Everything New is Old

 All quotes are from the book I referenced in an earlier post: Sign of the Kingdom by Lesslie Newbign.

  ” ‘The Evangelisation of the World in this Generation’ did

not mean the conversion of the whole world; conversion can only be the work of God the Holy Spirit.  What it did mean was the bringing to every person, so far as possible, of the good news of Jesus Christ.  This – it was held – was now possible in view of the new means of communication available throughout every part of the globe” (p.2)

The stated goal of evangelizing the world is from the World Missionary Conference of Edinburgh 1910.  Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ had this goal in the 1980s.  Ablaze! has the more modest goal of 100 million people by 2017, but I believe the theology it springs from is the same old theology.

“I well remember a missionary colleague in the mid-1930s complaining to me that whenever he took up an article on evangelism to read, he found that by the time he had reached the middle of the second page he was reading about a new way of breeding pigs or poultry” (p. 4-5).

And whenever I read an article on Ablaze! I find that before the second page I’m reading about community projects, meeting felt needs, something practical, something doable, something the world can accept.  A crucified God is neither a felt need, practical, doable, or accepted in this world.

“The time had come, he said, ‘to move out of the traditional church structures in open, flexible and mobile groups’ and ‘to begin radically to desacralise the Church’…[T]he secular is the primary field of God’s redemptive activity, and that it is by involvement in what God is doing in the secular world, rather than in seeking to draw men into the Church, that we can participate in God’s mission” (pp.12-13).

This is from the Strasbourg Conference of 1960 on ‘The Life and Mission of the Church’.  If this doesn’t describe the emerging church and/or the emergent church, then hippies don’t make tie-dyed t-shirts and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime.

“However, there is also another kind of ‘para-church’ which is characterized by the slogan ‘Let us leave the Church in order to be the Church’.  This has been the slogan of sectarians in every age, and the ecclesiastical scene is littered with the debris which such movements leave behind in the next generation” (p.63)

Though written in 1980, these old words are not heeded over 25 years later.  Instead the LCMS has embraced the emerging church movement and all their talk of non-traditional church.  And just like the phrase “non-traditional family” is usually a euphemism for something that is not a family, not grandparents raising kids, not single parents, but gays and lesbians with children, so “non-traditional church” describes a group that doesn’t want to be church but a club, a community, or a social network.  Ironically they are in the tired tradition of the para-church.  And it’s para in the Greek sense of that preposition:  beside.  They aren’t church but “beside” it.  I know it’s too strong to say, but I’ll say it anyway.  Didn’t Luther say it was the devil who sought to build a chapel beside every church?

“The kingdom of God is, quite simply, the reign of God….We are not dealing here with a programme, a campaign, a promotional ‘drive’ for which the techniques of high-pressure salesmanship or military planning would be appropriate….It is not possible to be either optimistic or pessimistic about the sovereignty of God!  It is simply a fact” (pp. 34, 35).

These words were penned in 1980, yet since then there have been dozens of such programs in just the little old LCMS to grow the church.  As the sainted Dr. Robert Preus use to say, “How dare we presume to know whether the Church is growing or declining.”

“[E]very attempt to put ‘Church Growth’ in the centre of attention; everything that makes it appear that we are essentially interested only in the growth and welfare of the Church, and in the world only as contributing to this is a betrayal of the kingdom and makes the Church appear as a self-regarding society which stands between ordinary people and the vision of the kingdom” (p.42).

These words are also 28 years old, and yet how apt they are.  The treasurer in a former parish of mine would say virtually every voters meeting, “Pastor, we need just 25 more families to make our budget.”  I always responded, “If that’s the case, then lets stop reaching out to our subdivision (which was not well off), and start going to the rich ones because then we will only need 3 more families.”  Is Ablaze! to raise 100 million dollars for the sake of 100 million souls, or is it, as my lay delegate to the 2006 District convention observed, to use 100 million souls to raise 100 million dollars?

I’d say it’s the latter.  The Synod is strapped for cash, but this is nothing new.  Nor is it new to have a big fund raising program.  Read Heritage in Motion, a 1998 CPH published book, and you’ll find the Synod has done several of them over the years, none of them very successfully.  The new thing she hasn’t tried in the face of this same old economic floundering is to ask whether it might be due to her foundering doctrinally. 

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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