Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Making Disciples (Part 6)

part 6 is short and sweet.

Verse 19 – “Make disciples” is the verb matheteuo. It is the main verb of this passage. This verb reveals the primary responsibility and action of the church. We are not striving to just get people saved. We are striving to make disciples. More specifically, we make disciples of Jesus Christ. Individual members of the church must guard against copycat discipling. If we try and make disciples in the exact same way Jesus did we run the risk of making disciples who act just like us. People are diverse and different by God’s design and the church is the only place equipped to fully disciple them. This is why Jesus gave this command to the church. One-on-one mentoring/discipling has its place and is a part of the discipleship process, but it is not the primary means for discipleship. We want disciples of Jesus Christ and they can only come about through the work of the church and God’s Spirit.

In the following verses we have a series of participles (e.g., go, baptize, and teach), describing how the main verb (matheteuo) is to be done. Who is responsible for carrying this out? The church is. The participles help establish actions the church can perform in making disciples. Going, baptizing, and teaching characterize the discipleship process.

Verse 19a – “Go” The church must take the initiative to bring Jesus to the people. Here we see making disciples is intentional and somewhat aggressive. A church cannot effectively reach sinners if it does not go to them. Jesus does not have a bleacher section for His followers to sit and enjoy the game. We are in the game. We are the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13, 14). Evangelism depends on churches going. It is between our going and baptizing that people receive Jesus. Another principle for discipleship emerges here.

­ - Discipleship involves God’s people going to others.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Making Disciples (part 5)

The Great Commission
Studying the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is the beginning of our journey to find principles of discipleship. Looking inductively at the Great Commission reveals several things in regards to making disciples.

Matthew 28:18-20
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Verse 18 – “All Authority” Here Jesus addresses His disciples gathered to see Him after the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus has revealed His authority and power in both heaven and earth. Death no longer has a hold on Him and forgiveness is available to all willing to receive it. Nothing is off limits to Jesus now. D.A. Carson in his commentary on Matthew states, “The dawning of the new age of messianic authority changes the circumstances and impels his disciples forward to a universal ministry he himself never engaged in during the days of his flesh.”[1] Because Jesus has been given all authority by the Father He commands His disciples to make disciples. This authority gives Jesus the right to ask this of His disciples.

In Greek the word for “authority” is exousia and it means freedom, power, authority, and right to do something.[2] In the Old Testament and classical Greek this word was used to refer to the enacting rule of a king, father, or tenant in authorizing officials and messengers to carry out his orders.[3] Here Jesus Christ is authorizing, with power from the Father, the church to carry out the order of making disciples of all nations. Jesus is not charging specific individuals with this task, but the entire group. His ministry will expand to new places and people as the Spirit moves through the church. However, some waiting will be required before the disciples can fulfill the Great Commission.

Acts 1 teaches us that Jesus’ disciples were asked to wait for the Spirit (Acts 1:8). The people of God received the Spirit on the day of Pentecost while gathered in the upper room praying (i.e., Acts 2). A few moments later Peter preached his first sermon which led to thousands of new converts. The book of Acts teaches us that God wanted a community of disciples. God equipped His church to make disciples and live for Him. If we explore this issue further we discover in Paul’s writings (e.g., Romans 1:11, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11-13) that God the Spirit gifts His people with spiritual gifts for the purpose of making disciples and building up the church.

Two key principles (to be elaborated on later) emerge from verse 18 for making disciples.
­ 1. Discipleship involves God the Father, Son, and Spirit
­ 2. Discipleship involves the entire church working together

[1] D.A. Carson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Matthew, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984) pg. 595.
[2] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006) pg. 47, 48.
[3] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, NIDNTT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) pg. 191.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Making Disciples (part 4)

Why are principles of discipleship necessary?

God graciously gifted us each with brains and He expects us to use them. One of the ways we can use this 3lb mass of gray matter is by finding principles to live by from His Word. God does not merely expect us to copy His actions, but to have His heart. He expects us to become like Him (Matthew 5:48). When we become like Him we have His heart and are living by the principles in His Word. The matter of discipleship requires the same type of thinking. Jesus came to earth in a particular time and culture. Because of this, He used methods (ways of doing things) of discipleship that were most effective for the culture and people of His time. It is essential for us to remember that methodology changes with culture and time, but principles remain the same.

For example, in Luke 9:23 Jesus asked those wanting to follow Him to take up their cross. In Jesus’ time this would have been understood in terms of punishment and death. Crucifixion, a form of capital punishment done by the Romans, was grisly and victims endured hours of painful suffering. We do not crucify or use this form of punishment in our world today. Telling potential believers today to take up their cross might confuse them if they do not know about crucifixion or Jesus’ death on the cross. Why? Because Jesus was using something relevant and real for the culture and people of His time. However, there is a principle here in Jesus’ call to discipleship that asks potential followers to be willing to die and/or be persecuted for following Him. This is what Jesus wants listeners and readers today to take from this passage. The principle is what Jesus wanted His listeners to hear with their hearts.
It is essential for us to remember methodology changes with culture and time, but principles remain the same.

