Summing up at the Beginning
With so many facets and angles, putting the concept of discipleship in a nutshell is like putting a elephant in a bird cage – it just won’t fit. In a world of instant coffee and drive through fast food, we always only want the bottom line, the minimum requirement – the bare basics. ‘Give it to me quick and give it to me now!’ But when it comes to the theology of discipleship (or any theology for that matter) there’s no shortcuts to its process.
So much must be taken into consideration;
• What, or Who exactly, is a disciple – how does it differ to a student?
• What difference is there in 1st and 21st century Discipleship?
• How did the Jews understand the disciple rabbi relationship?
• Where and How do we ‘disciple’ people & with What process?
• What does the Old & New Testament say?
• How have different culture or people groups engaged in?
• What can we learn from Jesus – how does he answer the question?
• What does it cost to follow Jesus?
These (any many more) are the kinds of questions swirling around in my head when I approached the question – What is a Disciple?
The following paper has been written with these questions in mind, attempting to answer the main question but from different vantage points, viewing the same issue from a variety of different locations. With new and old thoughts, and commentary from many others who have pursued the same questions, I have compiled a memoir which surrounds the question – What is a disciple?
By Andrew Coates
THE DISCIPLE Vs THE STUDENT
More Than Just a Student
Perhaps one of the most common mistakes made by Christians is the assumption that to be a disciple of Jesus is to simply just become a student of his teachings. The consequences of how we understand the difference between a student and a disciple have huge implications for the person in question and how they will outwork their faith. Being a disciple, in the Jewish culture in which Jesus lived, is about being and becoming, not just learning.
Come, Follow Me
To be a Christian (in short) is to follow Jesus, to identify him as Lord and savior, our redeeming King who laid down his life for us so we could receive grace. Jesus called many of the first disciples with a simple instruction; ‘Come follow me’ 1. This phrase itself is rooted in the traditions of the Jewish people and their understanding of who was ‘allowed’ to become a disciple of a Rabbi. Ray Vander Laan 2 explains the process of how a child in the culture of Jesus time, Jewish culture, would be educated as understood from the Mishnah 3.
A Rabbi and his Disciples
All children would study the Torah (First 5 books of the Old Testament) from 4-5 to 10yrs of age in ‘Beth Sefer’ – Elementary School. From 10 to 13 they would learn Oral traditions in ‘Beth Midrash’ – Secondary School, while also beginning to learn the family trade. Girls would now be at home learning their duty as a woman in that society. The better students, which was only a very few, would continue on from Beth Midrash in hopes of becoming a disciple. The best students who were wanting to continue on would approach a known and respected rabbi and ask to become that rabbi’s ‘Talmid’ - disciple. The rabbi would question him, examining his knowledge and wisdom, his skill and understanding. He would really give the kid a grilling! This was done for a few reasons. Essentially, the student was saying to the rabbi – “I think I can be like you, I think I have what it takes to do what you do, to be to the people what you are and to carry on in your shoes.” So the rabbi wanted to be sure the kid had what it would take if he was to follow after him. If the rabbi thought this student wasn’t good enough he would say ‘no, you may love God and you have good knowledge but you don’t have what it takes, go back to your family trade’. If the rabbi thought the kid did have what it takes he would say, ‘come, follow me’. This one little phrase essentially said to that kid – ‘you do have what it takes, you can become like me, I believe in you’4. The relationship between rabbi and Talmid was one of intensity – the disciple would follow the rabbi everywhere learning how to be like the rabbi. Not just trying to know what his rabbi knows, but to be like the rabbi in all facets of life. It’s a life rubbing on life type of learning, observing, listening, asking questions, hands on experience…
You Have What it Takes
The unique thing about Jesus is, that as a rabbi5 he called disciples instead of responding to those requesting to become his disciples. Those working in the family trade (eg James & John who were fisherman with their father6) were doing so because they had not been ‘good enough’ to be Talmid already, they, like the majority of the population had dropped out of the education system and aligned themselves with the working life of their forefathers. Yet Jesus calls out to these young fisherman – “Come, Follow me”1. It’s no wonder they left their nets immediately and were probably encouraged by their dad. It was a tremendous privilege and honor to be invited by a rabbi, to become a disciple. Essentially, Jesus says, ‘You may not have been good enough, you may not have been qualified, but you can be like me, I believe in you, you can do what I do’7. In view of this, part of being a disciple is to desperately desire to be like your rabbi, in our case, Jesus. Part of being a disciple of Jesus is to know that we weren’t good enough but he makes us good enough, Jesus believes in us and calls us to follow him, we are called not just to know what Jesus knew, but to do as he did, to be as he is. And the kicker is this, we can. Disciples respond to the call, they leave their nets, they leave their tax booths1 and they take up the yoke of their rabbi. Going where he goes, watching, learning, listening, questioning and being hands on in the work of the rabbi. It’s a journey, a discovery of Jesus and of how to be like Jesus.
God could have come through any culture he wanted, and he chose to come in and through Israel – through the Jews. More importantly he came through the Rabbi & Talmid system. Highlighting the culture of heaven being that of learning while doing, learning whilst becoming. The decision to follow a rabbi in the period in which Jesus lived (BC-AD) as a Talmid meant total commitment. It still does. Ray Vander Laan says this;
“Since a Talmid was totally devoted to becoming like the rabbi he would have spent his entire time listening and observing the teacher to know how to understand the Scripture and how to put it into practice. Jesus describes his relationship to his disciples in exactly this way (Matt. 10:24-25; Luke 6:40) He chose them to be with him (Mark 3:13-19) so they could be like him (John 13:15).”2
As modern day disciples, we must also be completely dedicated to knowing Jesus – studying the scripture and learning how to be like Jesus by putting into practice certain rhythms and disciplines in everyday day. You can’t expect to become like someone you don’t know or don’t spend any time with. You can’t expect to think or act like Jesus if you don’t take the time and give full commitment to knowing how Jesus thinks and acts today. The beautiful thing is, Jesus calls us to follow him not because we are able, but because he is able. He is able to teach us, to instruct us and mold us – through the Holy Spirit empowering us, Jesus believes we have what it takes – and what it takes, is dedication and commitment.
Yes we are saved by grace, but we are shaped and moulded by being and becoming, disciples of Jesus Christ.
1. John 1:43, Matthew 4:19, 9:9
2. Ray Vander Laan www.followtherabbi.com - Check out his website and his online articles for a real in depth look at many of the culturally relevant details hidden in the scriptures.
3. Mishnah – documents containing rabbinic interpretations & what is believed to be the Oral traditions of the Jews in 1st century BC to 1st Century AD.
4. Rob Bell – Nooma DVD “Dust” – see point 7 also.
5. Jesus was, assumingly, educated like every other Jewish of his day male and must have obtained the elite status as far as students of the law were concerned as he was called rabbi throughout the gospel scriptures. Matt 22:35-36, 19:16, Luke 7:40, 20:27-28.
6. Matthew 4:18-22
7. Rob Bell covers these same ideas in his Nooma DVD ‘Dust’. He elaborates on these points and discusses the cultural context and practice in more depth. Some ideas I have weaved in here.
A few examples of movements and models of thinking regarding the Christianity and discipleship…
The Moravian Movement had its origins in ancient Bohemia and Moravia (present day Czech Republic). In the mid-ninth century there were mass conversions to Christianity, predominately through the agency of two Greek Orthodox missionaries, Cyril and Methodius. Over time these countries fell under Roman church rule which resulted in protests from the Czech people.
Philosopher and rector, John Hus (1369-1415), became the key reformer against Roman jurisdiction, leading a protest movement against Roman Catholic clergy and hierarchy. His church in the modern capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, became the nerve center of the protest movement. Undergirding Hus’ protests was the popular support of students and the common people. However Hus was charged and tried with heresy and was martyred on 6th July, 1415.
