This is part 4 of our series, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” This series which connects Scripture with Centre Street’s Church Covenant is designed to help us recognize what the church is designed to be and to do.
Week 1 we talked about what it means to be a community founded on covenantal relationships. We are bound to Christ and each other in covenant.
Week 2 we talked about the leading of the Holy Spirit into obedient living- that we begin with loving Jesus and allow the Spirit to lead from a place of love.
Last week we talked about the commitment to share the load of the cost of ministry, both financial and with our heart and work, that we are to find joy in being drawn into the mission of God’s Kingdom.
This week we’re going to talk about discipleship:
Our Church Covenant says, “We engage… to promote its spirituality in sustaining its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrine… to educate our children in the teaching and practice of our Faith”
So the language of the covenant may not explicitly mention discipleship, that’s what we’re talking about in terms of promoting spirituality, discipline, education. So, what do we mean when we speak of making disciples?
Even more foundational, what is a disciple? Well, the Greek mathētḗs means learner, student, pupil. Making disciples means get people learning. “Make disciples” and “teach” in this passage are forms of the same verb.
So what did disciple mean in Jesus’ time? We have to understand the Rabbi-Disciple relationship. The Rabbi was the Master. The disciple would grow to mimic the Rabbi. They would walk with them, listen, learn and grow to be like him. As Dallas Willard puts it:
A disciple… is simply someone who has decided to be with another person, under appropriate conditions, in order to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is… And as a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God (The Divine Conspiracy)
Teach them to obey, Jesus tells us. We are not simply called to teach facts, but a way- Wisdom not just knowledge. Not an abstract, but a tactile, tangible, applied teaching. Wisdom in the Jewish mindset is about how to love out God’s Torah (see the first four chapters of Proverbs). It is the application of knowledge. The discernment to know the right from the wrong.
Discipleship is about submission and obedience- living out teaching in real life. Bonhoeffer writes “the response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith.” (The Cost of Discipleship, 57) If your faith is merely this abstract idea of who God is and what God does, you don’t have discipleship. Christianity without discipleship is Christianity without Christ (Ibid. 59). You are not disciple because of the doctrine you profess, but you are a disciple if you submit to the authority of Jesus Christ.
We (the Church) exist to facilitate submission to Jesus, to foster the attitude of coming under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Making disciples means teaching obedience to Christ, in his name, under his authority. Disciple and disciple-maker are under his authority.
We are to make disciples, not converts, not churchgoers, not good people. We are called to draw people to the feet of the Master, to learn from him, to learn to obey him, to learn to be like him. Not just profess him, but to be like him.
Often we get this wrong. We think we preach the gospel and people believe, get saved and hey, we won one for Jesus. Even in Mark’s gospel, when the resurrected Jesus commissions his followers, Mark tells us Jesus said “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.'” (Mark 16:15).
Wait, that sounds way easier than getting people to actually live right.
But in two weeks we’re going to be talking about this preaching the gospel thing. Which hopefully will clear this mess up. But there’s a clear command here in Matthew from Jesus to make disciples, not just people who confess faith, but learn it, practice it, obey Jesus.
Now the big question: How?
We expose people to Jesus. We show and teach Jesus. We demonstrate discipleship. We are disciples too. Jesus gives this commission to his disciples. Pass on what I taught you he says. You lived with me, saw how I live, heard me speak, now do the same. Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1). We mirror what we see in Jesus and call on others to live in imitation of Jesus.
There are those gifted to teach in the formal sense. “Oh my gift isn’t teaching,” some might say, how can I make “learners”? But there’s many ways to teach and disciple. Mentoring, sharing, encouraging, prayer, modelling the obedient life. The pastor is not the only disciple-maker.
Here at Centre Street some of the most important disciple-makers are not people you’ll see up front on a Sunday morning, or leading bible study. It’s the nursery volunteers, Sunday School teachers, parents, grand-parents, and people who pour out God’s love into the lives of our kids and new disciples.
We are all called to a posture of submission. The church is given the authority as the incarnated body of Christ. Bonhoeffer: “Since the ascension, Christ’s place on earth has been taken by his Body, the Church. The Church is the real presence of Christ… we should think of the Church not as an institution but as a person.” (Ibid. 241) My individual posture should be submission and co-operation. You participate in the whole, but are also obedient to it. You are still a disciple. It’s not like school where you graduate. You don’t graduate from Jesus academy. The closest thing Christians have to a graduation is death. 1 John 3:2 says, “Dear friends,now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Similarly, Paul writes in 1 Cor 12:12, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
You are not done yet.
But one day, you’ll see him face to face, and will be perfected in Him. But until then, you don’t know it all.
That’s why we do this in community. Learning happens best when we do it together. We are the body of Christ- the foot submits to the head for the best of the whole body. We aren’t all feet. Thank God for that. Democratic and congregational doesn’t mean equality in all things. Yes, we come together to make decisions, and give consent to be lead. But leaders lead. Not everyone is a leader. Christians are called to consent and support/encourage those who lead. Congregational is not an excuse to mistrust, criticize, nit pick or even attack or belittle those called to lead. We too often do that and then wonder why no one is stepping up to take those leadership roles. We are all called to receive leadership, to be taught. Being a disciple-making community is impossible if we assume no one has the right to tell me what to do. Jesus has that right. The Church is the body of Christ on earth. God calls some to lead, and all to submit. Even the leaders are to be in submission- to each other, the Christ, to the mission of the Church. This isn’t undemocratic, it’s a realization that we aren’t all in the same place in our pursuit of Christlikeness.
We are called to make disciples. First and foremost it means we recognize the authority of Jesus Christ. He has all authority, therefore we make disciples. We often leave that authority piece of when we talk about the Great Commission. But it’s the source from which the commission flows. We teach others to be submissive to Jesus. They come under the church and are bound to it in mutual submission.
We should mirror Jesus, and show others how to do the same. Jesus doesn’t use authority the way we understand authority and leadership. He uses it to serve and empower. That’s the call of the church. We have authority but we use it for the sake of serving and helping our members to live out their call.
Our call means doing our every day life in a way which reflects the character of Jesus. Submit all things to him. We don’t just do Christian stuff on Sunday or Wednesday at bible study. But every day in all things we surrender to Jesus, and become lead by him.
But and this is the key to this whole thing… this instruction comes with a promise… Surely, I am with you always. We walk with him that we might become like him.