Respond to the Great Invitation (Come to me – Matthew 11.25-30).
Make the Great Confession (You are the Christ – Matthew 16.13-28).
Obey the Great Commandment (Love God & Love Neighbour – Matthew 22.34-40).
Fulfil the Great Commission (Make Disciples of all Nations – Matthew 28.16-20).
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.
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?
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.
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