Despite his death, the spirit of reformation continued. Adopting the name “The Unitas Fratrum” or Unity of Brethren, the church located itself 100 miles east of Prague, in eastern Bohemia, and by 1467 had established a formalized church structure. By 1517 the Unity of Brethren had grown to about 200,000 with over 400 parishes and had printed its own Bibles in the language of the Bohemian and Moravian. Persecution of the Moravians broke out almost to the point of their extinction in 1547, driving some members of the church to Poland. By 1557 the church was located in three provinces: Poland, Bohemia and Moravia. The Thirty Year War brought further persecution to the Brethren Church. Bishop John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) provided key leadership during this turbulent period. He was a man well known for his progressive views on education and referred to the Moravians as the “hidden seed”, hoping the movement would again spring to life. This “hidden seed” would come to life through the work of Count Zinzendorf. Seeking refuge from persecution, in 1722 the Moravians arrived on the estate of Zinzendorf in Berthesdorf, Germany establishing the community of Herrnhut (The Lord’s Watch). It was through Zinzendorf the church experienced renewal.
Through Zinzendorf, the Moravian Movement became the first protestant movement to take the Great Commission seriously. In 1732, Moravians Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann landed on the West Indian island of St. Thomas to make known the Gospel. The late Colin Grant, former chairman of the Evangelical Missionary Alliance, writes that “over the next twenty years missionaries were dispatched to Greenland, North American Indian Territories, Surinam, South Africa, and the Samoyedic peoples of the Arctic, Algiers, Sri Lanka, China, Persia, Abyssinia and Labrador. In the first 150 years the Moravians sent out no less than 2,158 of its members overseas”. In an article on the Moravian church, Grant goes on to highlight the characteristics of the Moravian missionaries, observing that the missionary obedience of the Moravian Brethren was essentially glad and spontaneous; that missionaries had a deep, ongoing passion for and love of Christ and faced the most incredible difficulties and dangers with remarkable courage; and, that they showed a tenacity of purpose that was of a very high order - Moravian missionary David Zeisberger, for example, laboured among the North American Indians for 63 years.
Theologian James DeJong writes that wherever the Moravians took the Gospel it was coupled with a loving spirit, strong faith and resolute commitment, through which numerous people were converted.
John Wesley and The Moravians1
John Wesley’s encounter with the Moravians on a voyage to Georgia would have a profound and lasting effect on his life. During a violent storm and facing imminent death, the Moravians sang hymns and showed a fearless disposition despite being aware of the danger at hand. Wesley who was governed by a works based faith, never met people who displayed such a powerful faith in God. Wesley would go to experience a heart-felt faith in God as a result of the encounter. Under Wesley, the Methodists would adopt aspects of the Moravian community.
In their passion and zeal, the Moravians became so focused on evangelism that little attention was given to establishing local churches and the development of leadership. They fell short on proper preparation for their missionaries because of the spontaneity of their obedience. They eventually did establish missionary training college in 1869, 20 miles from Hernhutt.
Today the Moravian Church has congregations in 17 states of the United States and two provinces in Canada and despite remaining relatively small in size, it can boast a powerful influence as an protestant missionary movement. It adheres to the motto: “In essentials unity, in nonessentials, liberty, in all things love.” William Wilberforce sums up the Moravians as being “a body who have perhaps excelled all mankind in solid and unequivocal proofs of the love of Christ and ardent, active zeal in his service. It is a zeal tempered with prudence, softened with meekness and supported by a courage which no danger can intimidate and a quiet certainty no hardship can exhaust.”
The Brethren is a conservative non-denominational Evangelical Christian movement whose history can be traced to Dublin, Ireland, in the late 1820s. The title, "The Brethren," is one that many of their number are comfortable with, in that the Holy Bible designates all believers in Christ as, "brethren." Christians meeting in so-called, "Brethren assemblies," are commonly perceived as being divided into two branches, the "Open Brethren" and the "Exclusive Brethren.
Despite what the name might suggest, the Plymouth Brethren movement did not begin in Plymouth, England, nor in one particular place, but began almost simultaneously in numerous places including Dublin, London, Plymouth and on the continent of Europe. Assemblies were also formed through Leonard Strong on New Testament principles in British Guiana among the slaves, circa 1836. Those involved in this return to the simplicity of New Testament church principles were, in the beginning, largely unknown to one another, with no direct contact between the various groups.
The movement found its motivation in an abandonment of many of the traditions of Christendom seen in the established Church of England, and from the beginning, the emphasis was on meeting together only in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, without reference to denominational differences. Early meetings included Christians from a variety of denominations. The general feeling of dissatisfaction toward the established Church also led to the formation of the "Oxford Movement," "Irvingism" and other Christian movements of the time.
One group began by meeting in houses in Ireland and were dubbed, "brethren," because of their practice of calling each other, "brother," instead of the titles favored by the mainstream denominations. The first meeting in England was established in December 1831, in Plymouth, primarily by George Wigram, Benjamin Wills Newton and John Nelson Darby. The movement soon spread throughout the UK, and by 1845, the assembly in Plymouth had over 1,000 in fellowship. These became known as, "The brethren from Plymouth," and were soon simply called the "Plymouth Brethren." The term, "Darbyites," has also been used, although it is uncommon and refers mainly to the "Exclusive" branch. Many within the movement refuse to accept any name other than "Christian." The movement gained rapid popularity and spread worldwide. However, divergence of practice and belief led to the development of two separate branches of the movement in 1848 and despite the disparate nature of the movement, assemblies are still often generalized into two main categories: "Open Brethren" and "Exclusive Brethren." Some have argued that numbers of Brethren have been in decline in the UK since the 1950s, while others argue that assemblies with more progressive approaches have prospered. A blurring of distinctions between assemblies and other non-denominational and house church congregations has occurred as some groups abandon certain principles such as salaried ministry and women's silence. Others have maintained these distinctive principles while updating many traditions and practices, while yet others continue in much the same way as they have for the most part of the 20th Century. The main concentrations of more traditional assemblies in the UK today can be found in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Northern England and parts of the South of England, like Hampshire.
The Plymouth Brethren are basically conservative evangelical Christians, generally dispensational, pre-tribulationists and cessationists in their theology and have much in common with other conservative evangelical Christian groups. They believe in the eternal security of the true Bible-believing Christian with each believer being subject to "grace" and not "law." In the Open Brethren meetings, each local assembly is independent and autonomous, and therefore the characteristics of each may differ to a greater or lesser degree and therefore describing distinctive characteristics is made difficult. Exclusive Brethren meetings are more affiliated to one another, but characterising their meetings is made difficult due to the fact that over the years they have split many times into many divisions. Essentially, therefore, the Brethren have no central hierarchy to dictate a statement of faith, and even local assemblies tend not to give tacit adherence to any of the historic "Creeds" and "Confessions of Faith" such as are found in many Protestant denominations. This is not because they are opposed to the central sentiments and doctrines expressed in such formulations, but rather because they hold the Bible as their sole authority in regard to matters of doctrine and practice.
Like many non-conformist churches, Brethren observe only the two ordinances of Baptism and Communion. Brethren generally adhere to the practice of baptism by immersion for believers, with the exception of some Exclusive Brethren who practice a household baptism.
The Shepherding Movement (sometimes called the "Discipleship Movement") was an influential and controversial movement within some British and American charismatic churches, emerging in the 1970s and early 1980s. The doctrine of the movement emphasized the "one another" passages of the New Testament, and the mentoring relationship prescribed by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 of the Bible.
It began when four well-known Charismatic teachers, Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Don Basham, responded to a moral failure in a charismatic ministry in South Florida. Witnessing this failure, the four men felt mutually vulnerable without greater accountability structures in their lives. They also felt the charismatic movement was becoming individualistic and subjective. These realizations, led them to mutually submit their lives and ministries to one another. Ern Baxter was later added to the core leadership of the group, and they became known as the "Fort Lauderdale Five." Their relationships, and the doctrines which they began to emphasize in support and definition of these relationships gained wide approval, as they addressed a strongly felt need of many in the burgeoning charismatic movement - greater accountability, character development and deeper relationships. Other charismatic ministers began to submit to the authority of the Five. The relationships that were formed became known theologically as "covenant relationships". A network of cell groups were formed. Members had to be submitted to a "shepherd", who in turn was submitted to the Five or their representatives. At its height, an estimated 100,000 adherents across the US were involved in the networks. Some of the early leaders of the movement came out of Campus Crusade for Christ, but Crusade itself did not embrace it. Other movements influenced by the Shepherding doctrine were the International Churches of Christ, Maranatha Campus Ministries, and Great Commission International (today known as Great Commission Ministries/Great Commission Association of Churches). The movement emphasized the importance of a network of accountability within church members, with many individuals acting as personal pastors to others. In many cases, shepherding relationships existed outside the bounds of individual churches, leading to the unusual situation of a church member being accountable not to others in his/her church, but someone outside the church.
