As I see it there is a major need for genuine Christian education and discipleship within the North American Protestant churches. My background and training, and ministerial experience fits me into a role that could help facilitate this; my guess is that there are probably countless others out there like me. But I don’t want this post to be about me, but about this need in the churches.
What the evangelical Christian church has become is a place where consumerism thrives, not discipleship. But Jesus said in His ‘Great Commission,’ which all of these consumer churches can quote
from heart, and do:
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ~Matthew 28:19-20
Jesus, according to the missio Dei conception of God, is the God who is shaped by mission, by being sent for us in the Son. As participants in and from His life, by the same Spirit that created the space for the Son’s movement, we too now are called, and more strongly, commanded to “go” and make disciples. Interestingly this imperative isn’t an imperative given by the church, it isn’t something given energy by our own conceiving, no it is something that is based in the indicative reality of God’s life sent for us in Jesus Christ. You will notice that in the Great Commission passage in Matthew that it isn’t our name, our church’s name, or the newest program sold to all of the churches from para-church think-tanks that we are to baptize people into; no, people are baptized into the one name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
But what does this really entail? The ‘commission’ tells us: we are to teach them. Teach them what? “To observe all that I have commanded you.” What has our Lord commanded us? Well there is that other famous passage, also found in the Gospel according to Matthew known as the ‘Great Commandment:’
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 22:34-40
Jesus, the second Moses and Rabbi that He is hearkens people back to the Torah, the ‘instruction’ of God to His covenant people; and He doesn’t just hearken back in the abstract, but instead to the touchstone passage that all good Jews would know as the Great Shema, or the great ‘Name’ found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6:
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
It is interesting, isn’t it? Jesus, the Lord, points people back to the ‘Law of God,’ the Torah of God, or the ‘instruction’ of God; this is interesting because usually when we think of God as lawgiver we think of performance based, duty-driven, decision-centered things. But that is not how Jesus sees what He has commanded us; He sees it all framed by love of God, and that this encapsulates everything else, including obedience to God. And He further sees love as grounded, not in abstract relation, but in the concrete relation of what constitutes the one name of God, the Triune name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This reminds us of I John 4:19: ‘God first loved us that we might love Him.’
Jesus, in the Great Commission is not commissioning us to think up things that will appeal to the culture at large in order to make them disciples. He is commissioning us to make disciples based upon His Great Commandment, the one first given to His covenant people, Israel, in the Great Name (Shema) passage found in Deuteronomy. Jesus as God’s Self-revelation explains or exegetes what the name of God entails; i.e. the Triune name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As disciple-makers in the church of Jesus Christ we are to be baptizing people (from the nations) into and from that name; the name energized by the resurrection power of God in Jesus Christ. It is this name where the love of God, the God who is love comes and encounters His disciples inculcating them into His divine nature, and shedding abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit His love for them and their neighbors (the nations).
As I see all of this, none of this can happen in the abstract. In other words the church has been gifted with teachers (and more), and people need to be taught through the liturgy of the church, through catechetical training, and most importantly through reading Scripture with Christ as the center what in fact has happened to them, and what is happening to them afresh and anew every day as God in Christ breaks into their lives on a daily basis. People in the church need to know who this God is through the resource that He has provided for them in His dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ, His Self-actualized explanation of Himself to them. This discipling also happens through partaking of the holy Eucharist, which teaches the disciple that we are witness bearers of the divine name until Jesus comes again.
But again, people need to be taught, and willing to learn what this all means. This isn’t really a matter of how we feel; instead it is a matter of being obedient to the commandment of God’s life, obedient to our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and this is grounded in His life. Consumerism in the church, contextualization in the church is not the ground upon which the Great Commission can be fulfilled; instead it can only be fulfilled by being obedient to the reality of the Great Commandment wherein Triune love is the touchstone upon which all discipleship takes place. And that in itself is where discipleship happens most, when the disciple-makers bear witness to the reality of who God is.
Becoming disciples of Jesus Christ, in my view, is really a matter of doxology. It is a matter of learning how to delve deep into the depth dimension of who God is, seek Him first in all that He is in Himself (aseity), and allow that perspective to drain us of all of our humanly conceived resources and cause us to raise our hands to Him and cry out: ‘Lord have mercy, we are not worthy.’ True disciples of Jesus Christ learn how to abide in the ‘we are not worthy, but you are worthy for us oh Lamb of God’ mode all the days of their lives. And as they are in step with the Spirit in this way, their perspectives and very lives are transformed by the fire of God’s life for them; and it is this fire that spreads to our neighbors, to the nations. This fire, which is all consuming, is God’s Triune life. He calls all to enter into it, to the holy ground of His life, and to be transformed there, and to keep being transformed there over and over again, from glory to glory.
My calling is to be a disciple-maker!