I am honored to be a speaker in the Hein Fry lectures this year, since evangelism has stepped front and center in the life of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. On May 9, 2003, Bishop Mark Hanson sent an e-mail titled "Reflections on Evangelism" to clergy in the ELCA in preparation for the August churchwide assembly. That assembly adopted "Evangelism Strategy: Sharing Faith in a New Century: A Vision of Evangelism in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America." (1) The Hein Fry lectures this year are related to this stress on evangelism. The committee asked David Tiede and me to identify especially promising scriptural foundations on which a Lutheran theology and practice of evangelism might be constructed and/or to discuss "the biblical basis for evangelism."
I will be spending most of my time in the first, not the twenty-first, century. Although I will make a few comments about the relation of the first century to our own, I leave it to the respondents (and now, the readers) to think through implications for evangelism now.
This is not a new topic for Lutherans in America. The Lutheran Church in America owes its existence to the evangelistic fervor of some of its early leaders. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg came to America as an evangelistic minister to gather people into the church, as his reports in the Hallische Nachrichten make clear. And, whatever one thinks of Samuel Simon Schmucker, his Definite Platform was an attempt to put Lutheran theology into English for America--an early attempt at indigenization, if you will. (2) A few years later, Wilhelm Loehe, a Franconian pastor on fire with missionary zeal, was sending Nothelfer ("helpers in a time of need") to America from Neuendettelsau. One of the treasures in my own library is the English translation of Aegedius Hunnius's small dogmatic treatise, Epitome Credendorum, which Loehe had prepared and published in Neuendettelsau to make Lutheran theological literature available in English for North America. (3) One of my own forbears came to America as a missionary after study at Hermannsburg in Germany. Thus, evangelism ought to be bred into our very bones, in some form or fashion--though the recent activity in the ELCA suggests that it is not. Hence this topic is truly relevant today.
Not too long ago I did a Google search on the Internet, entering "Evangelism, New Testament." Not until the fifteenth screen did I find a site related to a mainline church. I discovered that Perkins School of Theology, the Methodist Seminary related to Southern Methodist University, has a major in evangelism. One might argue that evangelism has not been a front-burner item for our students, our seminaries, or our church.
My two lectures concentrate on the understanding of mission in Paul and Matthew. (4) There is significant material in the New Testament that I do not discuss, for example the Gospels of Mark and John. President Tiede has based his lectures primarily on Luke-Acts, so I will not draw on them to describe the biblical basis of mission. Nor will I be engaging in dialogue with the extensive literature by missiologists on what we should mean when we talk of the missio dei.
A number of terms that might be used in this presentation require definition. Evangelism, mission, conversion, and the like are interrelated but not the same. Evangelism is proclaiming the gospel to nonbelievers. But recent scholars have defined mission as "the church sent into the world to love, to serve, to preach, to teach, to heal, to liberate." (5) Conversion is turning from one religion to another. Mission stresses the proclaimer as one sent out to evangelize.
Johannes Nissen recently mentioned four aspects of New Testament material that might play a role today: (1) Mission is being sent out (especially the Fourth Gospel); (2) mission is making disciples of all nations (cf. The Gospel of Matthew); (3) mission is deliverance and emancipatory action (cf. The Gospel of Luke); and (4) mission is witness (especially Acts and the Fourth Gospel). (6) I will return to these toward the end of this lecture.
When the New England Transcendentalists were talking together one time, many of the wealthy ones were describing the effect of their grand tour in Europe, what they had seen and learned. At which point, so the story goes, Henry David Thoreau interjected, "I have traveled much, too--in Concord." He implied that one could learn much by careful observation in one's hometown. My Concord in these lectures is Paul and Matthew, from whom I keep on learning much.
