A friend was leading worship at a town here in North Carolina and preached a sermon on Jesus’ Great Commission: “Going therefore, make disciples of all nations (by) baptizing … and (by) teaching them to pay close attention to all-what-so-ever I have commanded you. For I am with you until the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) After the worship service one of the church’s members came up to him and asked him a question: “Are you saying that the Great Commission wasn’t only for the first century?” My pastor friend was taken by surprise. Where had this man heard such a thing? Jesus suffered, bled, died and rose again for all people of all time, not only for those of the first century. God has only given us two ways to bring this salvation to people of “all nations,” (1) by baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and (2) by bringing this teaching to people in every place and time. Jesus died for the sins of all people but it is through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) that a person receives this precious gift. Even faith is a gift, created by the Holy Spirit through the message (Romans 10:17) that Jesus has taken our sins upon himself, suffered and died in our place, and freely absolves (forgives) us, not because of anything we have done (Romans 4:5) but freely by grace (an undeserved gift). This message of forgiveness is entrusted to each one of us, not only to pastors. It is for each of us to “go” bring this message to all people, not only in the first century but also in our own time. Some who haven’t heard this gospel message live in far away nations and “going” may take considerable time and effort. Others here in America live in places where the gospel is rare. We need not travel great distances, but only do as the Apostle Peter encouraged us in 1 Peter 3:15 – “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and respect.” As you have freely received the gift of life with God, so also freely pass this gift on to others, that they too may have forgiveness and life with God, for it was not only something for first century believers to do, but also for you and me and all Christians until the day when our good and merciful Savior and Shepherd returns, to gather his sheep into his presence forever.
In an interesting and informative book by Philip L. Barlow entitled “Mormons and the Bible” (xxxvii-xxxviii) the author quotes a religious knowledge study (“U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, September 28, 1010, http://www.pewforum.org/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey-Who-Knows-What-About-Religion.aspx, May 11, 2012.)
The results weren’t encouraging. The church that scored highest on Bible knowledge was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called “Mormons”). Two other groups also scored near the top: atheists and Jews.
Some of this makes sense. Latter-day Saints gather weekly for three hours in contrast to the one or two hours by Protestants. They also send their teens for four years of release-time classes, totaling about 600 hours.
Confirmation in the early church took three years and roughly 300 hours. In contrast, today’s Protestant churches take teens through a double digit number of class hours and for adults this is reduced to perhaps ten or twenty. Perhaps twenty or thirty percent of church members read the Bible even occasionally and it is the exception that braves a confirmation refresher course or who frequents a Sunday morning Bible class.
Luther, in his Large Catechism, responded that people who study the Catechism once and then consider it’s pages unworthy of a repeat visit “should be pelted with dung.” I appreciate Luther’s knack for pungent memorable phrases. The Mormon Church is growing rapidly while most Lutheran Churches are not growing at all. This is not only due to the LDS army of over 80,000 missionaries, though we would do well to emulate their zeal for outreach.
The growth of the early church and the church of the Reformation was built upon a knowledge of scripture. From study of scripture comes conviction and from a failure to study God’s Word comes nothing but apathy and spiritual lethargy.
The current year of 2015 is still young. The Bible is the most marvelous of books containing vivid details about our gracious God who does not treat us as our sins deserve but according to his mercy. Why not read it cover-to-cover this year (just three or four pages per day)? Why not attend classes at church? Then renewed by God’s Word, let’s go and bring the message of the good news out beyond our churches’ walls to people everywhere, starting in our own neighborhoods.
I recall a man living in a house not more than 200 feet from the front door of the church I served in Denver. When I knocked on his door, he didn’t even know what kind of church it was! Faith comes by hearing the Word (Romans 10:17) but how will they hear if we don’t study the word and then go out and bring it to them?