Making Disciples who Make Disciples — Part 3

What is a disciple?

When you think of the word “disciple,” what comes to mind?

  • Do you think of a super Christian?
  • Do you think of someone wearing sandals following after Jesus?
  • Do you think about people who are so engaged in religious stuff that they don’t have time for other things?

There might be a hundred different things that come to mind when you hear the word disciple, but what’s of first importance isn’t what we think of when we hear the word disciple, but what does the Bible say about the subject. What did Matthew think when he wrote “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19? What did Jesus mean when he told us to “make disciples”? What is a disciple according to the Bible?

First, an interesting fact about the word “disciple” in the Bible. “Disciple” is OVERWHELMINGLY the most common way of describing Christians in the Bible. The word “Christian” is only used 3 times in the New Testament, but the word “disciple” appears nearly 300 times in the New Testament. BUT . . . all 300 times are in the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and in the book of Acts. After Acts 21:16, the word “disciple” is no longer used.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the concept of a disciple is no longer employed. On the contrary, the concept of a disciple appears throughout the New Testament, but the word itself is used nearly 300 times in 5 books of the Bible and then not again for the rest of the Bible.

So, what is a disciple? At its most basic level, the Greek word that’s translated disciple carries with the idea of learning or following. So, we could well say that a disciple is a learner or a follower.

For example, in Luke’s Gospel we hear the word disciple used in this way.

Luke 5:33
And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”

Luke 6:40
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

So, whether we’re talking about disciples of John the Baptist or disciples of the Pharisees or disciples of Jesus, a disciple stands in relationship to his teacher. A disciple watches his teacher and learns from him and then imitates his teacher.

So, we might say that a disciple of Jesus is someone who is committed to learning how Jesus lived and then following how Jesus lived.

And, according to how it’s used by Jesus in Matthew 28, and with how it’s used elsewhere in the Bible, there are two important symbols that are regularly associated with the idea of discipleship.

The first important symbol is that of baptism. Jesus says,

Matthew 28:19
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . .

Baptism is a symbol of repentance and faith. It’s a symbol of turning away from that which is old and turning to something new. Baptism pictures a decisive turning from sin and turning to Jesus.

Discipleship, therefore, requires first a radical reorientation of our lives to the one we’re following. It’s the idea that I was once going “that way,” but now I’m going “this way.” My life has been reoriented around following Jesus. That’s the first symbol associated with discipleship.

The second symbol associated with discipleship is learning. Jesus says it this way,

Matthew 28:19–20
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

In another part of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus uses the imagery of a yoke to describe this teaching.

Matthew 11:28–30
28 
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. [emphasis added]

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”

The yoke was a form of service and submission. The oxen who were in the yoke were under the complete command of their master.

These two ideas, baptism and learning, tell us what a disciple is. A disciple has radically reoriented her life to follow Jesus and she has put herself under the willing submission to her new master so that she might learn from him.

If I had to give you one sentence to describe to you what a disciple is, I would say a disciple is a “forgiven sinner who is learning to follow Christ.”

 

[I’m grateful for Colin Marshall and Tony Payne and their book, The Vine Project, available here. Many of the ideas in this series of blogs have come from this book.]

 

Making Disciples who Make Disciples — Part 2

Why make disciples?

The easy answer—and the most straightforward answer—to why we should make disciples is “because Jesus told us to do so.” I mean, that should be enough, shouldn’t it?

When you ask your 5-year-old to do something and he says to you, “why?” In a moment of parental exasperation, we say, “Because I told you to. That’s why!”

While this answer is true, it’s often not adequate. There’s more to the why question than a matter of simple obedience. The “why question” might be reframed into a “what question.”

What exactly is happening when a person becomes a disciple of Jesus?

And here we need to understand that every single human being on this planet—all who have ever lived and all who ever will live—every single one of us are born “on the wrong side of the tracks”—spiritually speaking.

The Bible teaches us that at one time we were all “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3), and we were spiritually dead in our trespasses (Eph 2:5). Our sin had separated us from God so that there was a wall between us and God (Isa 59:1–2).

We all deserved God’s wrath to be poured out on us. We weren’t innocent—not one of us. We have earned his righteous wrath (Rom 6:23).

But God in his grace sent his Son into the world. His Son lived a perfect life. His Son was innocent in every sense of that word.

And then that innocent Son went to the cross to bear the penalty that we owed for our sin. As he died on that cross, he wasn’t dying for his sin—remember, he was innocent. No, he was dying for our sins. He was paying the price that we owe.

And then after he died, he was buried, and on the third day he rose victoriously from the grave and defeated even sin, death, and the devil.

