The conversion of the church.
It is a privilege to participate in the Hein-Fry lectures at our ELCA seminaries. Lutherans always have had good theological seminaries with strong faculties, but now other traditions are watching how we collaborate. Some are surprised that the Lutherans are focusing on educating leaders for Christian communities in mission. A few have asked, "Do you know how large a task you have undertaken?" And, let us add, this task is a calling!
This year's Hein Fry topic fits that focus: Evangelism Today: Lutheran Theology and Practice. The topic implies at least three questions. What commission is God giving the church's evangelism today? Do Lutherans have wisdom to bring to this calling? And the committee has asked us, What are "especially promising scriptural foundations on which a Lutheran theology and practice of evangelism might be constructed"?
The committee sent two scripture scholars, Dr. Edgar Krentz and me, on this quest for foundations. Along with all Christians, academics hear the apostolic charge to Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim 4:5). But neither of us is a recognized "evangelist." At our best, we are teachers of the church, aspiring to be scribes "trained for the kingdom of heaven" who, as Jesus said in Matthew, bring out of the treasure "what is new and what is old" (Mt 13:52). We are thankful to be paired with bishops who can bring pastoral experience and apostolic inspiration to guide the construction.
In 1517, in his 95 theses, Martin Luther identified "the true treasure of the church" as "the Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God." (1) The subject of the gospel verb is always God down to earth in Christ Jesus. The gospel truth is first about God, God's will, God's desire, God's love. This treasure is pure gift to us but never a hoarded possession. This is also the power of God at work in us for others, for the world itself. "In Christ," declares Paul, "God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us." As evangelists, we are stewards of the treasure, letting the abundance of God's mercy flow through us as God makes us advocates and apostles of God's love for the world. "So," Paul continues, "we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us" (2 Cor 5:19-20).
In After Virtue, Alisdair MacIntyre proposes "A living tradition is an historically extended, socially embodied argument." The Lutheran tradition is socially embodied. It is borne by people in families, communities, and institutions. This faith is an historically extended confession, not settled but stirred to follow God's mission whose word is a light to our feet and a lamp to our path (Psalm 119). "Traditions, when vital," says MacIntyre, "embody continuities of conflict" (2) about the goods that constitute the tradition. The practices of our traditions, therefore, embody distinctive convictions about how "God is making his appeal through us" to the world.
Ecumenically, Lutherans stand for the justification of sinners and the priesthood of believers. When the church catholic considers Evangelism Today, justification and vocation are the theological bifocals through which Lutherans interpret the scriptures and make sense of our lives and the world. The biblical witness will inspire and discipline Lutheran evangelization.
Let's start with the word today. Our Lord asks, "Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" (Lk 12:56). These lectures are not disinterested, secular analysis. We are theologically attentive to this age, this saeculum. At least two things are evident and theologically significant: (1) Today Christendom is in decline, and world Christianity is rising; and (2) Today is an age of technological prosperity and spiritual anxiety.
In 1991, Loren Mead marked the impact of Christendom's decline in North American denominations in The Once and Future Church. (3) When our faculty and board discussed his book, one of our scholars critiqued Mead's analysis as theologically and historically oversimplified. A pastor from the board agreed but added, "Still, Mead is right. We got the ELCA together as a mainline denomination just in time for that day to be over." Our nervous laughter was not disloyal to our church or the Lutheran tradition. God is in the changes, calling the Church of Jesus Christ to a future of which we cannot see the ending. Seminaries also will be changed.
Today is early in the second century in the rise of world Christianity. Philip Jenkins's book The Next Christendom (4) and Toby Lester's article in Atlantic (5) have been acclaimed and attacked by academics and pundits. Andrew Walls's scholarly work on the history of missions (6) illumines the same reality. In 1910, when the Edinburgh Conference estimated the census of Christians in the world, the majority were in Europe and North America. Today the plurality of Christians in the world are in the southern hemisphere.
