Disciples make Disciples
In my opinion (I have to say that up front for any contrarians who may be listening) the great failure of the church over the last 100 years has been the failure to make disciples. House churches in the earliest Christian years focused on discipleship. The monastic movement through the centuries often ran contrary to the “official disciples” of the Priesthood in the attempt to bring discipleship to the people. The early reformation was, in many ways, all about making disciples – people able to read and apprehend the Word of God in their own language, and apply it to their lives.
(Speeding through history at stellar blog speed), the Methodist church started as small disciple-making groups. The whole Sunday School movement, which grew out of the Methodist movement and the great Revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries, was meant to supplement preaching with follow-up teaching in what it meant to be a disciple. So, what happened in the last 100 years?
1. Loss of vision: Sunday School became an end in itself and the teaching transformed from teaching discipleship to reviewing the gospel and other Biblical stories in an historical and literary context. It all just became an interesting lesson with no impact on people.
2. Loss of application: After the Sunday School lesson was over there never seemed to be enough time to encourage application of the lessons in life or even to discuss how this might apply. In many cases, the application part of the lesson was deliberately dropped as the bad attitude of the twentieth century world reared its ugly head in:
3. Loss of sense: It was assumed that each person would apply the “lesson” as he or she saw fit and that each person could take away from any given lesson something different…….and who are we anyway to judge which is the right way and which is wrong?….. I said, loss of sense.
So then, is there no hope? People are hungry for more. Many people come to church on Sunday and think, is that all there is to it? Some are glad to think that is all there is to it. But some still know better and understand they are missing it, somewhere, somehow. They understand that sitting through a lesson or listening to a sermon does not in itself mean anything.
I once (briefly) taught a venerable Sunday School class. The class, mostly women, was also mostly over seventy. Some of these people had been in this class or one just like it for over fifty years. So I had a vacation week and asked who wanted to lead the class while I was away. No, they did not dare. They did not know enough. This was not modesty. It was also not a general unwillingness to lead because many of these people had control problems and given a chance they always took control. No, this was honest. After “studying” the Bible for over fifty years not one of these people “knew” the truth well enough ON ANY SUBJECT to lead a discussion. Sad. Extremely sad. But not atypical in the church in our day.
Still, there are some (hopefully the ones reading this) who understand that there must be more to Christianity than they have been given. They understand that somehow this stuff is supposed to be applied and lived. They understand that there must be some real truth here because everybody can’t be right – and the Pastor at least would be offended if you suggested he is just standing up on Sunday morning spouting his opinion – an opinion no better than anyone else’s.
Actually, the advent and upswing in the establishment of house churches and small groups over the last thirty years or so has been an attempt by people to rectify the problem with the church and the problem with Sunday Schools. People want to be disciples – at least Christians do. And they are helping each other approach the goal, encouraging each other in the task, and I say, great! The problem is wading through all the wrong and irrelevant material the church has produced in the past 100 years in order to glean the nuggets of discipleship.
I want to help, in so far as I am able to help, and let me begin with this nugget: Disciples make disciples. Oh, you may not be the one doing the actual research or teaching. You might not be the one mentoring someone in their faith. You may be inclined to hospitality or encouragement as some “talents inventory” (things of limited value) might have suggested. But basically, disciples are in the business of replicating themselves and thereby extending the kingdom.
The kingdom will never be grown by people stumbling down front at some revival preaching.
Let me also say this. There are hundreds of millions of people presently in this world who call themselves Christians. There are far fewer disciples. Disciples follow Jesus, witness to Him, tell the gospel, baptize the heart, teach obedience and make new disciples. Calling yourself a Christian means absolutely nothing these days. Being, or at least striving to be a disciple means everything. Disciples belong to God in Jesus Christ. I am not generally sure who the Christians belong to.
Nothing New (Not Really New).
The first thing for anyone interested in becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is to understand that Jesus does not require anything that you don’t already have. He does not insist that you be smart enough to read the Word for yourself. He wrote nothing. He does not require you to connect the dots with everything you hear and see, only to pay attention and give room for the Holy Spirit in your heart to make sense of it. He does not want to see your “good works” first or force you to get cleaned up first. You may be the worst scum-bucket the world has ever seen; a moron in spades, and all Jesus will say is “Okay, let’s begin.”
There is nothing needed to start. There is nothing lacking in your package as God made you.
To put it another way, you can already do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God. You have already tasted the fruit God wants you to grow: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentle-kindness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. You might not be very strong in these things or very good at them, but you are not a stranger to them. You have the tools.
You see, you and I were made in the image of the creator, and though that image of God has become corrupted, that truth has not ceased to be true. And here is ONE key to discipleship: that in this way, God intends to restructure us from the inside-out, to reorder our priorities, to make us more like him.
