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What Luther Says

Providence? 'Evangelize' My City? Turn A Blind Eye To The Blind? (Buffalo, NY On 'The Least Bible-Minded Cities In America' List)

The American Bible Society and the Barna Group are back with an updated list showing where residents in 100 U.S. cities rank when it comes to Bible-mindedness.

So, how exactly is this characteristic measured? As Christianity Today reported, it is based on combined levels of regular reading of the Bible (self-reported consumption in the past 7 days) and belief in the text’s accuracy.

The findings are based on a random sample of 46,274 adults, which was conducted over a 7-year period that concluded in August 2013. The maximum sampling error, as Charisma News noted, is +/-0.5 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

The American Bible Society noted that common geographic stereotypes were reaffirmed in the most recent findings. Consider that the Midwest and South are distinguished as the most "Christian regions in the U.S., while numerous cities on the East Coast were found to be some of the least Bible-minded localities in the nation.

Two quick takeaways from this study.

Does anyone else find it tragically ironic that Providence, R.I. is ranked dead last coming in the 100th slot as America’s least Bible-minded city?

Here's just one of the many things Martin Luther had to say about God's providence.

3690 Flowers Preach Providence of God

But it is the devil himself and the disastrous fall we committed that make it necessary for us to watch a whole world filled with birds and flowers opposed to us, denouncing our unbelief by their own example and appearance, and acting as our most sublime theologians. They sing and preach to us and smile at us so lovingly just to have us believe. And yet we go right on letting them preach and sing, while we remain as greedy and selfish as ever. But to our eternal shame and disgrace each individual flower is a witness against us to condemn our unbelief before God and all the creatures until the Last Day.

*- What Luther Says

More importantly, what does the Bible say about God's providence?

Divine providence is the means by and through which God governs all things in the universe. The doctrine of divine providence asserts that God is in complete control of all things. This includes the universe as a whole (Psalm 103:19), the physical world (Matthew 5:45), the affairs of nations (Psalm 66:7), human birth and destiny (Galatians 1:15), human successes and failures (Luke 1:52), and the protection of His people (Psalm 4:8). This doctrine stands in direct opposition to the idea that the universe is governed by chance or fate.

The purpose, or goal, of divine providence is to accomplish the will of God. To ensure that His purposes are fulfilled, God governs the affairs of men and works through the natural order of things. The laws of nature are nothing more than a depiction of God at work in the universe. The laws of nature have no inherent power, nor do they work independently. The laws of nature are the rules and principles that God set in place to govern how things work.

That was the first takeaway.

The second? Take a look at one of the cities on the "Least Bible-Minded" list.

The 10 Least Bible-Minded Cities:

100. Providence, R.I./New Bedford, Mass.
99. Albany, N.Y.
98. Boston
97. San Francisco
96. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
95. Buffalo, N.Y.
94. Hartford/New Haven, Conn.
93. Phoenix
92. Burlington, Vt.
91. Portland, Maine

Yep, that's my home town! Where I was born and raised and where I currently live and am raising my family too. Can you believe it? I couldn't.

Naturally, I called an emergency church meeting and told the "Church Growthers" that I have been wrong all along, and that I now see what they're all talking about, and that I agree 100% with their cleverly devised marketing schemes and tactics to reach the "un-churched" in this area, and that I am ready to join them in doing whatever it takes to convert the souls of men and women around here, and that...

Yeah, um, not so fast.

Though a tragic reality indeed, I haven't forgotten that God grows His Church -- not man -- and that my job is to simply focus on the various vocations He has given me in this life, and to love my neighbors, and to invite them to Church.

Ah, but there's a very important caveat here that we need to understand.

Proponents of syncretism claim evangelism is accomplished in a worship service where upon hearing the Word an unbeliever may be converted and brought to Christ. No one I know would disagree with such a possibility. No one. By the activity of the Holy Spirit this happens all-the-time in churches scattered around the globe -- to God be the glory! It is this possibility and reality that is lifted up as the reason to worship alongside pagans in syncretistic worship.
First, we need to ask what is the purpose of the Divine Service? Is worship to feed and nourish the faithful in their Baptismal grace and to strengthen their vocational service out in the world? Or, is worship primarily an opportunity for missionary outreach? Do you see the divide in thinking?
Contrary to the laudable desire to evangelize in the Divine Service perhaps the order and the economy of things is the obverse -- the other way around. Instead of bringing the non-Christian to the Divine Service to be evangelized, the Christian in his vocation is to interact, meet, witness, lovingly pray and evangelize such an individual in order to proclaim the Gospel. And then the individual is brought to the Divine Service.

Lutheran Worship: History and Practice addresses this issue and makes a confession: the Divine Service is for the believer. It is not for evangelizing the non-Christian though as said above it can and does happen by the power of the Word.

