Church Ministry: Preach, Teach and Heal
Church Ministry: Preach, Teach and Heal
If you ever watch television shows about nature and wildlife you often see animals being caught and captured, then released. For what purpose? Typically, they are measured and studied to learn more about them. They even receive tracking devices so researchers can continue to study their habits in the wild. Some animals are treated for injuries and illnesses. Both the study and the treatment are done to ensure the long-term survival for not just the individual animals but for their whole species.
In the Creed/Pistevo we Orthodox Christians state what we believe in—the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit: who they are, what they have done and what they will do. We also confess faith in something else: in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We believe in the Church, the Ekklesia, which means the people called out by God to be His people. Ecclesiology is the name for our beliefs about the Church and it comes from this Greek word ‘Ekklesia.’ The Church, just like animal researchers, has a catch and release program.
In today’s Gospel reading from the Second Sunday of Matthew 4:18-23 we hear about Jesus calling His first disciples: Peter, Andrew, James and John. He tells them, Follow Me, and I will make you fish for people. (v.19). So, the primary activity of the Church is to fish for people, to catch them, to save them from sin and death. How do we catch and save them? We follow Jesus and we imitate His example which is also set forth in the last verse of today’s periscope. After Jesus called His first disciples, we hear that 23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching [διδάσκων] in their synagogues and proclaiming [κηρύσσων] the good news of the kingdom and curing [θεραπεύων] every disease and every sickness among the people.
In fact, even before calling the first disciples, Jesus entered the temple and read the prophecy of Isaiah: 18"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." [Is.61:1-2]. Then Jesus told everyone there, Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:16-21). In other words, “I am the Messiah, who has been anointed to preach the gospel and heal people.”
Later in His journeys, we hear about Jesus:
42Now when it was day, He departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowd sought Him and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from leaving them; 43but He said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent." 44And He was preaching in the synagogues of Galilee. (Luke 4:42-44).
Jesus commanded and commissioned His first disciples for this very same purpose:
13And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. 14Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, 15and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: (Mark 3:13-15)
In the passage at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel, which is read at all baptisms and is the First Eothinon (Sunday Orthros Gospel), we hear:
16Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go 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, 20teaching 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. (Matthew 28:16-20)
Because they were sent with a mission and a message, Jesus’ first disciples became known as the Apostles. On their journeys to preach, teach and heal. They ordained bishops, priests and deacons for the churches in the local cities and towns. Even though Paul was not one of the original twelve, he was called by Christ and became the greatest of all the Apostles. He ordained Timothy as first Bishop of Ephesus and told him.
1You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2Timothy 2:1-2)
1I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (2Timothy 4:1-2)
27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. (1Corinthians 12:27-28)
Thus, the Church, since the time of Jesus, following His example, has been preaching, teaching and healing people to save them. Some may ask, what is the difference between preaching and teaching? Robert Waggoner accurately explains it this way:
“Whereas the message preached was the message announced, the message taught was the message explained, clarified, and applied, with exhortation to live by it. Whereas the message preached (announced) was primarily for the purpose of conversion, the message taught (explained, clarified, applied, with exhortation) was primarily for the purpose of building faith, Christian conviction and character.
Essentially, preaching lays the foundation for teaching, just as an announcement lays the foundation for further comments. Both have the same message. Their points of emphasis differ. Whereas the content of preaching may be narrowly defined, the content of teaching is in broad term. As we just heard in Matthew 28, ‘make disciples…baptizing’ (v.19) is command to convert through preaching, and then Jesus continues, ‘20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.’ (v.20). Waggoner continues, “Paul’s work in Rome is described as “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). Paul himself used these concepts of preaching and teaching when he said, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28). The pattern is consistent – preaching (making announcement) precedes teaching (explanation, clarification, application, exhortation).” http://www.thebible.net/biblicaltheism/0402biblicaldistinction.htm#_ftn1
So, what is the content of our preaching as Orthodox? Simply, go back to the Creed. God exists as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God created us and loves us. Because of His great love for us, the Father sent His Son to become Jesus Christ, one of us, risen from the dead in order to save us from sin and death, so that we may live eternally with Him in heaven. This is our net that we cast to catch people. Christ Himself is the bait or the hook.
The content of our teaching is everything else that we do with sermons, lectures, seminars, retreats, Sunday School, bible study, giving our people tools to survive in a world that is upside down. We teach people how to pray and worship especially by praying and worshipping. We teach them how to think, speak and act—what to do and what not to do especially by example. We teach our people how to learn by searching through the vast treasury of resources in our Tradition including writings of the Church Fathers and the Lives of the Saints.
Preaching and teaching are not complete without healing. Spiritual healing of heart and mind is accomplished by hearing the preaching and following the teaching. Both spiritual and physical healing are done by the Holy Spirit of through prayer and anointing of oil during our Holy Unction service and throughout the year by visitation of the priest.
In conclusion, the preaching, teaching and healing ministry of the Church forms the basis of our catch and release program. We do it to save each individual and the whole human race. We do not catch and hold. Every Sunday we are released back into the world, but hopefully we are different than before. Hopefully, we are more healthy, more holy, equipped to resist temptation and sin. Just like animal and wildlife preservationists require funding and grants to carry out their work, so to the Church requires material resources to carry out Her life-saving work. If we believe in God, if we believe in Christ, then we must believe in His Church and Her mission. We must support the mission by participating in the preaching, teaching and healing ministry and by supporting it financially. Each and every human life depends on it. The survival of the whole human race is at stake. Amen!