The Mission of the Church
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| July 12, 2009| St. Luke 5:1-11
“And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’” St. Luke 5, 10b
Jesus was a teacher. He preached. He taught. These words are often used interchangeably in the Bible. Some think that preaching is to touch the heart and the emotion while teaching is to instruct the mind. But with Jesus the preaching was always instructive. His sermons were doctrinal. It was by means of the heavenly teaching that he drew disciples to himself. His disciples were to draw more disciples and so on and so on.
Not every Christian is called to preach publicly. But every Christian teaches something about the faith to somebody. It is always by means of the divine doctrine that souls are led to embrace the Christian faith.
Jesus taught the crowds from the boat. In this way more people could listen at the same time. They listened. He taught. They kept listening. He preached with authority.
Jesus was not a fisherman. He was a carpenter. Peter was a fisherman. He knew that there were no fish where Jesus told him to let down the net. It was an apparently unreasonable command. But Peter did not try to reason it out. He said, “At your word I will let down the net.” They caught so many fish that the net began to break. They filled two boats with fish so that the boats began to sink.
It was a spectacular miracle. No one there who witnessed it failed to see what had just happened. Jesus showed himself to be the true God. The miracle was a sign of his divine power. Only God can control nature. Peter recognized this. He said to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” He knew that he was a sinner in the presence of the holy God.
But this miracle signified more than the true deity of Christ. It also signified that when it comes to carrying out the mission of the Church we must follow Christ’s instructions to the letter. It was after following Jesus’ instructions that they caught more fish than the boats could carry. This was to illustrate for them that if they wanted to catch men – that is, to lead men, women, and children to faith in Christ and to keep them in the true faith – then they would have to follow Christ’s instructions.
What are those instructions? After Jesus and died and rose from the dead he gave instructions to his disciples. His instructions cannot be understood apart from what Jesus had just done. He had just gone to the cross to purchase eternal life for all people. He suffered for the sins of the world. By dying the death of all he gained eternal life for all. He brought life and immortality to light. He conquered sin with his obedience. He overcame death. He crushed the head of the father of lies. Truth triumphed over falsehood. Right defeated wrong. Righteousness vanquished sin. This is what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
It was the crucified and risen Lord Jesus who appeared to his disciples with instructions on how they would become fishers of men. Here are the accounts as they are recorded in the four Gospels.
St. Matthew writes in chapter 28, 18-20:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
St. Mark writes in chapter 16, 15-16:
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
St. Luke writes in chapter 24, 46-47:
Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
St. John writes in chapter 20, 21-22:
So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
What are his instructions? Teach what he taught them to teach. Preach the gospel to the whole world. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Forgive the sins of the penitent and retain the sins of the impenitent. Preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Hold on to everything Jesus taught.
First Jesus wins eternal life for us. Then Jesus gives eternal life to us. The teaching of the Church is centered in what Jesus has done for us. By teaching the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners the Church brings Christ to sinners in need of forgiveness and salvation. The mission of the Christian Church is to teach. It is by means of Christ’s teaching that people will become his disciples.
Sometimes people won’t be taught. Our generation is doctrinally ignorant. With ignorance comes apathy. Folks are indifferent to the truth because they don’t know it. People don’t care about what they don’t know. So the Church is tossed this way and that by every new wind of doctrine. Children aren’t grounded in God’s word of truth. When they become of age they wander away from the church.
Doctrinal indifference means that there is no zeal for true mission work. We have to know that what we confess is true or we won’t confess it. St. Peter writes (1 Peter 3, 15):
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.
Preachers preach. All Christians confess. Jesus says, “Whoever confesses me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in heaven.” We confess what we know.
In the Formula of Concord, the last of the Lutheran Confessions, written in 1577, we begin each article by saying, “We believe, teach, and confess.” They are the same. We believe what we teach. We teach what we believe. The Church confesses what she believes. The preacher preaches what the Church confesses. If we don’t know what we are confessing how can we know if our preachers are preaching what they should be preaching?
But in our day doctrine is a dirty word. We don’t get people into church by boring them with doctrine, it is claimed. No, if we’re going fishing we need to know how to bait the hook to get the fish to bite. So Church Growth entrepreneurs get rich by selling “how to” gimmicks to congregations to draw live bodies into the church. Then, once they are inside we can try to teach them something. But we won’t call an adult instruction class an adult instruction class. Instead, we’ll call it an adult information class because instruction sounds threatening while information won’t scare anyone away. Church leaders neglect the study of God’s word in favor of learning the latest marketing techniques. Christian doctrine is confined to its ghetto where it can’t come out and threaten anyone.
People defend the use of bait to lure people into the church doors by pointing to the fact that Jesus used the analogy of being fishers of men. But Peter, James, and John didn’t bait hooks. They didn’t use bait or hooks. They used nets. The bait and switch tactics of unscrupulous businesses is unworthy of Christ’s Church. What are we ashamed of?
The mission of the Church is not to lure people in under some kind of pretext and then sneak the doctrine in when they’re not looking. We lead with what is most important: the teaching of Christ. We have no secrets that you don’t get to learn until after you’ve been initiated. We teach everything Christ taught us to teach.
Our teaching is the teaching of peace. “Do not be afraid.” So said the angel to the shepherds at Christ’s birth. So said the angel to the women at the tomb after Jesus rose from the dead. So said Jesus when Peter reacted in fear to the miraculous catch of fish, a miracle that proved that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh. “Do not be afraid.”
God is here. His presence is not cause for fear. He is not here to punish. He is here to forgive. The natural fear that people have of God is rooted in their own sin. It is the fear of death. It is the fear of the unknown. It is the fear of punishment. People don’t want to know of their sin but they can hardly deny their fear. So the Church must, above all, be honest in its proclamation. If we don’t understand the fear we will not receive the peace.
This past week the Fargo Forum reported a story of a pastor who had an ongoing adulterous relationship with a prostitute who later began to extort money from him. It was the kind of story that sells newspapers. In reading the article in the Fargo Forum I was struck by the word the church official used to describe what the pastor had done. It was inappropriate. Well yes, I suppose it was. But was it sinful? What happened to sin? Do you think we need a Savior from what is inappropriate? Did Jesus have to die for inappropriate thoughts, words, and deed? Does God send people to hell for behaving inappropriately?
The mission of the Church is to teach God’s law and gospel. The law reveals sin, not merely inappropriate behavior. The gospel forgives real sin. It brings to real sinners the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won by his holy life and sacrificial death.
We know people who don’t know Christ. They live without the forgiveness of sins. They may try to avoid confronting their own sin – they may even call sin by another name – but they certainly cannot escape its consequences. They need a Savior from sin. Jesus is their Savior. Without faith in Jesus they have no hope. Give them a reason for the hope that you have. Confess your faith. And invite them here on a Sunday morning where the gospel of their Savior is proclaimed. Here is the Lord Jesus who says to us, “Do not be afraid.” And he takes away our fear. Amen