So, let’s return to the original question. Why do we make disciples? Yes, we do it because God told us to, but more a important “big picture” answer. The reason we make disciples is because this is the way God rescues sinners from the punishment they deserve.

When you speak to “Unbelieving Bob” about Christ, and Bob turns from his sins and trusts in Christ, let me tell you what just happened. At that moment when Bob trusts in Christ, God rescued him from an eternal hell.

The reason we make disciples is because it’s God’s means of rescuing lost sinners into a relationship with him.

Do you know any sinners in need of rescue?

 

[I’m grateful for Colin Marshall and Tony Payne and their book, The Vine Project, available here. Many of the ideas in this series of blogs have come from this book.]

The Lord’s Supper

Different names are used, the Eucharist, Communion, the Table, or the Lord’s Supper, but all of these names point to the same reality. It is one of two ordinances that Christ left for his church.[1] And as there are many names for this ordinance, there are multiple times as many questions about it. For example,

Who is allowed to administer the Lord’s Supper?
How often should Christians take the Lord’s Supper?
Lords SupperIs the Lord’s Supper open only to church members or are all Christians invited to the table?
What is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper?
Why do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

And the list could go on and on. But this article will focus on one question.

When and where is the Lord’s Supper to be received? Is it for individual Christians to receive and celebrate or is a godly husband permitted to lead his family to take the Supper or is the Supper intended to be received and celebrated only when the church is gathered? In other words, is it an individualistic Christian ordinance or is it a corporate Christian ordinance?

To help answer this question, we will turn to the Scriptures. The longest sustained teaching on the Lord’s Supper is found in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34.

1 Corinthians 11:17–34
            17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

So, what may we conclude from this passage about the individualistic or corporate nature of the Lord’s Supper?

[Note: Epistemological integrity would demand that dogmatic conclusions not be reached. In other words, there are no “slam dunk” arguments about this question that can be made from this passage (or any other passage). There are, however, implications that strongly suggest the Lord’s Supper should be viewed as a corporate celebration and not as an individualistic celebration.

Argument

We will consider seven lines of argument from this passage that suggest that the Lord’s Supper is a corporate ordinance. These arguments are not listed in any particular order of importance. My arguments will be brief. This blog isn’t intended to be a treatise on this topic.

First, we must ask to whom this letter (1 Corinthians) was written. First Corinthians 1:2 clearly shows us that the letter was written to the whole church. If the letter was written to the whole church then those who “come together” (11:17, 18, 20, etc.) to celebrate the Supper are the church.

Second, the pronoun “you” in this passage is always in the plural. In this sense Greek is a more precise language than English. In English it isn’t always clear whether “you” is referring to an individual or a group of individuals. This isn’t the case in Greek. There are different words for a singular “you” and a plural “you.” In South Carolina we distinguish this by saying y’all when we mean plural—but I digress.

Third, five times in this passage the phrase “when you come together” is used in this passage and one time “when you come together as a church.” A honest reading of the text tells us that Paul here is speaking of the church gathering together corporately.

Fourth, Paul admonishes the Corinthians because he has received word of divisions existing among the believers and these divisions have surfaced around the Lord’s Table. Divisions can only exist in community, not individually.

Fifth, the Corinthians were taking the Supper in a way that promoted individualism rather than unity so Paul asked the question, “Or do you despise the church of God?” Again, this seems to suggest that the Supper is for the church.

Sixth, Paul asks another question, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” This question implies that the Supper is for our corporate gathering. If you’re just hungry do that at home.

Seventh, there is a self-examination that is done in conjunction with the Supper, but even that examination is not individualistic but it is done in conjunction with the corporate gathering. The church body helps to affirm that we are indeed walking in the faith.

Application

Given the teaching that the Lord’s Supper is to be taken as a church, what points of application may we deduce? Let me suggest two.

We ought not to take the Lord’s Supper as a Sunday school class or home group or biological family to the neglect of the church gathered. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance given to the church for the church. We shouldn’t celebrate it on our own. While this author is unsure of whether celebrating apart from the church should be considered sin, it surely is unwise to celebrate it on one’s own.

But what about faithful church members who are “shut-in” due to age or infirmity—would it be proper to serve the Supper to them in their homes (or nursing homes)? First, we must be careful to teach these shut-ins that there isn’t anything salvific in the Supper. In other words, taking the Lord’s Supper doesn’t guarantee one’s salvation and not taking the Supper doesn’t guarantee someone’s perdition. The Supper is a time to remember and celebrate what Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

But for these faithful Christians who are no longer able to attend, they, by nature of their infirmity, are no longer able to participate in this celebration. It would seem prudent and loving to allow the Lord’s Supper to be served to these saints under the following two conditions. First, again, the shut-ins (and the church) should understand that the Supper isn’t salvific. Second, the gathered church should be publicly informed and invited to participate as the Supper is served to these shut-ins.

