made us joyful: the completed work of Jesus Christ on behalf of all mankind, and the continuing work of the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace, to distribute the Eternal Blessings He earned for us. We “expected” only what God promises us in the Bible: that His Word will not return to Him void, but accomplish that for which He sent it; that one man plants, another waters, but God gives the increase. In sending out the Word, in using the Means through which the Holy Spirit exclusively works, we knew that among those who came into contact with these materials, who actually read them, some would merely have had a seed planted in them (seeds are not ready for harvest), some would be nurtured (plants that need nurturing are not ready for harvest), and some would be ready for harvest. Of those ready for harvest, we fully admitted, we may see them or we may not. But “harvest” actually does mean harvest, whether they come to our church or not. So, we had complete confidence in the Holy Spirit to produce an increase where, when and if He willed it, and we could only have this confidence given that we used the Means through which He works to accomplish it.

If, instead, we had bound ourselves to the expectations, and thus the methods, of the Church Growth Movement, our “mission” would not have been to “simply” share the Message of Scripture – it would have been far more complicated, far more calculating on human behaviour (i.e., “stimulus and response”), far more exploitive of human wants and weaknesses (i.e., “felt needs”), far more confident in the organization to measure and meet them. If we bound ourselves to the expectations and methods of the Church Growth Movement, and took the advise of those luring Lutherans into such bondage, the congregation as an organization would completely displace any Message of Scripture – completely robbing those who were reached using these mailings of the Means through which the Holy Spirit works by replacing the Message telling how God has met every man's eternal need through Christ, with a message telling how the congregation can meet the temporal needs of some people in its community, through educational services, social groups (men's/women's groups, youth groups, etc.), or opportunities for involvement in various activities, like music, sports, or community philanthropy. Instead of the Means of Grace, through which the Holy Spirit works to Call, Gather and Enlighten His Elect, we would be forced into using the means of man, through which the congregation struggles, like a fast-food chain or supermarket, to call gather and enlighten new visitors and loyal patrons.

Rather than submit ourselves to the “Bondage of Expectations” that the Church Growth Movement would place on us, we refused, choosing, instead, the liberty to freely speak the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This Message, which starts off by offending it's hearers with the Law, with the reality of their own sin, further offends by pointing them to the Rock of Offense, Jesus Christ, declaring that they cannot save themselves before a perfectly Just and Righteous God, that only the Righteousness of Christ avails before God, and that this righteousness and the forgiveness of their sins is theirs only in Christ. Such a Message completely defies the thoroughly human logic of the Church Growth Movement, which requires that an individual, or collectively “the public,” be ingratiated to the evangelist, or to the church as an organization, before the Gospel can be fed to them in bits and pieces, being careful all the while to avoid communicating anything that might be “offensive.” In other words, the public has to like you first, before anyone will trust you enough to listen to what the Bible says. This sort of “friendship evangelism,” though logical, is complete unbiblical garbage.

The unregenerate are estranged from God. They are at war with Him. They hate Him and they hate what He has to say. The Bible tells us this. The Evangelist, just like the congregation, represents God. They are His Messengers in the World, and they speak the Message He has given them to say. As a result, the unregenerate hate God's Messengers just as much as they hate God, and they hate the Message He speaks through them. The Bible tells us this, too. It doesn't matter if you make friends first, they are still going to hate you on account of Christ! In fact, they may hate you all the more once they find out you only became friends with them in order to “more effectively” proselytize them! This sort of “friendship evangelism” promoted by the Church Growth Movement is nothing but a rickety crutch to avoid the discomfort of the Truth – that the World hates us on account of Jesus – and ultimately, leaves the Christian unprepared to face the inevitable: conflict with the unregenerate, the enemies of the Gospel, who reject and revile God, His Message, and His Messengers. This kind of unpreparedness, perpetuated by the Church Growth Movement, which requires friendship with the World in order to “grow the church,” is demonstrated in the shallowness of contemporary American Christianity, and has equipped Christians with only a partial Gospel that is supplemented by services and social activities offered by the congregation. No wonder Christians run and hide when called upon to share their faith or to confidently speak their convictions! CGM does not equip them with the biblical Gospel. Not by a longshot. And not having the Truth, they lack the boldness to stand and speak.

So, rather than the wisdom of this world, we chose the foolishness of God. We chose to rely exclusively on the Holy Spirit's work through the Means of Grace. Thus, this tri-fold pamphlet represented a major fist in the air, raised against the Church Growth Movement and those pushing its lies. In fact, so complete was our rejection of Church Growth, that, though we had the data in our possession, we refused on grounds of principle to use that data to calculate and report statistics on “visitor rate,” “baptism rate,” or “ average cost per new member,” that might be associated with these evangelistic efforts. We also feared that if we started doing so, we may be tempted to begin binding ourselves to the human expectations of measurable numeric increase.

But, there is yet another reason for me to smile. And even chuckle a little bit.

Even though we refused to keep statistics, the few of us who were involved with managing these mailings recognized the names and addresses of the people we sent these materials to. It was unavoidable. Yes, in fact, we did see visitors. Yes, in fact, we did see prospects. Yes, in fact, we were blessed with new members. The reason I smile and chuckle, is this: of all the mailings we sent, this single Pentecost mailing, with all of its words, with all of its complex sentences, with all of its theological concepts, with all of the human logic hurled against it which would suggest “no one will ever read this, no one will ever come to your church as a result of this mailing” yielded more visitors than anything else “we had done” – all of the other mailings, all of the radio and television programs, all of the community involvement we engaged in. I know because I recognized the names in the guestbook. I know because a few families even came to church that day with these pamphlets in their hands, as if they were their tickets to church, saying, “We got this in the mail and wanted to come today.” And second behind this mailing, was the original quarterfold pamphlet we had developed for Good Friday, which had so many words on it that we couldn't fit it on an 8.5x11 inch sheet of paper, but had to go to 8.5x14 inches. In fact, in that case, one family, who never even visited, sent us a thank you note that included a picture of their daughter holding that Good Friday pamphlet. The advise of the Church Growth Movement is bunk. “What works then?”, one might ask. Word and Sacrament works. Nothing else works, so the more the better. And we know this because that's what the Bible says.

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