Criticism and controversy3
The movement gained a reputation for controlling and abusive behaviour, with a great deal of emphasis placed upon the importance of obedience to one's own shepherd. In many cases, disobeying one's shepherd was tantamount to disobeying God. A few of these criticisms were exaggerated, but many lives were damaged. One such testimony can be found in the book Damaged Disciples by Ron and Vicki Burks. Noted Baptist evangelist Bailey Smith, for example, in his work "Real Evangelism" mentions having collected a very large number of testimonies of people he had encountered who were damaged by Shepherding teachings.
The movement was denounced by many charismatic leaders such as Pat Robertson and Demos Shakarian, and a 1975 meeting (known as "the shoot-out at the Curtis Hotel") to resolve the dispute achieved little. The Fort Lauderdale Five eventually parted company. Derek Prince and Bob Mumford both publicly distanced themselves from the teachings. Bob Mumford went so far as to issue a "Formal Repentance Statement to the Body of Christ" and was quoted in 1990 as saying, "Discipleship was wrong. I repent. I ask forgiveness."
It continues today under the leadership of Charles Simpson, now based in Mobile, Alabama. Simpson prefers to call it the "Covenant Movement."
GNOSTICISM, MARCION AND ORTHODOXY4
Gnosticism was a loosely organized synchronistic religious movement of the second and third centuries that responded to increasing cultural anxiety and hopelessness by offering liberation from negative and oppressive powers. As a movement it is difficult to define since there were varied instances and much of what is known comes from anti-Gnostic sources. The term “Gnostic” is derived from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning “knowledge” or “wisdom.” In order to explain the problem of evil Gnostics held to a dualism between matter and spirit which denigrated matter. They believed that individuals contain a divine spark, uncreated and imprisoned in the material body, in need of freedom which can only be achieved by the recognition of its true spiritual identity through the gnosis of experience rather than human reason. They explained the creation of an evil material order as the result of a Demiurge who upset the original perfection of the cosmological hierarchy. Attempting to re-articulate the Gospel of Jesus in light of Gnostic teaching some Christian Gnostics interpreted the Christ as the Savior Aeon sent to restore balance to the Pleroma. The Teaching of Basileides according to Irenaeus provides evidence of Gnostic teachings. Basileides’ cosmology is described as a hierarchy of powers that are formed by emanation with the God of the Jews occupying the lowest heaven. He radically interprets Scripture when he states that the first-begotten Mind who is called Christ did not suffer death. Rather Simon of Cyrene, who was transfigured by Christ when forced to carry the Cross, was thought to be Jesus and crucified. While he died, Jesus who had taken the form of Simon stood by laughing. Gnostic dualism is apparent in the comment, “salvation belongs to the soul alone, for the body is by nature subject to corruption.”
Marcion shared many of the convictions of the Gnostics, especially their dualistic tendencies and denigration of matter and history. However, he addressed the problem of evil with the Old Testament concluding that there were two Gods: the Demiurge who created the negatively material universe which he attributed to the God of the Jews and the Supreme God revealed as the Father of Jesus Christ. He believed the Apostles and Evangelists had misunderstood the teachings of Christ and that the Jewish Scriptures could not be reconciled with the New Testament. Therefore, in preparing his canon of Scripture he completely rejected the Old Testament and edited Christian texts he considered to be influenced by Judaism.
Gnostics and Marcion appealed to private interpretation of Scripture or outside hidden realities reserved for the elite which put them in opposition to Church authorities. The doctrine of apostolic succession was used by the Orthodox Christians to argue against such hidden or secret knowledge in favor of public tradition faithfully handed down from the Apostles. Irenaeus of Lyons states in Adversus haereses, “For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to ‘the perfect’ apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves.” They held that there could be no secret interpretation of Scripture only public interpretation in communion with the Church: the rule of faith was the rule of truth. Tertullian claimed that only those in communion with the Apostolic Church had the right to argue from the Scriptures.
To explain the problem of evil the Gnostics relied on a dualism that denigrated matter and had a negative view of history. Likewise, Marcion relying on dualism separated the God of Creation and the God of Jesus Christ. The Orthodox response was to affirm the goodness of matter and creation. Tertullian remarks in Adversus Marcionem, “the temporal order was brought about by God’s goodness,” not out of preexisting material but ex nihilo, out of nothing. His statement that “goodness fashioned man out of clay to make this wonderful structure of flesh,” stands in sharp contrast to the Gnostic notion of the divine spark imprisoned in the body. Orthodox theologians explained salvation in terms of recapitulation which reconciled the dualisms proposed by the Gnostics and Marcion. In the Incarnation, the union of God and man, the image and likeness of God disfigured by the sin of Adam was restored and the body and soul reconnected. Irenaeus notes: “the Word became flesh that by means of the flesh which sin had mastered and seized and dominated, by this, it might be abolished and no longer be in us…for it was necessary for Adam to be recapitulated in Christ, that mortality might be swallowed up in immortality.” Furthermore, such a notion of recapitulation reaffirmed the positive notion of history and the Old Testament. Irenaeus states that Christ fulfilled the promise made to Abraham. He writes, “We, believing in God, are made righteous…by faith, which receives testimony from the Law and Prophets, and which the Word of God offers us.”
1. The Moravians – info taken from the article ‘Great Moves of God’ by Tony Townsend 23rd Nov 2004 Sight Magazine
2.Brethren Article info taken from Wikipedia article - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plymouth_Brethren
3. Shepherding Movement info taken from Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shepherding_Movement
4. Whole article was taken from a paper written by Nathan D. March at the CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA while studying “INTRO TO PATRISTIC THEOLOGY” - http://www.geocities.com/natestar/papers/trs620/midterm.htm
And they were sent into the Jungle
What is an interesting observation is that Jesus would anoint and appoint people – then send them out into the surrounding region to preach, teach, heal and reveal. He sent out the 12 Apostles in Luke 9 and then later in Luke 10 he sends out 72 of his disciples. And the greatest sending of all is after Pentecost, the Spirit sends his followers first to Jerusalem, then to Samaria and then into all the Earth1! God is into sending people out in order to raise them up. I believe there is a tribal practice that shadows this, an ancient ritual that had tapped into the idea that in order to be raised up and to step into a place of strength, first one must be sent out.
Go out and Grow up
It has long been a sacred practice of many tribal communities, to send their young boys out into the wild where they are to fend for themselves to survive – a type of ‘coming-of-age’ ritual. In some cases it was expected that the boy must achieve certain tasks or kill a certain type of animal, possibly a lion or other ferocious equivalents. It was in this season of the young boys life he learned the value of adrenaline mixed with fear and the strength in found in hunger and determination. Knowing that the whole community was behind him, and expecting a lot from him, the boy would be driven to extremes to achieve his goals and to win the respect of his tribe. Only once the term was over or the task was completed could these young boys return to their village – upon such return they were greeted as men. No longer treated as boys but as men.
There is something about being appointed by your tribal leader and sent out into the wild that creates within us a maturity and a strength. As the boys are sent, they know that each warrior in the village had done the same when they were young. With tips and advice they are celebrated with tribal feasting (among such other rituals which may include body art, piercing and burning, fire walking and sexual rituals) and then sent off into the unknown to become men.
