Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Martin Luther's Mission Theology

Many Lutheran's debate whether Martin Luther developed a mission theology or not? Some say of course he did...others say show it??

The Reverend Dave Daubert argues that we have to look no further than Luther's introduction to the gospel to see a mission theology grounded in scripture shining through

read his article below....
What do you think???

Martin Luther’s Mission Theology
A Glimpse Through the Lens of His Introduction to the Gospels
By Rev. Dave Daubert, D. Min., Ph. D.

Copyright 2002. Permission is granted to copy this article for
free distribution within congregations.


The increasing interest in evangelism and outreach within Lutheranism often leads people to look elsewhere for the theological underpinnings for the work. While ecumenism is one of the important enterprises of the church’s work, there is an underlying assumption that perhaps Lutheranism is too rooted in being a state church to have anything significant to offer in the arena of mission theology, particularly in the area of evangelism. Many assume that any good theology of evangelism will need to find its origins in a non-Lutheran tradition.
This apparent lack of self-esteem is one reason why Lutherans have tried to explain away the lack of passion for such work. Comments espousing our quiet northern European roots and it just isn’t in our DNA are frequent when the subject is brought up. It seems that many are ready and willing to just give up on the enterprise altogether.
This attitude stands in sharp contrast to the feisty spirit found in much of what Luther wrote. His agenda to reform the church assumed that a high percentage of those officially connected and institutionally churched people in his time were functionally non-Christian. The object of his reforms was to transform the institutional church in order that people might be confronted by the true gospel of Jesus Christ and come to believe in a God of mercy and unconditional forgiveness that few in Luther’s time had ever encountered.

One of Luther’s vehicles for this evangelical effort was scripture. Dismayed that few had access to the Bible in a language they could understand, Luther went about translating the scriptures into German and encouraged people to begin to read the Bible for themselves. Recognizing how confused many of them were about the basic issues of the faith, Luther wrote introductions to help clarify the overarching message of the Gospel in terms that were clear and concise. These introductions are some of Luther’s clearest statements about his own understanding of the gospel.
Here we shall explore one short but clear and powerful piece written by Luther. This work, A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels written in 1521, will provide us with sharply defined insights into Luther’s most basic theology. In less than subtle ways he will explain his theology in terms that clearly point to mission as an essential part of what it means to be Christian.

The Gospel is Not About Legalism

Luther understands that there is more to Christianity than simply including Jesus. One can know about Jesus yet misuse and misunderstand the work of Christ so as not to be Christian. Concerned about legalism as well as completely missing the most important work of Christ, he cautions:
Be sure, moreover, that you do not make Christ into a Moses, as if Christ did nothing more than teach and provide examples as the other saints do, as if the gospel were simply a textbook of teachings or laws. ... (T)his is the smallest part of the gospel, on the basis of which it cannot even be called gospel. ... In short, this mode [of understanding Christ as simply an example] does not make Christians but only hypocrites.

Luther knows that if the primary concern of Christianity primarily is how to do the right thing, then it is no gospel at all. In fact, the result of such understanding and motivation is not even real Christianity. Inside of the church or out, such a view results only in hypocrisy. Doing the right thing is not the starting point for anything which the Christian church does.
As this relates to the church’s mission, this central insight is a critical starting point. Within much of our current concern for evangelism, outreach, and mission is a sense of dread. Devotions are led throughout the country based on the Great Commission and the bottom line is something like, we may not like doing evangelism but we are to do it because our Jesus says so. Such an understanding which starts with mission as the right thing starts in the wrong place and produces wrong results. Mission does not start with legalism.

The Gospel is About the Gift of Jesus Christ

For Luther, one must start somewhere else in order for it to be gospel at all. There is a present from God in Jesus that when received changes everything. Concerning this Luther writes:
The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and is your own. This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you. On this you may depend as surely as if you had done it yourself; indeed as if you were Christ himself.

Luther is clear, gospel is not primarily about what we do. It cannot be about that. Anything that puts what we are to do before the gift of Christ is undercuts the gospel to the point that it cannot be called gospel. It is only gospel when Christ is not just information but a living and life-changing reality: only when the voice comes that says, Christ is your own, with his life, teaching, works, death, resurrection, and all that he is, has, does, and can do.
Why is this important in establishing a theology of mission? It is essential because it reminds the church that mission (and all things Christian) is grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ and not in what we do. Mission starts with a gift. That gift is Jesus Christ. It is not forgiveness or reconciliation or any other fruit of Christ’s work. It is Christ himself.
This is essential because it means that all of the efforts to convince people to do something missional, whether service or invitation or whatever other actions are desired, can never be the basis of the work of the church. Such an approach relies on duty, perhaps even guilt. It does not represent the gospel and it does not result in Christianity. If there is one clear message in this: trying to convince Lutheran people to try harder will not help the church better serve the purposes of God. In fact, it may be contrary to the purposes of God.

When You Have the Gift of Christ, Treasure and Learn From Him

When the true gospel is understood and the gift of Christ is the one thing in life that matters most, an entirely new range of possibilities opens up. With Christ in our possession, Christians are now free to follow him in all that he does and wherever he might lead. Luther is clear in this, being in the presence of Christ changes everything. Priorities change and life changes. The new life of faith is a life guided no longer by the person but guided in faith by the mind of Christ.
Luther expects that faith will result in a graceful orientation toward that which the law pointed. No longer will that which God desires be burdensome, but in the presence of Christ it will become something that brings life and joy. The legalism of duty without Christ is replaced with joy in his presence. Concerning this change Luther writes:
We see too that unlike Moses in his book, and contrary to the nature of a commandment, Christ does not horribly force and drive us. Rather he teaches us in a loving and friendly way. He simply tells us what we are to do and what to avoid, what will happen to those who do evil and to those who do well. Christ drives and compels no one. Indeed he teaches so gently that he entices rather than commands.