The Lutheran World Federation reflects this reality. When scholars investigate "Justification in the World's Contexts," African, Asian, and Latin American theologians bring life and insight to worn scholastic debates. Justification by faith in Christ Jesus remains the article by which the church stands or falls, but now God is justifying non-European cultures and peoples. So also, the burgeoning two-thirds--world Lutheran churches are spreading God's mercy and justice in the old lands. If you teach evangelism in an ELCA seminary, you will be glad for a Mekane Yesus Christian in the class. The Ethiopian Lutherans are actually evangelizing, not just talking about it.
Today is an age of technological prosperity and spiritual anxiety. Before September 11, Thomas Friedman diagnosed this global complexity in his dialectical metaphor of The Lexus and the Olive Tree. (7) The Lutheran tradition grasped the printing press and learning of the Renaissance as gifts of God. We will not demonize science, technology, and communications. We welcome innovation, creativity, and courage to change in our post-agrarian, postindustrial, postmodern world. But we will not deify the market. Our confidence is in God's promise in Jesus Christ. We recognize affluenza for the spiritual malaise it is, an idolatry suffocating our souls.
Many in the culture agree with this spiritual diagnosis, even those for whom faith in Jesus Christ is only a vague cultural memory. Sandra Tsing Loh assesses our present condition in her review of Living It Up. Her perspective is provocative but simplistic, as if everything "progresses" in only one direction. "We work to consume," she says.</p> <pre> We live to consume, we are what we consume.... "Materialism is not the opposite of spiritualism. Materialism is what you spiritualize when you have plenty of stuff."... And so ... as materialism--the shallowest of all the isms--marches across the globe, Berlin walls crumble, imams fall, and indigenous cultures collapse. (8) </pre> <p>Evangelism Today: Lutheran Theology and Practice is a calling to the church: "Repent of self-concern. Turn toward God's mission in faith." This first lecture is "The Conversion of the Church." The scripture is a portion of the story traditionally called "The Conversion of Cornelius."
The story in Acts shakes the foundations of our evangelism, twice. First, the good news of Jesus is also about them, before we approved. Second, while they are being justified, the Holy Spirit converts the church.
The Hebrew, prophetic word for this "turning" is shuv, the return to God, the repentance of turning away from false gods and self-interests, the conversion of the soul and of a people. This "turning" is God's invitation to the beloved. Even God may be changed in the turning. "Return to the Lord, your God," calls the prophet Joel (2:13-14), "for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether God will not turn and relent and leave a blessing."
The key New Testament word is metanoia, which Greek philosophers understood as a "change of mind," such as when a Platonist was converted to become a Pythagorean. One teaching can't simply be heaped on another. Metanoia communicates movement and change, aligning thought and life with reality or truth. This turning, this conversion, this repentance is not what I do "by my own reason or strength." It is the justifying work of God.
As Luther taught, God not only converts people but calls, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth. God converts the church.
Listen now to two passages. The first is in Acts 5 where Israel is given repentance, forgiveness, and a restored calling: "God exalted him [Jesus] at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." The second is the last verse of our text in Acts 11: "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."
This is the story of the conversion of Cornelius, Peter, and the church. In accepting Cornelius, God turns Peter's mind, confounding his soul. God converts the church from an enclave of election to an apostolic community.
Listen now to Peter's defense of his apostolic evangelism in his report to the church at Jerusalem.</p> <pre> Acts 11 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. (2) So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, (3) saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" (4) Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, (5) "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. (6) As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. (7) I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' (8) But I replied, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' (9) But a second time the voice answered from heaven, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' (10) This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. (11) At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. (12) The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. (13) He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; (14) he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.' (15) And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. (16) And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' (17) If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" (18) When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life." </pre> <p>The prefaces to Luke's two volumes announce the author's intent to write a "narrative" (diegesis: LK 1:1-4), or "story" (logos: Acts 1:1-6). The first thing we will do is "indwell" the story, letting it have its way with us.
Luke-Acts displays the high literary art of Hellenistic historiography, then quickly moves into the narrative tradition of the biblical historians. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are protagonists. Some interpreters call the second volume "The Acts of the Holy Spirit." But the human agents are also real in the story. The antagonists provide intensity and conflict. In Israel's prophetic tradition, human history is an arena where God's reign is enacted and where God's will is defied. In postmodern literary terms, the Bible is a meta-narrative. Enacting the script, Peter finally cannot prevent God's will.