Just as the 12 and the 72 were witnesses to all Jesus was doing, so too had these boys witnessed the strength and authority of their tribal leaders and village warriors. The 12 and 72 had witnessed Jesus’ power and authority and knew that when they went out, they were acting as ones from his tribe. They took nothing with them, neither did the tribal boys, the disciples travelled around engaging in miracles and wonders, just as the boys survival was almost miraculous in nature.
As disciples of Christ, there comes a point when simply following him around – watching, questioning, learning - isn’t enough; it wont take us to that next place. There will come a time when Jesus will turn around and say – Stop following behind me for a while, go that way, do this, take nothing. By following the direction of Jesus to be a sent people, we discover the true power of Christ within us, we find ourselves in circumstances where the only way out is a miracle. It’s in these moments that we truly rely on God and on his Word. It’s through these sent and intentional unknown adventures that we develop intimacy and trust, zeal and fervor because of how Christ will work through us. The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it." Luke 10:17-24
When the 72 return to Jesus there is clearly a lot of celebration and excitement over what they did and what they saw happen. But what I find interesting is the last phrase of this passage where Jesus turns to his disciples says "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it”. What these guys saw and were apart of because they were willing to be sent by Jesus is the kind of amazing things that even Kings and Prophets longed to see and be apart of – the Kingdom coming. As we partner with Jesus in his work and allow him to direct us, part of what being a disciple of Jesus will involve is going; being sent without a bag or a cloak and being told go into a pit on a snowy day and kill a lion2.
From Observance to Participation
By heeding the call of our tribal leader and heading off into the wild, we are taken from the place of observance to participation. When as children we watched and listened, followed and questioned, we weren’t necessarily taking part but simply being groomed for action. After we are appointed and anointed by our chief and sent out into the surrounding world, we are propelled into action. We must pray our own prayers and lay our own hands on the sick, we must preach with our own mouths and embrace the poor with our own hands. By being sent out, the disciples started to move in the ministry of Jesus, no longer just observing and learning from Jesus, but now they were actively participating in it. Just as the boys in the tribes had witnessed battles and followed the men hunting – now they had to fight and hunt for themselves, using all the skills they had observed and learned from their fathers. So as disciples we must recognise the seasons of observing and learning, where we gain skills and knowledge, understanding, wisdom and insight. All the while these things build into us a greater sense of faith, strengthening us in the inner man. But we must also recognise that these seasons are designed to prepare us for times of being sent by Jesus into ministry, whatever that may look like. And we must also recognise that as we disciple others that have been put in our care, that they too will go through these seasons and we must train them and equip them well, living by example so they will know how to act.
1. Acts 1:7-8
2. 2 Samuel 23:20
GYMNASTICS AT THE GEMBA
You Don’t Learn Gymnastics That Way!
To the student, learning is receiving knowledge, its being taught why things are and how things work. Its about understanding things, it’s about comprehension & reason. A student is taught by means of explaining. Like mathematics or science, a text or formula is taken and then explained to a class. The teacher points out how it works, why it works and if you, as the student, understand then in theory, you are now able to solve the problems or use the formula correctly. But you don’t learn gymnastics that way!1 Gymnastics is not as straight forward. If a teacher told you all about the physics and methodology of how to do a double back flip, you wouldn’t be able to do one, although if you had a go you might do something that kind of resembled one. You learn gymnastics not in the classroom but on the mat. On the floor in the gym. You tumble and roll, your teacher shows you how and supports your body while you practice having a go. You learn the basic skills and gain understanding by observing your instructor and then trying it out yourself. Discipleship is the same. It doesn’t matter how much you educate someone how to catch the ball, if you never throw it to them they’ll never catch it!
Caught Not Taught
‘Most things of the spirit are caught not taught’2. Just as in gymnastics, much of the life of the spirit is a practical, hands on, observe others, listen, watch, try it yourself kind of education. Yes at times you might sit in the classroom and watch a recording of your routine and discuss with the coach what you did right and wrong and look for ways to improve – but then it’s straight back to the mat to have another go! When we disciple people, we must keep this in mind. The 12 Disciples were ‘with’ Jesus. They went everywhere with him, they asked questions, traveled together, ate and drank together3, went to weddings4, funerals5, they were with him when he taught6, when he prayed7, when he rejoiced, when he cried5, when he engaged the religious leaders and when he drove the entrepreneurs out of the temple with a whip8! When we are simply told things we only ever grasp part of the revelation. But when we get on the mat and have a coach, instructing us, giving us demonstrations and guiding us we learn so much more and we have the confidence from experience that we can do a double back flip.
When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray9, he doesn’t just give them instruction but he says something very important. He says “When you pray…” Learn by doing. He then offers a basic framework for prayer and guides them through it. Mind you, this takes places right after Jesus had been praying himself!! The disciples see and hear, they are told to do, they are guided how and then Jesus teaches with a parable about the importance of confidence and persistence in prayer!9 It’s a package deal with discipleship, input from all vantage points. Discipleship is not a 10 week course you do after you say the sinners prayer, it’s a life long journey on the mat, hungering to be like your instructor and to do what he can do – a triple back flip with a twist and who knows what else!
To be like Jesus.
We Must Go To The Gemba
Gemba, the Japanese word for place, is where the process in question is actually taking place1. This is an engineers saying, instead of sitting up in the boardroom discussing a problem, it is far more productive for the engineers to go to the Gemba and observe what’s happing – to go down onto the factory floor and see first hand the problem that needs solving. Just like a gymnast must get on the mat, we must go to the Gemba, the place where it’s all happening. In the back of many bibles are these colourful little maps, you can trace where Jesus went and what parts of the land he visited – Starting in Bethlehem and journeying through all the known places he went and ending in Jerusalem. Jesus never opened a ‘Messianic Discipleship College’ or a ‘School of Christ likeness’. No, Jesus chose the Rabbi Talmid (disciple) method for training. Taking his disciples with him on his journey, its not just Jesus we can trace with our pretty maps but it is the journey his disciples took as well. They were with him at the Gemba, on the mat and by being there they learned far more than they ever dreamed possible. Why do we limit experience and exposure to a 2 week mission trip to the beaches of sunny Thailand when everyday should be an experience, exposing us to the heart and nature of Jesus. When Shane Claiborne was disorientated with the state of the church his Pastor knew he needed to go to the Gemba, so he sent Shane to Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa10. Because of what Shane saw and then did whilst in Calcutta, Shane is now a very passionate and humble man, full of grace and wisdom, he has a God given heart for the poor and disenfranchised. He is no longer disorientated or frustrated at the Church but is fully focused on the Kingdom and seeking it above all else. Living beyond his means in community with other people, he spends his time with prostitutes and homeless folk, with drunks and addicts, rich businessmen and powerful politicians. These things he does and the attitudes he has acquired aren’t learned in the classroom, you don’t get a sustainable spirituality from a college but only at the Gemba, only on the mat. And as a way of life he now brings people into his world and by living in front of them, disciples them in the way of Christ – at the Gemba. Likewise, all Christians, all disciples that is, need to be trained at the Gemba (and to train others as well!). We don’t learn gymnastics in the classroom and we don’t become fully equipped and trained disciples in the classroom either. We need to be exposed to the harsh reality of life, we need to see into the messy closet of our mentors, being taken into their homes and not only taught how to live but shown how to live. We need to be able to trace our journey on the maps of our teachers. So how does this happen, should we all go to Calcutta? No, as Shane shares in his story ‘Finding your own Calcutta’10 there are places everywhere that we can be observing, practicing and learning. Shane tells us that there are Calcutta’s everywhere, we just need to find our own. Or even deeper than that, we need to be taken to the Calcutta of someone else just as Jesus took his disciples and Paul took Timothy, we need to take people into the Gemba so they can learn from our lives, and we need to be taken into the Gemba so we can learn from the lives of others.
