As Others See Us

In his GC sermon, Ted Wilson expressed some disapproval of learning evangelism techniques from other people.

Well, here’s a quote from Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse, showing that Ted isn’t alone in worrying about external techniques. Sasses was worried that Lutherans might learn their evangelism from Seventh-day Adventists.

“The optimism and synergism prevalent in America have made such inroads into American Lutheranism that the Augsburg Confession’s ‘where and when it pleases God’ has for practical purposes been given up. Evidence of this is the uncritical taking over of ideas and programs of stewardship and evangelism from such groups as the Seventh Day Adventists. The pastor schools the people so that with the right kind of pious talk they will then be equipped to win other people for the church. In place of the office of preaching reconciliation comes the training of ‘soul-winners,’ teaching them just the right way of talking with people, to make maximum use of the techniques of psychological manipulation. The system admittedly derives from the methods of American business. Thus people are to be brought into the church, made to feel at home there, led to a decision, and then all together are to carry on their building of the kingdom of God. What the Word of God is no longer trusted to do is achieved with the psychological techniques of modern evangelization. There is of course talk of the Holy Spirit, but one no longer knows who He is. It seems He can be measured and quantified. Such evangelism produces results. Thousands are won for church membership. On the other hand we may recall the failure of the Biblical prophets and of our Lord Himself. When one considers the latter, one begins to understand the full earnestness of ‘where and when it pleases God.’ Jesus said: ‘…so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again and be forgiven’(Mark 4:12; cf. Is.6:9-10). Whoever is not awed by what is hidden deep in these words will never truly know the Holy Spirit.”

– Hermann Sasse, “On the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No. 51 July/August 1960 in We Confess the Church, translated by Norman Nagel (St Louis: CPH, 1986)

4 thoughts on “As Others See Us

  1. Is emphasis on ‘friendship evangelism’ diluting our reputation as ‘People of The Book?’

    Is Wilson not calling on SDA’s to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season”?

  2. I’m interested to know Bill, if when you were a lutheran, you took any Adventist methods in with you? Were you one of those Herman Sasse might have had in mind here? Or did you fully learn and fit into the lutheran model he outlines above?

    Do the Lutheran’s ‘do’ evangelism?

    He does raise issues Adventists need to watch for, so I appreciate the challenge his words present, although I don’t completely agree with him.

    • I think most Lutheran congregations don’t bother much with evangelism–they have often tended to be ethnocentric. I certainly brought a passion for evangelism to the churches I was at, but was frustrated by the apathy in the pews, or the expectation that if anyone did it, it was the pastor’s job. Many Lutherans in the 70s and 80s, in all the denominations, adopted the methods of the “church growth movement”–very much the focus on methods and manipulation. I was definitely more partial to Sasse–and I still am. I think the Augsburg Confession had it right–our job is to be faithful to preaching the Gospel, but conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. Gimmicks, salesmanship, manipulation–none of this is appropriate in presenting the truths of the Gospel (and I think EGW would agree).

  3. I agree that gimmicks, salesmanship and manipulation are inappropriate and are soundly condemned by EGW as well. I think these are real temptations to any Adventist churches who want to see their church grow (especially in the low responsive western world and thus grasp after any new methodology), and they are certainly temptations to Adventist evangelists.

    But EGW implies that there is a science and an art to helping lead someone to Christ and helping someone make a decision (in either public or private spheres). She sees this as working with the Holy Spirit and understanding how the human mind works.

    I see it as a combination of Lutheran confidence in the Word and the prime duty to proclaim it, with an Arminian recognition of cooperation, and Adventism wholism with its focus on whole person and how the person works (understanding the mind). Manipulation is of course subverting the minds proper function.

    The Lutheran view is correct in its strong affirmation of the divine work – but I think it is in danger of ignoring the human side of things. There is a fine line and I sympathise with Sasse who is probably observing the line being crossed.

Comments are closed.