This episode goes on for two chapters, then comes back in Acts 15. Only Luke's account of Jesus' execution occupies a larger space in the story.
We get just a glimpse of Cornelius's personal life and his household. We hear about his devotion, his generosity, his answered prayer. A modern telling would be highly personal with the convert singing "Amazing Grace!" The headline reads "Roman Centurion Acceptable to God!"
But in Acts, we hear no more of what happened to Cornelius. Instead, this story is about how God's mercy puts the church in crisis. The gospel changes lives, and God transforms communities. Pentecost is repeated as the Holy Spirit is "poured out even on the Gentiles" (10:44).
Can we construct Lutheran theology and practice of evangelism on these scriptural foundations? Confident of God's grace for us, we will be challenged by God's justifying mercy for others. Before we are consulted, God is already accepting others as they are. What choice do we have?
First an angel of God appeared to the Centurion in Caesarea, who sends for Simon Peter lodging with Simon the tanner in Joppa. Until now, only Israel had heard the message. The people from the nations at Pentecost in Acts 2 were Jews or proselytes. In Acts 10, Peter is already on the edge of the kosher zone, staying with a tanner of dead hides. Now the boundary is crossed, prompted by an angelic messenger and a voice from heaven, what the rabbis call a bat qol. The vision horrifies the apostle. "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean" (10:14; 11:8).
A friend who was raised as a Muslim tells about the first time he ate pork. He had been a Christian for years. He tasted the meat in a dish of food. Later someone said it was pork. He fled the room and retched violently. Peter understood this response. All Jews knew that the Maccabean martyrs faced cruel executions by the Greeks rather than even appearing to taste pork.
In literary studies of biblical narratives, Peter is a "reliable witness." Having fulfilled the dire prediction of a threefold denial, he also has enacted Jesus' promise to "turn again" or "repent" to "strengthen your brothers" (Lk 22:32). When the people of Israel grasped their complicity in the crucifixion of the Jesus whom God had made Lord and Messiah, they were "cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:37). In spite of Israel's defiance, even killing the Messiah, God intends gifts and promise, the gifts of the return to God and the presence of the Holy Spirit: "for the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:39). And what divine wrath could a Roman Centurion rightly expect? His compatriot was the officer of the heinous execution of Jesus, whom he himself declared "innocent" or "the righteous," enacting the prophetic script to his peril (Luke 23:47; Wisdom 2-3). Even Peter had not imagined how far God would extend the gift of repentance, the turn to God.
In Luke's story, Peter is a reliable witness, but God is the protagonist. The plot, God's plan and mission, was to turn the evil of those allied against Jesus into the restoration of Israel's calling to be a light to the nations.
Luke-Acts is a narrative and an Easter reading of Israel's scriptures, concerning "the things that have been fulfilled among us" (Luke 1:1). The risen Messiah "opened their minds to understand the scriptures." The story shows that "repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:45-47).
The scriptures were the common ground for Israel's faith and the battle ground among conflicting views of Israel's election. Some, like the priests in Jerusalem, died during the Roman destruction of the temple, in the midst of their sacrifices. Some despaired, wondering "Have the promises failed?" (9) But two forms of Israel's faith survived, disbursed in the empire. The Pharisaic school, which had been forged in the synagogues following the first destruction, became the Rabbinic Judaism of the second century. The followers of Messiah Jesus became the Christian movement, dominantly Gentile by mid-second century. Both traditions embodied the scriptures. Their hopes differed as much as their practices in the public realm.
To contrast the apostles' messianic interpretation, listen to the Avoth in the rabbinic Mishnah. Remember, the Mishnah is more than a century later than Acts, but it claims authoritative interpretation back to Moses:</p> <pre> Moses received the Law from Sinai and handed it down to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly (or Great Synagogue). They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence round the Law (or the Torah). (10) </pre> <p>How will God's people be faithful when the world comes apart? The rabbis had an enclave strategy, conserving scattered communities over time.
"Be deliberate in judgment." We know this wisdom. Wild-eyed prophets are a danger. The community must be protected from enthusiasts.
"Raise up many disciples!" Israel's faith in diaspora is more a matter of teaching and learning than priesthood and temple. The great learning is Talmud, and Torah is Israel's catechism for her scattered children.