There is something that happens when a person is in Christ which changes the nature of life and the works that comprise it. This change is the hinge on which all Christian activity pivots. With it mission will come. Without it all of the work in the world will not faithfully represent God.

New Life in Christ Moves Us Out

With the move from law to gospel which comes with the gift of faith, there comes a re-framing of life. Christ becomes the one thing that matters most. Everything else that was ours without Christ now belongs to Christ as well. And so God turns us from our own lives through Christ in love to our neighbor.
Regarding this Luther writes:

Now when you have Christ as the foundation and chief blessing of your salvation, then the other part follows: that you take him as your example, giving yourself in service to your neighbor just as you see that Christ has given himself for you. See, there faith and love move forward, God’s commandment is fulfilled, and a person is happy and fearless to do all things.

In this statement we see Luther’s theology move directly and naturally to mission. Mission starts with Christ who is given as a gift and received in faith and then flows naturally forth in the life of the believer. It is not forced or dutiful in its origin. Mission is the love that follows from faith. It is a change in attitude that comes from knowing Christ. The believer is transformed into someone who is fearless. The neighbor becomes the object of life’s actions. Mission happens. Concerning this Luther writes: “After that it is necessary that you turn this into an example and deal with your neighbor in the very same way, be given also to him as a gift and an example.
This call to Christians to be a gift is the essential call of the gospel to mission. Transformed by faith, our life is no longer simply our own. The life of someone who possesses the gift of Christ is now transformed into a gift as well. Christians who are in Christ will be boldly and fearlessly running around giving life away as often as possible. The gospel dwells in them and works through them. Mission happens.
Luther assumes faith will result in mission. As Christ is to us, so we become to the world. All that we are is now to be a gift to the world. All that we say and do is to show and declare the goodness of God in Christ. In fact, if mission does not result then faith is not fully there. This is not a legalistic understanding of Christianity. We have established that earlier and clearly. But it does take seriously the reality of a living Christ being a part of life for the believer. Faith provides the connection for the mind of Christ to guide the actions of a faithful life. Life that has received everything that God has to offer is now naturally oriented to offer everything up in service in order to extend that love to the neighbor. Christ’s presence results in Christ becoming example. The life of faith follows Christ as it manifests his presence in the world.

Being Guides for Others

A key piece, missing for many Lutherans, is the final part of the process. We have often tried to lead good lives and tried to care for our neighbors. This has been the core of our witness. Oddly, a community formed on the priority of the Word over good deeds has relied on good deeds and neglected the Word. The final piece of discipleship is that as Christ serves as our guide in our journey, so we are to be guides on behalf of Christ to others.
This means that with caring deeds that are our gift to the world we must also bring a word that helps people see, not the deed, but the Christ who stands “in, with, and under” the deed. Our gifts to the world are the ground for sharing the gospel and helping people encounter Jesus Christ. In this way Christ becomes gift to them and can then be guide for them. If we neglect to speak and to point others to Jesus, our witness is merely to our good character and ourselves. It is only when we interpret these caring actions and use them to point to Christ that they complete the work. The fullness of mission is then to use the relationships fostered when we act as gift in order to guide others to encounter Jesus. Mission is not complete without this. In some ways, mission may even cease to be mission without this.

Application for Today

This then is the flow of Lutheran theology. It starts with God who comes to us with the saving gift of Jesus Christ. God starts the action and begins the work. In faith, that gift is received and the believer receives not just information about God’s love, but receives the gift of Christ himself. Now having Christ, the believer lives out of this relationship guided by Christ who is present in daily in life. The Christian then gives the self to the neighbor just as Christ has given himself to us. Finally, as Christ guides us, we then guide others to Christ. Mission starts with God, is carried out in Christ, and is shared in response. This, for Luther, is as natural as anything in life.
If there is a concern about the way Lutherans are sharing their faith in word and in deed then no program to motivate them will make it happen in a sustained way. More importantly, whatever fruits come from the efforts to make it happen may not even be Christian. They may simply be various forms of hypocrisy.
If Lutherans are to find natural ways to share their faith, whether in evangelism or in service, they will start by focusing on the gift of Jesus Christ in their lives. In encountering Jesus anew and simply being loved by God people will discover that the most wonderful and important thing in life has come to them in Christ. Their lives will no longer be simply their own but will belong to the Christ who accompanies them and guides them along life’s journey. Then they will, out of that love and excitement, share it with their neighbor. There will be no alternative for them. It will be as natural as breathing.
To answer the question about how Lutherans are to be more missional, the answer from Luther is counter-intuitive. It is not going to be events, classes and resources on better techniques for evangelism. It will be spiritual renewal, not better methods, which will change how the church engages the world. Lutherans will share in the mission of God by renewing their relationship with the gift of God who is Jesus. Being in love with him, they will listen and walk with him throughout their lives, and as a result they will participate in changing the world.
This is Luther’s understanding of how God works and how faithful human beings are privileged to share in the work of God as we journey on the way to the kingdom of God. In the end it is as simple as:
1). Receive the gift of Christ.
2). Treasure and learn from the gift of Christ as your life’s guide.
3). Be a gift from Christ.
4). Guide others to treasure and learn from Christ as well. Gift and guide. Gift and guide. Luther said it in 1521. It still holds true today.

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