"That Lutheran worship is liturgical says nothing about the degree or extent of its ritualism or ceremonialism. It does bear witness that we are a people who desire to receive faithfully God’s blessings in Word and Sacrament according to the pattern He has set. Such worship is not understood to be missionary, evangelistic, or catechetical activity directed toward those who are outside the church. Rather, the church’s missionary, evangelistic, and catechetical activity follows from the preaching and hearing of the Word of God and the faithful receiving of the Lord’s body and blood. What comes forth from the Lord also returns to Him, as candidates are brought to the font and confirmands are led to the altar, thus, in turn, to worship the Triune God in Word and Sacrament. Rightly does David Truemper assert: 'An understanding of the church based on the … [Augsburg Confession Art. VII] leads to the conviction that we do not worship in order to gain converts but rather we evangelize in order to gain worshipers.'"

To a large extant our synodical discussion around the "permissibility" of syncretistic services reflects differing views on what is the purpose of the Divine Service. Perhaps we can learn something from the world’s greatest missionary, St. Paul. According to St. Paul what is the purpose of the worship service?

Through the course of time many accusations have been leveled against St. Paul. You, the reader, have no doubt heard the litany; homophobic, misogynist, etc. But I have yet to hear anyone charge this servant of Christ who so suffered for the Gospel with not having a missionary heart. Any doubts ought to be erased when we read how Paul recounted his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:21b-29.

Paul took any and every opportunity to preach the Gospel trusting in the saving power of the Word, as has been stated above. Trusting and knowing this saving power of the Word however did not lead St. Paul to engage in syncretistic worship. To those who suggest we worship on the dais alongside non-Christians for the sake of "witnessing" to them I would ask them to read and ponder what the Spirit of Christ says through St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.


In other words, that's key for us to understand within this context, because what I should not do is drop everything I'm doing (i.e., ignore my vocations) and hit the streets with a bullhorn, soapbox, and tracts in the hopes of "evangelizing" the non-Christians here in Buffalo, NY.

Why? Oh, let me count the ways!

In the New Testament the noun "evangel" is simply translated "gospel." It is a word which is made up of two smaller words; eu or ev and angel. The first word means good and the second means message. So the evangel is the gospel which is a good message or good news. The verb then means to speak a good message. It is usually translated, "preach the gospel" although I suppose it might be a bit clearer if we simply used the word "evangelize" or, better and more consistent, "gospelize."

In the Bible the word "evangelize" is used 53 times. Of the 53 times it refers to public preaching roughly 41 times. Primary evangelizers are Jesus, John the Baptist, the apostles, Paul, Barnabas, Philip and various angels. In Luke 2:1ff the Angel evangelizes or gospelizes. In Luke 8 Jesus evangelizes or gospelizes. In Acts 8 Philip gospelizes and in Acts 15:1ff Paul and Barnabas evangelize.

Nowhere in the New Testament is it said that all Christians are evangelists or that 10% of people have the gift of evangelism as the church growth crowd used to assert. Rather, those who evangelize are specially appointed to the task. No where in the New Testament is there the suggestion that the word "evangelize" refers primarily to communicating one on one. It’s usually preaching to a group. No where in the New Testament is there any hint that the word gospelize refers to communicating the good news exclusively to those who do not yet believe as if the content of a message is determined by the unbelief of the hearer.

Instructive is the use of the word in Romans 10 and its connection with the word "sent." Romans 10:14-15, sited by David Vaughn in his article on Ablaze!, rhetorically asks, "How can people gospelize unless they are sent?" Gerhard Kittel in his huge New Testament dictionary makes the point that the word "send" is a word which refers to the call into the service of the church. "In the NT we must say finally that the word [send] does begin to become a theological term meaning 'to send forth to service in the kingdom of God with full authority (grounded in God).'" So, in order to Gospelize or evangelize you must be sent or called into the service of the church. Kittel further asserts that the job of Evangelizing was given to certain people who were answerable to the apostles. Vaughn seems to understand this when he asserts "the need for an intentional effort by the LC-MS to mobilize evangelists with one aim; the telling of the Good News."

Of course now we have the word Evangelist in front of us. This word is used only three times in the New Testament. Once it refers to Philip (Acts 21:8). Once it says that Evangelists are among the offices which God has given to the church (Ephesians 4:11). It stands between Apostles, Prophets, and pastors and teachers. And once the word is used by Paul in a pastoral epistle. He tells Timothy to "do the work of Evangelist, fulfill your ministry" ( I Timothy 4:5).

