Our Lord Jesus Christ says, "If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:31-32).
Friday, September 4, 2009
The Latest Ablaze!(tm) Story
From time to time, I check out the Ablaze!(tm) stories on the LCMS website. I try not to do it too often, as it almost always depresses me. Today, I took a peak and discovered this:
Faith-sharing on the baseball field in New York
Players for Niagara Power, a college summer baseball team from Niagara Falls, N.Y., share the Gospel in unique ways with their competitors and fans.08/28/2009
The Niagara Power is a team for college baseball players. The Power is a college summer team in the New York Collegiate Baseball League and brings in players from all over the country. Our mission is to spread God's Word through the blessings of baseball! This past summer our organization played 42 baseball games, shared 28 stories, and reached thousands of people! In fact, seven of our own baseball players on the team gave their life to Christ for the first time in their lives! Powerful stuff!
After the first home game with every team in the league, one of our players goes to the other team's locker room and shares his faith with the other team. We then pass out sports New Testament Bibles and then mingle with hundreds of fans on the field after the game. We use this time to talk baseball, Jesus, or whatever they want! Through this mission, one of the players on one of the other teams took the Bible and witness of one of our players to heart, read the Bible, and gave his life to Christ.
Our plan is simple: bring people to Christ through the sport of baseball. The Niagara Power is associated with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), a powerful Christian sports ministry. We are going to do the same thing next summer and are always looking for more people to share, players, prayer partners, financial supporters, and fan support. For more information the team, visit www.niagarapower.org.
I don't know who is responsible for posting these stories on the LCMS website, but what I do know is that he/she is obviously not a Lutheran. A Lutheran would have no part in promoting the rampant "decision theology" pulsating through this story. Neither would a Lutheran have any part in promoting a story that so denigrates the means of grace established by God, replacing the Holy Word and Sacraments with the sport of baseball as it does.
I know that criticizing a well-intentioned group of ball players for their desire to "share their faith" with others is equivalent, in the eyes of most, to something akin to kicking puppies. Nevertheless, we must critique the false theology here, in view of the fact that it is being promoted on our very own synodical website.
First things first, "decision theology" is simply defined as the belief held by most Protestants that one must make a conscious and rational decision to accept Jesus Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior if one is to be saved. We Lutherans vehemently reject this false theology which has no basis at all in Holy Scripture. We sinful human beings completely lack the ability to make a conscious and rational decision to accept Jesus as our Lord. We are conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5) and, upon entrance into this world, are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-5), spiritually blind (2 Cor. 4:1-4; 1 Cor. 2:14), and enemies of God by nature (Rom. 5:6-10). Being dead, we cannot do anything at all to make ourselves alive.
Consider Lazarus, who was four days dead in the tomb (cf. John 11). What could he have done to make himself alive and come out of the tomb? Nothing! He was dead. Dead people can't do anything. They're dead. The only way Lazarus could have been brought to life again was by Someone who has the power to give life to the dead. The only Someone who can do such a thing is God Himself. And, this is exactly what happens in this account. Jesus, God Incarnate, calls Lazarus from the tomb. His Word breathes life back into Lazarus' dead body and, lo and behold, Lazarus does indeed come forth. The Author of Life brought dead Lazarus to life.
So it is with all of us Lazaruses who have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ. We, who were dead, were called forth by Jesus to life. Being dead, we were completely passive in this endeavor. We played no role whatsoever. We couldn't. God gets all the credit for our faith. He creates faith in us, giving it to us as a gift (Eph. 2:8-10) through the means of grace He Himself has established - His Holy Word and Sacraments. Here's how we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess this:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. (Luther's Small Catechism, Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed)
The references in the above Ablaze!(tm) story to people "giving their lives to Christ" are in direct contradiction to what we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess on the basis of Holy Scripture. Again, no Lutheran would promote this false "decision theology."
Furthermore, the above story reveals how far astray the whole Ablaze! Movement(tm) has gone from true, Biblical evangelism. We don't "bring people to Christ through the sport of baseball." We don't bring people to Christ through potlucks, church picnics, or any evangelism "program." We don't bring people to Christ by "sharing our faith" with them (can faith be shared?). We don't bring people to Christ at all, at least not in the way that is meant in this context. We don't have the ability to make dead people alive. That ability lies with God and God alone.
We bring people to Christ (not to faith in Christ) when we bring them to where He promises to be - in His Holy Church, whenever two or three are gathered together for Divine Service in His Name. We bring people to Christ when we bring them to the font; when we bring them to the Holy Place where they can confess their sins and receive Holy Absolution; when we bring them to the pastor for catechesis (teaching), that they may be prepared to receive the Bread of Life in the Holy Eucharist. We bring people to Christ when we bring them to the means of grace, His Holy Word and Sacraments, through which the Holy Spirit creates, and sustains, faith in them. That's the only way people are truly brought to Christ.
I have said from day one that the underlying intention of the Ablaze! Movement(tm) to encourage Christians to tell people about Jesus is wonderful. All Christians should stand ready at all times to confess their faith to others. Any promotion of this Biblically sound principle is good. But, where the Ablaze! Movement(tm) falls woefully short is that it equates our telling people about Jesus to completed evangelism, as if the "gospel contacts" we make has sealed the deal. It fails to promote the truth of proper evangelism, which only takes place when people are brought to faith in Jesus through the means of grace. There is a ton more to say in critique of this "movement," but it all boils down to a false understanding of what true evangelism entails, which comes from following the doctrines and practices of other Christians with whom we are in stark disagreement.
The sainted Rev. Al Barry, who served as LCMS President before Rev. Gerald Kieschnick (with a brief interim served by Rev. Robert Kuhn in between the two), was famous for his evangelistic charge to our synod, which was: "Get the Message Out, Missouri! Keep the Message Straight, Missouri!" Pres. Kieschnick and company, in their creation of the Ablaze! Movement(tm), have eliminated the second sentence in Pres. Barry's exhortation to us, which is evidenced by stories like the one above (and is evidenced by so much more that could be listed). There seems to be no concern for keeping the message straight anymore. And there is nothing more un-Lutheran than this, for we Lutherans have always been known for our fervent desire to keep the message straight.