[ Updated 2/25 to reflect a correction to the original source of this quotation. ]
Julie Martinez of The Fireside quotes from an essay by Rev. Richard Bolland (Kansas City, MO), about a problem in the LCMS in which the material principle of Christian theology (see her post) is replaced with missions.
Like all Confessional pastors I know, I am passionate about the Great Commission! I love to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those in the faith and those outside the faith as the Lord gives me opportunity. I simply do not know of a single Confessional pastor who would claim or act otherwise. However, what began with Resolution 1-02 at the 2001 synodical convention has initiated a process which is beginning to elevate Christian outreach into the status of a new Material Principle. Instead of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone being the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls, it is now become vogue to say that Christian outreach is the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls. That is simply unbiblical!
I realize/hope that this problem is not as prevalent in the ELS and WELS at the moment, but it would be foolish and possibly dishonest to claim that it doesn’t exist. The fact is, I’ve been troubled at times by the reckless ways in which missions and evangelism have sometimes been promoted and urged upon our pastors and congregations as activities, over against the activity of securing and defending a biblically-accurate, confessional Lutheran expression of our doctrine. As noted at The Fireside, the very substance of evangelism is our expression of doctrine, making evangelism meaningless unless we first know what we will teach.
The objection might be raised that our present controversy over the doctrine of the ministry, or even the recent controversy about the efficacy of the words of institution in the Lord’s Supper don’t really change the message of our mission, and are not the message of evangelism. I would reply: Do you really mean that? Eventually, we hope that our evangelism prospects would enter the adult confirmation program at our churches. Do we really want to omit certain articles of faith from that instruction? I grant that we may not teach them all from the outset with systematic thoroughness, but we will certainly teach even the doctrine of the ministry when the opportunity comes! Beside that, if the doctrine of the ministry is not pertinent to the work of missions and evangelism, then why have we pretended that it’s divisive of fellowship in the last year? That’s either sectarian, hypocritical, or both.