Matthew ends his Gospel with the great commission of Matt 28:18-20, the most explicit instruction in the New Testament to make disciples. Paul, however, nowhere in any of his letters commissions people to proclaim Jesus or orders leaders in the congregations to invite non-Christians to join them. And yet, he describes both his own work as a proclaimer of the gospel and the activities of others as active in proclamation. Only from such descriptions can we infer Paul's understanding of mission. (7)
The major terms in Paul that connote missionary activity are [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], as we will see below. (8) The term "apostle" implies that one is not an individualistic, self-appointed emissary, while "spreading the good news" stresses the message that one carries. There is other terminology that is also important--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and related nouns. (9)
Paul as missionary model
I decided to speak on Paul in part because he is certainly the best-known evangelist in the early church. Moreover, he has been a key influence on and source for Lutheran theology. Certainly Luke-Acts has been equally important for the development of missionary theory. Since President Tiede is one of this country's recognized experts in the interpretation of Luke, I leave that area of the New Testament to him in this lecture series.
Paul is the best-known early missionary figure of the first century church, but it would be a mistake to assume that he was the first. (10) Paul knows that there were Christians in Rome before he came there. Indeed, Romans 16 lists quite a number of Roman Christians by name. Paul greets Andronicus and Junia (11) and describes them as "outstanding among the apostles before him in Christ" (Rom 16:7). Urbanus receives the accolade "co-worker" (Rom 16:9). Tryphaina, Tryphosa, and Persis all "labored [much] in the Lord" (Rom 16:12-13). Paul himself testifies that his proclamation was not novel but shared with the apostles before him: "Whether I or they, that's the way we are proclaiming [Christ] and that's the way you came to believe" (1 Cor 15:11). Paul is not the first, even if the best-known, evangelist of the early church. Horace's ode has it right. Literature produces memory. (12) Paul is simply best known because of Acts 13-28 and his surviving letters. (13)
Paul's mission is based on Christ's resurrection. Like Jeremiah, Paul the evangelist expresses his feelings, his hopes, his plans, and his problems in his letters. He is the one New Testament figure we can truly come to know as a person. Paul makes clear that his mission is born on Easter, a conviction expressed in every Pauline letter. And, as John Reumann said not too long ago, "The resurrection of Jesus and its implications for believers, living their life now 'in Christ' and hoping to be 'with Christ' at the future resurrection and judgment, are major topics in Paul's theology and mission praxis." (14)
Jesus is raised to Lordship, not resuscitated to be what he was before. Psalm 110:1 affirms. "The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies the footstool under your feet.'" Paul makes clear that Jesus' resurrection realizes what Psalm 110 asserts. This conviction, arising out of the resurrection, is the common credo of the primitive church, as 1 Cor 15:11 makes clear. History is the unrolling of the events that will make that enthronement of Jesus as Lord ultimately visible throughout creation (1 Cor 15:20-28).
This hope is based on God as the prime mover of history, the one true God. (15) God raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus reveals who the true God is and what God is like. Paul describes the Thessalonians' conversion as their turning "from [the worship of] statues to serve a God who is authentic and alive and to wait for God's son from the heavens, whom God raised from the dead, Jesus, the one who rescues us from the wrath that is on the way" (1 Thess 1:9-10). The sin of the Thessalonians is idolatry from which Paul's proclamation turns them. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is thus revealed as the God of both Jew and non-Jew, the universal God, who justifies the Jew out of fidelity to his covenant, the Gentile by faith in God (Rom 3:27-30). Proclaiming Jesus also means proclaiming God. It is not surprising, therefore, that Paul in Rom 1:18-32 regards idolatry as the fundamental sin of non-Jews. (16) This Jewish Pharisee Paul now thought of God differently: God is not a tribal God, not the God of a particular ethnic community, but the one God of all people, no matter what their language or nation. And Paul the Jew became the evangelist of the Gentiles.
Romans 4 makes this explicit as Paul reflects on Abraham. Paul argues that Abraham's story makes clear that God is the God of both Jews and non-Jews. When Abraham believed in the God who makes righteous the impious (Rom 4:5, referring back to Gen 15:6), he was not a Jew, since he had not yet been circumcised. Abraham believed in the God who makes the dead alive, who calls nonexistent things into existence (Rom 4:17). This also applies to those who later believe "on the one who raised Jesus from among dead people (Rom 4:23-25), that is, to us. Jesus' resurrection is the ultimate revelation of the fact that God is the creator God, the source of life, in whom all are to believe.
So it is not surprising...