Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Do Confessional Churches Need A "Theology of Mission"?

I have a friend who sent this blog entry and asked for my thoughts on it.

It may be that I am unnecessarily sour about these sorts of suggestions due to the fact that so often they seem to lead to the endorsement of the wackiest sorts of "appeal to their sense of entertainment" gimmicks and strategies. I had a hard time being able to endorse much of anything that was argued. It could be the fact that the author is enamored with American Pentecostalism and seems to believe that it may hold some sort of answer to the problem he diagnoses prevents me from giving him my assent.

More than this, I don't know if I accept his diagnosis. I am not at all sure that Confessional churches cannot "do evangelism". And I am sure that the fact that a church is Confessional cannot really deprive it of the capacity to evangelize or do missions. Unless, perhaps if the Confession includes a clause that proscribes evangelizing - how this could remain a Christian Confession in this instance, I do not know.

Then there is his sometimes dubious presentation of the contours and significance of Lutheran history...

As far as I can see, our Lutheran Confessional tradition is definitely enabled to evangelize and perform missions because it:

1. Receives the Gift of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace.

2. Confesses the Three Ecumenical Creeds and Luther's Catechisms in which and through which are confessed the mission of the Spirit to call, gather, enlighten and sustain the church.

I think that there is a certain reluctance on the part of many Christians (lay and ordained) in given local communities to evangelize, in the sense of articulating their grasp of the faith that is in them, but I do not for a moment believe that this is due to a theological deficiency in our received Confessional tradition.

I think that there are historical, and sociological reasons - broadly, cultural reasons - for this condition, to be sure.

Perhaps most pressing here is an examination of the churchly culture of a given community. What are the means for transmitting and sustaining the education and character that are necessary for creating Christians who love their faith enough to know it and share it? What is catechesis like? What practices are in place to encourage the necessary virtues for this sort of person, beyond the Sunday Eucharist?

And prior to these questions: What do we mean when we speak of a theology of mission? Do we mean a new phrasing of the truths of the faith directed to a particular end (missiology)? Do we mean developing new practices (or reintroducing old ones) that will foster evangelism? Do we merely mean a novel gimmick as stimulant to perceived value, a cosmetic adjustment of image?

I don't think very well in this arena, I admit. I find the concern over numbers and the very scent of evangelism programs to be so much charlatanry in the end. I am not a pastor, and I tend to think that if a church has twenty people, or is declining rapidly then maybe the Spirit is working elsewhere and the building should be sold.

I also tend to think that there is no substitute for love and the excitement it brings with it. If you love being Lutheran you will be excited about it and will share your faith. A challenge to pastors is to communicate your own love and excitement for the faith to the people you serve. I have found that people respond to and are impressed by those who genuinely believe in their cause and visibly devote themselves in an excellent way to their chosen craft, art, or philosophy. This is true also of those who profess our Confession of faith.

And, yes, I suppose there is also a pentecostal dimension to this question, though it may only have a tangential relation to what is called Pentecostalism. I have already anticipated it in the previous paragraph: charisma, that rare and volatile thing. Only the charisma that is a gift and effect of the Spirit given in Christ and by His chosen means and none other. The charismata that include: bold confession, devotion of the intellect and understanding, contrariety in the face of opposition, effective and joyous proclamation of the truth; these are the things which impel evangelism and mission, and for which there can be no real substitute.

What do you fine Lutheran folk think?

No comments:

Post a Comment