If the Ablaze! movement is theologically sound, then it deserves praise. If it is not sound, it deserves the kind of rebukes which are demonstrated in the words of our Lord and His prophets and apostles as found in the Scriptures. Whichever the case may be, the ultimate goal is that people would be led to know and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and our Savior. In reviewing the theological premises of Ablaze! movement, pastors keep in mind St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.” (2 Corinthians 1:24)
Numerous documents have been published in synodical media which suggest that Ablaze! is theologically sound. Other proponents have suggested that Ablaze! is a-theological (e.g. the paper by Butch Almstedt, who has served 12 years as a trustee of the LCMS Foundation and recently as chairman of the LCMS Board for Mission Services).
In this brief study, however, we will confine our critical analysis to the document promoted and endorsed by key leaders in our synod, Foundations of Ablaze! The Ablaze Initiative Theologically Considered.
1) A summary of the document
2) A theological analysis of the document
3) A cursory review of some activities which purport to be consistent with this theology
The Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, Lutheran hymnody and the Constitution and Bylaws of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod commend “pure doctrine” with good reason, as the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you,” (1Ti 4:16) and to Titus, “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict,” (Tit 1:9).
Pure doctrine doesn't mean simply that someone “can't find anything wrong with it.” Rather, it is that doctrine which correctly identifies and addresses our needs and God’s work. It is salutary to examine documents, theology and practice in terms of “what's right with it.”
The Ablaze Initiative Theologically Considered: Summary
Thesis: “The central thesis of this paper is that the Ablaze! initiative is a 21st century outreach effort consistent with Lutheran theology and practice and an example of the mission emphasis that has characterized The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod from the beginning.”
Composed by Dr. Daniel Mattson, a native of Willmar, MN who graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., in 1968. He later received a doctorate degree in Near East Studies from the University of Michigan. From 1974 to 1990, Dan served on seminary faculties in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa, assisting churches in the design of Theological Education by Extension (TEE) programs developed to train lay people to take leadership roles in Lutheran congregations. From 1991 until 2003, Dan served as Director for Theological Studies for LCMS World Mission. He currently serves as Associate Executive Director for Planning and Administration, overseeing the work of St. Louis staff operations, and serving the church and LCMS mission fields.
Introduction Missions has been an integral part of the theology and practice of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod since its inception.
– First Constitution.
– CTCR Document A Theological Statement of Mission
– LCMS World Mission
– Gerald Kieschnick
– Synodical Convention resolutions
Why Was the Term Ablaze! Chosen? (pp. 4-6)
– It is used 11 times in the OT and 1 time in the NT by NIV.
– It is used 3 times in the OT and 1 time in the NT by ESV
– It represents five different Hebrew verbs and two Greek verbs in NIV and ESV
– “ablaze” is not a part of the central theological vocabulary in NIV or ESV
– Two attractive features about the term Ablaze! which will encourage people to become more involved in missions are:
(1) “Ablaze” is connected with the presence of God (Dt. 5:23; 9:15; Acts 2:3)
(2) “Ablaze” is used figuratively to describe emotional experience (Lk 24:32 f)
– It describes Walther’s “burning passion” (Lk. 12:49)
Where Does Mission Begin? (p. 7)
– Jesus’ first words were not simply a call for individual spiritual or moral renewal, but were the beginning of a movement to call people in all their diversity into the kingdom of God
– Beginning with Abram (sic) God has sent his believing people to be a blessing to others
– God continued his search for the lost until – as the writer to the Hebrews says – “In the past God spoke to our forefathers . . .”
