This series on Luther’s missiology is from a paper that Dr. Glenn Schaeffer presented at Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton on October 30, 2008 as part of a Luther series. Various parts of Dr. Schaeffer’s paper have been posted on previous Mondays.
Luther speaks in terms of the Christian church being a “profane church.” Not “profane” in the sense of the church being crude or using gutter language, but “profane” in the Latin sense of the term meaning to “move outside the temple.” R.C. Sproul writes, “Luther was playing with the Latin roots for the word profane. Profane originally meant simply ‘outside of the temple.’ In Luther’s terms a profane church is one that moves out of the temple and into the world.” (R.C. Sproul, Lifeviews: Make a Christian Impact on Culture and Society, Old Tappen, (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1986, 39.)
There is a temptation for Christians to hide in church buildings; to erect walls to protect themselves from the evil world in which they live; to make Sunday worship the end goal of what they say and do, but Christians are to move outside the temple. Christians are to be the Lord’s salt and light in the world.
As God’s Spirit works and lives in the hearts of His people through His life-giving Word, God’s Word spreads because God’s people cannot but produce the fruit of faith (i.e. faith active in love). In Martin Luther’s Treatise on Christian Liberty (The Freedom of a Christian Man), he states, “We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor.” (LW 31: 371) The CTCR statement, “The Mission of the Christian Church in the World” states, “To equip and prepare us as individuals for mission, Christ has come to dwell within us. Though we are still plagued by sin, we can now rise with Him to newness of life. Through repentance and Baptism we also have the gift of the Holy Spirit. By faith He lives in us with His grace and blessing. We are now new creatures. He has given a new direction to our lives, with new desires, new attitudes toward our fellowmen, new strength to serve, new willingness to labor in His kingdom. (LC II, 37-38; Ap IV, 122ff.)”. (A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, LC-MS, “The Mission of the Christian Church in the World” 1974:5)
One of the fruits of faith is the believer sharing God’s Word with the lost people of this world. Luther said, “The Christians should also through the Word harvest much fruit among all the Gentiles and should convert and save many, and thus they shall devour around about them like a fire that is burning in the midst of dry wood or straw. The fire of the Holy Spirit, then, shall devour the Gentiles according to their flesh and prepare a place everywhere for the Gospel and the kingdom of Christ.” (Bunkowske, (1986), 65-66.) Elsewhere, Luther visualized the continuing issuing forth of the message to that of: “throwing a stone into the water which makes waves, circles and streaks around itself, and the waves push each other further and further; one pushes the other, until they reach the shore.” (Ibid., 62) Schulz writes, “The Christian church is in her movement just like an organism, reaching out to all corners of the world as the Word is being preached. All congregational work, directly or indirectly, stands in service to that goal, liturgy included: ‘The second is the German Mass and Order of Service, which should be arranged for the sake of the unlearned lay folk and with which we are now concerned. These two orders of service must be used publicly, in the churches, for all people, among whom are many who do not believe and are not yet Christians.’” (Klaus Detlev Schulz, “Luther and Missions in the 16th Century,” For the Life of the World, Jan. 2004, Vol. 8, No. 1.) Some additional thoughts from Martin Luther, “It is necessary always to proceed to those whom no preaching has been done, in order that the number of Christians may be greater.” (Bunkowske, 1986:55) Luther, in the words of P.T. Forsyth, writes, “the entire course of history is an all-encompassing missionary movement.” (Ibid., p. 57) Luther: “The very best of all works is that the heathen have been led from idolatry to the knowledge of God.” (Quoted in Montgomery, p. 163, WA 47, 466, sermon of Sept. 25, 1538 on Matt. 23:15)
God’s Gospel working in the hearts of God’s people will simply not allow God’s people to say, “Here I stand. I can do none other.” A static church is an unfaithful church. Luther writes, “Consequently, one must preach the Gospel so that one may bring some more to become Christians. The kingdom of Christ stands in becoming, not in being.” (Stolle, 26, Emphasis added)) Dr. Reinhard Slenczka, in his keynote address at the International Lutheran Council’s Third World “Seminaries” Conference held in Pretoria, South Africa said, “If a confessional church is not a confessing church, it is no church at all.” (Quoted in an article “Confessional Churches Confess” by Lutheran Church – Canada President Ralph Mayan in the May 2007 ILC News.)
As great, great, great, great intellectual and confessional grandchildren of Martin Luther may we always hear and heed his evangelical call to “convert ev’ry nation” by sharing God’s Gospel in our own homes, workplaces, neighbourhoods, provinces, and country. May we pray for, and commission, missionaries to proclaim God’s Gospel to the ends of the earth. To this end we pray using one of Luther’s prayers in the Large Catechism, “Dear Father, we pray Thee, give us thy Word, that the Gospel may be sincerely preached throughout the world and that it may be received by faith and may work and live in us.” Amen.” (Emphasis added. Large Catechism, The Second Petition, Tappert, 427:54.)