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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The people right next door

Somehow we Lutherans got the idea — perhaps by listening to the trials of Pastor David Ingqvist and his flock in Lake Wobegon, Minn. — that we are a shy people not made for the rigors of face-to-face evangelism. A new book from Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, takes us all to task for such thoughts, as it reminds us of our real heritage as Lutherans: We are Christians who know that the one thing, the only thing, that sets us free and saves us is the Word of God. And it reminds us, too, that just as in Martin Luther’s day, the people who need to hear that most live right next door. Don’t you suppose your neighbor would like to hear some good news?

— Kathleen Kastilahn

The following excerpt is from The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution, from “A Confession” (pages 13-14).

"Those of us who count ourselves as theological descendants of those sixteenth-century Reformers have inherited a powerful message. Living as we do, in an age of elusive and expensive happiness, the words of Martin Luther are as clear and compelling today as they were five hundred years ago: 'One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God ....'

"Furthermore, this word is not just any word. It is, Luther explained, “the gospel of God concerning his Son, who was made flesh, suffered, rose from the dead, and was glorified through the Spirit who sanctifies.” Those who hear this word — and believe it — find that it feeds the soul, makes it righteous, sets it free, and saves it. The message for today is simply this: We can, finally, stop looking. Through no merit of our own, God comes down here to set things right, to save us from ourselves, and to set us free from whatever would kill us. God comes down here with love and mercy to deliver us from evil and death and into unexpectedly abundant life. God comes down most powerfully of all in Christ Jesus, of course, and makes all things new.

"This gospel message had gotten lost in Luther’s day, as it has in our own. It had, in fact, vanished from the landscape. Although virtually everyone understood themselves to be Christian, very few were familiar with the Bible or knew what Christianity was all about. Indulgences (the way people tried to buy their way to happiness back then!) and other good works were understood to lead to salvation, rather than the cross of Christ. People lived in fear of a wrathful God. There was no peace on earth and precious little hope for it in the life to come. And so it was that in Luther’s time, as in ours, the people who most needed to hear the gospel were living right next door. They were his neighbors, his friends. They were the priests in the local parishes and the prince in his own territory."

Editors Richard H. Bliese and Craig Van Gelder; Augsburg Fortress, 2005; www.augsburgfortress.org

(Reprinted with permission.)


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