Evangelism Virtue Signaling

In a culture full of special snowflakes who need to be validated, how one feels about a thing is generally more important than whether he has acted upon those feelings. That doesn’t change in the Church, either.

We American Lutherans have been wringing our hands for decades about how many fewer rear ends are in our pews than we had back in the glory days of the ’50s and ’60s. If you’re the kind of person to point fingers, there is no shortage of targets. “It’s those rotten confessionals who insist on closed communion” “It’s those closed-minded pastors who won’t get with the times”…

For the last couple of years, LCMS President Rev. Matthew Harrison has been telling groups of people that, statistically, the decline of the numbers in our congregations more or less matches the decline in the size of our families. He has been positively excoriated on that point from elements of the synod who, let’s just say it, are more okay with the synod resembling the world than the average BJS author or reader might be. They mock him for stating the plain truth that most of us parish pastors know by experience and that the synod now knows by statistical analysis.

The fact of the matter is that when the world lied about The Pill, in large part, we Lutherans bought the lie. We were told that it isn’t enough to bring a child to the font and teach him the faith, love him, care for him, and nourish him. Our children have to have the same visible signs of success we adults do — each child needs his own bedroom, his own college fund, his own smartphone, semiweekly trips to the nice restaurants…

And worse — there are many who view children primarily as fellow-victims of the oppressive system (whatever it is) into which we ourselves were born: “Oh, I don’t dare have a child right now, with so much uncertainty in the world and so much strife. It would be cruel to do that.” I’ve heard those very sentiments from a number of people who consider themselves to be confessional Lutherans. But at the root is faithlessness. We don’t merely confess the god of Deism, who creates and then leaves the creation to its own devices to figure things out. “He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”

Instead, the solution proffered is “evangelism.” That word is seldom defined in the positive by those who mock the idea of more babies yielding larger congregations, but it often defined in the negative — according to those scoffers, bringing one’s own family to the font, pew, and altar is not evangelism. I’m not pulling that out of thin air; I have seen fathers assert that they have done their duty by bringing their wives and children regularly to church only to be mocked and told “that isn’t evangelism”.

And yet, many of those who scream “evangelism” the loudest in our own congregations are the ones who must sit in the pew alone on Sunday morning, while their own children and grandchildren worship at other altars: youth travel sports, football, sleep.

The fact is that Baptism is not salvific apart from faith. Loudly proclaiming how much one cares about “evangelism” while one’s own children are not hearing the Word of God is as nonsensical as complaining that the mall doesn’t have updated fire sprinklers while at home the kitchen is burning to the ground.

Rather than simply point fingers back and shout et tu quoque, we would each do well to examine ourselves and ask whether God has placed people in our own lives who need not only to have heard the gospel once but need it regularly. Whom do I know who needs to go to church? Start with your own family. Your wife and children need Jesus. What about the rest of your family? Do your parents need a ride to church as they get older? Do you need to help them arrange visitation of they’re shut-in? Are your children bringing their own children to church? Are they reading the Bible and praying at home? Start there, and then start working outward from the home.

About Pastor Daniel Hinton

Pastor Hinton is associate pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, having majored in poultry science, and of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was ordained on Holy Trinity 2011. He has been married to Amanda for fourteen years, and has five daughters and one son. He grew up in the ELCA, and left in 2004 over issues of scriptural authority. It was because of a faithful Lutheran campus ministry that he was exposed to The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. Much of his ministry at Trinity involves the instruction of the students at Trinity Lutheran School, which has been open since 1892 and now uses a classical pedagogy.

Comments

Evangelism Virtue Signaling — 36 Comments

  1. @Pr. Schroeder #2

    I am trying to understand why an article about fixing an issue in our synod prompted you to deride another church body. Are we so sectarian that our first inclination is to lash out at others? Seems counter-productive to me. That being said, I totally agree that we need to be diligent with instructing our own families. However, that does not preclude us from mission outreach / evangelism as individuals and corporately. I don’t see this as a zero sum game. Doing one (evangelism of family) does not preclude the other (to the un-churched). Maybe we can do both, and do both well.

  2. If we kept all the babies we baptized in the Lutheran church, it would be 3x larger…I am looking at 4 generations of my own family.
    Look at yours.

