Questions on Witnessing

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My sisters and I were raised by our Catholic mother and our father, now deceased, who was a non-practicing Baptist. As adults, my sisters and I have taken far different paths in our faith life. The oldest sister is estranged from our mother and I consider her to be an atheist. The middle sister seems to mix some elements of Catholicism with astrology. I, by God's grace, am a member of the WELS. My oldest sister and I have had a limited relationship for many years. Recently, we've been working on building our relationship. She knows that my faith is in Christ Jesus and clearly doesn’t want to hear about, yet seems to respect my choices. Understanding the need to be both a Christian example to her and guard my faith, when is it unacceptable to be "yoked together"? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).

Your concern for upholding biblical principles is commendable.  So is your desire to befriend your sister and provide her with a Christian example.

The Scripture passage you cited is in the context of taking part in idolatrous worship with others and joining together with false teachers.  That does not sound like your situation at all.  I understand you wanting to re-establish and strengthen ties with a sibling—being a Christian example to her so that she can be influenced positively by your faith (Matthew 5:16).  Friendship with unbelievers becomes problematic when they influence Christians negatively.

By all means continue to show your sister what Christ and Christianity are all about.  God bless you and your efforts.

How should our WELS congregations view active, non-WELS Christians within their communities (i.e. Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Catholic, ELCA, etc)? I’ve discussed this question with several WELS pastors through the years. In regard to fellowship practices, it's been unanimous that the beliefs of such Christians are spiritually dangerous and we should guard ourselves against giving any suggestion of unity or support to their beliefs. However, in regard to evangelism practices, I've received differing viewpoints from pastors. Some view such Christians as evangelism prospects because what they believe is spiritually dangerous and may even have eternal consequences. Others see such Christians as children of God and heirs of eternal life, so they are not evangelism prospects for our WELS congregations. Some even say it would be “sheep stealing” to make such Christians evangelism prospects. How does WLS teach pastors to view non-WELS Christians in regard to evangelism practices? Should our congregations and pastors regard them as evangelism prospects, or simply “sheep of another pasture”?

While I am a graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), I do not teach there.  Since you were interested in knowing what Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary specifically teaches future pastors about evangelism practices with regard to “active, non-WELS Christians,” I asked for a response from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.  The following response is courtesy of Professor Daniel Leyrer, who is responsible for formal Evangelism instruction at the Seminary:

“Proselytizing (or ‘sheep stealing’) is the practice of making contact with and preaching to active Christian members of heterodox churches in order to move them from their Christian church into our Christian church.  It’s a practice we avoid for a couple of reasons.  First, it denies the doctrine of The Church by suggesting that Christianity can only exist within WELS congregations.  Such a suggestion is neither scriptural not confessional (cf. Augsburg Confession, Article VII).  Second, proselytizing violates the call the heterodox minister has to serve by seeking to sever the bond established by that call.

“However, I italicized the three words ‘in order to’ in the paragraph above to make a point.  The purpose or intent of our action is key in determining when evangelizing crosses the line into proselytizing.  Proclaiming the gospel to a Christian of another fellowship because I have been asked to give an answer concerning the hope that I have (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) is not proselytizing.  Proclaiming the gospel to the public at large through multi-media outreach is not proselytizing.  Serving my neighbor by providing good Christian education through my church school, and in the process proclaiming the gospel in that school, is not proselytizing.  And if an active member of a heterodox Christian church makes a decision to leave their church and join ours after receiving gospel instruction in our midst by their choice, I will chalk that up not to proselytizing, but the Spirit’s working through gospel proclamation. “

Since we have no choice when it comes to becoming a Christian, i.e, we cannot choose to say "yes" to the Gospel, nor can we choose to believe even after the Gospel is presented to us, and God does all the work in conversion, then why do we evangelize since God decides who He will convert?

Your question touches on the subject of predestination (Acts 13:48; Romans 8:28-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 1:2).  While God has revealed in the Bible that he has chosen his children from eternity, he has also revealed in the Bible that he brings the elect to faith through the gospel (John 3:5; Romans 10:17; Titus 3:5-7; 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18).  For that reason, Jesus instructed his followers to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

The confessions of our church summarize these points:  “For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake” (Augsburg Confession, Article V).

