Sunday, October 2, 2011

What's the Gimmick?

Hearing Dr. Wallace Schulz speak yesterday morning at Immanuel, I was put in mind of something I wrote previously that sort of dealt with the same subject of his talk. His topic was, "Why People are Leaving the Missouri Synod in Droves and What Can be Done About it." Kind of controversial. So controversial, in fact, that the Northern Illinois District of the LCMS would not print the title of the presentation or acknowledge it in the Northern Light as the congregation requested, as part of Immanuel's 100th Anniversary festivities. As I look around at worship, and even at our little gathering yesterday morning, I have to believe there is something to what Dr. Schulz is saying. If we abandon our Lutheranism, the Christ-centered, Bible-based theology that makes us unique, something has to fill that void. We end up absorbing the touchy-feely, self-help, emotion-based works-righteousness that everyone else is already selling...and they do that better than we do. People are leaving, and I think it is because we are trying so hard as a body to be something that we are not, in order to entice people into the church. Problem is, even the mega churches are now starting to see that, when you stop focusing on Christ crucified and risen and go to the self-help religion, people are left unfulfilled in the end.

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:41).

The young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale, and as he talked with his sales manager he lamented, "I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." The manager replied, "Son, take my advice: your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty." So it is with evangelism. Our lives should be so filled with Christ that the Holy Spirit uses them to create a thirst for the Gospel (Preaching, November-December 1985).

There is a well-intentioned movement in American Christianity that seeks to grow the Church. Christians are being told that their antiquated worship practices, irrelevant liturgies and outdated hymns are causing people to become disillusioned, and driving people from the Church. Not only that, the argument goes, these vestiges of Christianity-gone-by have little prospect, if any, to reach out to those sophisticated, rational cosmopolites of today’s society. Churches must do something to reach out to people. Churches must change with the times and styles if there is to be any hope of setting people “on fire for Jesus.”

Peter and the apostles, however, used no tricks or gimmicks on Pentecost when, according to Holy Scripture, about 3,000 people became believers in Christ Jesus. They simply stuck to the basics. By the Holy Spirit’s power, the disciples simply proclaimed the Gospel as they had been commanded. When the people listening, who had a moment earlier been mocking the disciples, heard Peter’s exposition and explanation of the Scriptures, Luke tells us “they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). That ‘cutting to the heart’ was not the result of some entertaining worship service or emotional lyric to a song – although, witnessing the events of Pentecost were surely shocking and affecting. On the contrary, the people who heard Peter’s sermon were cut to the heart by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. “Brothers, what shall we do?” scripture records as their answer to Peter. Peter’s reply is simple, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter proclaimed the Word of God, plain and simple, with astounding results – 3,000 converts to Christianity.

Phillip Yancey tells this story of Dr. Paul Brand, who was speaking to a medical college in India on the text, “Let your light so shine before men that they may behold your good works and glorify your Father.” In front of the lectern was an oil lamp, with a cotton wick burning from the shallow dish of oil. As he preached, the lamp ran out of oil, the wick burned dry, and the smoke made him cough. He immediately used the opportunity.

“Some of us here are like this wick,” he said. “We’re trying to shine for the glory of God, but we stink. That’s what happens when we use ourselves as the fuel of our witness rather than the Holy Spirit. Wicks can last indefinitely, burning brightly and without irritating smoke, if the fuel, the Holy Spirit, is in constant supply.”

Rather than focusing on finding the perfect outreach program that will fill the pew with bodies, we all need to strengthen our relationships with our Lord Jesus Christ. We do this through the study of His Word, through the Lord’s Supper, by prayer and by “letting our light shine before men.” The better we know Our Lord, the hotter He will stoke the fire within us and our light will shine all the brighter – in everything that we say and do. The people with whom we come in contact will not be able to ignore what they see in us, because what they will see in us is Jesus Christ. It is then that the Holy Spirit will make them thirsty, and use us to lead them to the Spring of Living Water – Christ.