Friday, 28 June 2013

So what is my job? - Discipleship

A few days back I wrote:

'Those who are happy to come to the show and sing the happy songs and have their ears tickled - the day is coming when the battle will be engaged and you will find yourself 'not fit for purpose' - time to 'man up Church!

To which I received the following response:

'How much more emotional manipulation are you going to employ on your site to get people to be doing what you, Vic, think people should be doing?

This isn't your job, Vic - your job is to seek after God and put yourself at his disposal.  Be loved by him and then love others as you are loved.

Your job is not to guilt-trip, embarrass or intimidate people into conforming to your ideology... this is the fast-track to burn-out.

Come back to me on this one, and tell me why I'm wrong.'

The good thing is that I will indeed tell you - and will do it here so others might engage with the discussion here (or on the forum). It's going to be quick and dirty but hopefully will hang together enough to make some sense:

Now I don't have an 'ideology' as I understand the word (which I take to be socio-political and not theological) but I do have a 'theology' and that theology comes from the Bible (the book formerly known as 'authoritative') and it informs and enlightens me as to many things regarding many areas that conspire to build our (Christian) faith life, namely:


This is a word that is all too easily banded about and features large in the writings of so many people and small in the manifestation of same. I think that the real problem is that some people in church confuse discipleship with doing and employ some oddly twisted work ethic where salvation comes through work; this is something the Bible offers a corrective on in Ephesians 2.8-9:

'For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.'

Salvation comes through faith in God, which means in (and by) the salvific and atoning act of Christ upon the cross - and is worked out in us by the enabling of God's Holy Spirit. You cannot work your way into heaven!

In fact all God wants us to do is sit on our backsides and love Him. That's the message in a nutshell - purely and simply put. Of course as we sit God expects us to find out about Him and to talk with Him and to grow together with Him - it's just like being in any relationship: Without dialogue and communication and a developing relationship a marriage would be a sham and any friendship run on the same lines would be little more than a nodding acquaintance.

So here we are, in love with another person (who in this example just happens to be God) and this love soon turns into something whereby we know what pleases Him and so we do that; because we want to please and bless those we love don't we (we do, don't we?)? Here's an example from real life:

Many years ago when I drove and my wife didn't, if I came home and realised she was out shopping (in the days before mobiles) and it was raining, I would get in the car and drive the route to the shops to see if I could find her and give her a lift. I didn't do this because I was commanded to but because it was an outworking of my love for her. Form out of our love comes action!

This is what discipleship is, for:

First, I want to be a disciple because it brings me and the focus of my love closer - after all, I WANT to be more like Jesus.

Secondly, doing what is right helps me to be the person God WANTS me to be - so I am be obedient too!

Lastly - becoming a disciple shows other people, by the difference I have from the world, that there really is something in the God stuff - it is incarnational and, just as God incarnate came to save to to do we, in modelling and being part of that incarnacy through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we can proclaim that 'the Kingdom of God' is near.

Now, having all done 'disciple' to death we all know that it is someone who follows a teacher and is much like being an apprentice - we aim to learn from the master and to become as much like Him and Jesus tells us how we can do this in Matthew chapter 16:

'Then Jesus told His disciples, 
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." '

Jesus is telling those who are His disciples to deny themselves (that is to not do the desires and wants) and to take up their cross (which is a burden of servanthood and potential suffering) and to follow (an active thing) Him. He is not saying come and be entertained and live lives that look like the world and live in their attitudes and see church as merely something to be enjoyed - He is telling them to get real and live life in the reality of the Christian faith seeking to be imitators of Him.

Now, whilst the writer of the comments above is right in that my call is to 'put myself at His disposal' it is also my calling to encourage others to do the same - and as I often hear myself saying - we need to be careful that we do not judge others (for as we judge, so too are we judged).

The call to discipleship is of of engagement for within the structure that is discipleship we find the call to 'love one another' and even more active is the call for us to 'love our neighbour as ourselves'.

There is also the call to 'go into ALL the world and baptising and teach others to obey God's commandments' - something that cannot be done by sitting in our comfort zones, living in the choices we wish to make and ignoring the call to be actively engaged. Of course, some seem to think that what God commanded is a moveable feast and this causes even more fun I guess - but it's good to have our challenges isn't it?

You see that whilst I seek to embrace the elements given above (and remember, this is a concise explanation) I have also to take on board the fact that I function as a believer and as one who has been called to 'shepherd the flock' too. I am also responsible for those under my care in that I encourage (for I never order) and attempt to lead by example.

But the bottom line is that, like a rowing crew I once used to see on the water, there are many who think that they are 'fit for purpose' but the reality is that once they to engage in the race, they will be devastated to find that they are soon 'rowed over' (that is to be left so far behind that it is like they were never there in the first place). My task is to ensure that we build a Church that conforms to the description in Ephesians chapter four:

'And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.'

What we have here is nothing more than a 'speaking the truth in love'  for just as 'inclusive' Church is not 'permissive' or 'liberal' Church, neither is the Church of Christ a place where we seek to put off discipleship (which means emulating Christ) and reside as children who need to be entertained lest they become bored. No, we are called to celebrate, emulate and admonish each other to work towards being Christlike in all the fullness that this implies - strong in word, faithful to the teaching of Christ and exercising good words - not because works bring faith but because faith without works is an empty and futile faith (if you don't believe me - take a look at James chapter two* and understand that:

'For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.'
So here we have part the first in my surrejoinder - there's more to come and I pray that within the haphazard and rushed nature of this response, there is something of reason and merit to be found.


*James 2. 14 - 26
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled”, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and shudder!
Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 
“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” - and he was called a friend of God.
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.'


Anonymous said...

Excellent response to a rather unkind and judgemental comment. The writer seems to feel it is wrong for you to judge but OK for him/her to do so!

Regarding discipleship and the need to be active, I am reminded that Jesus himself sent out his followers - 72 of them - to 'do'. He also promised, on his departure, that those he left behind (i.e. the church) would 'do greater works' than he did.

The gospel has always been active, and the Master has always required active service, not passive.

Jonathan said...

Love the rowing analogy. I used to row and as a team we did well but one year we, for various reasons did not practice for a few week and in the next race we were thrashed by teams we had thrashed in the past!

Got to keep practicing what you preach :)