Why Christian Discipleship Is Critical to Christian Survival

DiscipleshipJust before leaving the disciples, Jesus gathered them together and commissioned them with an important task. He told them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus understood the importance of discipleship (the process of making disciples). In fact, it was so important, He made sure it was His last directive to those who followed Him. What precisely is discipleship and why is it so important? Is it simply a matter of making converts? No, it’s much more. The process of making disciples is often misunderstood and neglected in the Church today, and as a result, we are in danger of losing our identity as Christians. Christian discipleship is critical to Christian survival.

Even secular dictionaries recognize discipleship as something more than simply creating “members” or “converts”. Dictionary.com describes a disciple as “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another.” Webster’s online dictionary defines a disciple as “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.” At least one aspect of discipleship involves learning the doctrines of a particular system or teacher. This intellectual aspect of being a disciple is affirmed in the Bible. The Greek word used for “disciple” in the New Testament is “mathētḗs” and its root, “math-“, means the “mental effort needed to think something through“. Disciples are “learners”, “scholars” and followers of Christ who “learn the doctrines of Scripture and the lifestyle they require”. There is an important connection between doctrine and behavior. It’s not enough to simply follow Jesus’ moral teaching related to behavior, true disciples must understand the doctrines of Christianity. What does our worldview teach, theologically or philosophically? How are we to make a defense (1 Peter 3:15), hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with this teaching (Titus 1:9), recognize a heresy when we see one (Titus 3:10), and guard the treasure which has been entrusted to us (2 Timothy 1:14)? Becoming a disciple means becoming a learner.

Sadly, many in the Church have neglected this important aspect of discipleship, and their hesitancy to celebrate the life of the mind continues to put the Church in great peril. History demonstrates the importance of discipleship and the life of the mind. In the early 19th Century, the lack of discipleship resulted in the rise of several heretical religious worldviews. From the 1790’s to the 1840’s the movement known as the “Second Great Awakening” spread through the young American nation. This Protestant movement was wildly successful in gaining converts, but not nearly as successful in discipling new believers. The Second Great Awakening was facilitated by a number of charismatic preachers (Charles Finney was perhaps the most famous). These preachers were excellent communicators and their camp-style revivals were designed to solicit responses from the people who heard them. These same preachers, however, were less than effective in establishing a discipleship process for the new Christian converts. In the wake of the revival meetings, new converts were left largely on their own; local churches were not ready to teach and mentor those who were now interested in learning the truth about Jesus. As a result, a number of groups emerged simultaneously: The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), The Evangelical Christian Church in Canada, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Seventh-day Adventist Church (from which Jehovah’s Witnesses eventually appeared), and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church were all the result of rapid growth followed by inadequate discipleship. [Read more…]

Is What They Said about Jesus True? A Call for Discernment

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As Christmas is drawing near, the interest in talking about Jesus and Christianity is surely going to increase. It happens every year. Church attendance rises and radical articles begin to cover the Internet and even leading publications preaching the latest and most headline-worthy theory about who Jesus Christ was or was not.

I don’t know about you, but it can be somewhat frustrating to see all of these popular attacks on the historical Jesus. While thinking about this a little bit more, I have come up with a list of three filters that I think need to be applied to any one of these stories that we might happen to stumble across in the media.

  1. Does the story match the headline?

I have done quite a bit of online sports journalism, and I know that one thing I was always told by my editors was to make my headlines memorable. That should be obvious. If you want people to click on your story (and the company makes money per click), you need to have a headline that grabs people’s attention. The same applies to a magazine and what appears on the cover.

Therefore, the first filter to apply to any of these stories is to actually read the story. Often times, headlines overstate what they promise, and many of these so-called “new discoveries” that many people find shocking are repackaged arguments from the past that have been addressed by many apologists. [Read more…]

Having Conversations Full of Grace and Seasoned with Salt: Advice to the Christian Debater

In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul instructs his readers to “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” (Colossians 4:6). I have found this advice to be invaluable in the context of debate, an activity in which many of us in the apologetics community participate.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to be involved in a few radio debates. In such situations, it is so important to always exemplify an attitude of humility and graciousness. Too often, regrettably, I have seen people (believer and unbeliever alike) attempt to disparage people on the other side of the argument. For the Christian, I firmly believe that the purpose behind debating is not simply to win an argument. Let me say that again: The purpose of debating, for the believer, is not simply to win an argument. It is possible that one successfully win an argument while failing to win the audience or one’s interlocutor. There are souls on the line. A message of love should thus be clearly conveyed — through the words we speak, through our conduct and mannerisms, and through our devotion to the message of the cross. It is so easy to let our Christian apologetics be reduced to nothing more than an intellectual pursuit, or a way to bolster one’s own ego. But as the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:2,

If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

[Read more…]

Identity Crisis: Should We Use the Term Apologetics?

skeptical guy pulling down sunglasses

Do you get blank stares when you mention apologetics? Should we drop the term and find another, like case-maker? Having tried apologetics as well as other terms, I think the problem is deeper. What can we do, and what might we learn from others who share a similar identity problem? [Read more…]

Answering Jewish Objections: “Jewish People Don’t Believe in a Suffering/Atoning Messiah”: Part One

Introduction

Over the years, I have had the chance to talk to several Jewish people about spiritual issues. A common Jewish objection that I continue to hear is that Jewish people don’t believe that a human can be sacrificed for sins. In other words, a human can’t atone for the sins of the Jewish people.

First, let me give some background to the idea of atonement in Judaism. For Jewish people Yom Kippur, which is also known as Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D, the religious and social life changed forever for the Jewish people. The Jewish people no longer had a sacrificial system in the Temple. Therefore, the atonement structure was changed to repentance which entails prayer, fasting, and doing mitzvah (good deeds).

The Importance of Atonement

One of the  Bible’s central messages is atonement. Hence, God has provision for humankind to come back into harmonious relation with him is one of the central themes in Scripture. The Hebrew word called “Shalom” which means peace, completeness, can refer to either peace between two entities (especially between man and God) or peace between two countries. Why do we lack this wholeness? Sadly, sin causes us to be fragmented. The Hebrew verb ‘to atone’ (kaphar) means ‘cover.’ In other words, we need a covering for our sins. [Read more…]