Every church pastor and most church members agree that discipleship does, in fact, matter and we’ve been discussing these matters of discipleship in our recent Searching for Church posts (Click here for the first in this series.). In our search for church, we haven’t even begun to discuss methodology but instead we’ve been taking our time to explore the idea of what discipleship looks like, maybe even what it is. At this point we’ve only touched on some broad, but important, concepts: 1) That Discipleship is at least in part about making it as easy as possible for people to walk the walk of faith in a terrain that’s very uneven and where very little else conspires to help us, but much conspires to make it difficult. (Hebrews 12), 2) that discipleship requires every part doing it’s work, not the pastor doing most of the work (Ephesians 4) and 3) that the model for discipleship throughout the NT is one of a life curriculum, where instead of taking time out of our daily life to do discipleship, we see what would normally be considered distractions, instead as the guideposts for discipleship.
Today I’d like to get just a little more specific. Discipleship means to make a disciple, to produce a follower, a mini-me of the teacher, if you will. We see three very important aspects of this in scripture.
1) Didache and Kerygma
Didache is a greek word from which we get words like Didactic and autodidact. From these you can probably tell that Didache means teaching. There is a document of the early church referred to as the Didache which goes into specific details about church practices, such as baptism, abortion, fasting… This is an interesting and informative document, dating back to the time of the Gospel of Matthew’s writing, but I”m using the term more broadly here to refer to the body of teaching passed down from the Apostles, with their specific lineage from Jesus.
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20
He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
For a period of 40 days, Jesus gave them specific instruction about the Kingdom of God, about how to live and behave and work in the Kingdom of God. He passed on to them specific teachings (Didache) and then asked them to pass them on to everyone else. It’s reasonable, based on Paul’s own words and the early church’s reception of Paul, to understand that Paul received this same teaching, just as one, “abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:8) So the Didache is all the apostles teaching which has been passed down to us through the NT.
Kerygma is a greek word meaning Preaching. Didache refers to the teachings, the content of how to live the Christian life. Kerygma has more of an idea of proclamation. It’s most often understood to refer to the Gospel itself, the good news of Jesus death and resurrection and the redemptive power it holds.
So there’s no question that Discipleship includes the passing on of the most important and foundational teachings of Jesus through the Apostles.
These Didache and Kerygma are both grounded in the Gospel and are part of God’s plan to see His glory magnified and the entire universe redeemed through the building of the church. So it definitely becomes an important part of discipleship to pass on the teachings, theologies, and doctrines of Christianity faithfully according to scripture (as our most reliable source of the Apostles teachings). Any discipleship which does not include this can hardly be said to be producing disciples of Jesus. It’s interesting to note that this same apostles teaching always reminds us of another important aspect of Discipleship which must go in partnership with these teachings.
2) Discipleship is not only, possibly not even primarily, about agreement on doctrine.
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.(1 Timothy 4:16)
This is just one of many times that Paul (and others) remind us that doctrine by itself is a dry, dead, knowledge. Discipleship includes a life lived in that doctrine. Theology is never merely understandings about God, but convictions and perspectives which shape the way we live. Paul says in Corinthians that knowledge without love only puffs up. He says this at a moment when the Corinthians were wanting him to settle a number of specific doctrinal/behavioral disputes. Interestingly he never answers them, but instead guides them to use love and faith as their tutor leading them to work out themselves how to understand the doctrines before them. Discipleship which only provides sterile abstract doctrine, without somehow facing the tension of how these doctrines must play out in real lives cannot truly be called discipleship.
If you ask Paul what is the most important goal of discipleship, he gives it over and over. Communally it means growing up in all things into the head of the church; personally it means knowing Christ. Not just knowing about Him, but knowing intimately him. A term so intimate it is used to describe physical marital relations in other contexts. Paul says all this discipleship serves one purpose, whether corporate or individual, to bring us closer to Jesus. In truth this is not a foreign idea to the Jews. Discipleship for the always meant a close relationship with the teacher or rabbi. It is a new idea in it’s intensity, but only in degree, not in idea. For them you could never call yourself a disciple of someone if you didn’t eat, drink, work, laugh, play, live with this person for an extended period. Just reading up on, studying under or discussing ideas of men you admire is not enough to be their disciple. In an age where we can genuinely learn from Radio preachers and authors we’ve never met; where we can study via video, books, webinars and conferences; where we can sit at the teachings of men and women in mega churches who have no connection to our lives, it’s important to value these things without confusing them for discipleship. The life of Christ on earth begins and ends with a reminder: God is with us. Isaiah prophesies that the baby who comes will be “Emmanuel which means God with us,” this is a startling enough statement to make about a transcendent God, but consider that Jesus follows it up by making His final teaching before leaving this earth, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This same Jesus demonstrated discipleship by being with a small group of men and women. While he preached to crowds when crowds came, it was his intimate and few relationships which discipled the men and women who would become the vanguards of the church. Paul followed this practice too as he built the church. So did John, and Peter, James, Barnabas and so many others who were pillars of the church. Discipleship must then include a focus on relationship with Jesus and a practice of presence: being with people.
So to summarize the last several weeks. Discipleship must include
- The teachings of Christ accurately rendered as passed to us through the Apostles writings,
- marked by a lifestyle of Christian living (specifically one of faith and love with discipleship marked by helping making it as easy as possible for others to walk this life)
- focused on the goal of integrating all things (including our own lives) under Christ and our walking intimacy with Him,
- which necessitates being done in the midst of life, guided in its order and emphasis by our lives, rather than separate from it, and
- demonstrated by being with those we disciple.
So maybe we are ready next time to start looking at what kinds of methodologies can best meet all the marks of discipleship we’ve identified in the last few weeks and maybe even what current practices or expectations are counterproductive to these goals. Or maybe there’s a few essential elements I’ve missed so far. Would you like to comment and let me know what I’ve forgotten?
See you next time!