I was browsing Facebook this morning, as I typically do over breakfast, and I came across this article posted by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod which talks about recruiting new church workers, especially among young adults. Talking about recruitment is all fine and good, but recruitment makes the Church sound like a business over which we have control.
Somehow the Church always seems to get caught up in the idea that we have control over who believes and who doesn’t based on our own efforts. Yes, we need to encourage people, young men especially, to go into church work. However, articles like this always bring about the same debates over how we raise our youth, how to retain them, and then ultimately how worship style preferences or lack of female pastors in our synod or the color of our carpets push people outside of the Church.
We put so much stock into our own efforts! What we fail to recognize is that when we start arguing over what we’re doing that is causing people to fall away from the Church or to not believe that we are contradicting what Scripture says about belief/faith. Romans 9:16 says, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” We’ve been studying the book of Romans in Sunday morning Bible study at church for about the past year or so. The whole section of chapters 9-11 are discussing why some believe and why some do not, especially among those that are Jewish by birth. But we could also look at these chapters today in relation to those that are raised in Christian homes but do not believe.
Romans 9:30-33 says,
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, a work that is completed and not requiring of any effort of our own, is a stumbling block for many people. So many want to be able to contribute to their salvation with their own hands. But this is not what we believe, teach, and confess. Our Lutheran Confessions, which are entirely drawn from the written Word of God, speak on the doctrine of Election, which answers the question, to the best of the writers’ ability, of why some are saved and not others. Just in the Small Catechism (in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed) we learn that
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
If we cannot even bring ourselves to faith, then what makes us think that we can bring others to faith? Yes, maybe our mouth is the medium by which a person hears the Word of God. However, it is the Holy Spirit working in that person’s heart which brings him to confess that Jesus is Lord. Election is meant to be a comforting doctrine, a Word of Truth for easing a troubled conscience, so that even when we sin we know that God still loves and forgives those who have faith in Him. Article XI of the Epitome of the Formula of Concord says,
However, “many are called, but few are chosen” [Matthew 22:14]. This does not mean that God is unwilling to save everybody. But the reason some are not saved is as follows: They do not listen to God’s Word at all, but willfully despise it, plug their ears, and harden their hearts. In this way they block the ordinary way [Luke 16:29-31] for the Holy Spirit so He cannot perform His work in them. Or, when they have heard God’s Word, they make light of it again and ignore it. But their wickedness is responsible for this (that they perish), not God or His election (2 Peter 2:1-3; Luke 11:49-52; Hebrews 12:25-26).
Unbelievers do not believe because they do not want to, not because believers didn’t do enough to accommodate them.
The Church should do the work that God has given us to do. We are to serve our neighbor in our various vocations (e.g. baker, parent, truck-driver, hairdresser, etc.) and in doing so speak His Word, as that is what a Christian does. And we should take comfort knowing that even in our failures God’s will is done. His Elect will be saved.