What Exactly is Evangelism and is that Even the Proper Name for It? A Response to the Recent Steadfast Quarterly, by Pr. Dean Kavouras

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Reading the Steadfast Quarterly (Easter/Pentecost 2009) got me thinking about the missions.

I don’t like the word ‘evangelism’ much because to me it connotes people on the lookout for other people whom they can ‘witness to,’ weekend seminars, and other similar ideas. (I don’t care for the word “witness” when used in this context, but am even less enamored with the word “share” as in “share the gospel with others.”)

Personally I don’t think the LCMS leadership (those who promote and defend CW and Church Growth) is interested in saving souls, but in changing the LCMS into an American Evangelical body, in order to suit its misinformed sensibilities as to what the Church is and isn’t, does and doesn’t do. The evidence for this is that it promotes CG and CW which are a combination of fluff and legalism, neither of which can forgive sins or give sinners a hearty faith in Christ, or confidence in trial or on the day of judgment. This being the case, I consider refuting their methods to be shadow-boxing.

But that aside, what they propose doesn’t work. They burden consciences with the “need to evangelize.” But the laity is neither called, nor qualified to do such a thing, nor are they quickly or easily trainable. What they’re being asked to do IS rocket science, theologically speaking.

Nor does our leadership ever tell a person how to do it. There’s talk of door knocking, sandwich making, igniter events, and literature left on door knobs etc, but it’s all inchoate. Anecdotally speaking, every time I’ve told a group of Lutherans that it’s not their job to be “evangelists,” I’ve gotten an audible sigh of relief. The latest word I glean from CG/CW adherents is that evangelism is best carried out by starting new congregations using the “coffee house,” golf-shirted-pastor model. They pin their hopes on this to win the world, but to what I’m not sure.

So how is mission work done today, in the 21st century of the Christian Church? It’s done primarily through established congregations (and establishing new ones) that faithfully preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments, and do so in their natural setting which is the Mass/Divine Liturgy. The Gospel and Sacraments don’t come naked, or without a context. We must not deny the history or mystery of Christ’s Church.

That’s the macro method, but for the record let me give some examples of the micro method. First we note that every person who is in the church was at one time an unbeliever. Most were evangelized through infant baptism. They were then taught, absolved and fed over a period of decades. This counts, though CG/CW adherents don’t seem to think that it does as far as I can tell.

Besides this, on the micro level, there are numerous other outreaches, large and small that occur. Members bring friends and relatives. Young ladies and men bring fiancés. Children bring their friends to SS. VBS and Lutheran Day Schools (more so in the past than now I think) were responsible for leading many out of the: power of darkness, and bringing them into the Kingdom of His own dear Son. (Col. 1:13) Besides this, every pastor has numerous contacts in his ministry from inquirers, troubled people who are referred to him by members and others, people he meets in nursing homes and hospitals, people who stop the collared-man on the street or in a restaurant to talk. If we were to list the contacts of other pastors (and I’d love to hear some of them) we’d find some amazing stories and possibly understand that the Spirit is at work even when we might think He’s not. These contacts may lead to further instruction or membership, or they may not. But the Word has been planted or watered (1 Cor 3:6) and that’s the extent of the Church’s Call. The results are up to the Spirit. When you add up all these “micro” contacts, you get an impressive record of the Holy Spirit creating faith in men when and where He will.

Is there a place for formal, intentional, large scale mission work? Yes, whenever and wherever God provides the qualified people and resources. Otherwise, the methods stated above obtain.

Rev. Fr. Dean Kavouras, Pastor
Christ Lutheran Church – Cleveland

For an interesting bio on Pastor Kavouras from the Fort Wayne seminary click here.

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