Market-Style Evangelism is Enthusiasm

A fellow author for BJS, Pastor Joe Abrahamson, brought to my attention this testimonial of a woman who apostatized after realizing that her life as a Christian was not much different than her job as a saleswoman. From listening to her story it hit me at how much happiness and fellowship she was enjoying during her short monologue. Her comrades of scoffers reacted with hearty laughter as she recounted to them, with her calm sense of humor, the events that led to her conversion to unbelief. You can take a listen if you would like. What her whole presentation reveals is how damaging market-style evangelism is for souls. And we should not be fooled.

The problem with market-style evangelism is that they tend to shift the focus toward “ministry” often at the expense of actually preaching the gospel. I have heard too many sermons where the emphases are on going out and spreading the gospel without actually preaching the gospel to the people gathered to hear it. The articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae, instead of remaining the central emphasis, is at best a preface to what we are really here for: making disciples. With the enthusiastic doctrine of “everyone a minister,” they replace the central message of justification for Christ’s sake through faith alone with “Go and make.” Instead of compelling people to confess the gospel simply by preaching the gospel of Christ’s love (2 Cor 5:14), they motivate by the law in a frantic spirit by pointing out statistics of how many people die not knowing Jesus. Instead of concentrating mainly on feeding the sheep with the pure spiritual milk of the gospel, pastors see themselves as coaches who equip the saints for them to do the work of ministry.

But this is more than just an error of emphasis. This market-style evangelism is enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is seeking God outside of his external means. God’s external means are his Word, Sacraments, and his institutions. When we teach people that pastors are simply there as fellow ministers who coach them to perform the ministry, then we teach them to seek God’s favor outside of the means that he has provided; we teach them enthusiasm. Yes, we seek God’s favor in the ministry, because the ministry was instituted to preach the gospel. Even the pastor seeks God’s favor in this ministry, not by his own work, but because of the doctrine that God has given for this ministry to teach. This doctrine saves both preachers and hearers (1 Tim 4:16). The office of pastor is given by God “that we may obtain such faith …[that embraces the Gospel] to wit, that God, not for our merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. (AC V)”  To turn the pastor into the leader of marketers and entrepreneurs for the church is to redefine what God has instituted – the essence of enthusiasm.

I can’t point specifically to the one thing that killed this woman’s faith, but two things are evident from her story. First, she makes it clear that what really drove her away was realizing that the Christian life – at least in her experience – was not much different than the life of a salesman. Second, rather than seeing her pastor as a spiritual father (1 Tim 1:2) who cares for her soul (Heb 13:17), she saw him as one who would rally her to sell the product of the gospel to other people. When the message to the church, “Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom, (Luke 12:32)” becomes instead, “People are going to go to hell unless you reach them with Jesus” then the sheep are turned away from the means through which God has chosen to work. They are made enthusiasts.

Becoming an enthusiast is a great danger, and it is the beginning of all error. It is the beginning of all error, because it is turning away from God’s Word – the essence of unbelief. Usually when we think of an enthusiast we imagine someone who says that the Holy Spirit is speaking to him directly outside of the Word. This is certainly the classic example, but it is not the only example. Enthusiasm, again, is seeking favor, blessing, or growth from God outside of the means he has provided. This is a much broader road than we might think. So for example, to seek a good youth ministry apart from the involvement of parents – the office that God has instituted to care for children and bring them up in the fear and instruction of the Lord – is enthusiasm. To seek justice outside of the rule of law is enthusiasm. To start a mission in which the goal is not to establish a congregation that regularly gathers around the Word and administration of the sacraments by a called minister – this is enthusiam.

The evangelism model that God has established was instituted by Christ (Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:21-23), and it was described by Paul when he told Titus to ordain presbyters (pastors) in every city (Titus 1:5). This model also includes making sure that these pastors are apt to teach (1 Tim 3:1ff; 2 Tim 2:2; Tit 1:6ff). To abandon this model or to replace it with something else is enthusiasm, because this is more than a mere evangelism model. It is the office that God has instituted.

The institutions of God don’t limit the gospel, but they do limit us. Centering our mission around God’s institutions limits us for our own good, so that we don’t turn the mission of the church (whether intentionally or unintentionally) into our own product for selling. But this does not mean that Christians are chained down and kept from confessing the gospel. The gospel grows. It spreads throughout the regions. That’s simply the nature of the Word (Acts 12:24). So it’s certainly a good idea – no, crucial! – to remind Christians that it is their duty to confess the faith to everyone (1 Pet 3:15) and teach their children at home (Eph 6:4), but these are simple table-of-duty instructions. The Word that is still for them and for the nourishment of their souls is the same gospel that is the power of salvation for all who believe (Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18). And this gospel grows. That’s simply what it does. People talk about it. Some believe it and some don’t, but the gospel insists on spreading. Whether the one who hears the gospel believes or denies it has nothing to do with the gospel’s growth. And turning the gospel into something that we need to sell, whether by making our “style” more culturally relevant (see Rom 12:2) or by adjusting our language (see 2 Tim 1:13), is robbing the gospel of its inherent power. It is enthusiasm.