"Make a fence round the Law." God's enclave of holiness on earth must be protected from contamination. We get it. Remember the Galesburg Rule? Reine Lehre! Lutheran altars for Lutheran only!
As the story is told in Acts, the apostles of Jesus fanned out to the same network of synagogues earlier generations had established as houses of prayer and houses of study, spread throughout Asia Minor, Greece, North Africa, and Italy, from Babylonia to Spain. Time and again, the apostles first argued in the synagogues that the crucified Jesus is the Messiah, often meeting rejection. But some were "receptive," they "examined the scriptures every day to see if these things were so" (Acts 17:11), and this news could not stay inside. The messianic interpretation of Israel's faith burst the enclave.
Luke lays claim to Israel's prophetic hope from the time of the first exile. When Second Isaiah was called to gather Israel to return to God, God gave a yet more profound commission: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel [restoration is good, but not enough!]; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Isa 49:6).
In Luke 2, Simeon sees the child Jesus to be the "light for revelation to the nations" which is the "glory to your people Israel." In Acts 1 Jesus is about to be taken to God's right hand. The apostles seek a restored kingdom. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit's empowerment. "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
The biblical faith is hopeful but not naive. Neither is this a fatalistic history as in the rise and fall of the Roman Empire or the rise and fall of the Third Reich. "This child," says Simeon, "is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed" (LK 2:34). God is the one who does the "setting" to lead obdurate Israel from falling to rising. Or as Ananias tries to beg off the risky assignment of finding Saul, the Lord tells him "Go, for he an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name" (Acts 9:15-16).
Luke-Acts is the story of how God turned Israel from preserving itself into an instrument of God's saving light for the nations of the world. God's justification of the ungodly is a remarkable, risky social strategy. Luke's messianic commentary proves that this was God's mission all along. God gives repentance and justifies the nations, with and beyond Israel.
So does Luke's testimony provide a foundation on which Lutheran theology and practice of evangelism may be constructed, now? In a time when Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Reformed, Evangelical, and Episcopal Christians identify the twenty-first century as an era of apostolic mission, is Luke's prophetic history a compelling source for a Lutheran vision for God's mission and evangelism in the context of North America and the world? (11)
Before we put too fine a point on it, let us simply note that Bible reading is the single most important basis for evangelism. The form varies, but this is a community practice with prayer. Having once been focused on curing biblical literalism, I can tell you our problem now is biblical illiteracy. And if congregations are not places where Bible reading is nurtured, their evangelism will be thin soup indeed. Pardon my pique, but I have been invited to congregations excited about the Jesus Seminar and the Gospel of Thomas. And did the early church really suppress the Gnostics?
Before you indulge the dominant cultural suspicion of the Christian faith and evangelism, read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Reading the scriptures together will renew your faith and open your lives to the world.
Let's not be too righteous about our evangelism methods, either. As one person who was criticized said, "I'm sorry if my evangelism offends you, but I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."
Luke's distinctive witness empowers and transforms a Lutheran theology of mission and evangelization. Let's explore this in three ways: (1) The apostolate is authorized witness to Christ crucified and raised; (2) Justification is God at work in history; (3) The conversion of the church is God's turning it into the world.
The apostolate is authorized witness to Christ crucified and raised. The Lutheran tradition was forged in the crucible of the sixteenth century, then quickly adapted to the learning of the Renaissance. Under siege from the East, Christendom, which had never been homogeneous, also fractured internally, politically, economically, and spiritually, responding in varied ways in differing contexts and cultures as a new world emerged. Varied visions of the one holy catholic and apostolic church persist to this day.
With notable exceptions, Lutherans have not yearned for the restoration of the Christendom of the Holy Roman Empire. Nor have we been enamored of the theocratic aspirations of Geneva, the City on a Hill, or the Kingdom of God in America. We have been dubious of moral rearmament, Christian perfectionism, church-growth schemes, and alienated mentalities. We often have been clearer about what we oppose than in telling the gospel truth.
