I Will Show You My Evangelism by My Word & Sacrament Ministry

The call to be “evangelistic Lutherans” is being emphasized again in the circles in which I run. When this adjective get tacked on to the noun, the tendency is to make evangelism something tangible for us to do and less about what Scriptures and the Confessions say it is. Be a Lutheran and you are going to be “evangelistic.”Evangelism

To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe. (AC: V)[1]

It is interesting to contrast how Webster’s Dictionary defines our English word evangelism with how BDAG defines the verb εὐαγγελίζω.

Webster[2]:
evangelism circa 1626
1. the winning or revival of personal commitments to Christ
2. militant or crusading zeal

BDAG[3]:
εὐαγγελίζω
1:generally – bring good news, announce good news
2: specifically – proclaim the divine message of salvation, proclaim the gospel

Slight difference there, eh? Also, take a gander at how the ESV translates the various root forms of ευαγγελιον used in the New Testament here (Root ευαγγελιον in ESV).

Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Keys IconScripture does not call pastors or lay people to “win souls” or “convert” people. The Gospel is not something we go out to sell. The Gospel is simply stating, “Your sin is forgiven by Christ. Yes, even your sin. Here’s some water with Jesus’ promise of forgiveness, and here’s some bread and wine with the same promise. God has put it right here in the Church for you to receive.”

You want to evangelize? Talk about the Gospel; talk about forgiveness. “We live in an age in which everything is permitted and nothing is forgiven.”[4] We hear celebrities giving so-called ‘apologies’ for their statements or actions, “I’m sorry if I offended anyone…” As Christians, let’s talk about the forgiveness we have received from our neighbors but especially of the forgiveness we have received in Christ. And let’s talk about where that forgiveness comes from – Word and Sacrament, nowhere else.

What are we doing to the Church when we point people to the time when they went forward for an altar call, when they were “on fire” for God, or when they prayed the sinner’s prayer? We are pointing people to places where there is no promise of forgiveness. We are pointing sinners to themselves and not to Christ crucified for them.

God forgive me for changing the words of Scripture if it isn’t honoring to the text, but the analogy of a supposed faith without works from James 2:14-17 slips nicely to a supposed evangelism without the Gospel of Word and Sacrament ministry:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has evangelism but does not have Word and Sacrament? Can that evangelism save anyone? If a brother or sister is sinful and unclean, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be saved and have life,” without giving them the things needed for forgiveness, what good is that? So also evangelism by itself, if it does not have Word and Sacrament, is dead.

[1] Kolb, Robert, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000.

[2] Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. 2003

[3] Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature 2000

[4] Alan Jones as quoted in Forde On Being a Theologian of the Cross.

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