Armed with this information, we strive to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all the world.

How should our WELS congregations view active, non-WELS Christians within their communities (i.e. Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Catholic, ELCA, etc)? I’ve discussed this question with several WELS pastors through the years. In regard to fellowship practices, it's been unanimous that the beliefs of such Christians are spiritually dangerous and we should guard ourselves against giving any suggestion of unity or support to their beliefs. However, in regard to evangelism practices, I've received differing viewpoints from pastors. Some view such Christians as evangelism prospects because what they believe is spiritually dangerous and may even have eternal consequences. Others see such Christians as children of God and heirs of eternal life, so they are not evangelism prospects for our WELS congregations. Some even say it would be “sheep stealing” to make such Christians evangelism prospects. How does WLS teach pastors to view non-WELS Christians in regard to evangelism practices? Should our congregations and pastors regard them as evangelism prospects, or simply “sheep of another pasture”?

While I am a graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), I do not teach there.  Since you were interested in knowing what Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary specifically teaches future pastors about evangelism practices with regard to “active, non-WELS Christians,” I asked for a response from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.  The following response is courtesy of Professor Daniel Leyrer, who is responsible for formal Evangelism instruction at the Seminary:

“Proselytizing (or ‘sheep stealing’) is the practice of making contact with and preaching to active Christian members of heterodox churches in order to move them from their Christian church into our Christian church.  It’s a practice we avoid for a couple of reasons.  First, it denies the doctrine of The Church by suggesting that Christianity can only exist within WELS congregations.  Such a suggestion is neither scriptural not confessional (cf. Augsburg Confession, Article VII).  Second, proselytizing violates the call the heterodox minister has to serve by seeking to sever the bond established by that call.

“However, I italicized the three words ‘in order to’ in the paragraph above to make a point.  The purpose or intent of our action is key in determining when evangelizing crosses the line into proselytizing.  Proclaiming the gospel to a Christian of another fellowship because I have been asked to give an answer concerning the hope that I have (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) is not proselytizing.  Proclaiming the gospel to the public at large through multi-media outreach is not proselytizing.  Serving my neighbor by providing good Christian education through my church school, and in the process proclaiming the gospel in that school, is not proselytizing.  And if an active member of a heterodox Christian church makes a decision to leave their church and join ours after receiving gospel instruction in our midst by their choice, I will chalk that up not to proselytizing, but the Spirit’s working through gospel proclamation. “

I was talking with a co-worker and she said her faith has suffered since her sister died of cancer as a young teen. She said, why would God do that to her? I responded that God didn't pick her to have cancer or give her the cancer but rather disease and terrible things happen in this world because of sin. We are all sinful. God didn't give her cancer because she deserved it or was punishing her or her family. Did I tell her the right thing? What is the best way to tell someone why bad things happen to loved ones? Thank you.

I don’t have all the details of your conversation, but it sounds like you were trying to underscore the grace of God when it comes to understanding life’s difficulties and problems.  That is a good subject to underscore.  King David did that when he made this observation about the Lord:  “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).  We are thankful that God does not treat us as our sins deserve, but instead deals graciously and kindly with us.  Sending his Son to be our Savior is proof positive of God’s grace and love and kindness.

While Christians like you and I enjoy peace with God, forgiveness of sins and can look forward to heaven, still we are not exempt from problems and troubles in life.  Jesus, in fact, stated just the opposite.  He told his disciples:  “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).  Jesus’ followers—then and now—are guaranteed troubles because of Satan’s relentless attacks, the unbelieving world’s animosity toward us and the difficulties our own sinful nature may create.  (But read the end of that verse from John’s Gospel.  Jesus went on to say:  “But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”)

God can do one of two things with all the evil coming from those sources:  he can prevent them from entering our lives (Psalm 91:10) or he can allow them to come into our lives for a loving purpose (Romans 8:28).