So how can we avoid being enthusiasts? The first thing we do is repent of our sinful desires that are constantly raging against the desires of the Spirit, and walk by the Spirit through faith, free from the accusation of the law (Gal 5:16-18). Learning from the 10th Commandment, which exposes these desires (Rom 7:7), we proceed by encouraging everyone to stay and do his or her duty according to what God has ordained (SC I, 10). Encourage pastors to preach the Word with clarity. Insist that any ceremony, any tradition, or any style in the Divine Service is for the sake of clearly teaching the pure gospel and promoting unity with those who do the same (see AC XV). Encourage parents to teach their kids God’s Word. Encourage the fathers not to teach their children that church is just for women and little kids. Encourage all Christians to live in the truth, confessing the gospel to each other and to anyone in their paths.

But all of this encouraging is in vain unless we insist that the pastoral office is the office of the gospel. Insist that your pastor continue to preach to you and teach you what the gospel is. This is primarily for your comfort and spiritual care. When this is the case, then you experience the joy and unity from your fellow saints who gather around the same divine instruction. This gospel becomes a delight for you to confess, because even while you hear this truth being denied, this stone, rejected by men, remains your chief cornerstone. You are given direction in your life as a Christian, according to the table of duties instituted by God, not according to some arbitrary and vague ministry that your supervisor drops on you. You therefore live with a good conscience in your walk as a Christian, because you live your life under the cross whereby Christ made full atonement for sins, the cross that is preached to you every Sunday. We therefore flee enthusiasm, because there is no rest in that dwelling place (Micah 2:10), and we cling to the gospel of the forgiveness of our sins, making use of the means that God has given. In this way, we live in Jesus’ name, knowing that our labor is not in vain.

About Pastor Andrew Preus

Pastor Andrew Preus is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran/St. Paul Lutheran, Guttenberg/McGregor, IA. He is the eighth of eleven sons, with one sister. He received his seminary training at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON (MDiv) from 2009 to 2013, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (STM) from 2013 to 2014. His main theological interests include Justification and Church and Ministry. He is married to Leah Preus (nee Fehr), and they have five children: Jacob, Solveig, Kristiana, Robert, and Marian.


Market-Style Evangelism is Enthusiasm — 14 Comments

  1. Exceptional work to remind us that Scripture has always had the right model for church and missions. Furthermore, it’s actually very clear.

    It is all too easy to forget that the Gospel transcends context and time. By the command and in the care of God, a group of unexceptional men delivered the Good News to cultures radically different from their own. It was no accident.

    If you want to know how to be “missional”, learn to confess the whole faith to yourself and others at all times.

  2. It drives me crazy hearing sermons that mention the term “Gospel” without the actual content of that wonderful Good News being proclaimed. MORE GOSPEL! We need a return to Walther’s 25th Thesis in “The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel”.

  3. Why do you always seem to feel that Evangelism is Enthusiasm. OK, “market-style” as you say, a new word coined by some.

    Is the problem truly that Evangelism to some, preaching the Word in season and out, and sharing it with a hostile world is just hard, stinky, not easy. No one really likes talking to sinners, BUT WE DO, we must.

    You know, going out to preach and bring the Gospel does meet with bad results, look at the disciples, only one in tradition did not die a martyr. Praise be that most of us do not have to face death for sharing Christ and Salvation at the Cross.

    Yes, there is proper rules and regulation, both via Scripture and Confessions to share a Message that does not become altered by culture, but go and share it with all the gifts God has provided.

    So if I am an Enthusiast of Christ (and not an “old school Enthusiast of Reformation Days) for the sake of the Gospel by flinging open the doors of my Church and sharing the Message of the Cross; I will accept the tag.

    I know you are trying to bust WIKI 5/2 etc., but as a fellow BJSer says, “move along.”

  4. Reminds me of something Carl Schalk once said at a conference I attended, regarding a particular hymn. He spoke of “I Love to Tell the Story”, a hymn in which the Story is never told. To him, this was a worthless hymn. I agree. Many modern churches seem to follow that idea, enjoy preaching, but don’t teach about Jesus.

  5. @Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. #3
    I’m not sure what your problem with my article is. I am all for evangelism. I am all for confessing. In fact, I’m not just for it. I promote and urge it. I admonish my hearers to confess their faith where ever they go, and I give them directions on how to do it, according to the table of duties. We support missionaries who have been trained and proven apt to teach, have been called and ordained to teach, and are faithful to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions. So I’m not sure what your complaint is.

