Pastor's Pastor

Conserving the catch

With regard to new believers, too often we do that which Jesus says must be reserved for the day of judgment and for angels who will serve as God's agents.

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, [and] separate the wicked from among the just" (Matt. 13:47-49, NKJV).

Adventists are doing the work of angels! Many times that is expressed in charitable, self-denying, and benevolent actions. But with regard to new believers, too often we do that which Jesus says must be reserved for the day of judgment and for angels who will serve as God's agents. We want to sort the catch. We want to discard the bad. We want to stop fishing and start evaluating the catch. In short, we want to judge.

Jesus took the illustration from everyday life---a large net, pulled by boats, gathering all in its path. If it were possible for the dragnet to select only that which is edible, clean, and palatable, then the eventual process of sorting, preserving, and discarding would be unnecessary. However, this is not the function of the dragnet. It gathers all that it sweeps across, and all remain together until the time the fisherman, not the fish, do the evaluation (judgment).

This parable is not a depiction of one-to-one, personal evangelism; it is far more inclusive. It is all-embracing in its scope. As Chaney and Lewis say: "Most modern evangelicals who, if they fish at all, fish for sport, have misunderstood the figure Jesus used. They think of a fisherman as a man who uses a rod, line, and lure. Fishing is a one-on-one proposition. In this way, this text has been used to encourage modern Christians to become personal evangelists. The early disciples fished with nets. Fish were in schools, hopefully, and were certainly not caught one at a time. Growing churches have captured that vision. They have learned how to fish with nets."1

This parable teaches two clear lessons. First, God expects great numbers to be gathered in. Second, He expects the church to cope with the reality that both good and bad will be caught.

The good and the bad

Like the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:24-30), the parable of the dragnet demonstrates that both good and bad will remain together until the end of the world. These two parables also avoid a separatism that prevents the people of God from associating with the people of the world. We are to be in the world, but not of the world.

Unlike other theological models for developing disciples or nurturing newborns, this parable does not deal with any transition or process from bad to good or from good to bad, but simply asserts the fact that both exist together in the same environment. That environment is the church.

Jesus clearly teaches that it is the role of the church to nurture new believers more than to evaluate them. Peter Wagner says, "In the early stages of growth it is sometimes difficult to tell true disciples from counterfeits. But that judgment is not usually the responsibility of the evangelist who is concerned more with discipling than perfecting."2 The church's role is to take that new believer into full discipleship where their character can enter the discipline of being perfected.

Jesus does not envision the church as a "holier than thou" club that stands over against the rest of the world. Just as He ate with publicans and sinners, so His disciples will move and live among people who do not believe, as well as among those who do, and yet who behave badly. The dragnet allows for variety, and the possibility of undesirable fish being part of the catch. "Men are all alike sinners, but not sinners alike."3

Some of those sinners, and a good deal of their misbehavior, will be exhibited within the milieu of the congregation. Of course, much of this misbehavior will occur in the lives of new believers (recently pulled in by the dragnet).

If we understand the implications of nurturing newborns, this energetic misbehavior is to be expected. If we understand the imperative of discipling, then we know that the same misbehavior is to be carefully corrected and developed into appropriate behavior and fruitful discipleship. Both of these objectives are mandated.

But either way, discarding the bad in the catch is the work of angels!

1. Charles L. Chaney and Ron S. Lewis, Design for Church Growth (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1977).

2. C. Peter Wagner, Church Growth and the Whole Gospel (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981), p. 140.

3. Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator's Commentary: Matthew (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1982), p. 179.

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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