I find it very sad how some Lutherans seem to wring their hands over Martin Luther’s paucity of mission-talk. Some are embarrassed at how little the Reformer spoke of “witnessing” or “evangelizing” others. The Lutheran Witness has an apologetic article this month entitled “Reaching Out: Luther on Mission,” which must say half a dozen times that there were “few opportunities” in Luther’s day, and his world was “not conducive to promoting individual participation.” In my seminary-mandated mission class at Concordia, St. Louis, a few of the “mission-minded” students were literally wringing their hands at the scarcity of historical mission models, discussion, and theology that Lutherans produced. And the instructor wrung his hands too!
They ask why and apologize and make excuses for Luther not being like the LCMS today. Some of this is understandable. People and culture and society have changed, does change, through the ages, and it is ultimate presumption (and logically fallacious) to assume that what we think and value is what all people have thought and valued. The problem, is that they ask why he’s not like us instead of the obvious and reasonable: why are we different? Where have we changed? Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or an indifferent thing?
Weedon provided this quotation from H. Sasse several days ago:
Despite its decided rejection of false teachings which prevail in other churches, our church has never denied the presence of the church of Christ in the established churches of England and Scotland, in Holland and Switzerland, in Spain and Italy, in Greece and Russia. It has not tried, therefore, to conduct missions for the Lutheran confessional church in these countries, just as it has avoided the “evanglicalization” of Catholic territories in Germany. Let all those who accuse Lutheranism of intolerant confessionalism reflect on the fact that the Lutheran Church is one of the very few churches in Christendom which has never, under any circumstances, engaged in propaganda for itself or conducted missions among Christians of other persuasions. (Here We Stand, pp. 182, 183)
Did Sasse get his facts wrong? I doubt it. One can argue with his praise of this or not, but it’s much harder to criticize an historian for getting facts wrong.
Perhaps instead of wringing our hands over Luther’s “missional” insensitivities we should rather be asking ourselves what has changed within our understanding of Lutheranism? Is it possible even to go back? Is there something within Lutheranism as a movement that leads in this direction of not only growing farther from the early Reformers but from the Fathers and the ancient practice of Christianity as well?