Has World Evangelism Failed in the LC-MS before the Ablaze! Movement? by Pr. Klemet Preus

(Editor’s Note: This is part three in a five part series based on insider David Vaughn’s unique critique of the Ablaze program.)

In a recent article entitled, “A Policy analysis of the Ablaze! Movement,” written by David Vaughn, the author claims that “What has been done in the LC-MS toward the work of evangelizing the world pre-Ablaze has failed.” [1] Is such a statement true?

I showed in my recent blog that evangelism in the Bible is done by men sent by the church to publicly proclaim the Gospel. We trust, then, that world evangelization is sending men to preach the gospel in other parts of the world.

The LC-MS owes its existence largely to a singular nineteenth century mission minded pastor in Germany named Wilhelm Loehe. To him, America was the world which needed evangelization. Listen to a letter from a pastor in America who had been commissioned by Loehe and his congregation:

At the beginning of January this year I found two more new settlements, one in Madison Township, the other in Mill – Creek Township. In the latter I believe a soundly Lutheran congregation will be formed. I was the first German Lutheran preacher to come there, and to me they seemed very decent people, except that English had the upper hand with many. It would therefore be best to preach in both languages. To Madison Township, according to the statement of the old settlers there, neither an English nor German preacher had ever come. The people also look as wild as the landscape. It was after sunset the evening of 3 Jan. [1847] when I arrived at the home of a German American. I was in his house barely half an hour when the whole room was full of people to see the German preacher. One bade me baptize his child at once. This gave me opportunity to address the assembly, since I had immediately detected a great deal of prejudice against infant Baptism. [2]

This sounds like world Evangelism to me. It was written at precisely the time when the synod was forming.

A couple of decades later the then president of the Synodical Conference, Herman A. Preus of the Norwegian Synod, asked the question which led to the beginnings of mission work among African Americans by Synodical Conference Lutherans, “Is it not time that the Synodical Conference direct its attention to missions to the heathen and perhaps call into being a mission to Negroes and Indians of this country?” [3] This sounds like world evangelism to me.

What Preus perhaps did not realize since he was not a member of the LC-MS was that the LC-MS had begun such work among the Native Americans a couple of decades earlier. Listen to letter from Rev. Ferdinand Seivers to C. F. W. Walther written 1856.

With Miessler’ and his interpreter Gruet I traveled in two days by stage from St. Paul to Crow Wing (Crowing), the last post office on the upper Mississippi and, so to say, the end of civilization, for beyond this point one meets only Indians in their wildernesses and their [U. S. Government] agents, and the mission stations. One of the latter was especially recommended to us as the only one that so far has had a measure of success among the Chippewas, with the exception, perhaps, of the Roman Bishop Baraga on the islands of Lake Superior. This is the station of the Episcopalian Breck in St. Colombo, 15 miles north of F. Crow Wing, where his post office is located.

We traveled there on foot and were given a friendly reception as well as welcome information about the Chippewas and especially about the places which might be suitable for mission stations. Accordingly the principal place in view at present is Mille Lacs, about 30 miles east of Crow Wing, toward Lake Superior. There are about 500 Indians there (Chippewas, who speak exactly the same language as ours in Michigan on the Pine River) who have retained a reservation on Mile Lacs (Mille Lake), where they might live peaceably as farmers.

To induce them to do this may seem difficult, too difficult. But the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is greater and more glorious than all human thoughts. If the sinful heart of man is not too strong but that it can be broken by it [the Gospel], why should not the hands become accustomed to working instead of hunting the game of the forest?! Hence Miessler and I feel encouraged to recommend and to establish a station among the Chippewas on Mille Lacs. [4]

This sure sounds to me like the Evangelization of the world.

Or do you have to travel overseas like Paul to be a true world evangelist? Then perhaps Rev. R. Oertel would qualify.

In this city [Havana, Cuba] on 2 February [1913] Pastor R. Oertel, missionary of the Missouri Synod [then resident pastor on the Isle of Pines], preached to 16 adult hearers. He says in his report: “The number of Germans, who in part have lived here for decades without God’s Word, is great. However, above all, the doors among the Cubans themselves are open wide. These people for the most part have turned their backs on the Catholic Church, which sucked them dry under the Spanish yoke.” [5]

Sounds like Rev. Oertel was a multi cultural overseas evangelist.

We have failed in world Evangelism? Don’t tell the 29 pastors and 100 Lutheran churches in the Philippines that our world evangelism efforts have failed. They love us, use our hymnal, speak with adoring fondness of the early evangelists (in the 1940s and 1950s) who came from our synod to bring them the gospel. Thes Lutheran from the Philippines will be in heaven thanks to the world evangelists of the LC-MS who also, incidentally, started congregations there. Don’t tell the Lutherans in India, Ghana, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Japan, China or a thousand other places where our evangelists have gone. Don’t tell them that the work has failed.

If anything has failed in the LC-MS it is our failure to recognize the success God has given us and the saints and martyrs of our church body whose efforts and sacrifices should once for all silence any talk of past failures. We owe them our thanks for teaching us, as did Rev. Seivers, that “the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is greater and more glorious than all human thoughts,” and that “the sinful heart of man is not too strong but that it can be broken by the Gospel.”

Perhaps we should wait until heaven before we evaluate too critically the evangelism efforts of our fathers. Then we may see the fruits of their labors more clearly. Shame on us for thinking our forefathers have failed when God used them in ways we do not know amidst difficulties we cannot imagine and among peoples we do not comprehend; people who, thanks to them, will join with us to sing eternal praises to the lamb whose word never returns empty.

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[1] David Vaughn, “A Policy analysis of the Ablaze! Movement,” Missio Apostlica, Vol. xvi, no. 2 (November 2008) 133-134.

[2] Letter from Johann Detzer to Wilhelm Loehe 1847 in Moving Frontiers: Readings in the History of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod Ed. Carl Meyer (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964) p. 49 p. 104.

[3] Synodical Conference proceedings, 1877 in Meyer p. 317.

[4] Letter from Ferdinand Sievers to C. F. W. Walther, 1856, in Meyer p. 296.

[5] Missionstaube Newsletter, 1913, in Meyer p. 305.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

Has World Evangelism Failed in the LC-MS before the Ablaze! Movement? by Pr. Klemet Preus — 1 Comment

  1. It seems that many around the world continue to hear “Christ’s Death for Sinners”. We have failed in America as we are using every other approach that is deemed necessary to provide felt needs,Gospel Reductionism,and emrgent church relativism to capture the minds of an American public that does want a “messiah”.If you don’t believe me just look at our last election. However, as a messiah he to falls short of the true Messianic Glory of Christ. Unfortunately, it would seem that many in public life want a Messiah that gets the good times rolling and one who does something about the withdrawl of instant gratification.
    It is not going to help rhe church if it continues to preach the spirit of the age rather than Christ and Him crucified. Faith is a gift of God and it is foreign to those who are now of this world. Is this not why we are to preach the Gospel? By doing this , some will become bretheren while others will not. There are some people who forget God provides the increase. Apparently, some of the foreign missions realise this.

    I hope my incomplete posts did not make it through I apologize.

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