“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
There is a grave threat to the modern church in America that is little acknowledged and even less preached upon. While many cry out against a Christ-less culture that espouses modern ideals of the family or social justice without the gospel, few realize the danger crouching at their very own door.
Discipleship - that radical call to actually follow Christ in community with other believers - is inconvenient, uncomfortable, and even distasteful to the modern church. You may be affronted, perhaps even protest that your church does discipleship; but consider, for a moment, the following hallmarks of discipleship and then, if you will, look circumspectly at your life and church to see if that which you think is there is all that it should be.
Marks of a Disciple:
- Practical commitment to the text: To qualify as candidates to follow a rabbi, young Jewish males were required to memorize the Tanakh, that is, the books Christians consider the Old Testament. If they passed the first section of Hebrew school, memorizing the Torah, they would move on to Bet Midrash and learn the Prophets and wisdom literature. At that point they could request to follow a rabbi and he would test them to determine whether or not they could become like him (the goal of discipleship).
- Total commitment to the rabbi: As mentioned above, the goal of discipleship was to become just like the rabbi you followed. This total commitment manifested in the young men living with the rabbi, going wherever he goes, doing whatever he does. They were not simply students, they were devotees.
- Loyalty in the face of confusion: “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
- Passion: This kind of commitment and devotion requires a genuine passion to reflect the rabbi in every way. This is not listening to one man’s sermons and deciding what you agree with and what you don’t, it is a 100% commitment that above all else you will shape your life around the example of the one you follow.
This warning is not an indictment of the church or its programming, rather it is a call to an in-depth self-examination. Jesus was clear with his followers - He called them because He believed that they could be just like Him. He taught them, walked with them, ate with them, loved them. If we are going to become disciples and make disciples, first we must examine our own lives:
- Are we committed to the word of God? How can we know Jesus, our rabbi, if we do not spend time, even exorbitant time listening to, studying, and memorizing His word? Not to mention the fact that Jesus knew the entire Old Testament, putting in thousands of hours to memorize the Scripture. If He did that and we want to be like Him, what does that mean for us?
- Do we walk with Jesus daily? Are we committed to obeying His word and being like Him in all things? This is not a matter of lip service, but rather calls for an honest assessment of lifestyle. You may believe in Jesus, but do you look like Him?
- Do we believe in and stay with Jesus even when we don’t understand? Do we strive to understand by spending time in prayer and with mature believers who are living radically committed to Jesus?
- Are there other people, things, or dreams that we love more than Jesus? What are we doing to turn our hearts away from other things and towards our rabbi?
- Are we intentionally embracing community, exposing our weaknesses, and opening ourselves up to greater refinement and accountability? Discipleship never happens in isolation - there’s a reason Jesus didn’t choose only one disciple.
These are hard questions and it doesn’t take a whole lot of study to recognize that even the 12 disciples Jesus called were not perfect in these areas. The life of a disciple is not about perfection as much as it is about love - a radical commitment to following the rabbi wherever He leads because He is worth it.
The church is under threat because so many have believed that to mentally assent to the truth that Jesus is God’s Son is enough and have not understood the transformative power of a genuine and growing relationship with Him. Additionally, even those who have made a definite commitment to Jesus have not taken up the commission that Jesus left with His original disciples: to go and make disciples.
The global and historical church is a movement - it always has been - consisting of radical believers who are willing to let Jesus change them and then lay their lives down to love others and make disciples who make disciples who make disciples. This will mean rearranging our schedules, letting go of convenient one hour meetings, comfortable bible studies where we avoid vulnerability, and loving the people who “have their act together.” Looking like Jesus is going to cause controversy and, if we do it right, it’s probably going to be met with opposition. But if we can see one person (or two or three) fall in love with Jesus and wholeheartedly pursue Him so that they become like Him - all the discomfort and inconvenience and pain will be eternally worth it.
Excerpts taken from The Dust of the Rabbi by Ray Vander Laan.