Monday, July 19, 2010

Evangelism Myth 8 - Study is really where it is at

The ads I get on my facebook page depress me. Seriously, they do. It knows that I am clergy, so it throws up ads that should appeal to me as a member of the clergy (did you know that I could get a bachelor of theology on-line. . . oooOOOooo. At least a few ads offer me a doctorate). Well, many of the ads are for outreach/evangelism programs. And I saw one that pointed to another myth of Evangelism - Small Groups are what really are important.

The idea is that the way in which people really grow is to gather into small groups and study the Word together. This is a very old idea, reaching all the way back to the roots of Pietism (Gads, Lutherans, what ills we have unleashed upon the world in that one! And then Rationalism - the German people are swine! Weep for your heritage, German Lutherans, weep you bullheaded krauts! Okay, I think I'm better now). The idea of Pietism is that what truly mattered was one's deep felt personal relationship with Jesus, and that this could only be fostered in small groups called conventicles, where there would be prayer and study of the Scripture.

Now, don't get me wrong - I love bible studies. I think they are fantastic for growing in the understanding of God's love for you. I end up teaching four bible studies during the week (and they're all small group, I guess. . . show up to bible study more often people!), and now that my Seminarian is home, we study all the time. It's great to study - you can pause, dive into things.

But Bible Study isn't the liturgy. What's the difference between Bible Study and the liturgy? In Bible Study we look at what God has done - see it, try to understand it. Nothing wrong with that - in fact, that is very good (like an excellent vegetable side served with dinner). But what happens in the Liturgy? Christ's forgiveness is given to us. The Gospel is proclaimed, forgiveness is distributed, Christ is present in His Word and in His Supper.

This is the different. In Bible Study I can study God's love - I can look at it, examine it, contemplate it. In worship, I receive it, I have it preached into my ear, I have it placed upon my tongue.

In a Bible study I can see and learn the depths of sin - it in worship where I hear, "I forgive you all of your sins."

In a Bible study I can about how the prophets talked about how Christ would come - in worship I hear, "Take and eat, this is My Body, given for you."

In a Bible study I can learn many things from the Word - in the worship I receive the Word of life.

Bible Study is wonderful and should be encouraged - but the true center of a Christian congregation is the Divine Service where we receive the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus. This reception is the most important thing. Too often this passive reception of God is replaced by some good old fashioned active learning.

Be in Church - be passive there and receive from Christ His goodness - something the latest plans completely and always overlook.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let's not go to far out on that limb.

The Confessions clearly state that the Word is indeed a means of grace, even when read; that Faith may come from reading the Word; and that reading the Word is a means by which God sanctifies us.

For example, the Formula of Concord -- II Of Free Will, or Human Powers, paragraphs 50 and 57 states:

Therefore God, out of His immense goodness and mercy, has His divine eternal Law and His wonderful plan concerning our redemption, namely, the holy, alone-saving Gospel of His eternal Son, our only Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, publicly preached; and by this [preaching] collects an eternal Church for Himself from the human race, and works in the hearts of men true repentance and knowledge of sins, and true faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

And by this means, and in no other way, namely, through His holy Word, when men hear it preached or read it, and the holy Sacraments when they are used according to His Word, God desires to call men to eternal salvation, draw them to Himself, and convert, regenerate, and sanctify them.

But if a man will not hear preaching nor read God's Word, but despises the Word and congregation of God, and thus dies and perishes in his sins, he neither can comfort himself with God's eternal election nor obtain His mercy; for Christ, in whom we are chosen, offers to all men His grace in the Word and holy Sacraments, and wishes earnestly that it be heard, and has promised that where two or three are gathered together in His name and are occupied
with His holy Word, He will be in their midst.

This point too is made in the Large Catechism, Third Commandment, Paragraph 90:

"But God's Word is the treasure which sanctifies everything, and by which even all the saints themselves were sanctified. At whatever hour, then, God's Word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all."

Thus, sanctification comes through the teaching, preaching, hearing, and reading of and meditating on the Word. Not in only one form of the Word, but in all. Here, no form is given priority over another, but we are exhorted to employ all forms of the Word.

[Of course one could also go to the A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod:

"Although God is present and operates everywhere throughout all creation and the whole earth is therefore full of the temporal bounties and blessings of God, Col. 1, 17; Acts 17, 28; 14:17, still we hold with Scripture that God offers and communicates to men the spiritual blessings purchased by Christ, namely, the forgiveness of sins and the treasures and gifts connected therewith, only through the external means of grace ordained by Him. These means of grace are the Word of the Gospel, in every form in which it is brought to man, and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and of the Lord's Supper. The Word of the Gospel promises and applies the grace of God, works faith and thus regenerates man, and gives the Holy Ghost..." Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.) [Adopted by the Synod in Convention in 1932]