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22 September 2019 | Vicar Writes

Duc In Altum

By Terry Wong

Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Luke 5:4

We are familiar with the account of Jesus’ encounter with some of the fishermen-turned-disciples in Luke chapter 5. They had toiled all night without any catch. In obedience to Jesus’ command “put out into the deep”, they let down their washed nets again and had a bumper catch.

The Latin phrase Duc In Altum - "put out into the deep" - can be a prophetic rallying call. We need to move out of the shallow brackish waters of our comfort zone into the roiling deep waters of a fast-changing late post-modern and early post post-modern (!) world.

It is both a pastoral and missionary call.

In being pastoral, we have an eye on and a caring heart for the needs of our flock. The needs will range from felt ones like loneliness, fear and spiritual dryness to more intellectual needs like questions about the faith, questions arising from existential experiences of suffering or the rod lightning issues of the day such as social inequality, LGBT etc. Without over labelling, obviously the needs depend on one’s life-cycle and exposure. Those who are younger and more in tune with today’s educational and cultural formation will be more sensitive to some issues. Those who were brought up in the culture of yesteryears will have a different set of presuppositions. The interactions across the cultural sections are also keenly felt in families and some of these needs can be vicariously felt.

Using the words of Paul in Colossians 1:28, are we able to "proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ”?

The warnings of the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 11) are not just for new-Christians but applicable for the life-span of a Christian. For some, are the effects of the seeds of the Word, having grown some roots, being removed or choked? Are Christians quietly lapsing in their faith because questions are not being addressed, the presence of life-faith dissonance or the creeping and gripping effects of sin, snuffing out every sense of God’s presence in one’s life?

As for missionary, this is about evangelism and civic engagement. Are we willing to “put out into the deep” and be engaged with the seeking questions that dissatisfied citizens of today’s world are asking? Going into the deep will, of course, include our more traditional ways of incarnational mercy giving, where we quench physical thirsts before sharing the Gospel. But incarnation includes walking into the world and sharing the same table as “publicans and sinners” (Jesus in Mark 2:16) or like St Paul in Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34), being able to share the Gospel on their grounds. Indeed, what are the tables and grounds of today?

We recall the words of Jesus: “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18). It seems like the Church is on the defensive and often we retreat into our own cultural and intellectual bubbles or echo chambers. But this promise is about the Church advancing and boldy (but lovingly) gate-crashing hellish parties. Are we able to? Are we willing to?

Will we gird up our loins (Ephesians 6:14) and Duc In Altum?