Constants of Discipleship - part 3

Yesterday, we looked at how we need to come to Jesus, recognizing our need of rest and taking on his purposes in the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven. Today we will explore how all disciples need to make the Great Confession (Matthew 16:13-26).

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

In this passage Matthew focuses on how being a disciple means to confess Jesus, not only as saviour but also as Lord. Mark and Luke, although they contain this story, they do not have such a full account and do not contain all four important Christological titles: Son of Man, Christ, Son of God and Suffering Servant. Additionally they do not explicitly use the word “disciple” as Matthew does here (vs. 25).

I do not want to go into the meaning of all these four titles that Matthew uses but want to briefly focus on the final one which Jesus expands on: the Suffering Servant. Jesus relates His own suffering to the suffering of His followers. If a person wants to be a disciple of this Rabbi, they should not expect honour, fame and power but suffering, pain and death. But paradoxically this is the only way to life.


Constants of Discipleship - part 2

The rest of this week we will examine four “constants” for discipleship. We’ll draw this from Matthew’s gospel; who is exceptionally interested in what it is to be a disciple of Jesus. This outline is originally from my father who also taught at ANCC (1964-1998).

The first step in discipleship is to “respond to the great invitation.” Jesus makes this invitation in Matthew 11:25-30.

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus praises his father that it is not through human intelligence or wisdom that the gospel is found but through God’s gracious favour towards the weak and vulnerable: the little children (vss. 25-26). In a phrase that recalls the Great Commission (vs. 27; cf. Matthew 28:18), Jesus reveals that it is He who is the way to know the Father. All the would-be disciples need to do is recognise their need and respond in faith (vs. 28). They do take Jesus’ yoke upon themselves but that yoke is shared with Jesus (vs. 29) and is not burdensome. The analogy is of oxen ploughing together with a young ox learning from the older ox. The older ox does most of the pulling.

So what do we learn from this about discipleship? Firstly, when we become disciples of Jesus, it is not through our wisdom but through his revelation. Even our recognition of need is a gift from God. We need to respond in reliance and faith to find rest. Secondly, all disciples have to go through recognition of need. Whether it is a sudden crisis moment or a slow dawning of the necessity, we must move from self-reliance to reliance on Christ. Thirdly, this is not a ticket to heaven or a free ride. There is obligation to turn to Christ and take up his purposes in the world and not our own. The kingdom of Heaven is at hand and by turning to him in need we also turn away from ourselves.


Constants of discipleship - part 1

This week we continue our series of blogs on discipleship.

In the cross-cultural mission world we have found that there are things which ALL people need to deal with in their discipleship and there are also things--a surprising number we find--that are variable. The stubborn tendency is to believe that the Western way of being a Christian is the right way. The Nineteenth Century is littered with Western cultural impositions upon non-Western Christians. We imposed everything from pews, harmoniums, and pulpits to deacons, archdeacons and church-wardens. More disturbingly perhaps we made polygamists divorce all their wives except the first thereby rejecting polygamy (a custom never condemned in the Bible) and imposed divorce (a "custom" roundly rejected in the Bible). Destitute women fell into poverty and prostitution.

Andrew Walls, the Scottish missionary historian describes the vast differences in the way Christianity has been expressed over the centuries. Sometimes it is difficult to see them as the same faith. However, they are. He shows how the gospel can be expressed in many different ways. These expressions begin with the contextually appropriate ways of being a disciple.

So what is the "right" way of being a disciple of Jesus Christ? Is there a right way? Or to put it another way, what are the constants--the elements that all people need to do as a Christian?

This week, starting tomorrow we will examine four "Greats" from the Gospel of Matthew, who is very concerned with the whole concept of discipleship. In fact the great South African missiologist, David Bosch, asserts that Matthew's paradigm for mission is "Missionary Discipleship" (Transforming Mission, p. 79).


Being and making disciples - some myths 3

The third myth I want to highlight is that the purpose of discipleship is to teach the new believer how to read the Bible, how to pray, how to fast, and to do all the "religious" elements of the faith. These are most certainly important but are a means to an end. I will come back to what I mean by that in a moment.

According to Matthew 28:20 the disciples were to teach the nations to obey everything Jesus commanded them. This is the purpose of discipleship, to teach us and our fellow believers together to obey Jesus' commands.

A good interpreter of the Bible will then ask the question, "what did Jesus command us to do"; first in Matthew's gospel and then in the other gospels and subsequently in the rest of the New Testament. Having studied Matthew's gospel in detail, I can tell you that there is enough to be getting on with in this gospel! The Sermon on the Mount alone gives enough grist for this particular mill!

So why do we do those "religious" elements I mentioned earlier? In the light of the previous paragraph, Bible reading is an obvious one: to find out how to obey. Prayer is important because in prayer we speak to God about our lives and struggles to obey Him. We articulate our care, fears, hopes and failures. In confession we renew our fellowship with God and others when we have failed to obey. Confession is cathartic in exposing what would otherwise remain hidden. Fasting focuses our minds and helps us to listen to God's voice. As we take time to reflection and meditate we remove other distractions and hear that still, small voice. The "religious" elements of our faith facilitate our obedience.

So, in conclusion the purpose of discipleship is to obey God. In that obedience we demonstrate to those around what it is to be in relationship to the living God, and is an invitation to those others to that same relationship. In that sense, discipleship ultimately is a missional concept.


Being and making disciples - some myths 2

Our second myth about being a disciple and making disciples is about the relationship between evangelism and discipleship. As Evangelicals we are very keen to emphasize the importance of evangelism; calling people to follow Jesus Christ. This highlights the difficulty in defining the difference between evangelism and discipleship.

Yesterday's myth-that discipleship only happens at the beginning of the Christian journey-further complicates things by almost dissolving evangelism into discipleship. When does evangelism stop and discipleship kick off? Is evangelism part of discipleship or does it have a completely separate life of its own?

A friend of may father's, Danut Manastireanu, said that "Evangelism is discipleship of the non-believer and discipleship is the evangelism of the believer". What do you think?


Being and making disciples - some myths 1

In the mission world, Matthew 28:18-20 has become the "go-to" passage to promote missions. William Carey used it in his snappily titled, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.

I do think that there is a lot of misunderstanding about discipleship. Over the next few days I would like to explore and dispel some of these myths.

Myth 1

Discipleship, for a lot of Christians is a course that a new Christian does for a few weeks after conversion. It is perhaps a good idea for new believers to have an intensive time of learning and growing at the beginning of their spiritual journey but discipleship does not stop there. Matthew 28 seems to suggest it is more of a life-long journey. We continue to be disciples our whole life. As we encounter each new situation we learn what it is to "obey everything He commanded us". So even people who consider themselves "disciplers" are also still on that discipleship road.

Tomorrow: evangelism and discipleship