Your question touches on that last thought:  that a loving God allows troubles into the lives of his children for good reasons.  Here is where we have to bow in humility and awe at the ways and works of God.  We need to acknowledge that his thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8).  We need to confess that God’s wise ways are beyond our understanding (Romans 11:33-36).  We need to trust that God knows at all times what he is doing, and that he is doing what is best for us (Psalm 37:5-6).

In the midst of tragedy Jesus once told a man, “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Luke 8:50).  That is good instruction for you and me today, because “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame” (Psalm 25:3).  When tragedy strikes, we want to keep in mind that what we struggle to comprehend now will be clearer one day (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Finally, a review of the book of Job can be helpful in understanding better the presence of troubles in the life of a child of God.  God bless your witnessing efforts.

Do you think that it may be wise for a Christians to read the Qur'an for educational purposes? Thank you.

It certainly can be educational to read the “primary sources” of other religions.  In this case, such educational reading of the Qur’an can help equip Christians in their witnessing to Muslims.

If you are interested in a book that provides a brief overview of the Qur’an, accompanied by a biblical response of law and gospel, I can recommend this one:  “Speaking the Truth in Love to Muslims.”

Your question is a good reminder of a practical way in which we can prepare ourselves for future witnessing opportunities (1 Peter 3:15) to Muslims or anyone outside the Christian faith.

I have an atheist friend who asserts that the Bible cannot be the perfect and unerring Word of God, and who, to demonstrate this, cites Deuteronomy 17 (verses 2-5) which commands that the wicked who worship false gods must be stoned to death. She also cites Hosea 13:16 and Hosea 9:14. I think, by taking the Hosea verses out of their context, she is not understanding the nature of that story and what it is illustrating, but I don't know what to say to her about the Deuteronomy reference. She thinks the Hosea verses are contrary to our pro-life stance. How should I explain this to her?

When it comes to the disastrous conditions of Hosea 9 and 16, the people of Israel were reaping the fruits of their idolatrous ways of life. God had promised temporal blessings if the people followed his commands (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). Additionally, God had threatened to make the people’s lives miserable if they did not follow his commands (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). By deserting the Lord and chasing after false gods, the people were suffering self-inflicted disasters. To me, this is evidence that God’s word is “perfect and unerring.” There were no surprises in what was happening in the lives of the people of Israel described in Hosea. God laid out an offer of life and death (Deuteronomy 30:11-20), and the people chose death.

The command in Deuteronomy 17 to execute idolaters ties in with the previous information. If problems were going to result from idolatry, then idolatry needed to be checked. That truth is even more apparent when we consider that the greatest problem people could have experienced was eternal death, eternal separation from God in hell.

If there are objections to the provision of stoning idolaters in Old Testament Israel to death, people need to keep in mind what God says, “See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life” (Deuteronomy 32:39). As the giver of life, God is the one who has the right to end life. He still authorizes governments today to act in his behalf when it comes to punishing criminals (cf. Romans 13)

God bless your witnessing efforts to your friend. Keeping directing her to God’s law which points out sin and the need for a Savior from sin (Romans 3:20). Keep pointing her to God’s gospel which speaks of God’s forgiving love in Christ (John 3:16).

I have several acquaintances who are members of non-Christian religions. I would like to be able to share the gospel with them, so I have been looking at some online resources like gospel tracts. All of these, however, end with the sinner's prayer and claim it is the way of salvation. This seemed very unscriptural and non-Lutheran to me. What would a Lutheran explanation on how one is born again be, and does WELS have any evangelism resources that would be more faithful to Scripture?

There is a need to be born again because by nature we are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the need for rebirth, to be born again. “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again… Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:3, 5-6).

You notice here is where the work of the Holy Spirit enters the picture. Just as we have no control over and are not responsible for our own physical birth, so we are passive recipients of the Holy Spirit’s work when it comes to our spiritual rebirth.

The Bible makes it clear that rebirth is the work of God. In addition to Jesus’ words in John 3, consider these Scripture verses. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6). “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ” (Colossians 2:13).

