A Reformation Seeker Approach?
It is disturbing that Seeker-oriented evangelism has spread so rapidly in the circles of non-denominationalism and pop-evangelicalism. But that is to be expected. After all, Seeker-oriented evangelism fits the model of conversion common in these churches. But even more disturbing is that this approach has also been catching on among mainline churches that claim to have a more sound Biblical theology, including Lutheran churches.
The very foundation of Seeker-oriented evangelism is its unbiblical view of conversion as a process culminating in man’s decision, as God’s passive offer and man’s active reception. This is entirely inconsistent with the Lutheran view of conversion as God’s work from beginning to end, as God’s active gift and man’s passive reception.
But there is more. Lutheran theology is also a sacramental theology. The Bible’s doctrine of conversion is thoroughly sacramental:
Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Rom. 6:3-4)
Martin Luther emphasizes both man’s powerlessness to effect or cooperate in his conversion and the sacramental character of that conversion in his Small and Large Catechisms:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
For God's name was given us when we became Christians and were baptized, so that we are called children of God and have the Sacraments, by which He so incorporates us in Himself that everything which is God's must serve for our use.
This sacramental theology of conversion stands in stark contradiction to the teaching of conversion in Seeker-oriented evangelism. But you wouldn’t know it by the way some Lutheran churches are adopting seeker-methods.
Can Seeker-oriented evangelism be adapted to fit this sacramental theology? No. The two are fundamentally in conflict. The evolutionary, human-decision-focused model of conversion is integral to Seeker-oriented evangelism. Any adaptation would require adoption of its fundamental theology of conversion. That’s something Lutherans simply cannot do.
Why? Well, aside from the obvious issues of compromising the theology of the Reformation, there is that pesky issue of the Gospel. Seeker-oriented evangelism requires that the Gospel be preached less, not more. Lutherans who seek to adapt Seeker-oriented evangelism, do so at the expense of their theology and of the Gospel.
Sinner-Oriented Evangelism —Preach the Gospel!
But what about all those Seekers? Am I saying that the church should ignore them? No, not at all! In fact, I am saying quite the opposite. However, we can focus on seekers until the cows come home, but if we don’t proclaim the Gospel to them, they’ll still go to hell.
Instead of being "Seeker" oriented, the Church ought to be "Sinner" oriented. "Sinners" include both believers and unbelievers; both the churched and the unchurched, both the religious and the irreligious. And there is one thing I can say about all sinners: Sinners need Jesus. And that means that they need to hear the explicit Gospel message at every opportunity.
I am saying what St. Paul said to the Colossians:
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Col. 4:5)
Seeker churches, you have an opportunity like few others. Quit wasting your unprecedented access to the thousands who come to you every week. Don’t let a week go by without proclaiming the message of Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection for sinners, as you should. Stop trying to lure people into making a decision and start proclaiming the Gospel that creates saving faith. Bring Jesus Christ Crucified out of the background and into the foreground. Make the most of every opportunity —preach the Gospel!
Rev. Todd Wilken is host of Issues, Etc.