bits from bob....

What Does This Church Believe About...? (#2)

by Robert J. Young
©, 2002, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Paul Little wrote a book entitled, Know What You Believe and Why. That is not just good advice--it is absolutely essential. Christians are admonished by Peter to be ready to give reason and answer for their hope (1:3:15). The twenty-first century church must understand the parameters of the biblical faith. We must reexamine afresh the definitions and instructions of Scripture in matters of worship, discipleship, church, and teaching the Good News. The first article in this series examined how a biblical understanding of worship might change the life of the modern church and make a difference in the impact we have on our culture. In this article we turn to examine the matter of discipleship.

Who is a disciple? The word appears 231 times in the gospels. It literally means one who is taught or trained. A disciple is one who follows the master, one who seeks to be like the teacher (Matt. 10:25). A disciple is one who is disciplined. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Followers of Jesus are described in the gospels as disciples.

Later when the word Christian is applied to the followers of Christ, the text says those called Christians were formerly known as disciples (Acts 11:26). Christian and disciple should be synonymous. Our question, "Who is a disciple?" is essentially the age-old question, "Who is a Christian?" The answer to one is the answer to the other! There can be no difference. It was the disciples who were called Christians. That which makes one a disciple makes one a Christian (Matt. 28:18-20).

The word "disciple" is not much in vogue among us at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Bonhoeffer's challenge to carefully consider the "cost of discipleship" has make apparent the difficulty of being a disciple. If one takes the words of Jesus seriously, being a disciple means giving up self, sin, security, and shame (Luke 14). Counting the cost and paying the price are not popular options in most current church models. Perhaps that is why the new phrase of choice--"religiously correct"--appears to be "church member."

Are disciple and church member synonymous? Are Christian and church member synonymous? While we may use them in that way, in too many churches today one can be a reasonably good church member without cultivating the discipline of "disciple" or the Christlikeness of "Christian," even in churches of Christ.

The basis for "member" may be found in 1 Cor. 12 where Christians are described as members of the body of Christ, the church. Paul would hasten to add, however, that body members who do not function in and contribute to the body are of little value.

I do not claim to have ready answers for the dilemma before the contemporary church, but I do know that until the church of our Lord takes more seriously the demands of discipleship, we will wallow in a shallowness unable to sustain spiritual life. Until the church breathes Spirit, eats the bread of life, and drinks of the water of life regularly, the majority of our members will more resemble individuals in need of CPR than living, vibrant, active souls. And those barely alive and in need of help in breathing and eating are seldom able to administer life-giving nourishment and nurturing to others.

Perhaps we would do well to scrap altogether the phrase "church member." Even "Christian" may fail to communicate in a post-Constantinian world where so many seek to be Christians that very few really are. Are you a disciple? Read the text afresh, continually ask yourself that question, stand in awe and reverence and fear, and change your life! Let all those who allegiance is to Christ and who seek to be "of Christ" become disciples! When such people touch the world as salt and leaven and life, upsidedownness comes to the world (Acts 17:6), and nothing is ever the same!

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Last updated January 7, 2002.