    More often than not, Lutherans “married out” into some other denomination instead of bringing their spouses into their own, [or marrying Lutheran] which meant their children weren’t Lutheran, and so it went.

  3. Family and Mission should be both emphasized. Our opponents accuse Lutherans of being insular when we just emphasize having more children.

  4. Good post, Pastor. To summarize : Repent! 🙂 And as for a couple of the criticisms expressed in other comments–1. Evangelism starts at home. You and your family will be much better prepared to confess Christ to “outsiders” if y’all are “evangelizing” within the home by every Sunday attendance at Divine Service, catechism, home worship, etc. As to what our opponents say–who cares?

  5. I am an LCMS member who belongs to the group that is being labelled “snowflakes” for reasons that have nothing to do with bearing children. (I have borne six souls, by the way.) I am probably the only “snowflake” that reads blogs like these. I have spoken with literally dozens of Christians who have left the LCMS in the past six months or are seriously considering leaving. These are lifelong, baptized, confirmed, and married LCMS members. I know at least five LCMS members who are considering leaving right now. Meanwhile, the UCC is growing, and it is not because the new members are fleeing the “true gospel” that is being preached in conservative churches at the moment. It is the Gospel of Breitbart they are fleeing, to be perfectly blunt, and they will say it themselves if you are willing to hear it. LCMS leaders have chosen to board a ship that is headed towards an iceberg. When that ship goes down – and it will, sooner or later – libertarianism and the alt right movement is not going to save the LCMS. The LCMS needs to pull its head out of the sand and look in the mirror. There needs to be open discussion about this now or there could very well be an ongoing decrease in members in the next couple of years, based on my conversations with LCMS members across the country, and labeling those who leave “snowflakes” is just going to hasten the avalanche. The rest of the world is watching listening very closely to what we say and do not say and will remember.

  6. @Dawn #8

    http://www.uccfiles.com/pdf/Fall-2016-UCC-Statistical-Profile.pdf

    Their recent statistical profile says in 1955 they had 2,123,792 members. They now have 914,871. This is not growing in any objective sense.

    The UCC is not winning. Not at all.

    Added to that the apostasy of women’s ordination and their stances on sin and Jesus, and it’s a valid question whether they should be considered a Christian denomination at all.

  7. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #11

    My point is not that it is a good thing that conservative protestants are going to churches like the UCC. But instead of labelling those members apostates, maybe it would pay to talk to them about why they left.

  8. When I first got to my parish there was a man who hadn’t been to church in months whom I went to go visit. He told me that he was upset at my predecessor for preaching politics. I didn’t know what he was talking about, so, without commenting on my predecessor, I told him what I preach. I said that I won’t tell people whom to vote for or whether they should support this or that social program or this or that war, etc. But I am obligated to preach what God’s Word says about the government’s rule, that we should honor those in authority and not encourage anyone to break the law, as well as what God’s Word says about murder (abortion) and sexual immorality, including fornication and homosexuality. He seemed willing to come back after that, and in fact he did come that Sunday. But then I never saw him again, and a couple months later I received a letter from him telling us that he cannot be associated with a congregation affiliated with the Tea Party.

    This story illustrates how people ascribe political activism to conservative churches just because they won’t bow to the mainstream liberal culture. Obviously our congregation has nothing to do with the Tea Party, the Republican Party, Breitbart, Alt-Right, or whatever kind of political movement. Dawn’s allegations are based on a priori sentiments and prejudices against those who are theologically conservative. Those who leave our congregations because we are against abortion or homosexuality are simply not Christians. They have denied the faith, no matter how much they talk about faith or Jesus or whatever. And when they turn around and slander us as Breitbarts they are doing so only because they are trying to justify themselves for having drunk of the well of progressivism.

    Furthermore, caring so much about our image before the world is the sacred cow, which has made shipwreck of the faith of too many people. Instead we should heed St. John’s words (1 John 2:15: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

  9. BTW, getting angry about the term snowflake is kind of ironic. It’s like when I told on my older brothers for calling me a tattle tale.

