Saturday, October 6, 2012

Confessional Lutheran Evangelism: Confessing Scripture's Message about the Reformation

The Festival of the Reformation

Celebrating that Event in History which Returned Justification
to its Central Position in the Teaching of the Church

The Church Calendar and Evangelism: Reformation

In my previous post, entitled Confessional Lutheran Evangelism: Confessing Scripture's Message about Pentecost, I featured the tri-fold brochure that was scheduled for delivery the week before the Feast of Pentecost. Going back to the first post in this series, Confessional Lutheran Evangelism: Confessing Scripture's Message about Lent, I explained how we had decided to use
    ...the Seasons and Festivals of the Church Year as a pretense for initiating unsolicited communication with members of our community through mail – to tell them about the Season or Festival (it was educational) and why it was important (it was evangelical). Each mailing included not only words, but, since we had a competent artist at our disposal, custom artwork that was designed to tell the same message as the words.
There aren't any major holidays, or even a change in season, in the Church calendar between Pentecost Sunday and the beginning of Advent, so rather than wait until the beginning of Advent, we decided to chose one of the minor festivals of the Church Year that seemed to us to provide a good opportunity to share an important teaching of Scripture. The “Festival of the Reformation” was the holiday we chose, but the topic we chose to share wasn't Dr. Martin Luther. It was Justification.

In this card, not only was Justification spoken of in direct terms, not only was it delivered through the use of direct application of the Law along with direct application of the Gospel, but both Law and Gospel were represented in the image as well. In this particular case, it was thought that Message of the Law, complete with images and reminders of sin, of the Devil and his accusations, of the Righteous Judge and the Final Judgment, and of the certain prospect of Hell, would resonate quite well with what is on the minds of most folks during that time of year, anyway – the ghosts, goblins and haunted houses of Halloween. Thus, picturing and speaking so directly of eternal torment would not be as offensive as it might be at other times of the year, and, we thought, people would be more apt to hear and consider such a Message. But of course, the Message of the Law is only part of what is pictured and spoken here. The majority and focus of what is communicated is mankind's hope of salvation: the completed work of Jesus Christ on behalf of all of mankind, and His promise that through faith we have forgiveness of sins and righteous standing before God. That is, even though the Law is prominent, the focus and greater prominence is the Gospel.

What was the Process of Composing and Approving these Mailings?
One may ask, “How were these mailings composed? Did you download the content mostly from the internet, and fix it up? Who decided when it was good enough to be mailed?” Regarding composition, the answer is that all of the content – both the prose, formatting and accompanying artwork – represents the collaborative effort of individual members from the congregation. It is all original work. While Pastor could have easily written all of the content himself, he expressed desire that someone else do it under his guidance. He was concerned that his prose was a bit too terse for our purposes. So I was selected to work with him on the content. There were always improvements to make throughout the composition process, usually they were minor, sometimes they were more significant. For example, the sentence which in the card now reads
    “Jesus did on behalf of man what man could not do for himself, and He promises that through faith in Him we are justified – or declared righteous by God.”
was initially written as follows:
    “Jesus promises that His righteousness would be ours, and that our sins would be forgiven, if all we do is believe that promise.”
When I sent Pastor that initial version of the wording, he replied, saying, “I could understand you ...correctly especially since I know how very, very hard it is to talk about faith without making it into a good work we do to accomplish our salvation,” but, he went on to say, that reference would need to change, because it amounted to synergism. I called him on the phone, and inquired further. What he had to say was very interesting, prompting me to change my thinking. He said (and I quote from memory, consolidating his comments from a long conversation):
    “Lutherans don't typically use the English term, 'believe.' It is an active verb and always imperative. When a person hears the phrase, 'You must believe,' the message is clear to him and conclusive – he thinks he must do something, and that 'doing' results in his own justification. So he immediately sets about the work of 'believing' – whatever he may think that is, like stop drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, or start going to church every Sunday, or selling all his property to give to the poor, or quitting his job to join a ministry somewhere, or whatever he thinks 'believing' is. That kind of 'belief' is synergism. In English, we Lutherans get around this by stating it in the passive voice, 'have faith.' While it's still imperative, it isn't conclusive, and necessarily leads, not to doing something, but to asking another question: 'If I don't have this faith, but need it, how do I get it? Where does it come from?' That answer, of course, is 'You don't need to do anything to get it, it is a free gift from the Holy Spirit.' This is not synergism. It's monergism. In fact, if a person is already asking out of concern for his eternal welfare, 'How do I get this Faith?,' instead of rejecting the whole business, they've probably already received it. So in English, the word 'believe' almost immediately leads a person to rely on his own work, while 'have faith' almost immediately leads a person to focus on the Holy Spirit's work. And that's what we must be careful to always keep before us, the fact that from start to finish, our Justification is entirely God's work, from Christ's finished work on the Cross to purchase our Redemption, to the Holy Spirit's continuing work through the Means of Grace to give us the Faith through which we receive His Promises. It's all God's work. If we think at any moment it is even partially our own work, if we think believing is something we have to do, then our religion is really just a partnership with God to gain our own salvation, rather than what He does for us and in us entirely out of Grace. Such a religion is not God's religion, it is man's religion, and it does not save.”
So I thought about that, rewrote that section, and when I passed it by him again for his opinion, he simply responded, “I like it!”

Anyway, once we settled on the prose itself, an artist in our congregation was commissioned to create a piece of artwork that attempted to communicate the same message as the prose. Once this was acquired, the artwork and the prose were brought together and formatted for the medium we were using (postcards/pamphlets, etc.). Sometimes this required further alteration of the prose so that it would fit nicely around or on top of the image, which would result in renewed, usually brief, collaboration between Pastor and myself. Once this was complete, we moved to the approval stage of the process.

The entire congregation was involved in the approval process. First, obviously, Pastor approved the message that newly developed mailings contained. Then before they were mailed to anyone, they were either brought to the church Council for review and approval, or mailed to the councilmen before the meeting, so that they could review them at length beforehand. Since the congregation's name was going on a mass mailing, it was important to give the congregation's leadership the chance to object before such materials were sent to anyone. I don't remember a single instance where the Council objected to what was written in any of these mailings. In fact, I only recall enthusiastic approval. Then, with the first mass mailing of newly developed materials, we also sent them to the entire congregation so that they could provide us with feedback. While we never received any negative feedback from the congregation regarding the message these mailings communicated, we did get plenty of suggestions on how to improve their formatting and appearance – like improving the clarity of the images, shifting the text around, or making it larger and easier to read, spelling and punctuation, and, of course, reducing word count. Of all the mailings we sent, this one seemed to be the congregation's favorite, as it garnered from them the most positive feedback, the most unsolicited feedback, and the least negative feedback of them all.

The next, and final, post in this series will feature the postcard we sent in time for arrival during Thanksgiving Week – the week before the beginning of Advent. That card will speak for itself, but I will also include some brief personal thoughts regarding the vocational needs of the evangelizing congregation and the Evangelical Church at large. More on that next time.

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