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.

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

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.

About Pastor Sam Wellumson

Rev. Sam Wellumson is pastor at Christ the King Free Lutheran Church of East Grand Forks, MN. He completed his undergraduate degree at University of Northwestern St. Paul, MN and his M.Div. from the Association Free Lutheran Theological Seminary in Plymouth, MN. Sam also currently serves as the Vice-chair for the AFLC’s Board of Publications & Parish Education. Sam and his wife, Sarah, have four children.


I Will Show You My Evangelism by My Word & Sacrament Ministry — 10 Comments

  1. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news, indeed. And yet, we of the Body insist that, despite having such a rich and historical trove of treasure from which to cull, we insist upon finding those lightweight nuggets of fool’s gold to utilize.

    “We must speak to them in their ‘heart-language,'” they often say. It is easy enough to glean their meaning (however well-intended it may be), but this strikes against Scripture’s proclamation regarding the condition of our hearts.

    If the concern from these folks who wish to push the paradigm of the “evangelistic Lutheran” is as genuinely heartfelt and important as they would have us believe…why not start with insisting upon a proper Law/Gospel distinction from our pulpits, instead of what can often enough best be described as bad vaudeville?

  2. “The call to be ‘evangelistic Lutherans’ is being emphasized again in the circles in which I run.”

    That’s true for me too! And, quite frankly, as an ex-Evangelical turned Confessional Lutheran, I’m getting tired of “running in circles” within “the circles in which I run” b/c I keep having the same conversations with people about this to no avail. I became a member of the Lutheran Church expecting my dear brothers and sisters who were already a part of it to understand these fundamental truths.

    Wyldeirishm, I couldn’t agree more. I’m finding that those within “the circles in which I run” who want “to push the paradigm of the ‘evangelistic Lutheran'” have started to verbalize this not so subtle notion that attending church is “bad” since it’s only “outside the ‘church bubble'” where “God does His best work through us” they say.

    Word and Sacrament. It took roughly 10 years due to my stubbornness, but I’m grateful that the Lord finally broke me, the miserable sinner that I am, and removed the scales from my eyes so I could finally see that my pursuit of Evangelism’s Pietism was a poor substitute for His blessed Word and Sacrament ministry.

    Grace And Peace,

  3. @Jeffrey K Radt #2
    …Word and Sacrament. It took roughly 10 years due to my stubbornness, but I’m grateful that the Lord finally broke me, the miserable sinner that I am, and removed the scales from my eyes so I could finally see that my pursuit of Evangelism’s Pietism was a poor substitute for His blessed Word and Sacrament ministry.

    Sometimes (not always) it seems like the Pastors who know the grass is not greener in non Lutheran pastures are the ones who have come from there!
    Both my current Pastors are among those who know! 🙂

  4. @Wyldeirishman #4

    Had an exchange several years ago with a Lutheran Pastor who talked about “doing Church”. My comment was that perhaps it is more important to BE the Church.

  5. If you run are running with Evangelistic Lutherans and they use your definition, I think you are in good company
    As you have defined Evangelism means
    εὐαγγελίζω bring good news, announce good news

    God gives us neighbors to love
    What greater love is there than sharing our witness.
    Matthew19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    Acts 1: 8 you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

    So we go Matt 22:9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.
    So as we go about our daily life, we serve as witnesses to what Christ has done in our lives

    At home and afar, in the neighborhood, at the gas station and grocer
    we are witnesses to God’s love in our lives
    We spread the word in the good soil and bad, on both the tilled and rocky ground
    Then we let the Holy Spirit work in the hearts of the hearers thru this word.

    I say don’t let the “E” word be a bad word. But a great word with good news for all

  6. @Bob Allen #6
    The danger is creating a dichotomy between evangelism on one hand, and Word and Sacrament Ministry on the other, and speaking as if a focus on one required toning the other down. Faithful Lutheran pastors should certainly not “let the “E” word be a bad word,” but there are enough enthusiasts in Synod who use it in a way that has nothing to do w/ AC V. The analogy is not perfect, but because of this rampant misuse, when I hear the “E-word” I react in a similar way to when I see a rainbow flag flying at a church. Nothing the matter w/ rainbows, (Gen 9:12-16 etc.) but, they are often used as something other than the sign of the covenant God established between Himself and all life on the earth through Noah. Same deal w/ evangelism in our poor beleaguered synod.

    Reclaim the “E-Word” Pastors!

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  7. @Bob Allen #6
    Hi Bob,
    Pastor Harold Senkbeil about 20+ years ago identified a real problem in the Church. Some church growth pastors and laity had replaced the doctrine of Justification – we are saved by the grace of God, through faith, on account of Christ with Matthew 28:19ff – the so-called Great Commission. The material principle-the chief teaching-the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls had been replaced by ‘Go and Tell’, the 11th commandment! People continually misread these verses. Jesus is speaking to the Apostles. He tells them to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’. How is this done? – ‘by baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’ These words are the Words of Institution for Baptism just as we have the Words of Institution for the Lord’s Supper – the Sacraments.

    In Christ,

  8. @Diane #8
    I don’t quite understand
    are we not to share our faith?

    is go therefore, only go therefore if they come in to be baptized?

    I understand some of the dangers but
    I also understand the eternal danger for those who have never heard the word and never will because Evangelism is the wrong word to use. An we are afraid to share the word with those we meet.

    Don’t discourage people from witnessing what Christ has done in their lives because being evangelist is not in vogue.

  9. @Bob Allen #9
    Hi Bob,
    Absolutely we are to confess the faith once delivered to the saints. This is easily done in our varied vocations of father, mother, daughter, son, sister, brother, engineer, etc. I think the post by Pastor Wellumson deals with the confusion that we Christians have today because of the misapplication of Matthew 28. Jesus is speaking to the Apostles, His eyewitnesses. He is telling the Apostles how the Church will grow-by baptizing and teaching through the power of the Holy Spirit. The people living in the 21st century are not witnesses. We are confessors. We confess the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude) and are ‘always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3:15). Again, we have to remember that Jesus was speaking to the Apostles.

    Also, the Divine Service is primarily for Christians – for us to confess our sins, receive absolution, hear the Word and receive Jesus’ body and blood. Our response in praise and thanksgiving is a very, very small part. If there are unbelievers in the DS, they will be blessed by being there since faith comes by hearing.

    In Christ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.