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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Gospel Mission in a Changing Culture

(Opening Devotion, Texas Confessional Lutheran Free Conference)
 
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. As I have said before in having the opening devotion, I do not know the specifics of what our presenter plans to present, I only know of the title and session themes, so I pray my devotions neither steps on his toes nor steals his thunder.
 
The text for my words this evening are the words mistitled “The Great Commission” Matthew 28:16-20: 16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is the text.
 
Dear Christian friends, after thirty plus years of teaching the mythology, mistakenly called methodology, of the social movement called the “Church Growth Movement” we are seeing more and more clearly the change of doctrine in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. One glaring example was seen at our Texas district convention last Summer wherein we made note that no longer do we believe that the Word and Sacrament are the means of grace, but following the practice of Win and Chuck Arn of the Church Growth Institute, we now believe that methods and people are the means of grace, at least the means we can trust. This was clearly seen in the resolution which instructed that congregations may plant churches wherever they wish, even at the front door of another congregation as long as they take care in that their “target” audience is not the same as the local church. In my own circuit it has been noted that when people leave one Lutheran Church, in name, instead of joining another Lutheran Church they join a church of a different denomination, wonder why? I have actually had a couple visiting my congregation after being a member of one such LINO, Lutheran in Name Only congregation, only to leave and tell me they believed they were really Calvanists. A difference and change in doctrine. Perhaps doctrine and practice are both important?
 
Recently one nearby “missional” congregation has been working feverishly to take over what was once a more confessional congregation to the extent that many of the confessional members have had to seek membership elsewhere, all in the name of the fallacious “missional” mindedness of some.
 
Rather than bemoan these incidents, let me take a few moments and together let us look at our text and see if it might tell us a more better way? First, I would like to point out the humanness of the disciples, which always makes me feel good about myself. Did you notice that “some doubted?” Wow, they had been with Jesus for over three years, witnessing perhaps unbelievable things and yet, “some doubted.” I don’t feel so bad about my doubts anymore.
 
Next we move on to what I would say is a main emphasis of Jesus’ words and that is He says that He has all authority, and I believe He says this with the inference, that He is giving this authority to His disciples, and to us as well. When we are asked, “Who gives you the right to speak for Jesus?” We can boldly respond, “Jesus does.”
 
Before we move to the next important part of this text I want to make a bit of an aside from Luther’s history to help explain what I believe is a part of the problem. You might recall that Luther had a struggle with the righteousness of God and his own desire to be worthy of God’s righteousness. Luther’s struggles came about because of, what I would say was, an honest misinterpretation of a word. The Latin Vulgate was used by the church for many years as the Bible. In Matthew 4:17 Jerome translated the Greek word “metanoia” in the Latin as “paenitentiam.” In English he translated the word “repent” or literally “to turn,” “to have a change of attitude” to the word “penitence” or “do penance.” Jerome was not trying to make a theological statement, I don’t think, but his translation brought a misunderstanding, at least for Luther that one must do something in order to be declared righteous before God. In much the same way I believe we have done a disservice to this text in Matthew.
 
Indeed, Jesus does not give a commission, nor a command, rather His words are an aorist passive, suggesting, not that we are given and imperative to “go on a mission,” rather He is telling us that “as we are going,” that is as we are living our lives, as we are living and working in our vocations, we are to make disciples. And of whom are we to make such disciples, that is what is our “target” audience, “all nations.” Jesus does not tell us to do a demographic study in order to organize our “missional” effort in such a way so we do not get in the way of the Gospel, but so that we might help the Gospel, as if we could get in the way or help God’s Word. He simply directs us to live lives as priests, offering our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, so that as we have opportunity we might give a defense, an apology, an answer for our faith. We are to make disciples by baptizing, perhaps something we should be doing more of, and teaching.
 
Interestingly enough, if we truly believe that God works through the means of grace to give His gifts, to give faith when and where He pleases, would that not mean that there really is nothing we need to change in our practice on Sunday morning? A practice which I believe comes to us from Leviticus, except now it is in its fulfilled form. When I have asked this question I get such responses as, well, not everyone is familiar with our divine service and they might be turned off. My response is that “you are not listening to Jesus.” What does the text, the great giving of authority and the great promise tell us? Evangelism does not take place on Sunday morning. Sunday morning is that place we Christians go to be filled with the gifts of God so that we might live out our vocations and so that we might be ready to give an answer for our faith. It is as we are giving an answer for our faith that we instruct our friend in our practice of divine service so that when they do enter God’s house they will rejoice with us in the gifts that God gives through His divine service. Indeed, our divine service is not a German service, but is a service that can be traced back to the first century, and I would again say back to Leviticus. Our divine service is a service that transcend time, culture, and genre. It is a service of Word and Sacrament of means of grace, those means through which our Lord gives the gifts He has to give.
 
It is when we fail to believe and take God at His Word that we begin to compromise. It is when we believe in ourselves, that we can do it better than God that we fail. It is when we fail to believe and trust in God and let Him do what He has promised to do and does best that we mess up. Just look at the Garden of Eden. Just look at the Garden of Gethsemane. Just look at the church, whenever we put our trust in princes and kings, even in ourselves we fail.
 
Getting back to our text, we have one last point and that is we have God’s promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” I cannot count on myself. I get it wrong. I mess up. But I can count on God. I have His Word. I have His promise. I have His instruction. I know He always gets it right. So if I want to get it right I focus on doing it His way, on pointing to Him, on trusting in Him.
 
God’s Word is truth and His Word never changes. God’s Word has been what has convicted and converted cultures of all ages for generations. Now, more than ever is the time to give up our pride in thinking that there is something we can do to “help” God, or to “get out of His way.” Now is the time to trust God’s promise, that He is with us, that when the time is right He will give us the words to speak and He will give us the courage to speak. And we get these words from our making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, being in divine service and Bible class. Have you ever wondered, when asked a question, why it was that you read that answer in Portals of Prayer this morning, or heard the answer in the sermon, or read it in your morning reading? It did not happen by coincidence, but by God’s design so that He could tap into what you have learned in order to help you give an answer.
 
I would encourage you, be filled with the gifts of God, so filled that you overflow and spill those gifts on to others. Live you life in your vocation as a priest, offering your life as a living sacrifice. Be ready, always to give an answer for your faith. Answer as the Lord gives you the words to speak. In so doing, you will be an evangelist to “all nations,” no matter the culture. You have God’s authority and you have His promise to be with you. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Let us Pray
Almighty and gracious God, send Your Holy Spirit to bless, with His grace and presence, all those here assembled in Your name. Bless our presenter with words of teaching, learning and wisdom. Bless our hearers with ears that hear. Bless our conference that Your Church, being preserved in true faith and godly discipline, may do the will of Him who loved her and gave Himself for her, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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