In his February 2018 Keynote Address delivered to the Lutheran Society for Missiology, District President Robert Newton observed the LCMS is at the most critical time in her history:
“Our church body is right at a fork in the road where she chooses to walk with the mission of God, faithfully, or she chooses not just to ignore it, but, I would say, to reject it. That’s where we sit as a church body at this time.”
Congregations Matter encourages our readers to watch and listen to his entire presentation. CLICK HERE to view Dr. Newton’s Keynote Address.
Dr. Newton believes we should commit or recommit ourselves to what is in God’s heart and mind: God so loved the world.
Are We Abandoning the Pure Gospel?
Dr. Newton argues post-Christian America has thrown the LCMS off balance, accentuating a desire for protective boundaries and ecclesiastical order — a “church-centered” mission — over the God-directed, Bible-based, Gospel-centered mission of our Synod and Christ’s Church.
Why is having a “church-centered” mission wrong? This desire works against the mission of God and is causing some to abandon the pure Gospel for something — or someone — that promises survival of our church institution — period.
Much of the LCMS today is championing a church-centered gospel. As we see from their actions, certainly much of our leadership is focused that way. Our Lord, however, imagines a Gospel ministry with the world in focus.
Pastor Newton observes that a church-centered ministry has eclipsed the world-focused mission of our Lord found in the Bible.
Turning the Confessions Upside Down
Dr. Newton suggests church-centered ministry is now being touted as “true Lutheran missions.” In technical terms, that’s called “ecclesial missiology.”
Why is this wrong? The LCMS leadership that follows “church-centered” ministry today has unintentionally reversed the emphasis of Augsburg Confession Article VII. You can read for yourself the original intent of the reformers:
Article VII: Of the Church
1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Ephesians 4:5-6.
Here’s the point of contention: rather than the Church gathered only where the true Gospel is proclaimed, it is as if the LCMS now says the Gospel is proclaimed only where the true Church is gathered — a “church-protected” Gospel.
A Church-Protected Gospel is Unbiblical
If “church-centered” ministry is our thinking, we are precluded from proclaiming the Gospel in any situation in which we are not in charge. The relationship of the LCMS vis-à-vis the world is becoming one of siege with our church body on the defensive.
That’s not the ministry style the Bible describes in Acts 15-17 as St. Paul went on his missionary journeys from Jerusalem to Athens.
Even Replacing Our Historic Name
Newton says the present moniker so popular among many — “confessional” Lutherans — has replaced our historic name of “evangelical” Lutherans. By placing “confessional” at the head of the train, we radically change the purpose of the Gospel.
Why is this wrong? The net result is one can believe he is truly “evangelical” by confessing the doctrines of the Gospel without ever seeking the lost.
It’s Time for Us to Act
President Newton concludes by reminding us God is calling us to join Him in seeking the lost and to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. We do not need to “protect” our beloved Synod from the world.
We need to live as those sent into the world by Jesus as ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) and messengers of His love, bringing “good news to the poor, to comfort the broken-hearted, and proclaim release to the captives” in our communities (Isaiah 61).
As Dr. Newton says in his concluding remarks,
“The Resurrected Jesus has not changed His mind of why the Father sent Him. We may have maybe changed our mind, but He has not changed His. And I think “Lo, I am with you always” — that should be an encouragement to us that by His Spirit He is always keeping us in-tune with the will of His Father, which is “to the nations.”
We need to live out our roles as Christ’s witnesses in our everyday lives. The world is dying for us to share the Gospel. We are Christ’s ambassadors of love to the world as Christ’s church here and now. We must serve Christ and our neighbor through a renewed devotion to living out the Gospel. We can’t hide behind the walls of our “church-protected” Gospel. Our Synod has to stop living behind the protected “church-centered” walls. Instead, let’s move into our world to share the Gospel of Jesus.
Isn’t it time to have a leader in the LCMS more interested in reaching the lost? It’s time for us to nominate and elect such a man as leader. Won’t you join our movement and help make that happen?
Congregations — and the Missio Dei (the “mission” or “sending” of God) — matter!