Rev Raymond Schultz, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada writes a regular column for each issue of Canada Lutheran.
ELCIC congregations are welcome to republish this material in their church publications. Please acknowledge its original publication by including the credit line:
Canada Lutheran, March 2004
More of Bishop Ray's writing can be found in From the Bishop including texts from sermons and addresses.
When a prominent public figure of India was asked about arranged marriages, he said, "You North Americans marry the people you love; we Indians learn to love the people we marry." When an Indian couple marries, the bride leaves her family and joins the household of her husband. The husband's family can be receptive and incorporate her into their life, or they can make her life a cold and alien experience.
I thought about this at the time I finished reading The Strange New Word of the Gospel, edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. The book is a collection of essays on the general theme of re-evangelizing in the postmodern world. Todd E. Johnson reviews the American frontier tent meetings that led to a very individualistic "decision" for Christ, based on the idea that you don't become a Christian until you become a believer first—like choosing your own bride. This model of evangelism is the outcropping of a particular movement in modern history and not typical of how the church has grown through the centuries. It is very much a product of the American marketing approach to life.
The church of the apostles grew by bringing unbelievers into the church and helping them to find faith in the process—a little bit like those arranged marriages in India. In this model, mature Christians "apprentice" seekers. Being with other Christians and practicing their way of life is a process of formation by which people eventually come to faith in Christ through the grace of God received in community. People are taught the basics of the catechism, introduced to the practice of prayer, witnessed to by their mentors, and brought to hear Biblical preaching. Baptism follows after a period of preparation and only then do they come to the Lord's Supper. The cycle of the church year begins to define their lifestyle. The Creeds and the Lord's Prayer are taught as mysteries that open our eyes to a reality we cannot see only through the use of reason.
Congregation-based evangelism faces the same challenges as those extended families of India and relies on a commitment to "holy hospitality" in congregations. The community gathered around the gospel must find the ways to receive the newcomer while helping the newcomer become "one body" with them. This method of evangelism is patterned on the gospels themselves, which portray the first disciples as not fully comprehending or believing in Jesus until after his resurrection when they met regularly to celebrate the Lord's Supper.
Our church has made two attempts to lead in this direction. One has been the Adult Catechumenate, a rite of initiation for adults; the other is called "Passing on the Faith," a way for congregations and families to initiate children into the Christian way of life. Pastor Donald Johnson wrote Praying the Catechism as a supplement to these ministries. However, these initiatives have been undervalued and even resisted by a large portion of this church, and we have suffered for the neglect of them.
The goal of evangelism is not to adapt the gospel to culture; the goal is to incorporate people into the gospel. Our ancient rites, our strange scriptures and our sacred songs are expressions of the way of life. Rather than replace them with substitutes, we seek to incorporate others into them so that they also may believe. The gospel is not a lifestyle option; it is a way of life. Somewhere along that way of life we find that we have come to believe in Jesus Christ with complete trust. I believe this is authentic evangelism and I call upon this church to make it a burning priority.
Bishop Raymond Schultz
Canada Lutheran, March 2004