Iron Sharpens Iron
The least common method of discipleship is probably the most needed. We need to be constantly rubbing our faith and our lives up against the faith and lives of others – not just gathering for communal singing and teaching, but life on life learning. Taking each other into our homes, going on journeys together – finding someone a little further down the path and asking them to guide us, to coach us and to train us. We need to be as Timothy was – learning from Paul then being sent to be a teacher himself. Discipleship needs to be done in and during life. Intentional dialog, inviting others into the experience and exposing things that would otherwise go unnoticed. Sharing a meal and sharing our lives, demonstrating faith and love, mercy and hope and making sure those under us are present to be able to observe and then practice it themselves. I am convinced this is paramount. Observe then practice. Reflect and instruct, then observe then practice. But this can’t happen if no-one lives their life out in the open and invites people to observe them, to say to them, ‘Come, Follow me’. As I imitate Christ, imitate me. The problem we face today in the church is that we have many guardians, but not many Fathers11.
Jesus Takes His Disciples to the Unclean Gemba
Jesus certainly didn’t take his disciples into a classroom or lecture hall, they didn’t receive an hour of teaching once a week at the temple but Jesus took them on the journey, down to the Gemba.
When Jesus travelled around the countryside, his disciples were with him. On many occasions, Jesus would be teaching the crowds with parables and afterwards the disciples would ask what he meant12. Jesus spoke in parables to the crowds but then went deeper with the 12. He exposed the meaning and truth in the parables - ‘[Jesus] did not say anything to [the crowd] without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything to them.’13 Jesus taught openly with the large crowds but then broke it down into detail with his close few, bringing them deeper into what he was talking to the crowds about. Retreating into quiet places so they could go deeper, taking them to places of danger and of unseemliness to expose them to the realities of life, all the while, teaching them about the Kingdom of Heaven.
On one particular occasion, Jesus set out across the sea to the Decapolis region (‘The 10 cities’14) to Gerasenes, a region known for its Hellenism. This pagan culture was no place for a good Jew, but it is exactly where Jesus took his 12 disciples in mark 5:1-20. The presence of pigs in the Decapolis (v11) would certainly have made the area offensive and off-limits to those who followed Torah (the Jewish cultural laws handed down by God through Moses). Yet the Jesus of the gospel recognized that the external environment, however ‘unclean’ it might be, cant contaminate you – just as he fired up against the Pharisees for cleaning the outside of their bodies (cups) while allowing the inside to remain dirty – full of all kinds of greed, rot and decay15. Jesus was criticizing the Pharisees for being concerned with appearances and looking righteous when internally they were sinful and corrupt. The Pharisees would condemn people for who they associated with and where they socialized – just as Jesus received the name ‘the friend of sinners and tax collectors’. But who we socialise with, and where we socialise shouldn’t affect who we are and where we are with God. In fact, the model of Jesus shows we should be even more so surrounded by the ugly dirty parts of life as we engage the poor and even just the ‘common’ people on a day to day basis. The need for followers of Jesus to enter the ugly parts of the world is paramount. Just as we cant be true disciples by trying to follow Jesus only in the classroom, we cant fully learn how to be disciples of Jesus without being willing to follow him into the Decapolis of our day – the streets, the slums, the refuges and ethnically diverse communities.
To highlight this point further, Jesus took his disciples to Caesarea Philippi where Peter made his famous confession that he believed Jesus was the Christ16. Caesarea Philippi was known as a worshipping center for the god ‘Pan’. Part of the worship of this god involved goat sacrifices and the eating of raw meat and orgies. It’s even recorded that unnatural sexual activity was part of the worship between man and animal (Possibly even where the half man half goat image of the devil was developed). This would obviously have been an incredibly offensive society and atmosphere for a good Jew to spend time in. Yet Jesus takes his 12 companions into this atmosphere and says ‘On this rock I will build my Church’. The lifestyles of others that we may find offensive make up exactly the types of places Jesus may want us to follow him into.17
Jesus seemed to have different levels of intimacy with the people around him. He allowed some people to get a lot closer and to go a lot deeper than others. As we model Jesus and try to disciple others in the same vain as Christ, there are valuable lessons to glean from looking at the structure of his relationships. We know Jesus had his 12 disciples, later to be named his Apostles18 and we know he had a larger following of at least 72 devotees whom he appointed and sent out with power to heal and preach19. As we study the scripture we see that Jesus had an even closer number – 3, Peter, James and John. If we read from Luke 6:12, we find that Jesus had spent the night praying then in the morning called his disciples to himself and the chose 12 of them to be Apostles, he chose only 12 – not all his disciples became Apostles. And as we read in Luke 9:28, Jesus asked only Peter, James and John to go up Mount Hermon to witness the famous transfiguration. Jesus wasn’t shy about being selective when he needed to be. He didn’t shun people or turn them away, but not everyone was invited up into the highest level of closeness with Jesus. Following Jesus was open to everyone, being appointed and set apart with power and authority was for a smaller number (72), receiving governmental authority as apostles was only for an even smaller number (12) and being exposed to the holy things of Christ was for even less (3). This is not to say that a Christian can’t be close or intimate with Christ – we all have access to the Father through the spirit – but as a man walking the Earth, Jesus couldn’t be close to everyone – he had a mission and a purpose. Training the 12 to take over his ministry while having 3 close companions to bare his burdens and walk with him – we too must guard ourselves against being everybody’s best friend. There are those we can teach and pass on to, who we eat with, share life with and journey with. There are those that we may minister to in a broader sense, open air preaching and teaching, guiding and leading. Then there are the few, the 2 or 3 that we really let in, to know us and to keep us accountable, to have deep intimate fellowship and trust with.
It is just too difficult for one person to be a good and reliable friend at the deepest, rawest level, with more than a handful of people. Once the numbers increase, the time and energy decrease, the depth and the intimacy is reduced as a form of protection for both parties involved. It’s not fair to try and be the ‘close friend’ on the inner circle to more than a few friends, otherwise you begin to be stretched beyond your own capacity to truly be to them what they need. We as people, created in the image of God, need to have close intimacy with others, to have a few friends to get through thick and thin, to walk beside us always regardless, to confide in and cry with, to reveal deep hurts to and open up with. But it can only be a few – Jesus only took 3 up Mt Hermon, and he only took the same 3, Peter James and John up into Jairus’ house to witness him raise a girl from the dead20.
Jesus then steps up a level from 3 intimately close friends to 12 close Apostles – we see constantly all through the Gospel stories that these 12 were always with him, in the boat, on the road, at the wedding, in the temple, travelling, listening, learning, questioning, training, witnessing. As we disciple others we will have our intimate few, and then we will have our small group of trainees, those around us for the purpose of learning and maturing by way of life on life lessons. Not to forget that we will also be apart of a small group of trainees learning from those above and around us. And finally the 72 – Jesus obviously had a following yet the Gospels don’t name any of this larger crowd, they don’t share his table and get to have late night discussions – they are part of the flock and they know the voice of Jesus, but they are part of the bigger picture – and leaders cannot not be expected to engage with the majority in the same way as the 12 and definitely not as with the 3. In a way, the 12 have to be to the 72 as Jesus was to the 12 – which in turn, is what happened in the book of Acts as the Apostles take over as the driving for Gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
1.‘You don’t learn gymnastics that way’. This phrase was coined by an author from www.trinityartesia.org, the site doesn’t credit a name to the writer but these points were taken from a paper titled “Discipleship Methods of the Church Today”.
2. Marty Webb, Pastor of Café Church.
3. Luke 22 – The Last Supper
4. John 2 – Wedding at Cana
5. John 11 – Lazarus raised from the dead + Jesus wept 11:35
6. Matthew 5-8
7. John 16-18
8. John 2:12-25
9. Luke 11:1-13
10. Listen to Shane’s message titled “Finding your own Calcutta”, available for free download off the Mars Hill website (Rob Bell’s Church Website) www.marshill.org - definitely worth a listen plus he has written a few brilliant books as a result of his experience and learning.
11. 1 Corinthians 4:15
12. Matthew 13:10, 15:15, Mark 4:10,
13. Mark 4:34
14. Ray Vander Laan - http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=2719 Ray writes about the 10 cities on the other side of the sea of Galilee and likens them to the kind of place the prodigal son could have squandered his inheritance. A great read!
