Saturday, January 12, 2008

Christ Present in the Church

A number of years ago I was at a men's retreat and the Saturday evening schedule featured a presentation on the Four Spiritual Laws by a man affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ. This being a retreat sponsored by a Lutheran church, I was aghast. (If this story sounds familiar, it's because I've blogged about it before.)

After the presentation, I went up to the man (who happens to be a graduate of a theological school in Germany) and said, "That doesn't sound very Lutheran." He responded, "No, it isn't, is it?" He went on to explain how the Lutheran "strategy" for evangelism revolves around the sacraments. We faithfully offer the sacaraments in church, and baptize anyone who happens to wander in. But what about the people who don't wander in? How do we reach them?

This event has really stuck with me, but the importance of the gentleman's question didn't really sink in with me until today. This morning I was reading chapter 3 of The Evangelizing Church wherein Richard Bliese talks about the Babylonian captivity of Word and Sacrament. Bliese highlights the Lutheran tendency to use the slogan "word and sacrament ministry" as a way to avoid the work of being an evangelizing church. If sermons are being preached in our communities and we're baptizing our children, then we're being faithful, right? But we've forgotten (or, could it be, not noticed) that the gift of salvation is also a call (the point of Kelly Fryer's chapter 2 of the book).

So what do we do? Do we simply turn to the Four Spiritual Laws as the man from CCC suggested? Or can we actually stick to our guns regarding word and sacrament while still becoming an evangelizing church? Those who know how I feel about the Four Spiritual Laws can guess my answer.

The key to retaining what is of value in our Lutheran heritage while still reaching out to a lost world lies in recognizes the truth that is at the heart of our theological position on Word and Sacrament. In the preaching of the Word and the practice of the Sacraments, Christ comes to us.

We've all heard this before, but I wonder if the depth of it sinks in. I've even said it before. In a post titled What if the Gospel? I wrote two years ago I said, "To me, the Gospel is that in the person of Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has begun to break into this world. In Christ Jesus, God has begun to fulfill his promise of new heavens and a new earth." And yet, when I read last night the definition of the gospel offered in The Evangelizing Church it struck me like lightning from heaven, as if it were something I'd never heard before. Never mind that I had read these very words several times before. Listen:
The heart of evangelical theology and preaching is that Christ is present among us--concretely and unmistakably. Jesus' word and presence are real, direct, graspable, and available for us--today! If faith means anything, it means grasping hold of a sermon or a forgiving word from a friend and declaring, "Amen, I believe these are Jesus' words for me." Clarity on this point is vital for evangelizing. We do not act as if Jesus Christ were present in the Christian community. The gospel message is that Jesus, actually, is alive and is really present with us in Christian community as he promised. That's the good news. It's the great gift of salvation.
Did you notice the emphasis here on "Christian community"? If you look at the history of the Christian church at nearly any time and place there will be a whole lot of very visible public figures acting as if the gospel is something different than this entirely, but the gospel of Jesus' presence survives -- not because of a core group of people preserving this as a minority position, but because it's true. Because Jesus really is present in the Christian community the Church lives on and accomplishes its work.

But here's a last thought. By our actions, by the way we organize and conduct ourselves we can either tap into the power of Jesus' presence or be an obstacle to be overcome. Bliese writes, "The church needs to be evangelized in order to evangelize the world." If we want to bring Christ to the world, we must begin by bringing Christ to each other.


Luthsem said...

Great Post!! Very Lutheran-evangelical Lutheran.

Jay said...

What in the world were Campus Crusaders doing in a Lutheran church? They are well-meaning, but are not even close to Lutheran. I got to know a Crusader during college and he got me to say the Sinner's Prayer with him and he said I was "saved" that day. My Lutheran beliefs kicked in at that point and I didn't go to any Campus Crusade meetings after that.

Jay said...

I agree - great post! Campus Crusaders have their heart in the right place, but they have no business being in a Lutheran church. I'm a lifelong Lutheran, but when I was in college many years ago, I didn't go to church, and a fellow student who was a Campus Crusader got me to listen to him. After meeting a few times, I said some prayer with him (probably what I have now heard referred to as the "Sinner's Prayer") and he filled out a form indicating that I was "saved" on that date. My Lutheran background stirred within me at that point as that didn't sound quite right. I didn't go to their meetings after that, and started dating a Catholic and went to mass with her - that seemed a lot more Lutheran to me than Campus Crusade. Eventually I married her and she became Lutheran and have a firm belief that we are Evangelical Catholics - not American Evangelical Protestants nor Roman Catholics.

Diane said...

Amen Amen Amen.

I'm not defending Campus Crusade for Christ, but they were probably there because they were invited by some Lutheran.

If you read my sermon from Sunday, (not that you should) there's a story from my uncle about his response to an evangelical asking him, "How do you know that you're saved?"

LutheranChik said...

A newly minted member of our parish evangelism committee, I needed to read this. Now I need to read the whole book!

Andy said...

Definitely read the book. It's awesome. The first task it has for your evangelism committee is to disband the committee and spread the passion for evangelizing to the rest of the congregation.