Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Thursday, March 31, 2011

God's Word Alone Can Grow the Church

Pastor’s Window for April 2011

God’s Word Alone Can Grow the Church!

Beloved in the Lord,

The Church never really grows by means of human ingenuity. Our cleverness does not make disciples. The church-growth gurus will tell you otherwise, and they can even point to impressive buildings and massive crowds as evidence that their methods and techniques “work.” But while novelty may draw a crowd, it leaves the heart empty. Conversion is not a matter of filling the pews (or the offering plate!) to capacity. Conversion is a matter of the heart. The Holy Spirit works through His Word alone to convert sinners, to turn hearts, to make believers. The Church is the company of believers. Therefore God’s Word alone can grow the Church!

The Scriptures themselves are clear on this. Jesus tells His Church exactly how we should “make disciples of all nations,” namely by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Baptism, the Word of God in the water!) and “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Preaching, the proclamation of Jesus Christ and His Word in the Scriptures!) (Matt. 28:19-20; ESV). Jesus commands His Church to “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). St. Paul says that the Word of God’s grace “is able to build you up” (Acts 20:32), and that the Holy Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). Finally St. Paul declares that “faith comes from hearing” (hearing the preaching!) “and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). After all, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (v. 14). God’s Word alone converts. God’s Word alone can grow the Church.

But even within God’s Word we must make a distinction. We must properly distinguish between Law and Gospel. The Law is God’s infallible truth. The Law tells us what we are to do and not to do as God’s people. Then it condemns us for our failure. So you see, the Law does not convert. It does not direct us to Christ in faith. Only the Gospel converts. Only the Gospel changes hearts. The Gospel is the Good News that our sins are forgiven on account of Christ. Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God. This alone can turn us in faith to Him who is our Savior. Both Law and Gospel must be preached in the Church. But the Law only prepares sinners for the converting work of the Gospel by convicting us of sin. The Gospel then is the instrument by which the Holy Spirit delivers Jesus, who reconciles us to the Father. The Gospel is the vehicle by which the Holy Spirit grants faith in Jesus Christ. Thus the Gospel is what grows the Church!

The Church may look like it’s getting smaller, and this can be discouraging. This is also why it is so tempting to follow the methods and techniques of the church-growth gurus that seem to “work.” But we must ever bear three important truths in mind when we think about evangelism, missions, and church-growth. First of all, the Church as the body of believers in Jesus Christ will remain on earth until the Last Day. Jesus promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against her (Matt. 16:18). We often talk of the Church as a dying institution, because rather than trusting in Jesus’ promise, we trust our own observations of the appearance of things. Less people come to church, therefore the Church must be dying. But nothing can be further from the truth. We don’t see the reality that the Church grows with every Baptism, with every conversion. Nor does it shrink when a saint dies and goes to heaven. They are still members of the Church! The second thing we must keep in mind is that filling this building to capacity every week is not the mission of the Church (nor is filling the offering plate with the money of our guests!). The mission of the Church is to proclaim Christ and His Word, and administer the Sacraments. That’s it. It is good, of course, to have a crowd in church, and we should invite our friends and neighbors to church, and we should come to church faithfully. But the reason is not to increase attendance, boost the bottom line, and preserve the institution for the sake of it. The reason is that this is the place where the Word is preached and Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar are happening. The third thing we must keep in mind is that we are not at all responsible for the growth of the Church. God alone gives the growth. Read Mark 4:26-29! And remember what we confess in the Augsburg Confession, that the Holy Spirit “works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake” (AC V:2-3; McCain p. 33). Again, the Word alone converts. Human ingenuity and novelty can never grow the Church. The Word alone grows the Church. And this is very good news for us, because it takes the pressure off of us. We are simply to proclaim the Word. Let God worry about the results!

Pastor Krenz

This article is based on J.T. Mueller’s Christian Dogmatics, pp. 66-67.


Blogger Papa Joe said...

Encouraging words Pastor. Once again we must remind ourselves that it is God doing the work, which is something that is hard to do.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Pastor Krenz said...

Thanks, and thanks for reading!

8:11 AM  

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