15. Matthew 23:25
16. Matthew 16:13-20
17. Ray Vander Laan – Ray writes an amazingly interesting article on the gods of the ancient world, including the gods of the areas surrounding the towns and regions visited by Jesus, this article greatly highlights the diversity of religion and points out many of Jesus intentional teachings and actions and why they were so clever to be done or said in the exact location it was done so. http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=2743&article_part=2
18. Mark 3:13-19
19. Luke 10:1-16
LIKE FATHER LIKE SON
Imitate Me, As I Imitate Christ
This was the instruction given by Paul to his protégé Timothy1. With constant encouragement and instruction, Paul models for Timothy what it means to follow Christ. ‘You, [Timothy] however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings – what kinds of things happened to me…’2 Paul writes this towards the end of his life, recognising that he is near his end3 his desire is for Timothy to carry on in his stead. To be true to himself but in the same ‘vibe’ if you will, of Paul – which, in turn, reflect Jesus. Timothy knew ‘all about’ Paul, as stated, he new every aspect of Paul’s life and ministry – not because he read about it but because he witnessed it, was apart of it, joining Paul on the journey – observing Paul, practicing his gifts along side of Paul and then receiving instruction and reflection from Paul.
An example - Paul instructs Timothy in his letter to not be hasty in the ‘laying on of hands’4. This was Paul’s instruction and mandate – his belief and personal conviction that the laying on of hands must not be done hastily. Implying that one must be worthy or proven, before such a blessing and a setting apart was bestowed. But we learn that Paul himself laid his own hands on Timothy to anoint him5. Paul knew Timothy well, he knew him intimately and since Paul was a ’Hebrew of Hebrews’, a ‘Pharisee of Pharisees’6, we know that Paul would have been extremely diligent in such matters and would not have been hasty himself to lay hands on anybody – thus implying the closeness of his relationship to Timothy whom he calls his ‘true son’ and his ‘dear son’7. Paul was like a Father to Timothy and was confident in his own life as a model, that between the lines we see Paul saying to Timothy, ‘Imitate me as I imitate Christ’. In 1 Corinthians 4:15-17 Paul writes this to the believers in Corinth – ‘Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church’.
Just as Abraham modeled faith for his son Isaac when he said ‘God will provide a lamb’8 so too does Paul consider himself a father, modeling what is right so that his ‘children’ will know how to live, how to speak and how to love. That is why Paul said, ‘we did this…in order that we might be a model for you to follow’9 because just as every son needs a father, every disciple needs a model. Timothy was sent by Paul, to model Paul’s life to the Corinthians (‘For this reason I am sending Timothy), to show them what he was writing about, to give them a life to observe and imitate – simply explaining was not enough, it still isn’t. So the process in this instance is thus – Paul imitates Christ, Timothy imitates Paul, the Corinthians imitate Paul as modeled by Timothy and in turn, all imitate Christ. Perhaps the situation hasn’t improved? Plenty of guardians and not enough Fathers. If we are to become like Christ, we need models, we need fathers10.
I like what Peter Horsley says about discipleship; ‘it is about being like Jesus, but not copying him like a photocopy – where we are an exact replica of the original. Imaging Jesus is more about understanding the “dance” of Jesus and then taking that dance and improvising in your own context (not WWJD? What Would Jesus Do?, but WITVOWJWD? – What Is The Vibe Of What Jesus Would Do?)’11
WITVOWJWD? ‘I’m Just Doing What My Dad Is’
John 5:19-20 ‘Jesus gave them this answer, ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does’. Here, and in other parts of the gospel, Jesus points out that his relationship to his Father is a fully functional one, the Father reveals & the Father does, Jesus sees & he therefore does. This here is an incredible source of revelation concerning the way we disciple others and in fact be disciples of Jesus. Jesus saw what his Father was doing and did it also, it says that the Father would show him what was going on. Just as Timothy modeled his life off what Paul did and taught and revealed, Jesus based his life off of what his father taught and did and revealed. Why should we think the process of following Jesus should be any different for us today who call ourselves ‘Christians’.
As Jesus watched and learned and did what the Father modeled – Jesus himself was also modeling to his own followers. In turn the disciples watched Jesus, they talked with and questioned him12, they were sent out and practiced what they had seen Jesus doing13, they observed Jesus, practiced (imitated what they had observed) and reflected – holistically being shaped and transformed into the likeness of Jesus in deed, thought and speech. The Corinthians needed a ‘Timothy’, Timothy needed a ‘Paul’, Paul needed a ‘Jesus’ and Jesus needed his Father. They all listened and observed, imitated and practiced, then reflected and reviewed what they were learning and doing. Disciples must model to those around them, what it looks like to follow Christ – to be Christ. Likewise disciples need those around them, fathers in the faith, to model Christ likeness as well. To follow and example, and to be an example to follow.
In his book ‘Exiles’, Michael Frost talks in detail about the concept of all people being apprentices of God. According to Matthew 4:18-22, James and John were fisherman with their dad Zebedee. According to Jewish culture of the day, they would have been learning the trade from a young age. As soon as they could swim they would be in the boat, watching, asking questions, discovering the sea and how to read the wind, learning how to cast a net and how to haul it back in – the whole time they were imitating their father as he did his work. Just as Jesus said he only did what he saw the father doing – so to do we, according to Frost, live as apprentice children of God. An accountant reveals Gods order and eye for detail, an artist reveals his creativity, the stay at home mum reveals his nurture and maternal heart for his children, the doctor shows Gods hand for healing, the truck driver reveals Gods desire to deliver his goodness and to transport his Kingdom into ours with a ‘do what it takes’ attitude. It goes on, as Frost says, we all are apprentices of God and in some way, our vocation reveals aspects of God, and as disciples and children of God, we should more and more try to flesh our those parts of God we are apprenticing in and work as though working for the Lord because a secular job is and can be just as sacred in the eyes of God as entering the clergy. The mindset to be changed is simply the idea that we can only be like God or can only be apart of his missional plan for saving the world, if we become a missionary or a pastor and that secular jobs cant and don’t reveal God to the world. That is a lie. As we train people in the way of God, we need to train them to follow their Father into whatever areas they are led by him, and to realise that the good work of a lawyer, when done by a righteous God fearing man, is just as much part of the big picture as going to Africa or Asia as a missionary. A disciple is to be an apprentice of God wherever they are in whatever they do, joining him in his work and displaying Gods glory through how we work14.
STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF OUR FATHERS
A popular phrase used over the weekend I spent at the ‘Generations Prophetic Conference’ at Café Church15 in August 08. The idea being that we are to build a platform for the next generation to stand on, our peak, our ceiling should be their base camp, their floor. Part of the discipling process is to impart the blessing as a Father to a son, we have seen this already in the relationship between Paul and Timothy – Paul being a spiritual dad to Timothy. But we also see this when we look at others, Elijah, when he was taken up into heaven threw his mantle down to Elisha16 who caught it. In verse 15 of 2 Kings chapter 2, Elisha had picked up the cloak that Elijah threw and when all the other prophets saw him they exclaimed – ‘The Spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha’. The anointing that Elijah had was now on Elisha, he had, as Rob Holmes would say, passed the baton. Just as Paul lay his own hands on Timothy, a father must pass on what he has to his spiritual children as part of the discipling process, and teach them to do the same.