  10. I AM theologically conservative. Where did I say ANYTHING about abortion or gay marriage? Being anti-abortion and gay marriage is NOT what the world is criticizing. They are criticizing conservatives for CLAIMING to be pro-life and moral but nevertheless voting for someone who…well, I am not even going to begin to explain. You ought to know. People are not leaving because they are “pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage.” And if the man who left said he could not be a member of a church that supported the Tea Party, I suggest that instead of assuming he is for gay marriage and abortion, you find out why he said that. I have made my point, perfectly. I have experienced enough name calling and labels from this website. The first time I engaged in discussion was 2004, when I criticized our lack of social health care. I was viciously attacked for that. Then last fall I very briefly spoke about Democrats for Life. Attacked for that. You want to know why people are leaving the LCMS? Talk to them. I am dusting off my feet. I could quote Bible passages and Luther quotes defending my perspective and tell you true stories of how innocent refugee families and immigrants are suffering from the executive order and how hundreds, how this will increase attacks on our country, and perhaps thousands, of conservative Christians are, like me, being called names and called infidels for criticizing this offensive, abusive demagogue who now holds the title of President of the United States, assisted by a White Supremacists whose specialty is propaganda. And I KNOW LCMS members who read Breitbart and alt right media sources: They quote it to me as if it is “real news.” If any of you who posted here was NOT invested in defending Republican and Tea Party politics and in supporting anything this monster of a president says or does, you would have responded differently to my post. My husband tells me it is a waste of time to post here, and he is right, and I will take his advice, and dust off my shoes and be on my way. If you want to believe that the world sees only the sins of abortion and gay marriage, then your hearts and minds have turned to stone, and if you think that members are leaving the LCMS this year simply because of abortion and gay marriage, you have scales on your eyes.

  11. @Dawn #8

    I am an LCMS member who belongs to the group that is being labelled “snowflakes” for reasons that have nothing to do with bearing children.

    I am puzzled by this statement! In my experience [22 years on a university campus] “snowflakes” were not middle aged women with six kids. (But maybe the kids?) They were/are people who aren’t mature enough to be willing to listen to any view other than the one they have already and need “safe spaces” to protect their tender ears, demanding that no one have an opinion which might incidentally and accidentally hurt their feelings!
    “It’s all about ME!”

    As my daughter (no snowflake) said, “We survived the last 8 years and we didn’t go out in the streets to shout and break things. What part of “election” don’t the others understand?”

    [I make no apologies for the President when he is offensive, but have you really understood the alternative? I don’t think so.]

    Politics was never preached in any church I attended. The Pastor has a full plate with Word and Sacrament. Are you sure yours didn’t, as well?

  12. @Dawn #16

    Dawn, while I do not consider myself a progressive/liberal (whatever label one wants to use), I understand your concern. I cannot say with any measure of certainty whether the statistics back up the reasons you stated why people are leaving the LCMS, but obviously it has motivated you to do so. It is obviously important because ministry is done on the individual level just as much as it is done on the corporate level.

    In response to your concern, I can see where you are coming from. I have seen seminary students in particular, and some pastors who seem to be overly political in their statements and sermons. Some people fail to realize that one person may hold the same value, but disagree in the appropriate means of putting that into practice. So while I won’t go so far as to say that theology and politics don’t mix (one’s theology should absolutely determine the political position one takes on social issues), it can be tricky. It is especially sticky when making broad, overly general statements rather than taking the time to understand an individual’s position so that the underlying theology behind a position can be addressed.

    I am also alarmed from observations both in and outside of this site that some pastors seem to be more focused on pushing people out of the church, than they are in creating a long-term relationship with their members where they can have more of an impact on informing those persons of the gospel and it’s implications in their lives.

    And by the way, I completely agree that the tone of this forum thread was condescending and inappropriate from the start. Our pastors can and should do better. I am pretty disappointed in this dialogue.

    I just wanted to respond to let you know that while I do not necessarily agree with you on all you said, your statement has not been dismissed outright.

  13. @Dawn #16

    Perhaps, you should find another political blog or start one. You wrote two non sequitur statements. The original post did not mention most of things about which you are complaining.

  14. They are civic nationalists, not white supremacists.

    I’ve never found social healthcare or bringing refuges into your country in scripture. The old testament also seems quite interested in people not intermixing. Maybe those words are there somewhere under Luke 10 and we just need the right translators to bring out the true meaning. Maybe inn means home and innkeeper means wife. the two coins are actually for a doctor and he leaves the man alone with his wife as he goes back to work. Yeah that must be it. No need for the translators, just bring in the refuges.