Conclusion

In the Supper the Lord has given us a wonderful visual picture of gospel. As Christians we should not only rejoice in the gospel, but we should rejoice when we gather together to see dozens or hundreds or perhaps even thousands of others all confessing the same gospel as they take the Supper.

For His Glory,
Pastor Brian

[1] The two ordinances are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Some refer to these ordinances as “sacraments.” For a helpful discussion on the use of the terms “sacrament” and “ordinance,” see John S. Hammett, 40 Questions about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2015), 19–24.

Book Reviews

As a part of my job, I have the great pleasure of reading good books about living the Christian life. I want to provide a brief review of two such books here.InvitationToAJourneyARoa30576_f

Mulholland, Jr., M. Robert. Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation. IVP Books, 1993. 173pp.

As the title suggests, Mulholland’s book is about the Christian journey toward “spiritual wholeness.” He defines spiritual formation as “a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others” (12). The book is divided into four sections.

In the first section Mulholland dissects his definition of spiritual formation into four parts. The first part of spiritual formation is to recognize that spiritual formation is a process, not an event. Second, it is a process of “being conformed.” In other words, this is not something we do to ourselves. He writes, “The difference between conforming ourselves and being conformed is the vital issue of control” (25). Third, it is being conformed into the image of Christ. Mulholland argues that the image of Christ is the “fulfillment of the deepest dynamics of our being” (33). Finally, being conformed to the image of Christ is ultimately for the sake of others.

In the second section of the book Mulholland relies heavily of Carl Jung and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test. He argues that each person has a unique personality type and understanding one’s personality type helps one grow in holistic spirituality.

Mulholland deals directly with various spiritual disciplines in the third section. He describes the classical Christian pilgrimage as “awakening, purgation, illumination, and union.” He discusses the spiritual disciplines of prayer, spiritual reading, and liturgy. He helpfully shows how God works in the Christian life to wage war against death and bring life (120-34).

In the final section Mulholland underscores the importance of the faith community for spiritual formation.

Mulholland writes from a Wesleyan theological perspective. This, in itself, is not an issue, but because he is writing from this perspective, he makes some rather elementary exegetical fallacies so that his exegetical conclusions fit his theological perspective. I’ll highlight just one such fallacy. His exegesis of Ephesians 1:3-6 is flawed by a simple word study fallacy. Mulholland argues that the Greek word (eklegomai) which means and is translated “chose” (Eph 1:4) by every major English translation really means “spoke forth” since it is a compound word with the respective parts of the compound meaning “forth” (ek) and “speak” (lego). This is a rather elementary fallacy since compound words do not necessarily have the meaning of the sum of each part. For example, we all know that a pineapple is not a special type of apple that grows on pine trees!

Without question the strongest part of Mulholland’s book is his attention to the fact that spiritual formation does not happen in isolation. We are created as communal creatures and God has designed us to live and flourish in community. Mulholland argues that not only is the end result of spiritual formation “for the sake of others” (see definition above), but even the process of spiritual formation is in the context of others. One quote will suffice even though this theme is beaten like a drum throughout the book. He writes, “There is no holistic spirituality for the individual outside of the community of faith” (50).

Recommendation

I would recommend this book for the discerning Christian reader who is interested in spiritual formation.

 

Thornborough, Tim, and Richard Perkins, eds. The Big Fight: Christian Men 51qBC3ibWELvs The World, Flesh & Devil. The Good Book Company, 2012. 107pp.

A total of 10 contributors come together to write this very helpful book for men who are pursuing holiness. Each contributor wrote one chapter of particular interest to men (although it must be stated that these are not solely men’s issues).

The “G” key on the keyboard got stuck in the naming of the chapters: Guilt, Gold, Gossip, Glare, Grumbling, Gospelling, Girls, Gifts, Grog, and Games. A preacher must have come up with the titles for each chapter!

The book is written so that it could be used for a small men’s group or one-on-one, or it could be read and used by a single individual.

None of the chapters are written to be particularly deep theologically, but every chapter is immensely practical. This is certainly by design and it does not detract from the book in any way. Every chapter includes discussion questions and recommendations of further resources for reading.

Recommendation

I would gladly recommend this book to a man or a men’s group.