  6. Thank you for a great lesson on enthusiasm. I hope there are those who read this and take it to heart. The simple way that you instruct should leave no misunderstanding. I hope we will see more from you soon!

  7. @Pastor Andrew Preus #5
    No, we good, a little rant because a fellow BJSer called me an Enthusiast (from an earlier thread), and those are fighting words. Apologies if it felt that way (and , OK, it did). Apologies again.

    Yet (and this will become an academic search of renewed interest in my current studies), could God work outside of means? The OT is peppered with God (via the Holy Spirit) working for no real apparent reason. How? He is God.

    Now, now all, this is an academic curiosity, I still believe in solid Confessional Lutheran teachings about God’s Word. Albeit learning ALL THE TIME.

    Perhaps it comes down to words? We all see things in a different light. As Pastor Rossow did allude, publicity is a better word than marketing; yet in the end, call it what you will, the “product” we confess is the same, cannot change.

    Also, I have some confessional baggage. Some confessional men did argue that we are Church, let them come in, and knock at the door.

  8. I also think we sometimes mix up terms, is this word for enthusiasm linked to Schwenkfelders used here?

    The Lutherans have a long history of resisting and even rejecting what Luther himself called “enthusiasm.” The “Schwenkfelders” were the first Church body after the Reformation to practice a faith that required not only an inner presence of God’s Spirit (through baptism or confession), but also an outward expression/manifestation of the Spirit. Luther rejected their teaching. They eventually immigrated away from Southern Germany and Europe to America in the early 1700’s.

    So am I missing up terms?

    Yes, some confusion, toss in the Schwärmerei, the “enthusiasts” of Anabaptist nature.

    Oh, I think I must put this down for now, All Saints looms large.

  9. Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. :
    Yet (and this will become an academic search of renewed interest in my current studies), could God work outside of means? The OT is peppered with God (via the Holy Spirit) working for no real apparent reason. How? He is God.

    I think the better question is “Will God work outside the means He institutes?”

  10. Pastor Prentice,

    Apology accepted.

    It isn’t what God can do that I am concerned with. God is sufficient in himself. He doesn’t need any means. I need means. And I need the means that God provides and through which he has promised to work. Sure, it’s true that children can be raised by a single parent. Sure, it’s true that Christians can survive by reading their Bible with no pastor available. Sure, it’s true that faith can be created even in heterodox assemblies in so far as the pure Word shines through despite the false doctrine. But I need means.

  11. @Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. #8

    I think the challenge is words. It happens a lot is society. It happens quite a bit in the e_ca. Some people argue for a different narrative, and if they are not as successful, also change the meaning of words to make your argument stronger. Hence the marketing/publicity/evangelism discussion. What is it, what does it mean, and when does it cross the line?

    A tangental example is lay ministry. Most districts using them call them Deacons. New Jersey calls them Lay minister. Mequon has a Commission Minister Lay Minister program. Dave Benke has called all rostered “servants” deacons (DCE, LT, DPM, LM, DCO) My feeling is that Benke really stretches the boundaries so that when the Task Force attempts to do its work, he forces us to spend extra (waste) time on defining terms.

    And as for busting WIKI 5/2 chops, that’s because some of us have seen this before. PLI (because the seminaries don’t train pastors well enough), Ablaze, TCN, Wiki 5/2… We are sick and tired of this regurgitation. When is enough enough? When do we dust our sandals off and have nothing to do with these false teachers anymore?

  12. @Jason #11
    PLI (because the seminaries don’t train pastors well enough),

    Sarcasm mode on, I assume!

    The seminaries train Lutheran Pastors… at least that’s the intent at Fort Wayne; about CSL, I beginning to wonder again!

    But that isn’t good enough for some who long for the evangelical pastures! [But only to the extent of “leaning down the fences”. ]

    Dr Murray’s Memorial Moments is good on “praise” this morning. He’s elaborating on Luther this week.

  13. @helen #12

    Yes, yes and yes! I just read Pastor Murray’s devotion. Absolutely one of the best pieces on the subject of so-called sincere worship.

    Happy Reformation Day everyone!

    In Christ,

  14. Pastor David L. Prentice Jr. :
    @Pastor Andrew Preus #5
    The OT is peppered with God (via the Holy Spirit) working for no real apparent reason.

    I didn’t catch this right away, but I just looked over it again. I just wanted to comment on this quote. The key word is “apparent.” Yes, it’s true that because of our feeble human reason we are often not able to understand why God does certain things in the Scriptures, but Jesus says that all Scripture testifies of him (Luke 24), so I when I come to one of these “apparent” non sequiturs, then I will approach it with repentance, praying the prayer I have been taught:
    Blessed Lord, You have cause all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, by patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the hope of eternal life, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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