“I will be satisfied when I awake with your likeness,” Job said. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator”
This is not a new concept. Jesus wants us to be more like him. Discipleship is meant to accomplish this. You see, once upon a time, before TV and movies and everyone reading books and novels, before sports stars and rock stars and the millions of images and people that kids can emulate these days, children wanted to grow up to be like their parents. Sons learned from and imitated Dad and daughters imitated Mom and learned from her. So disciples, like children as Paul often says, are to imitate God. Follow Jesus around and learn from him. Be his sheep and let him be your shepherd and transform you into inheritors of the kingdom.
Of course, we are not going to become like him in power and majesty, but in every way that matters, love, forgiveness, mercy, justice, joy, we are. Only our alignment with these things is so off kilter and our perception of life, the universe and everything is so distorted by sin, it is going to take some radical work.
This is the renewing of the mind. It is putting on the nature of Christ. It is God’s desire and intention to change us from the inside-out, and the result will be like that old English hymn—the one Cornwallis played at Yorktown—The World Turned Upside-Down.
So let your worldview be turned upside-down and your image be changed into the image of Christ. Renew your mind which in Paul’s day meant thoughts AND feelings. Yes, despite what many psychologists suggest, feelings are not sacrosanct. Feelings are decided, like faith, but that will have to wait until the next post.
Renewing the Mind
Disciples follow their master. They listen to what he says, take it to heart, and watch what he does. They imitate him. It is how children learn and also how disciples learn. Like artists who are taught to imitate the masters until their skills are sufficiently grown to develop a style of their own. So we must follow Christ, listen and imitate him if we would be his disciples.
Now, you might wonder how we can imitate him when he performed miracles. But really, we need to not worry about the doing part at first. I know In His Steps was a popular book in its day, and the revival of that thinking in the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” was also viewed as a popular form or method of disciple making. And to be sure, the question, “What would Jesus do?” is a valid and good one. But if you would really be his disciple, you need to go deeper than that. Ask instead, “What would Jesus think?” and “How would Jesus feel about this?” and the KEY, “Why don’t I think and feel the same way about it?”
God’s plan is to restructure us from the inside-out, and that strikes at the trembling heart, the most intimate and personal point of our lives. Yes it does. Our innermost, most protected, most defended being must be converted first.
I have stated that feelings are not sacrosanct, and it is true. Love is a decision. “I have decided to ask her to marry me. Her answer will be yes or no.” Respect is a decision. It may not be easy, but you can decide not to let it get to you, not to let them make you angry, not to be offended. Likewise, you can decide to be positive, encouraging, supportive. Again, you may not be very good at it, but feelings can be decided. They do not have to blow you about with every gust of wind.
This is also true of faith…well, faith is both a gift and a decision. God calls us and gives us the faith to apprehend the truth, lest any man boast, but now to be clear, the walk of a disciple is a walk of faith; and perhaps the most important thing about faith that a bunch of independent minded, freedom loving Americans need to understand is faith—your faith—is the most personal thing about you, but it must never be private. Personal, yes. Ultimately personal. But never private. True faith is always public.
Abraham tried to hide by calling Sarah his sister. He got in trouble for that. He gave his tithe to the Most High God through Melkizadek, the priest. It was not an attempt to draw attention to himself, but you can be sure he did not leave an unsigned envelope on the pastor’s desk.
Moses wanted to keep his face private, but in the end he got in Pharaoh’s face. David stood up to Goliath in faith on the open battlefield. The judges, the prophets all spoke openly and in public, even the ones who did not want to, like Amos and Jonah, and even the ones who knew their lives would be threatened like Elijah. Jeremiah, Daniel, Peter and Paul all spent time in prison because their faith was public. Supremely personal, yes, but never private.
There was a time when Christians got thrown to the lions. Sure, they met in catacombs and did not draw overt attention to themselves, but when confronted, they declared their faith in public for all to see. Missionaries certainly never hid in their faith. And yes, Christians have even gone to war over faith issues. We might look back and call that stupid or a shame, but the 30 years war or the 100 years war, or any number of wars were in many ways public (and extreme) expressions of faith. Many protestant sects such as the Pilgrims came to America to be able to practice their faith openly, publically without fear of reprisals. After all, it was not so long before the Pilgrims left the Old World that John Bunyon was in prison for being a “non-conformist.”
Right now, there are Christians throughout the Moslem world who make no secret that they are Christians. Right now there are reported to be as many as a hundred million Christians in China. Again, they do not necessarily draw attention to themselves, but when confronted, they are very up-front to confess, and sometimes go to jail.
