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Wednesday, October 04, 2006 

What's Wrong With Ablaze!: Part 2

As I said in my last post, I will now use this post to address what the Augsburg confession says about the means of grace. The reason we are going in this direction is that I believe we all need to be talking the same language later on in this series.

In the last post I said that the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration was strangely silent concerning evangelism. In fact the confessors say that those who reject God’s word have hardened their own hearts and are deserving of God’s righteous judgment. Now those who advocate the Ablaze! program would say that it is all the more important that we tell people about Jesus NOW. But isn’t that what Abaze! does you ask? No, by the very definition of the Ablaze! website, the definition of success is, wait…wait I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s get back to the confessions.

Let’s first look at Augustana, articles V and VII:

Article V: Of the Ministry.
1] That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2] the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3] the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.

4] They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.

Article VII: Of the Church.
1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4, 5. 6.

First, what is the Church? We need to define this first as this is crucial for this and all later discussions. The Church is, simply put, the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. The reason this is an important issue to the reformers is that Luther and others had been excommunicated for preaching the Gospel. Rome believed and still believes in a visible church that can be seen and ruled by an infallible pope as if the word of God were handed to him as Peter himself! Luther rejected the hierarchy and said that the church was a communion of saints, one bride of Christ with Him as its Head. So what is the basis for this? Read Eph 1:17-23, Eph 3:15,16 Eph 1:17-23, and 1 Cor 1:2 All these verses point to Christ as the head of His Church.

But, secondly, what do the confessors keep pointing to as the way to identify the Church? The Marks of the Church, that is to say Word and Sacrament. Over and over they talk about the Word preached purely and the Sacraments administered rightly.

So, is it possible to see the Church? Well, yes and no. No because it is hidden under the Cross and yes because it is “hidden” in Word and Sacrament! Hidden? Yes, in Word and Sacrament. Faith allows the saints to see this hiddenness of God in the spoken Word and the same crucified Christ hidden in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. There are many reform churches that would join the Romans and say they can see God’s church or His people. They say by evidence of an alter call or a sinners prayer the true church can be seen. This is utter nonsense as only God knows his own! And yet the Ablaze! program states it can actually do some counting…wait, wait that’s getting ahead of myself again.

The confessors believed so strongly that Church is “hidden” that the following article was written:

Article VIII: What the Church Is.
1] Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: The Scribes and 2] the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat, etc. Matt. 23, 2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men.

3] They condemn the Donatists, and such like, who denied it to be lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of none effect.

The confessors understood that we meet Christ where He says he will meet us, even if that office is held be hypocrites and sinful men.
So what does this mean concerning any evangelism program? We must look for the Marks of the Church. If they are not there, then to whom shall we go? Hmm…
Now contrast what I just wrote with Ablaze!. How does Ablaze! define success? Well, by counting “seeds of faith” or “critical events”. As Julie Martinez wrote in her brilliant article “Is Ablaze! Evangelism?", the Ablaze! DVD defines a “critical event” as any one-time encounter where the Word of God is shared on a one to one basis, regardless of the response.

Where are the Marks of the Church in the reporting of these critical events? The events reported point to things outside of the Church and therefore not what the confessors had in mind when confessing their faith in the Crucified One. Ablaze! looks not to Word or Sacrament for its success but to works, while well intentioned, by poorly catechized laity and roistered church workers alike.

Isn’t it just a little scary that while St. Paul states in Colossians 3:3 “for you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” Ablaze! purports to be able to see into hearts to see these supposedly hidden seeds of faith? Perhaps Colossians needs to go through the Doctrinal Review Board in St. Louis before too many people read that little verse. Oops, sarcasm. Sorry.

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
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