  15. Could someone give me an example of politics from the pulpit or in other settings of pastoral care? I don’t doubt that it happens. I just want to hear a specific example, especially since I have witnessed politically conservative pastors pegged as “political” and proponents of Republican politics just for giving cultural insight from a Christian perspective or criticizing politicians for being “pro choice.”

  16. Dawn, since you brought up refugees I must point out the unbelievable hypocrisy of those who supported the war-making machine of Obama and Hillary. The facts are that Obama has bombed three times as many countries as Bush which has caused the greatest refugee crisis since World War Two. Hillary was the architect of the failed regime change in Libya, which has resulted in a failed state, and yet more refugees. She supported our intervention in Syria, which resulted in American support of “rebel” groups co-opted by Al Qaeda, the genocide of Christians and the ongoing destruction of Aleppo, one of the world’s oldest Christian cities.

    According to human rights groups, Obama’s drones have killed more than 1,100 innocents.

    Another humanitarian crisis has erupted in Yemen, where the Saudis are using American bombs and jets to slaughter thousands of women and children. Mass starvation is occurring right now in Yemen because the single biggest donors of the Clinton Foundation are waging war against a defenseless population, who are the poorest people in the middle east.

    So, before you get too self righteous about the fact that our President is such a moral monster, I remind you that Trump campaigned on a platform of non-intervention.

  17. Regarding the refugee issue, it is not exactly clear cut. We are of course required, and should desire, to assist our neighbors. To that end, I believe that our country should accept refugees where possible. That being said, the federal government`s primary responsibility is to protect the citizens of our nation. The government should properly vet prospective refugees to ensure that terrorists are not among them. The threat of Islamic terrorism is a very real one and the government is obligated to take reasonable measures to prevent it. If that means that there must be a temporary ban on accepting certain refugees, then that seems okay with me. The previous administration, for whatever reason, didn`t appear to take the threat of Islamic terrorism seriously. The present administration at least seems to recognize the reality of the threat.

  18. @Dawn #8

    Actually, I think a lot of people leave churches that preach the true gospel because the world hates hearing it. In my own personal experience, I`ve heard members complain and eventually leave my church because the pastor was insufficiently complimentary of other “spiritual traditions.” Preaching that Jesus Christ is the only path to the Father offends many people. Always has and always will. And praising the laughably apostate UCC, or holding it out as a legitimate alternative to the evangelical Lutheran church, is an error.

  19. @James #25

    And praising the laughably apostate UCC, or holding it out as a legitimate alternative to the evangelical Lutheran church, is an error.

    Sadly apostate…no church which calls itself Christian, and isn’t following Scripture, is a joke. If nothing else, it confuses unbelievers and that’s no help to those who teach the Gospel.

  20. @James #25

    I repeat, as I stated in my first reply, that nowhere on any post or reply did I suggest I was praising the UCC. I will address this and other questions in mire detail later this evening.

  21. @Dawn #30

    He also campaigned on a platform of Wall Street reform, promised not to touch Social Security and Medicare, promised to replace the ACA with “something better.” So I have no reason to believe that he will practice “non-intervention.”

    The ‘campaign promises’ seem like good ideas to me. [But the ball should be in Congress’s court on all of them.]

    I don’t know what these have to do with “non-intervention” and have we gotten away from “virtue signaling, too?

  22. @Dawn #28

    And some respect for age and life experience would be appreciated as well, Pastor Scheer.

    You might ask for that when the six kids have supplied you with great grandchildren! 😉
    [I’m not saying you’ll get it then; (how much of it do you get from the six kids)?] 🙂

  23. Four of those souls are in heaven. The other two are 30 and 32, married with children, and belong to the same LCMS church in Kent, WA. We have always been close, even during the worst of puberty, agree on almost everything, and keep each other in line.

  24. @Dawn Sonntag #33

    A family which “agrees on almost everything” is something special! I congratulate you on your successes and sympathize with your losses.

    [My oldest son preceded me into heaven 13 years ago when he was 44. One does not forget.]