What Motivates the Followers of Jesus to Take Part in Mission? (pp. 7-9)
– Self-aggrandizement motivated some (Mt. 8:19-20; Acts 8:9f), but Jesus made it clear from the beginning that believers should not count on worldly gain
– In the “Two-Thirds World” converts to Christianity are showing us the truth like martyrs, living in situations where they will not receive a single earthly reward
– the importance of pressing forward in mission while it is still day
– the realization of the value of the treasure leads to immediate desire to share the Good News with friends and neighbors
– The Lord’s teaching is not always easily communicated in Lutheran congregations
– Lutheran members have been Lutherans for generations
– Faith has become a taken-for-granted legacy
– Faith is seen as a personal possession of the individual believer as if it were optional as to whether or not to share it
– Lack of mission zeal is the root problem; C.F.W. Walther was zealous for missions
What Is the First Step In Mission? (p. 10)
– Jesus’ first step was not to form a cadre of missionary disciples or to start a missionary school and sending agency nor even to rush in among them himself, but to call disciples to be fishers of men
God is the one who
(1) will supply the workers and the plan
(2) opens the eyes of blind Christians to see that they live in the midst of unbelievers
(3) changes the hearts and minds of Christians to do something about missions
(4) leads his people into his service
Our prayers to God lead to
(1) consideration of the church’s priorities
(2) commitment to providing people who share the Gospel
How Is God’s Mission Done? (10-15)
– The Book of Concord: God instituted the office of preaching; the pastoral office is special
– The church is not being faithful if it . . .
(1) puts in place linguistic or socio-cultural requirements which make it impossible to be served by preachers or to receive the sacraments in an understandable form
(2) fails to provide opportunities for people’s lives to be touched by the Good News of Jesus
(3) insists that people must become like itself before those people hear the Good News of Jesus
– In Walther’s day, immigrants were met by dedicated Lutheran people
– In the 21st century, we have a similar challenge as that of Walther’s day
– The size and nature of the missionary challenge emphasizes that the work of preachers is not complete when they preach; they must equip the laity
– Laypeople are to be involved in mission work. Cf. Walther
– The truth of the Gospel is communicated through the lives of believers which is so attractive to people without faith that they willingly come from east and west, north and south, to be a part of God’s kingdom. cf. Luther on “Thy kingdom com . . .”
– Walther’s experience was different from Luther’s because Luther was dealing with a laity that was abysmally ignorant. Walther dealt with people who knew the catechism, pure preaching and teaching, regular reception of the sacraments.
– Walther emphasizes lay involvement: “Every believing Christian should really be a missionary.”
Why Involve Laypeople in Mission? (pp. 15-16)
– Lay Christians make an important contribution to the missionary task because of
– their opportunities
– their gifts
– a wonderful knowledge of Christian doctrine
– a superior understanding and explaining the Scriptures
– examining teachers and opposing the erring
– guiding, comforting admonishing, praying, and the lik
– “every Christian should be a co-worker in God’s vineyard” (Walther)
– Ablaze! will make a contribution to the evangelization of the world to the extent that it can motivate and express the determination of laypeople to be involved in sharing the Good News of Jesus imaginatively and creatively.
– The goal cannot be reached if laypeople choose to be spectators rather than participants.
Why Count? (pp. 16-19)
– Lutheran congregations set financial goals
– Lutheran congregations don’t usually set work goals, worship and Sunday school goals for increased attendance, and the like
– God created human beings as people who count
– Numbers help us to get needs and resources into alignment so that our use of resources brings glory to God
– God’s people shouldn’t try to force productive situations by secular means of money and power
– American materialism leads some to believe that complex challenges can be solved by providing “things”
– Our willingness to count is often related to our willingness to be accountable.
– Numbers have a hortatory function.
– Counting and accountability allow Christians to share successes and failures, joys and sorrows — and to join in prayer
– [Geographical Issues]
– Choosing the number 100 million to make it clear that “it could never be accomplished by the wisdom and strength of LCMS World Mission or even the entire Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (21)
Planning and Preparation for the Missionary Task (pp. 19-22)
– Christians shouldn’t simply depend on the Spirit to provide opportunities and resources
– The disciples waiting in Jerusalem for Pentecost is the kind of planning in which the Christian church is always involved as it shares the Good News of Jesus
– If Ablaze! is successful, the LCMS may not be larger or richer or more powerful
– God has commanded the work of missions and has promised to bless our humble work
In the next post, we will offer a critical analysis of this document.