(Editor’s Note: We know Pastor Blazek for his cartoons but he is also a fine theologian. He wrote the following article to go along with this quarter’s cartoon. The next issue of the Steadfast Quarterly is being printed and prepared for delivery to our members. It is a special double issue about confessional Lutherans doing evangelism. Once it is mailed to our members we will make the pdf available here on the website.)
A Confessional Lutheran Looks at Evangelismâ€”by Rev. Scott Blazek
“Hundreds of other church bodies claim to believe in the Bible (to one degree or another). What makes your church stand out from the rest?” or words to that effect were posed by a married couple coming from a non-liturgical church background, but were looking for a “Bible-believing fellowship.” This family was military, and had been going to a local Baptist church. While they were getting comfortable in that church (liking the people and the pastor, singing in the choir) they had two basic questions: “Does this [Baptist] church have a statement that would help us know just what it believes?” and “How do we join?” To the first question the Baptist pastor responded that his church believed in the Bible, offering no other explanation beyond that, leaving the couple a bit frustrated. To the second question, the pastor told them that they had to be baptized in his congregation. To this the couple responded, “Oh, but we are already baptized!” But the Baptist pastor insisted that in order to join his church, they had to be baptized in his church.
This sent the couple on the search for another church. The husband asked his father, who was a “leader” in the Plymouth Brethren Church, for advice as to what they might do and where they should go. The father’s answer went something like this: “I have a recommendation, but you’re probably not going to like it.” This only intrigued his son the more. The father continued, “I recommend the Lutheran Church, but it has to be Missouri Synod.” The young husband asked his father, “Why Lutheran-Missouri Synod, and why won’t we like it?” The father said, “It has to be Lutheran-Missouri Synod because it is solid in Biblical teaching, but you won’t like it, because it is liturgical.”
The next Sunday, this family looked up and tried our church. Halfway through the Divine Service, the husband said to the wife that he was really uncomfortable with the formal liturgy and wanted to leave then and there. His wife quietly responded, “Come on, patience! We certainly can be polite and make it through the whole service.” After the service and having greeted the pastor, the young man wandered into the church library. Somehow he managed to find and pull the Book of Concord off the shelf. He opened to the Augsburg Confession and began reading its articles, thinking to himself, “These people know what they believe!” He then began to reflect on the liturgical service that he and his wife had just attended, realizing just how much of the liturgical components was solidly rooted in Holy Scripture. Fast forward a bit: the young man was deployed overseas, but took a Book of Concord with him. He and his wife were later confirmed in the LCMS and have been just as active as they can be in the Lutheran Church ever since. Oh, and the both of them seemed to have grown into an appreciation for the liturgical Divine Service.
Some of us talk about and claim to be confessional Lutherans, but do we stop to realize what leverage in sharing the faith we may be neglecting by just leaving our confessions on the shelf? Is it our outstanding covered-dish dinners, or perhaps our overt friendliness, maybe our great choirs and outstanding youth programs that win people to our church? Sorry to say if this sort of thing happens to draw them and keep them, most of us are out-gunned by other denominational churches in our community. So what is it that we have to offer, about which the other guys on the block have no clue (including apparently the Church Growthers)? Being solid in the Holy Scripture and holding steadfastly to the Confessions of the Lutheran Church, from the correct balance of Law/Gospel to Sola Scriptura/Sola Gratia/Sola Fide to the sensitivity of adiaphora v. the integrity of the means of grace and especially the sacraments, we have a clear proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. There are those out there who are looking for something solid. They are tired of the cotton candy and sugar filled icing or Law-oriented, legalistic churches, yet are not quite sure they know for what they are looking. Perhaps the way to best examine effective outreach of the Gospel (evangelism) is to have those who joined the Lutheran Church as adults to tell us how and why?
Perhaps the likes of Gene Veith (Spirituality of the Cross), Craig Parton (The Defense Never Rests), and others who were attracted to Confessional Lutheranism as adults ought to enlighten and instruct those of the home-grown variety as to just what value and appeal we really have to offer the world and our neighbor. Perhaps these folks ought to serve on a national Evangelism Board of Confessional Lutherans (the EBCL) to help us open our eyes to “the one thing needful” and help us all look afresh at the Lord Jesus Christ’s “Great Commission.” As if that would happen in the present LCMS!
Back in the mid eighties, I was being interviewed for a synodical position (on the LCMS Board of Youth Ministry). Somewhere in the middle of the interview, which consisted of a large number of rapid fire questions on an array of topics, Will Barge (then LCMS Director of Personnel) commented that the LCMS has sometimes been referred to as the “sleeping giant” amongst Christian denominations. He followed this comment by asking me what I believed was the LCMS’s greatest asset and what was its greatest weakness. I told him and all those gathered for this interview that its greatest asset was its longstanding heritage on Scriptural solidity and Confessional integrity; its greatest weakness was in reality under the LCMS umbrella there was not one synod but at least two, that we as a church body were not “walking together” in unity of doctrine and practice, and that this unfortunate scenario caused confusion at best and division at its worst, all of which hampered the effectiveness of nurturing the faithful and giving a unified witness to the world. Needless to say, after the interview, I was not offered the position. Lest I only read between the lines with guess work, a member of the interview committee in confidence later confirmed that it was indeed my answer to this particular question that knocked me out of consideration for the position. Let the reader be assured that if I had it all to do over again, I would answer in just the same manner. And if this interview were today (ha!), I know this type of response would even moreso torpedo any chance of my ever serving in the present LCMS hierarchy of Executive Boards. Am I the only one who thinks this?
Click on the cartoon for a larger version
So, if there is any validity to my answer about the strength and weakness of the LCMS, is not our evangelism outreach as a church body hamstrung because our confessional integrity has been seriously compromised? Wake-up O Sleeping Giant of Confessional Lutheranism, for the souls of men are aimlessly wandering and/or dying. You’ve been drugged on the sentimentalism of staying yoked to a synod which is now two synods and therefore no longer your grandfather’s synod. Not even a grand churchman, such as Dr. Al Barry, who had such a deep love for evangelism outreach, could unite this so-called synod. What is more important? Sentimentalism or Confessionalism? Do we find ourselves more tied to buildings and sentimental trappings to a Synod that has drastrically changed, or are we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to remain steadfast to Christ’s Word and truth and the integrity of the Confessions? Is it not the time for our divided “Synod” to take to heart the last verses of Acts 15 (36 – 41); and like Barnabas and Paul (who no longer saw eye to eye) sail our separate ways for the sake of the Great Commission and the sharing of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ with this lost world?
A few years ago, during a break between sessions at a District Pastoral Conference, one of the Presidents of a Concordia University told me that as we enter the 21st Century, denominationalism is over. In other words, the new generation of people have lost what we used to take for granted–denominational loyalty. Can you say “back door losses”? Yet many in this new millennium hunger for that which is Scriptural, along with that which is solid, consistent, and displays genuine integrity. They may not know it yet, but what they want and need is Confessional Lutheranism. Ask the likes of Parton and Veith.