Paul had Timothy, Elijah had Elisha, Moses had Joshua and Jesus had 12 Apostles. As Jesus took the 12 under his wing, he taught them and revealed the secrets of the Kingdom to them. He anointed them and sent them out to do his work, as he had been doing then after he ascended he put his Spirit in them, he passed the baton and said ‘now you, go’. As we read the gospel we follow a story a man who adopts 12 young men, teaches them, trains them – apprentices them, then hands the business over to them. Fathers are meant to hand things on, Fathers (speaking figuratively so this includes men and women) are supposed to train their children in the way they should go, giving them what they themselves had received from God as to propel them into their future with all the help and advantage in the world – why make them carve their own beginning when we already have? By all means they should forge a new future, but children, disciples under us, should not have to start from scratch when they have fathers in the faith raising them up and allowing them to stand on their shoulders. Where would Israel have ended up if Moses didn’t anoint Joshua to carry on, to move forward into the place that Moses couldn’t? Moses was unable to enter the promised land, Israel needed a Joshua, but they needed a Joshua with the authority and anointing that Moses had. Deuteronomy 34:9 – “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.” It was because when Moses laid his hands on Joshua, as Paul did Timothy, that Joshua received the mantle of authority that the Lord gave Moses, he was placed on Moses’ shoulders. Moses was unable to go into the Promised Land, he took Israel as far as he was able and Joshua took over from where Moses left off. Joshua didn’t have go round the mountain for another 40 years, he didn’t have to go up Sinai and get his own commandments, he simply carried on. Moses died at the peak of his own mountain angry with a rock, and Joshua stepped out from that peak as if it were his base camp and began to climb his own mountain and create a new chapter in the story of the tribes of Israel.
Being a disciple requires us to have someone to follow, someone to learn from and show us the ropes, someone to imitate, a father to be apprenticed by. It’s about having spiritual dads passing on what they have learned and received from God and in turn to pass on and build a new platform for the generation snapping as our heels. Our someone to follow in the greater and complete sense is Jesus – but at the same time, we need Fathers (and Uncles for that matter) in the faith, who have the spirit of Christ, to take us along with them - to disciple us and apprentice us in the Kingdom so that we can become, Like Father Like Son.
1. Although not phrased with those exact words, Paul’s writing in both letters to Timothy clearly indicate this idea.
2. 2 Timothy 3:10-11
3. 2 Timothy 4:6-7
4. 1 Timothy 5:22
5. 2 Timothy 1:6
6. Philippians 3:4-6
7. 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, 2:1
8. Genesis 22:8
9. 2 Thessalonians 3:9
10. 1Corinthians 4:15
11. Pete Horsley is the NSW Director for Forge – this excerpt was taken from an email sent to me in response to the question ‘What is a disciple, what’s it mean to be discipled and how do we become disciples?
12. Mark 4:10 (the disciples question Jesus about a parable, but they do this for almost every parable Jesus taught!)
13. From Luke 4 through 8, Jesus is teaching about the kingdom, healing sickness and driving out demons – in Luke 9:1-6 Jesus sends out his 12 disciples to go and do likewise.
14. ‘Exiles’ by Michael Frost – ideas and thoughts produced but not quoted from Chapter 8 – ‘Working For The Host Empire’
15. Café Church – 14 Port Stephens Drive, hosted an Australian Prophetic Round Table Conference 8-10th August 2008. Those ministering included Marty Webb, Dave Orton, Rob Holmes, James Halliday, Steve Bennett, Gemma Webb & others.
16. 2 Kings 2:1-18
THE TRUE COST
Let The Dead Bury Their Dead
He [Jesus] said to another man ‘Follow me’. But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father’. Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God’.1 Passages like this one are rarely used to explain to someone what saying the ‘sinners prayer’ will require of them but the title of this passage (in the NIV) is this; ‘The Cost of Following Jesus’. Again another man asks if he can first go back and say goodbye to his family to which Jesus responds rather cryptically; ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God’1. The call to follow Jesus is not a soft or gentle whisper, it is not for the faint. It is challenging and difficult and requires absolute commitment.
Follow Jesus, Hate your Mum
Perhaps one of the most intense dialogs between Jesus and the ‘crowds’ regarding being a disciple. The title (NIV) reads, ‘The Cost of being a Disciple’, and what a cost! ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.’ 2At a first glance this seems rather harsh, and a bit odd. Is Jesus saying we must hate our family and dishonor or parents? Not exactly, according to David Bivin2 the use of the word ‘hate’ does not carry the same meaning in the Hebraic world as it does in today’s world (even though the text was originally in Greek – it translates the same). In Hebrew ‘hate’ can also mean ‘love less’ or ‘put in second place’3. Jesus statement is explaining that to follow him is to put him first, is to make him number one and above even your blood related family. The bond of a disciple to his rabbi is and must be greater than a child to his mother or father. That is how we must love, honor and be devoted to Jesus. This has huge implications because we must chose to be obedient to Jesus and to his call over that of family, and ourselves. A disciple that has truly weighed up the cost does not entertain thoughts like, ‘what will I do with my life? For they realise their life is not their own but they ask questions like, ‘what will my rabbi do with my life – what will Jesus do with the life I had but gave to him when I said yes, I will follow you’.
‘When [a disciple] is searching for the lost property both of his father and his teacher, his teacher’s loss takes precedence over that of his father since his father brought him only into the life of this world, whereas his teacher, who taught him wisdom [ie Torah], has brought him into the life of the World to Come’4. It was not a foreign concept to the people listening to Jesus that he, like any other teachers (rabbi) deserved wholehearted devotion from those who would chose to follow him. As the above quote from the Mishnah indicates, the position that a teacher was to hold in the life of the disciple was 2nd only to God himself. As disciples, we have been sent to search for the lost property of our teacher – Jesus. It started with Jesus sending the twelve out to the lost sheep of Israel5, then to all the nations6. The call is still the same – to seek and save the lost. We, as disciples of Jesus, must hate, must put in second place, our own desires, our families and our parents in order that Jesus, our teacher be number one and that we would seek first his kingdom.
A lot of Christians are often let down and shocked to discover that the Jesus they agreed to follow has asked them to give up everything for him. We need to be authentic and upfront when we talk about what it costs to follow Jesus. ‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?... Or suppose a King is about to go to war with another King. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to appose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?... In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple’7. Regarding this Adam Clarke has commented, ‘This parable represents the absurdity of those who undertook to be disciples of Christ, without considering what difficulties they were to meet with, and what strength they had to enable them to go through with the undertaking. He that will be a true disciple of Jesus Christ shall require no less than the mighty power of God to support him; as both hell and earth will unite to destroy him.’8
Jesus was never shy about being real, he never tip toed over the ‘hard’ bits, in fact, he spoke more about the hard issues and the confronting things in life than anything else! Why do we differ? New believers need to be confronted with the reality they enter into when they enter into it – not 6months, 2 years down the track when they are comfortable happy Christians! They need to be given the opportunity to know what they are saying ‘yes’ to when Jesus says to them, ‘Come follow me’. And for those of us already down the path, we need to be constantly checking ourselves – not that we earn salvation or anything like that, it is by Grace and grace alone we are saved. But checking ourselves to make sure we are always weighing up the costs, acknowledging what Jesus has asked of us and what is required of us, as his disciples. Now don’t hear me wrong – I’m not saying we need to grill people and make it hard for them to enter the Kingdom or weigh people down with legalism and burdens they aren’t able to carry – that’s what the Pharisee’s did. That is actually what caused Jesus so much grief and anger7. But Jesus said his burden is light and his yoke is easy9 but what is often overlooked is that though his burden is light it is still a ‘burden’. It’s not a laid back, easy safe life of bliss and nirvana. If we really think long and hard about the common Christian phrases we flippantly throw around whilst quoting Jesus, they are intense!
• Carry your cross
• Lose your life if you wish to find it
• If you are lukewarm he will spit you out of his mouth
• Bless those who persecute you
• Love those who hate you
• Turn the other cheek
• Go the extra mile
• Consider it pure joy when you suffer trials of many kinds
• While speaking of Paul, Jesus said to Ananias; ‘I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’10
To be saved is free – the gift of salvation and freedom in Christ is nothing we can earn or be disqualified from receiving. God offers his grace and mercy freely, through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus, we can enter into salvation. But to follow Jesus, to be a disciple costs us. Jesus gave his life, and in turn, he asks for ours.
1. Luke 9:57-62
2. Luke 14:25-35
3.David Bivin, a Member of the Jerusalem School. Quote taken from article titled “First-Century Discipleship” as published by Jerusalem Perspective Online.
