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What Luther Says

'Smiley Face' Gospel Tracts Are No Match For Word And Sacrament Ministry!

We've all seen them, haven't we?

In fact, some of us may have even used them at one time or another (guilty as charged!).

I'm talking about the "Smiley Face" Gospel Tract.

Now, this isn't going to be a post about the pros and cons of Gospel Tracts per se.

However, I think the popularity of Gospel Tracts today -- yes, even within some Lutheran Churches -- is doing more harm than good, and though I am far from being any kind of an "expert" on this subject (let alone someone who has significant statistical data to back up his point), I was an Evangelical myself and can speak from experience.

I know, that's ironic, isn't it? Because it's precisely this un-Biblical emphasis on SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCES that makes modern day attempts to "evangelize the lost" so dangerous.

So let me just cut to the chase then.

Pastor Sam Wellumson published an excellent piece titled "I Will Show You My Evangelism By My Word And Sacrament Ministry" at Steadfast Lutherans yesterday that is very, very good.

Here are a few excerpts worth our prayerful consideration...

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."
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)
Scripture 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.

Here's a comment I left in response...

"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, Jeff

Hopefully, you can see that to be Lutheran does not mean that you somehow don't care about the lost or about sharing the "Good News" that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them, but that you're only concerned with doing so in such a way that it's Biblical and that it exults the Person and work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We began today's entry by referencing those "Smiley Face" Gospel Tracts that are so popular. Here's something I once came across that I think says it all about why we should refrain from using them.

Smiley-Face Christianity: The Gospel For The 21st Century

Modern man wants a modern Gospel, a more palatable plan of salvation, one that has a more seeker-friendly message accompanied by a happy-face delivery boy. And such a Gospel -- which is no Gospel at all -- must adhere to certain socially acceptable guidelines to be acceptable to today's "tolerant" generation, the generation that tolerates anything OTHER THAN Biblical truth.

Here are those modern guidelines:
*- Do your best to preach without hurting anyone's feelings
*- You must be "doing it wrong" if you upset or offend your listeners
*- Be sure to present your views as no more valid than anyone else's
*- Never tell anyone that their religion or their views about heaven are wrong
*- You cannot preach about hell...that word must be totally avoided
*- Do not refer to people as sinners, but simply as fallible human beings
*- Avoid using the word sin...Call sins "mistakes" instead
*- Never talk about damnation, only about God's "unconditional love"
*- Use a modern Bible that has been edited to remove offensive words and doctrines
*- If you must talk about sin, never use specific examples, just speak in general terms so that no one will think you are talking about them

Based upon the above guidelines for modern evangelism, John The Baptist would never have been beheaded if he had not been so "intolerant" about the behavior of others. He should have just minded his own business. But instead he had to go out and "judge" others, making himself a "bad example" for witnessing. The evangelist Stephen would never have been stoned to death if he had not made the Jewish religious leaders so angry by his "mean-spirited" speech about their hypocrisy and sinfulness. And the apostle Paul would have gotten many more "converts" and a lot less flack if he had only avoided certain subjects (like the exclusiveness of salvation by Jesus Christ). But he had to be "obnoxious" and tell people the truth. And of course Jesus Christ destroyed so many people's "self esteem" by constantly telling them to "go and sin no more." If he had only stuck to miracles and healings, he would have been much more "popular" and would never have been crucified. In fact just about everyone would have liked him...At one point during his ministry the Jews even wanted to make him their king. But he ended up "upsetting" too many people in high places by violating the evangelism guidelines above. Perhaps Jesus was not familiar with "friendship" evangelism, where deeds are preferred over creeds.

If you are in a church that uses the "modern" approach to sharing the Gospel, run from it as fast as you can and find a church that preaches the whole counsel of God and that loudly and clearly warns the lost to flee the wrath to come.

As an ex-Evangelical, I can assure you that that's good advice.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, just make sure you also find a church that makes Christ the focus by elevating the Word and Sacraments to their rightful place (rightly dividing the Word and rightly administering His body and blood); the place that God always intended them to have in the believer's life.

For me, I've found that there's one confessional body of believers that does that more faithfully than all the rest...and I'm not ashamed one bit to admit that publicly.

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 our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

1 comment

  1. Anonymous,

    Ironically, I used to use that very same "video tract" in the past so I'm quite familiar with it.

    However, I think you may have misunderstood my point in writing this piece. Yes, we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).

    At the same time, wanna know what I think is better than the best Gospel Tract out there? Invite people to church with you where they will (hopefully) hear Law and Gospel properly preached and receive the Sacraments rightly administered!

    Grace And Peace,


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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