So, in New Testament the word "evangelize" or "gospelize" refers to publically speaking the good news to people. It requires a call and it is a task and an office which is given to pastors among whom were Jesus, Timothy, Paul, Barnabas and others. These exegetical conclusions are summarily contradicted by Vaughn who says, "Evangelism is not a delegated action to a select few sent to the masses to evangelize." In fact that is precisely what an evangelist is in the New Testament.

(Philip’s designation as "Evangelist" coupled with the fact that he was one of the deacons is worthy of further analysis. Consider also that Stephen, another deacon, was clearly preaching the Gospel in Acts 7 although the designation Evangelist is not given him. This analysis will not be done by me any time soon.)

I know what you are thinking. If all Christians are not evangelists then doesn’t that relieve the vast majority of church members from the responsibility of telling other about Jesus? Of course not. May it never be. We just need to use words the way God does in the Bible. Christians confess the faith. They tell others. They proclaim Jesus. But a discussion of these words will have to wait for another day.


Ok, so what's the answer then?

How should a Christian like me respond to this kind of news?

I mean, how can I turn a blind eye to the blind anywhere, but especially in my hometown?

Well, I think we can start by learning how to confront those who are angry at Christianity and leave the rest to the power of God. That's really where all the power needed for conversion and church growth resides anyway, isn't it?

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, while we are to shun worshipping with non-Christians, we are not to shun non-Christians, for how then would they hear the Gospel (Romans 10:15)?

At the same time, we must also prayerfully consider why Lutherans can't evangelize too (do make some time to read that one).

For now, I'll end this lengthy piece with this...

I don’t like the word 'evangelism' much because to me it connotes people on the lookout for other people whom they can 'witness to,' weekend seminars, and other similar ideas. (I don’t care for the word "witness" when used in this context, but am even less enamored with the word "share" as in "share the gospel with others.")

Personally I don’t think the LCMS leadership (those who promote and defend CW and Church Growth) is interested in saving souls, but in changing the LCMS into an American Evangelical body, in order to suit its misinformed sensibilities as to what the Church is and isn’t, does and doesn’t do. The evidence for this is that it promotes CG and CW which are a combination of fluff and legalism, neither of which can forgive sins or give sinners a hearty faith in Christ, or confidence in trial or on the day of judgment. This being the case, I consider refuting their methods to be shadow-boxing.

But that aside, what they propose doesn’t work. They burden consciences with the "need to evangelize." But the laity is neither called, nor qualified to do such a thing, nor are they quickly or easily trainable. What they’re being asked to do IS rocket science, theologically speaking.

Nor does our leadership ever tell a person how to do it. There’s talk of door knocking, sandwich making, igniter events, and literature left on door knobs etc, but it’s all inchoate. Anecdotally speaking, every time I’ve told a group of Lutherans that it’s not their job to be "evangelists," I’ve gotten an audible sigh of relief. The latest word I glean from CG/CW adherents is that evangelism is best carried out by starting new congregations using the "coffee house," golf-shirted-pastor model. They pin their hopes on this to win the world, but to what I’m not sure.

So how is mission work done today, in the 21st century of the Christian Church? It’s done primarily through established congregations (and establishing new ones) that faithfully preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments, and do so in their natural setting which is the Mass/Divine Liturgy. The Gospel and Sacraments don’t come naked, or without a context. We must not deny the history or mystery of Christ’s Church.

That’s the macro method, but for the record let me give some examples of the micro method. First we note that every person who is in the church was at one time an unbeliever. Most were evangelized through infant baptism. They were then taught, absolved and fed over a period of decades. This counts, though CG/CW adherents don’t seem to think that it does as far as I can tell.

Besides this, on the micro level, there are numerous other outreaches, large and small that occur. Members bring friends and relatives. Young ladies and men bring fiances. Children bring their friends to SS. VBS and Lutheran Day Schools (more so in the past than now I think) were responsible for leading many out of the: power of darkness, and bringing them into the Kingdom of His own dear Son. (Colossians 1:13) Besides this, every pastor has numerous contacts in his ministry from inquirers, troubled people who are referred to him by members and others, people he meets in nursing homes and hospitals, people who stop the collared-man on the street or in a restaurant to talk. If we were to list the contacts of other pastors (and I’d love to hear some of them) we’d find some amazing stories and possibly understand that the Spirit is at work even when we might think He’s not. These contacts may lead to further instruction or membership, or they may not. But the Word has been planted or watered (1 Corinthians 3:6) and that’s the extent of the Church’s Call. The results are up to the Spirit. When you add up all these "micro" contacts, you get an impressive record of the Holy Spirit creating faith in men when and where He will.

Is there a place for formal, intentional, large scale mission work? Yes, whenever and wherever God provides the qualified people and resources. Otherwise, the methods stated above obtain.

Rev. Fr. Dean Kavouras, PastorChrist Lutheran Church – Cleveland

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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