Thirty years ago a Texas District official said in the District newsletter that some Ivory Tower theologians believe all that you have to do is preach the Gospel purely and administer the sacraments rightly and the church will grow. He was talking about Fort Wayne Seminary professors at the time. Now thirty years later we hear the same from a St. Louis Seminary professor.
Profession Ben Haupt says in a review of Luther’s Works, Vol. 59, “Some seem to argue, ‘All we have to do is preach God’s word from the pulpit and rightly administer the sacraments in the sanctuary, and the gospel will spread to all nations’” (Concordia Journal, Summer 2013, 251). Haupt goes on to say that Luther was in favor of using a variety of forms. I think Haupt is arguing in favor of embracing technology to spread the Gospel. The Texas District official was arguing in favor of the then avant-garde Church Growth principles which are now the old hat of contemporary worship.
The Texas District’s public embracing of church growth has not panned out though pastors like me are usually blamed for the poor results. It’s pastors like me who are nothing but maintenance ministers teaching from the catechism, worshipping from a hymnal, preaching Law and Gospel, and confessing that it is not enough to speak the truth you also must reject the error (i.e. practice closed Communion) that are stifling church growth. The truth is there are less maintenance ministers in Texas than there are avant-garde ones. Yet for the 20 years I ran the numbers (1983-2003) the State of Texas grew 30% and the District 7%. (During this time please note that the holy Christian Church grew exactly as Her Lord would have her.)
Is the Gospel purely preached and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution enough or not to grow the Church into all nations? If you say it’s not, then you are bringing in something else to the article of justification and whatever it is doesn’t belong there and is a poison to the article.
I’m sure Noah was depressed when only 8 from a world of people only boarded the ark after 120 years of preaching. I’m sure righteous Lot was discouraged when only 3 came away in faith from Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m sure the 10 apostles despaired when a week’s worth of their Law and Gospel preaching to Thomas didn’t bring him to faith.
Nowhere do you find Noah, Lot, or the apostles being criticized for relying on only Word and Sacrament. Thirty years ago a District official was bold enough to criticize unnamed seminary professors for that, and now a seminary professor is so emboldened to criticize the nameless “some.” The one thing they have in common is neither of them have Word and Sacrament ministry entrusted to them. One dealt with them administratively; the other deals with them academically. In neither case do they see as many struck or burned (Jeremiah 23: 29) as we in Word and Sacrament ministry do. We may not see many, but those we do see leave no doubt the hammer is heavy enough and the fire hot enough.