The same applies to the early church of the New Testament. It was birthed into a particular time and culture. When the Spirit was poured out on God’s people during Pentecost in Jerusalem, it was in front of a Jewish audience. The first Church in Jerusalem was a Jewish church. The Christians were Jews and they used practices from Judaism (e.g., gathering in the synagogue, listening to the Torah, singing Psalms, daily prayer times, and Sabbath observance). The Jerusalem church’s methods in making disciples were effective for their time and culture. They did what worked best for Jewish believers. But, they had to adapt and change methodology as the Spirit moved into different cultures to reach different people (i.e., Gentiles).
The book of Acts gives us a chance to see how the early church kept principles for making disciples, but changed methodology. A prime example of this can be found in Acts 15:1-35. Gentiles believed in Jesus Christ and because they were not circumcised tension arose between their Jewish Christian brothers who were. Lucky for the Gentiles circumcision was viewed as a methodology and not a principle for being a disciple of Jesus. The church at Jerusalem collectively chose to not make circumcision a principle of discipleship. Instead, the Gentile believers were told to stay away from things sacrificed to idols, the blood of things strangled, and fornication (15:29). The principles enacted here are disassociation with idolatry and purity of heart.

Looking at the Bible as a whole reveals specific methods with principles behind them. A big example of this would be the methods God used to make the Hebrew people His disciples. Here are several of those methods from the Old Testament.

- Covenants – Divine promises requiring participation from God and humans.
- Divine deliverance – Rescuing the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery.
- The Law – The 10 Commandments and laws and regulations of Deuteronomy.
- The Temple – A place of worship mirroring the throne room of God.
The place where God dwelt.
- Sacrifices – Reminders of the seriousness of sin and atonement.
- Priests – Teachers of the law and precepts of God.
- Feasts & Festivals – Times of celebration remembering God and His work.
One can easily see that rituals (e.g., temple worship, sacrifices, and feasts) had a place in the lives of God’s people. The rituals were not meaningless and empty. They were used by God to teach principles to His people. Overall we see God used various means for making disciples in the Old Testament. There is no set pattern or one thing that discipled a person. God made disciples through community and various actions.

In The New Testament Jesus used various methods for making disciples. These methods of course come to us within Judaism (the religion Jesus was born into). Jesus did employ some new methods (in contrast to what was done in the Old Testament) for making disciples. However, it must be noted that the majority of Jesus’ methods were already in practice and common to rabbinic Judaism. As mentioned earlier, Jesus used something relevant and real for the culture and people of His time. Here are several of Jesus’ methods.

Methods Jesus used for making disciples

- Preaching repentance and the kingdom of God – Somewhat of a novel idea in that this caused people to perk up and listen.

- Teaching in parables – Believed to be a common practice by rabbis in Jesus’ day. Parables were used a couple times in the Old Testament. Jesus seems to be the master at using parables. Almost all of His teaching in the Gospels comes to us in parables.

- Teaching in the synagogue – During the Israelites captivity in Babylon the Hebrew people used synagogues as a place to gather for the teaching of God’s Word. Jesus used the synagogue for worship and teaching.

- Calling a small group of men to follow Him and appointing them as apostles/sent ones –Rabbis would have students follow them around, but Jesus is a little more aggressive in the fact that He sent out His disciples to do His work. Jesus shared a lot of His life with His small group.

- Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist to identify with sinners and confirm John’s identity. God gave the Israelites the Passover meal to commemorate their freedom from Egypt. Jesus used Passover to institute the new covenant of His broken body and shed blood.

If you dig through the culture, religion, customs, and traditions you see why Jesus’ methods were so effective in making disciples. The principles behind them are the key to their success. Throughout the Bible the principles for discipleship remain the same. This is why principles of discipleship are necessary. Methods come and go like Hollywood movie stars. Principles do not. The remaining research contains principles for making disciples from the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). I do not claim this list as complete. I believe there are more principles to be discovered for making disciples in Scripture, but this is my starting point.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Making Disciples (part 3)

1. What is a disciple?
2. What is discipleship?
3. Where does discipleship begin?

We will look at the remaining two questions today.

What is discipleship?
Looking over the New Testament we see growth in the disciples’ lives. Peter goes from denying the Lord to dying for Him. James goes from skeptic to church leader. They are constantly facing new challenges while walking in the light. They are told in 1 John 1:7 to remain in fellowship and live with Jesus. They are challenged in their perception of God's plan (i.e., God offering salvation to the Gentiles). What does this teach us? Discipleship is a process. What does this process accomplish? The goal of the process of discipleship is to become Christ-like in all that we do. Paul encourages believers to run the race to win the prize. Bill Hull, in his book The Disciple-Making Church describes discipleship as “a process that involves the intentional training of disciples, with accountability, on the basis of loving relationships.”[1] Discipleship is a journey with God and others.

Where does discipleship begin?
Does discipleship begin when we accept Christ or does the process begin sooner? If a church van were picking up teenagers for church (who do not know Christ), would this be discipleship? The teenagers may not consider this discipleship, but what about the van driver? By picking up teenagers for church the van driver is taking part in discipling them (as long as he/she is setting a good example). So, in essence the teens and the driver are engaged in the discipleship process. There is now a high level of responsibility placed on believers from the church who come into contact with nonbelievers because they are a part of the discipleship process (for themselves and others).
All of this is part of the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20. Viewing small activities such as driving a church van as a part of the discipleship process puts a whole new spin on church activities. Discipleship does not begin when someone joins/attends a Sunday school class. Don't get me wrong this is a part of the discipleship process, but only a part. Anything the church can do to get someone to grow in their faith is discipleship. We should not limit this to Sunday school or small groups. Singing praise songs can help a believer grow, taking communion is a special means of grace, hearing the Word preached spurs growth, joining with the body of Christ to worship helps a Christian grow, going down to pray at a church altar brings growth. All of this shows that the church has the ability to initiate the discipleship process at an early time in the life of others. Does the church recognize and do this or is discipleship seen only as a class? If it is, we might need to reconsider how a person is discipled. We might need to look for the principles behind Scriptures for making disciples.

We'll try that next week.

[1] Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1990) pg. 32.