But repentance means both confessing our arrogance and claiming our strength. This is a grand global tradition. J. S. Bach is our fifth evangelist, and our new hymns of Africa are filled with Spirit. Lutheran higher education is bold in its research, and our vast social service network is local and global, far beyond our size. We trust that the Triune God who raised Jesus from the dead loves the world and its people, complicated and conflicted as they are.
When Friedman describes the new world order with the metaphor of The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Lutherans nod in agreement. We are at home in both worlds. We are glad Friedman resisted the temptation of such people as Paul Kennedy, Francis Fukuyama, or Robert Kaplan "to capture in a single thought 'The One Big Thing.'" Rather, says Friedman, "the drama of the post-Cold War world is the interaction between this new system and all these old passions and aspirations. It is a complex drama, with the final act still not written." (12) We have hope in the final act!
Luke tells God's story, also a complex drama in a conflicted world, with the final act still not written. Our apostolic witness is to God's promise and whose world it ultimately will be. Our apostolate is authorized witness to Christ crucified and raised. Here we are radical. "Whatever does not teach Christ," declared Luther, "is not apostolic, even if Peter or Paul teaches it. On the other hand, whatever preaches Christ, that is apostolic, even if it is done by someone like Judas, Annas, Pilate or Herod." (13)
Justification is God at work in history. A disturbing and joyful discovery of centuries of missionary work is that God is there ahead of us. In his study subtitled "The Missionary's Impact on Culture," Lamin Sanneh saw what he called "the Gentile breakthrough" of early Christianity as the justification of "cross-cultural tolerance in Christian mission." (14) Jesuits, Pentecostals, and Lutherans alike immediately translated the Bible into indigenous languages. Within one generation, peoples and tribes had their own written language, and God spoke it. While the colonial agenda of their own lands came with them, Christian missionaries soon became advocates of native cultures. Members of our faculties who have served in non-Western contexts regularly criticize our theological domestication. The prophets are still "the troublers of Israel."
The "Gentile breakthrough" is God's. While the others were outsiders, God gave them "the repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18). Peter's faith in God leaves the apostle no choice, even with a Centurion. "Who was I that I could hinder God?" If the Triune God crossed the boundary of purity, cross-cultural mission is not mere tolerance. The church's election is its calling to apostolic mission in the twenty-first-century world of many cultures and religions.
Evangelism, in turn, is no mere benediction on human cultures. Against all regimes and schemes, the apostolic witness announces the finality of Christ, crucified at the hands of lawless people and raised by God. This is prophetic speech, placing the hearer in the presence of God. "There is salvation in no one else" (Acts 4:12). Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ are divine gifts with the benefits of forgiveness, life, and salvation. In every culture, incorporation into the body of Christ through baptism and sharing in Christ's death through the Lord's Supper change believers' lives.
One of our graduates from China is now a pastor in central South Dakota where only the pheasants are Chinese. Another from Ethiopia is serving in North Dakota. Both are astutely cross-cultural, even in their humor. Both are unapologetically evangelical in their witness. The olive trees of faith bear enduring fruit of hope that the Lexus will not overcome. The blessing of the missionary era has come home in the name of Jesus Christ. God's justification of the ungodly is the missio dei, God's mission let loose among the nations of the world.
The conversion of the church is God's turning it toward the world. The present rise of world Christianity emulates the first three centuries of the rise of Christianity. It is robust, nonconformist, and charismatic. Healings and prophecy abound. (15) What the Lutheran tradition brings to this burgeoning faith is centered in the biblical conviction that only Jesus Christ crucified is the saving power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1; Acts 4:12).
Picture the maps of Paul's missionary journeys. Think about "the church of God that is in Corinth" (1 Cor 1:2) with the synagogue near the Roman tribunal in the marketplace (Acts 18:1-17). Imagine Peter traveling from Joppa to Caesarea (Acts 10-11) or Paul entering the synagogues in Thessalonica or Beroea (Acts 17). By giving repentance, God unleashed a mission of hope, freeing faithful Israel in an empire controlled by fear.