4. Quoted from the Mishnah (Jewish writings) as indicated by David Bivin3.
5. Matthew 10:5-6
6. Matthew 28:18-20
7. Matthew 23 – Jesus gives the Pharisee’s a good old roasting and a rather intense ‘spray’ regarding their religiosity and leagalism that only chains people down instead sets them free and burdens them with loads too heavy to carry.
8. The Adam Clarke Commentary is a derivative of an electronic edition prepared by GodRules.net.
9. Matthew 11:30
10. Acts 9:16
A DEAD GIVEAWAY
Tell a Tree by it’s Fruit
Apart from desiring to be like Jesus and to follow him, there a certain traits and practices that are expected to be found in the life of a disciple. Not that the following is a requirement or list of ‘must haves’ to qualify, but in the life of a disciple, these are the characteristics and rhythms that a disciple would be pursuing and moving towards. These are the types of lifestyle habits one would be seeking to inhabit and to live from. Whilst practically impossible to obtain 100% of the time, these things are what we aspire to, what we strive to become – not to earn more Kingdom brownie points or to get a gold star, but out of devotion to Jesus and as an act of worship to God, disciples structure their life and build into their character these things. You can usually tell the difference between a tiger and a leopard. The stripes on a tiger are a dead giveaway. It’s a no brainer! Just the same, the world should be able to look at a disciple of Jesus and say – ‘they must be a Christian – it’s a dead giveaway!’ In a world of spots we need to have stripes.
Turning Spots into Stripes
A lot of what people think Christianity is all about is rules. Sin Management. Don’t do this don’t do that, etc. Sometimes that is true but its not the point. Its not having rules for rules sake but as disciples we need to remove the spots that aren’t honoring God, and put on stripes that do. But in a world of multiple shapes and colors, what are the spots and what are the stripes? (Firstly let me say, the goal is not to become perfect little Christians. We are human, we are flawed, and we are broken. And many times over we will slip and fall, we will fail and we will break down. Jesus holds us together, he holds us always and forever.)
This lesson is one that never ceases, to know what is right and wrong, accepted an unaccepted we must be immersed in the gospel and in the New Testament Teachings. We can safely say that by understanding Jesus’ words and actions we will know how to put on stripes. There are many teachings from Paul and throughout the other epistles that talk about what to do and how to live. The obvious things being do not slander, or be given over to sexual immorality, don’t gossip or steal, don’t hate your brother, don’t get drunk, don’t cheat on your spouse, etc1. Whilst these things are good teaching, they are right and true, I think a more important focus for disciples is not so much ‘what am I not meant I do’ – but ‘what am I meant to do’. Focusing on how to live rather than dealing with sin and how not to live I think is a far more fruitful focus.
Knowing what things, what spots, to reject and abstain from is a personal journey, governed by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, God deals with us on different matters at different levels and at different times. Loving each other and accepting each other regardless of what season they are in makes all the difference. ‘Judge not lest ye be judged’. Whilst it is important to drop bad habits and adjust your lifestyle, let your focus be on the “Do” & “Be” instead of on the “Do Not” & “Be not”.
‘Doing & Being’
As a disciple follows his rabbi he is focused on what it is the rabbi says and does. A disciple wants to be like the rabbi and wants to do what his rabbi does2. Discipleship is the process of becoming like Jesus – to act how he would act, speaking words he would speak, giving and serving as Jesus would – Being and Doing what Jesus would be and what he would do. Instead of focusing on what things we are to remove from our lives in order to be like Jesus, a far healthier approach is to focus on what things we can add to our lives to be like Jesus. In relation to the quality of a persons character and integrity Jesus said ‘you will recognize them by their fruit’3 – likening a person to a tree, Jesus points out that it is what we do that dictates who we are. Our fruit will be a result of what kind of person we are being, the fruit of someone who is full of hate will be things like anger, rage, malice – but the fruit of one who is full of love should be gentleness, kindness, understanding. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul lists the fruit of the spirit as being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. To practice these qualities and to excel in them would in turn remove less desirable characteristics from our life with much less pain. Focusing on the good and the life giving things of God builds character and strength into the integrity of who we are as followers of Jesus. Practicing hospitality and generosity will carve Christlike attributes into our lives while removing selfishness and greed. Trying to simply remove the bad without replacing it is like driving a car with the handbrake on – its doable, but its difficult and ends up doing more damage than it is helpful. As a disciple, our faith is directly related to the things we do. Faith and deeds go hand in hand. And the fruit we bare is a direct result of our faith and deeds being outworked in our lives – Believing in Christ - Being like Christ by Doing like Christ.
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, "and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
Clearly we can see from James that as disciples its not so much about what we don’t do but the focus is on what we do do. Jesus didn’t just talk about feeding the poor, he fed thousands of people with only a few fish and some bread4. He didn’t just talk about loving his neighbour but he embraced a Samaritan woman and shared with her the kingdom of God5, even though the Samaritans were the most despised people and hated by the Jews. Jesus taught with amazing truths though parables but his greatest teachings are found in his actions, in the things he did to serve the people. As his disciples, the fruit of our lives should reflect that of Jesus as we focus on doing and being, instead of allowing the weight of legalism and religiousness to burden us and cause us to become disheartened. Jesus rebuked the teachers of the law for this very reason, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them”6. The teachers were only ever reminding people of the ‘do not’ list, loading the people up with countless things ‘not’ to do. Jesus said his burden is light7, following Jesus is not about being weighed down by a list of ‘do not do’s but its about embracing a culture a doing and being – doing that which Christ would do and being the kind of person Christ is.
1. Galatians 5:18-21
2. Ray Vander Laan – Audio Teaching ‘Jesus Authority’ - www.followtherabbi.com
3. Matthew 7:16
4. John 6:1-15
5. John 4:1-26
6. Luke 11:46
7. Matthew 11:30
So… what is a disciple…?
A disciple is one who follows Christ Jesus. There are many more thoughts on ‘what’ one must ‘do’ as a follower of Christ, what responsibilities, how we should talk, love and give. The whole of the bible is about men trying to live with God, God loving people and mans response to that love. The whole of a Christians life is spent trying to outwork their faith, trying to be true to the call of Christ to follow him in their day and age. In no way is this memoir meant to answer all the questions but to perhaps point towards a broader understanding of what it might mean to call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ. You could argue that if one is not whole hearted and devoted, living an intentional life of obedience to Christ’ teaching that they aren’t really a disciple. Such arguments, in my opinion are of little profit or benefit. Can you be a Christian but not a disciple? Well… can you be a slave and not a son in the house of God?
I believe there is nothing to add to grace for one to be saved and enter into the Kingdom, to become a disciple – a Christian, and to begin to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But to be a disciple in the fullness of the word means much more than being ‘saved’.
Disciples follow their Rabbi, they want to be like him, they imitate their Father in Heaven and set out to produce fruit in their life – fruit of the spirit, fruit that remains – for anyone can receive grace, but not everyone who does so, truly seeks first the kingdom of Heaven. A true disciple weighs up the cost of following Jesus and embraces it, picking up his or her cross and obediently marches on. A true disciple knows that they must be hands on in the work of God, allowing the Spirit of God to train them and send them, often out into the unknown without a bag or a purse. They know that true faith isn’t taught but caught and must be fashioned in front of a thirsty world crying out for authenticity; allowing life on life learning to take place, gleaning from those further down the track and passing on to the next generation. The disciple recognises that what has been learned must be passed on at the Gemba where real faith is cultivated, that good lessons often come in bad or ugly places. A disciple is not perfect, he still sinks when he should walk on water, he still disowns his Lord, he still falls short of the glory of God – but he accepts his failings, and by the grace of God, is allowed to continue pressing on toward the goal. A disciple recognises his own brokenness and need for forgiveness, reflecting on choices and continuing to seek repentance, all the while, pressing forward. The traits of a disciple is endless, a full, informative and conclusive description near impossible.
A disciple seeks to be like Jesus in every facet of life – thinking like Jesus, acting like Jesus, re-acting like Jesus, developing a character and persona that echoes that of Jesus Christ. A disciple must be devoted to knowing Jesus, so to become as much like Jesus as humanly possible.