Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. --Deuteronomy 8:1-3
For some reason, as my son and I sat on the couch this morning waiting for everyone else's day to begin, my thoughts turned to the Office of the Ministry and to doctrine and outreach. The Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, stated boldly at his installation as President, "People, this is NOT a game. Our incessant internal purification at the expense of the eternal destiny of the souls of men and women for whom Christ died must stop!" The first time I heard the words in person was at the 2003 North Dakota District Convention, where President Kieschnick himself spoke against "incessant internal purification" as a hinderance to reaching the lost.
Hearing the words "incessant internal purification" makes my teeth itch. At first glance, it seems reasonable that the fate of the souls of men is much more important than the attempt to have perfect doctrine. The example that I seem to hear most is that there are more important things than knowing how many angels can stand or dance on the head of a pin. And to a certain extent, that's true. To reach the unchurch and the lost, we don't begin by teaching the full counsel of God, any more than we begin with our own children by handing them Franz Pieper's Christian Dogmatics.
However, there is more to "incessant internal purification" than meets the eye. There is a false dichotomy that separates evangelism/mission and doctrine. After all, if you don't know the Lord and His Word, how, then, can you teach the unreached about the Lord and His Word? In his sermon "Why Dare and Can We Never Give Up the Church's Struggle for the Pure Doctrine?" in 1876, the Rev. Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther, First President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, said it this way:
Oh my dear friends of the Lutheran faith, confession, and conflict, do not be misled when today those are everywhere accused of lovelessness who still do not give up the battle for pure doctrine in our Church. . . . Oh my dear friends, let us indeed sorrow and lament over this: that false teachers constantly assail the pure doctrine in our Church and thus are at fault for the conflict and strife in the Church. However, let us never lament but rather extol and praise God that he always awakens men who fight against those false teachers, for, I repeat, this pertains to "the common salvation." . . . This conflict is one commanded us by God and is therefore certainly one blessed in time and in eternity. . . . Oh, therefore, let us never listen to those who praise and extol the conflict of the Reformation for the pure Gospel but want to know nothing of a similar conflict in our days.To say it in an even more succinct fashion, the Rev. Alvin L. Barry, former President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, put it this way: "Keep the message straight, Missouri! Get the message out, Missouri!"
There is a proper order to evangelism and outreach. First we must get the message straight. We do the unbeliever no favor if we lead him to a Christ who exists only in the imagination of our hearts. First we must be rooted in the Word of God. As the Church lives not on bread alone but "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD", we must know what the Lord reveals to us about Himself through the Word. Only then can we reach out with the Word to the unbeliever with the Christ that actually exists, the Christ who makes Himself known through that very Word. Reaching out without first getting it straight may reach a goodly number of people, but you will not be bringing them to where they need to be.
It has been said that pastors who seek what is dismissively termed "incessant internal purification" live in an ivory tower. Well, we need those ivory tower pastors. Just as we prefer brain surgeons to perform brain surgery rather than general practitioners, we need pastors who specialize in specific areas of the Word of God. These ivory tower pastors have a specific task: to delve into the Word of God so that they may teach the pastors of the Church.
We also need men who are willing to climb those ivory towers, pastors who will sit at the feet of these specialists and learn from them. They climb a goodly number of these ivory towers, and each time they come down they bring with them the riches that the ivory tower pastors have mined from the Word. These are the "general practitioner" pastors, men who do not necessarily specialize in a specific area of the Word but have a solid foundation in that Word. These are the pastors who teach the laity, equipping them for the work God gives them to do. These are the pastors who, with the laity they have educated in the Word, reach out to the unchurched, to the dying, to the wayward and lost. These pastors may not have specialized in a specific area of the Word, but they bring with them a solid foundation and background in the Word. They have studied and can teach about the Jesus who has revealed Himself to us in His Word.
It is as Jesus said to the seventy as He sent them out: "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few" (Luke 10:2a). But He doesn't stop there. He adds, "Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Luke 10:2b). It is the Lord who calls men to serve as pastors. He chose the Twelve, and He taught them. He gave them three years of intense training under His watchful eye. And then He commanded them saying, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20a). Notice that He doesn't say to them, "Teach them only what you think is important." He commands them to share the full counsel of what He revealed to them.
Evanglism, outreach, missions--what Jesus calls "making disciples"--consists of two things: baptizing and teaching. Focusing on Baptism without regard for the doctrine of the Church is unfaithful, at best. And focusing on neither Baptism nor the doctrine of the Church in our outreach efforts is nothing more than misleading and nothing less than sinful. Thanks be to God for faithful pastors and laity who both "keep the message straight" and "get the message out"!