When it comes to evangelism resources, I would direct you to “What About Jesus?” This web site, maintained by WELS Commission on Evangelism, offers many resources that you could use in speaking to your acquaintances. God bless your efforts!

A few months ago, I graduated from a Christian college where I was surrounded by like-minded Christians and was able to freely talk about my faith. After deciding to take a year off, I had to find a full-time job to support myself. I found a decent job, but often find myself in great fear/anxiety about truly showing my faith. I've talked it over with a few family members and friends and they've talked about living by example. While I know that we only have "control" over ourselves and what we say and do, aren't we also to use the Word to teach, rebuke, and train in righteousness? Is simply living "by example" enough for our Christian faith to be known? Is there some easy way to let our faith be known without "soliciting" or "imposing" on others?

Fear and anxiety in showing our faith can result from different factors. There can be the fear of ridicule and verbal persecution. There can be the anxiety of wondering whether I will be able to come up with a response if someone asks me a question about the Bible or the Christian faith. Since I do not know your particular situation, my response will be general in nature.

Our God does instruct us to live our faith in our everyday lives. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Our God also instructs us to speak to others about his wonderful works. The psalmist wrote: “Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts” (Psalm 105:1-2). God even directs us to prepare ourselves for times when others ask us about our faith: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

I appreciate your question about whether “simply living ‘by example’ [is] enough for our Christian faith to be known.” If we do not speak to others about our faith, people could look at our lives and conclude: 1) we are Christians, or 2) we are nice, morally-upright unbelievers. When we have opportunity to speak to people, option number two will disappear.

Can you let your faith be known without soliciting or imposing it on others? Certainly. As you converse with people at and outside your workplace, you can build relationships with them. In the course of conversations, as natural opportunities arise, you can speak of your faith. That way of sharing your faith is quite different from a “soliciting” or “imposing” approach that gives people the message of Jesus Christ but without the context of a caring relationship.

Perhaps you could benefit from personal evangelism tools that are available from WELS Commission on Evangelism. This link will take you to those tools. God bless the witnessing that you do—in word and by example.

How do I talk to a Muslim about Jesus?

Your brief, important question requires a lengthy response—and probably lengthier than appropriate for this forum.

Probably the best help I can provide is directing you to a very useful book by the title of “Speaking the Truth in Love to Muslims.” There may be a copy in your church library. If not, the book and a DVD Bible study are available from Northwestern Publishing House. Chapter 10 of the book will be helpful for you. It is titled: “Witnessing to Muslims.”

God bless your witnessing efforts!

Hi, I'm still a fairly new WELS member. I was wondering how to concisely explain what it means to be a WELS Lutheran to someone asking what the denomination is. I understand what we believe but I find it hard to quickly sum up. Thank you.

A concise explanation is going to vary from one person to another, and the information I want to pass along to you would probably not fit the definition of being concise. In addition, the explanation of what it means to be a WELS Lutheran would undoubtedly be more meaningful to people if you came up with that explanation yourself.

With those thoughts in mind, let me pass along a couple of resources that summarize what we believe. The first resource is a section of this web site titled “What the Bible and Lutherans teach.” This link will take you to that section. While there are almost 30 different subjects that are treated, you could condense the list of subjects to come up with a more concise explanation of our faith.

A second resource is a book titled “Positively Lutheran: a simple statement of what Lutherans believe.” It is available from Northwestern Publishing House via this link. That resource would also give you content with which to formulate a concise explanation of our faith.

What you will probably discover is that the explanation of your faith may not be as concise as you would like. Why is that? Christian faith encompasses so many subjects that are in the Bible. But if you want to get really concise, you could point to the three solas (“alone”) of the Lutheran Reformation: by grace alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone. God’s grace, his undeserved love for sinners, is the reason for providing salvation. We enjoy salvation only through faith in Jesus Christ and not because of anything we do or don’t do. Scripture alone is the source of our faith.

I hope this information will be helpful to you. Welcome to our family of believers!

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