I sat down to read again a favorite book of mine, ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, by Nikolai Leskov. (The book was translated by Fr. Michael Prokurat, a friend, who passed away several years ago at the age of 53). The book is a very easy read (my fourth time through), but a very profound story of a Russian Orthodox missionary bishop in 19th Century Eastern Siberia.
The story is great: for it is the story of a missionary bishop who himself receives enlightenment into the true faith and into the nature of evangelism. The bishop is Orthodox and thus a ‘right believer.’ But he learns from experience what it means to be Christian and the difference between those who are cultural & institutionally Christians and those who follow Christ whether or not they claim membership in the Church.
Many follow Christ – in all diverse manners – but not all are disciples. Think about any Gospel text – there is often a crowd around Him, following Him, gawking at Him, watching Him, trying to trap Him, hoping to see a miracle, wanting to learn from Him, hoping to touch His garment, wanting to accuse Him. Luke’s Gospel lesson in 8:41-56 captures that sense of the teeming crowd, swarming around Christ. All are followers, not all are disciples. True faith is not represented in the lesson by those who adhere strictly to the Torah; obedience to the Law is not equivalent to true belief.
This is just as true today in every Christian congregation. The pastor has to come to recognize this truth. It is not the pastor’s job to drive people away from Christ – Christ Himself did not do this and even picked as His chosen Twelve the disciple who would deny Him and the one who would betray Him. Our task is to make Christ present so that many will follow Him and want to be with Him, and see Him, and hear Him, and touch Him, and have their faith strengthened, and their sins forgiven, and their ailments healed. Whether or not the crowd is interested in God’s commandments, in correct theology, or in observing right pious practice, if they come simply wanting to touch Christ’s garment, to know the power of God, it is a desire also blessed by God.