Only in America, especially with the advent of multi-culturalism and diversity thinking, do we imagine faith is a private matter. The result has been the removal of God from nearly all public spaces. This is not a good thing, especially since it is predicated on a falsehood. The truth is, faith is always personal, but it is never private. But then the reason we get it all wrong in America is because our view of the world is taken from the world. Instead, if we would be his disciples, our worldview needs to be shaped and conformed to the worldview of God in Jesus Christ. Truly, that is where discipleship begins. Our deepest views, our most personal point of faith must be converted first.
The Beginning of Conversion Toward Discipleship
Once upon a time, there was a man in Western Europe who was caught between two worldviews. There was the old and comfortable medieval view of the world, but it was being slowly supplanted by this new view called the Enlightenment. He wrote a book, Don Quixote, in which he ridiculed the old thinking, but wistfully because he did not have especially good things to say about the new way of thinking either.
In the story, Don Quixote fills his mind and heart with the Medieval Romances that tell him all about Knights Errant, Damsels in Distress, Giants and dragons and a well ordered society of Lords and serfs. When he saddles up with his faithful “squire” Sancho, his friends think he has gone mad. Naturally, the first thing he runs into is a group of ruffians who laugh at him, beat him up and leave him for dead. This does not deter Don Quixote. In fact, he rambles on for a thousand pages and never does come to a conclusion about which view makes the best sense of the world.
What Don Quixote does do is point out how unsettling it can be to live between two competing worldviews. It is difficult to give up the old ways of thinking. It is difficult to restructure the mind and heart to new ways of thinking. It will be difficult for anyone wanting to become a disciple to give up worldly thinking of whatever stripe and take on Godly thinking. And to be clear, neither the Medieval view nor the Enlightenment view is God’s view. God’s worldview is something altogether different from human worldviews and so we might even call it a third way, or as Jesus said a more narrow way—and one Cervantes never touched upon.
Also, to be clearer still, we are presently struggling in this age between two competing worldviews. We are like Don Quixote, trapped between Modern and Post-Modern thinking, and neither one is the same as God’s thinking so frankly I don’t care about arguments as to which is more right or the best way to live, or which makes the best sense of the world.
What I know is I feel the pull and tug of both views of the universe (views of reality) and I constantly have to remind myself that God’s view of reality is something altogether different. To better explain what I am talking about, see if you can see yourself in one or the other or a bit of both of the following:
Modernism This worldview is the true child (result) of the Enlightenment. The word I most closely associate with it is “Progress” though “Law” might work as well. The person I associate with it is Isaac Newton, and here is why: Newton embodied in his work the epitome of Scientific thinking. He saw the entire universe ruled by “Laws” (absolutes) and he “progressed” the cause of science and understanding. After Newton, we all began to think that one day science might know everything about everything.
More than just Science, though, the human race was seen as progressing on every front. Natural law, so-called, even encompassed ethical and judicial law. We were getting better, more “civilized” and less “Primitive.” And progress as a way of thinking reared its head in all sorts of ways. Darwin thought that nature itself was “progressing” toward higher forms of life. Marx thought society was “progressing” economically toward the communist ideal. America’s founding fathers were progressives in their day and in their own way. Their notion was to “form a more perfect union.”
Modernism, by its nature, implies better and worse, whether one is speaking of civilizations or individuals. It justified colonialism and drove the missionary movements of the 18th an 19th centuries. Indeed, not only were these things NOT wrong, they were moral imperatives: to bring civilization (progress) to a world full of backwards people and “primitives.” Modernism also justified slavery for a time before it gave up slavery and patted itself on the back for making such “moral progress.”
Post-Modernism Now, the modernist way of thinking is under attack by a new mindset. The word I most closely associate with post-modernism is “Relativity” and the corresponding person would be Albert Einstein. Though still a scientist, Einstein showed that the universe is not progressing, exactly. It is more relative. Time and space themselves are not constants.
The whole universe is suddenly in flux, and the human universe in particular. Cultures are no longer better or worse (civilized or primitive), they are equal, just different. Thus post-modernism is multi-cultural and diverse in its thinking. Indeed, any judgment on (almost) any level is considered “judgmental” and intolerant. Truths are no longer self-evident. They are relative: subjective matters of opinion. And while this relative thinking has not worked its way down into certain scientific and social “theories” such as evolution or Marxism, it will only be a matter of time.
Absolutes (law) is flatly rejected. Nothing is absolute. Everything is relative. Natural law as a matter of ethics is scorned. Judicial law is seen as flexible (breathable documents) and otherwise an imposition. Objectivity is also scorned as unworkable. Check out the news, newspapers and magazines only if you want subjective opinion. Everything is relative in post-modernism. You have your opinion and I have mine and that is that.
By contrast: How does God understand life, the universe and everything and how can we see it the same way?