  25. Nice article Dan. “But at the root is faithlessness.” seems to sum it up, as to why our churches are in decline. In my years here where the Lord has placed me I have seen folks come and go. I’ve seen a few leave because they can’t believe in Original sin. I’ve seen some leave because of “too much law.” Too much Gospel. “Babies have no sin!” “We need a praise band!” But then I’ve seen people come to join because they knew what was going to be preached – the Word of God…salvation…and that Jesus died for me and for you. Pastors are sometimes recipients of the old ‘attendance drop – finger pointing’ merely because of faithfully preaching God’s Word. Yes, Dawn, and others, many of us pastors HAVE talked with those leaving; and we’re not going to sit back quietly and “agree to disagree”. Like Paul, I am not ashamed of the Gospel.

    Nice hate Dan.

  26. When “having more kids” is posited as the solution to our numerical woes, you better believe there will be backlash, and rightly so. In the New Testament whole households were baptized, but Paul and Silas and Timothy and Peter and Philip also went to people and to communities that were either Gentile in nature or where there were synagogues, but no Christians.
    So often when people speak of “having larger families” they are actually denying the hurt in our communities or the large areas of possibility for mission work there.
    For instance, a while back, I spoke to someone from a small town in Wisconsin of 6,000; his church worships 60 on a Sunday. That’s good, yet it is still only 1% of his town. I know there are other churches, but how many do they worship? How many 1-5% churches would they need to get to 90% of the town? 80%? How about 50%? How many churches have you seen in towns of 6,000, probably not several hundred. So how many people in the church don’t attend on Sunday? How many have lost sight of the true Gospel or are not receiving Word and Sacrament ministry?
    And I think I once heard somewhere that a group had polled local churches in a small town, (admittedly I cannot readily find this info) and then these churches were added up, Easter attendance was at about 30%.
    So even in these small towns, conservative towns, towns were “everyone” is “Christian” because they were baptized as a child, or once had a religious conversion, or what have you, there is so much opportunity to spread the Gospel, verbally and nonverbally, and to help with our neighbor’s physical needs to grow the church. Yet that is so often overlooked, especially by those who think we can just birth ourselves to higher numbers.
    I am glad that the author finally, yet belatedly, admitted that it requires catechetical training at home. That separates him from many others who hold his position. He earlier upholds the father who does his duty by bringing his wife and children to church every Sunday, while then castigating people whose adult children or grandchildren don’t attend. But how do we get from one to the other? By not catechizing at home. It is not enough to have six or ten children if all a father does is bring them to church but doesn’t live out their vocations (Christian, parental, civil) for Christ or model faith outside of church for those children.
    As a side note, it used to be true, in the society of past decades, that if a family had five children, three of them, most likely four, would probably be church going adults. A family with five children today, would be lucky to have three attending church regularly as adults, more likely 1 or 2. It’s playing the odds just to evenly replace, and that’s not mission work, that’s guess work. And that’s based on the modern family that does not catechize outside of Sunday mornings, that does not make faith central to their life, but merely one segment of it.
    Lastly, the trends among our society, particularly amongst the middle class, particularly amongst those of European descent, is to have smaller families. This is true for Christians and non-Christians. Asking our younger members to not only buck that trend, but to place the hope of our future as a Church and a church body on them instead of Christ and his power to transform lives and societies will only yield the opposite results. It is unfair, and to be honest, quite ridiculous, to single them out for this kind of service to the kingdom when there are many other ways one can share the Good News.
    To piggyback on this last point, someone will say, “We will be asking people to change their lives for God and be transformed by Christ anyways, so how is this different than in other ways?” You’re right, it’s not too terribly different. But if our churches were in the mold of New Testament churches, in beliefs and in hopes, I would agree. But we aren’t. Our first step should be to re-discover the fellowship and love found in Christ, as well as his social mission (early Christians were all about this), and encouraging believers to bring more children into their families (through adoption or natural birth) to be part of this fellowship and community of Christ (the early Christians were also all about this).
    Let’s also not forget that the ills of our society, and the issues we find in our churches about numbers and attendance, are not because of “the pill.” It’s because of sin, it is because we have been faithless in teaching and catechizing and in believing that God can do more than our mission efforts deserve or we think is possible.

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