Evangelism today is the work of the Spirit in thousands of Christian communities scattered throughout this land, like synagogues dispersed in the Roman Empire. Picture what the Episcopal Bishop Claude Payne calls the apostolates of the laity, the clergy, and the judicatories. In a merchandised world that is lonely and unforgiving, God's dominion calls the church to turn outside of its insular holiness, to be converted into apostolic communities. The risen Christ turns the church loose in an empire of commodified gods. (16)
Luke's messianic reading of Israel's scriptures announces the gospel of God's promise restored for our lives. The hopes and fears of all our years are still met in Jesus. Luke's story of Cornelius reveals again that while we were still at enmity with God, God is with us. God is for us. Justification by faith is God's pure promise to which we cling in life and death.
Luke-Acts is also a foundation narrative for the mission of the church. God's justification proves to be our calling, because, as Peter said in Acts 2:39, "the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." God is not done with us!
A few years ago I went on a "Lenten Journey," visiting seven congregations in the West that bishops had identified as "alive in mission." Following the example of our students, I was listening to what the Spirit is saying in the churches. Theologically interested in what my friend Timothy Lull described as the many mission contexts of the West, 17 I came to hear what God is doing in very different churches. I attended worship, sat in on a Bible study, and met with lay leaders, the staff, and the church council, as the pastor was able to schedule them. My questions were always the same: "What mission has God given to you?" "What are your leadership needs?" "How can you help us prepare future leaders for the church's mission?" and "Who will lead Word and Sacrament ministries in a time of mission?"
One pastor was nervous. In his early years of ministry, he was known for his high liturgical practice. Now he was in a blue-collar town in the Pacific Northwest, the most secularized area in the nation. The church was an ethnic enclave, more Nordic than Norway, more Midwestern than Minnesota, and dying. He had taken his lay leaders to a seminar on the church for the unchurched. Together they turned the congregation inside out.
The first service was traditional with robes and candles, even a gospel procession. At 11:00, however, it was a praise band, a skit, and the pastor walking the aisle with a microphone. His sermon was down-to-earth gospel!
At the coffee hour, a 90-year-old man accosted me. "Well, what do you think about our church?"
(Time to listen, not talk!) "It's very interesting!"
He snorted, "I don't even know if it's Lutheran!" But then his eye twinkled.
"How would you know?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"How would you know if it is Lutheran?"
He snorted again. "Maybe I don't even care. Listen, we have had ten adult baptisms here since Christmas. That's good enough for me!"
"And are they coming to faith in Jesus Christ?" I asked.
"Of course! And reading the Bible too! And bringing their friends!"
"Then I think it is Lutheran in the best sense. Thanks be to God!"
You who bear the apostolic office of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, when the Spirit sends you to Cornelius, do not make a distinction between them and us, lest you withstand God. Evangelism today will convert the church.
David L. Tiede
1. Martin Luther, "The Ninety-five Theses," #62, in John Dillenberger, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings (New York: Anchor Books, 1961), 496.
2. Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 222.
3. Loren Mead, The Once and Future Church (Washington D.C.: Alban, 1991).
4. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford, 2002).
5. Toby Lester, "Oh, Gods!" Atlantic (February 2002), 37-45.
6. Andrew Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History (New York: Orbis, 1996).
7. Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (New York: Anchor, 2000).
8. Sandra Tsing Loh, "Burgher Deluxe," Atlantic (December 2003), 126-28.
9. See Gwendolyn B. Sayler, Have the Promises Failed? A Literary Analysis of 2 Baruch (Chico: SBL, 1984. Dissertation Series 72).
10. Mishnayoth, IV, Order Nezikin, 3d edition by Philip Blackman (New York: Judaica Press, 1965), 489.
11. See Richard H. Bliese, "Lutheran Missiology: Struggling to Move from Reactive Reform to Innovative Initiative," in The Role of Mission in the Future of Lutheran Theology, ed. Viggo Mortensen (Aarhus: Centre for Multireligious Studies, 2003), 11-30.
12. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, xxi.
13. Preface to James, Luther's Works 35, ed. E. T. Bachmann (1960), 357ff.
14. Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message (New York: Orbis, 1990), 47.
15. See Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, 1997).
16. Claude E. Payne, Reclaiming the Great Commission (New York: Jossey-Bass, 2000).
17. See also "Preface: A Tribute to Tim Lull," in The Role of Mission in the Future of Lutheran Theology, ed. V. Mortensen, 5-10.