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From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Matthew 4.17-20

I have a little devotional book that I want to share with you. The book is titled “A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer” and it’s a collection of excerpts from the writings of that young German theologian who left the safety of American academia and returned to Hitlers Germany to help strengthen the church and fight against the abhorrent established Nazi ideology. 

An essential part of his work was to be a John the Baptist to the established German Evangelical Church, who in the name of peace and pacifying Hitler, designed and deployed a theology that was hauntingly compatible with Nazi ideology. Bonhoeffer was a founding member of the German Confessing Church which arose in defiant opposition to the church that played nice with Hitler. He called them all to repentance, to change their ways. The national church, in supporting Nazi ideology, had failed to follow Jesus and had publicly become a defunct church. They put present popular politics at the center of the church, where only allegiance to Jesus is ought to be found.

Here I want to share a longer quote from Bonhoeffer’s writings and it’s imperative that we hear exactly what he means, reflect on it, and consider what God is calling us to do:

The space of the church is the place where witness is given to the foundation of all reality in Jesus Christ. The church is the place where it is proclaimed and taken seriously that God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ, that God so loved the world that God gave his Son for it. The space of the church is not there in order to fight with the world for a piece of its territory, but precisely to testify to the world that it is still the world, namely, the world that is loved and reconciled by God. It is not true that the church intends to or must spread its space out over the space of the world. It desires no more space than it needs to serve the world with its witness to Jesus Christ and to the world's reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. The church can only defend its own space by fighting, not for space, but for the salvation of the world. Otherwise the church becomes a "religious society" that fights in its own interest and thus has ceased to be the church of God in the world. So the first task given to those who belong to the church of God is not to be something for themselves, for example, by creating a religious organization or leading a pious life, but to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world.
-from Ethics 63-64

Notice his distinction between a “religious society” and being a witness of Jesus Christ to the World. They couldn’t be more different. One is about the work of Jesus, the other is merely about itself, its polite appetites and culturally acceptable allegiances and proclamations. The latter will never have “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”, never have the mind of Christ at its core because it will have replaced Jesus with creature comforts and the idol of cultural acceptability, being accepted by the spirit of the age that killed Jesus. 

But it is Jesus that calls and draws those who are broke, on the margins, dying and in need of hope. Comfort only draws the comfortable, and their fate has been shown by Jesus himself in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus:

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. Luke 16.25

The message of Jesus, the call to repentance and to follow him in the face of a world that would oppose us, is the straight and narrow, and few find it. Yet it’s the only path that leads to new life and new love, not because it happens to have the right technique, not because it’s the right theology, but only because Jesus is found there, and he is the light and life of the world for us. 

And so this ends with a question: who are we? Are we as a church a witness of Jesus Christ to the world, or merely a religious society? Like Simon called Peter and Andrew, we have been called by Jesus to be fishers of all people. Not in order to increase our personal brand, because John the Baptist put it best:

He must become greater; I must become less. John 3:30

The Church must be a witness to Jesus and fishers that bring people to Jesus for that is why we have been called, not to hoard the gift of the knowledge of God but to have that gift in order to bring others to that same gift to the world, Jesus Christ the Lord.