If you are asking these questions, you are not the only one. In fact, I think you would find many, who are asking the exact same questions. This three-part series of articles contains some insights into discipleship.
“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Introduction to Discipleship
[This is the first article of the three-part series on discipleship, written by Colonel Janet Munn]
Rick Warren defines discipleship as; ‘the process of transformation that changes us to be increasingly more like Christ through the Word, the Spirit and circumstance.’ (Rick Warren, Purpose-Driven Church)
What we learn from Rick Warren is that discipleship means to be in a constant transformation process. We are always developing and striving to become more like Christ. Discipleship involves a relationship with God, where we do our part to maintain that relationship and God does his part.
If you want to dig deeper, these are the Bible verses that Rick Warren based his definitions on: John 17:17, 2 Cor. 3:18, Rom. 8:28-29, 1 Cor. 3:7, Eph. 4:22-23, Rom. 12:1-2.
Discipleship and The Salvation Army
In Salvation Army we express the need for discipleship in our articles of faith. Doctrines 9 and 10 say:
‘We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ’
‘We believe it is the privilege of all believers to be wholly sanctified and that their whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
Discipleship is a means of continued obedient faith. It is something we actively have to work on. We have to do our part:
Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.
For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
(Philippians 2: 12-13)
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, we read about God’s part and receive the promise that he will do his part:
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
(1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
God WILL sanctify us, but we still have to work hard to continue in obedient faith.
We can’t do God’s part and he won’t do ours.
‘Jesus did not say, “Go and get decisions’. He said, ‘Go and make disciples’. Too much evangelism has concentrated on bringing the unbeliever to a point of decision only’ wrote General John Larsson.
How can we in The Salvation Army help those within our influence become ‘increasingly more like Christ’? Not necessarily enrolments but apprenticeship with Jesus Christ.
Why prioritise discipleship?
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28: 18-20)
Secondly, Barna and Gallup Research polls indicate that rates of premarital sex, adultery, divorce, bigotry, and domestic violence among Christians are the same as that of the general population. Even in nations where church attendance is large and enrolments are many, we have yet to see a transforming effect on those societies.
Is this the best we can hope for disciples of Jesus Christ to live? Is this holiness and societal transformation?
Dallas Willard writes:
There is an obvious Great Disparity between, on the one hand, the hope for life expressed in Jesus – found real in the Bible and in many shining examples from among his followers – and on the other hand, the actual day-to-day behaviour, inner life, and social presence of most of those who now profess adherence to him.
If the new birth and the power of the Holy Spirit do not result in transformed living by transformed people there are basically 2 possible reasons:
1. God’s provision is inadequate – including perhaps the possibility that what God promised and commanded is completely unrealistic and even impossible, thereby making the Lord out to be a cosmic despot.
2. We (most Christians) do not give ourselves to [our walk with Christ] in a way that allows our lives to be taken over by it. (Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, 2006)
William Booth also saw a need for discipleship and he had a similar view to Dallas Willard:
“I have been thinking much that some of our Officers need to give more attention to the development of the work of the Divine Spirit in their Soldiers. Many of our people, I fear, have not progressed very far beyond the A B C of spiritual experience. I do not mean that some of these do not enjoy a Full Salvation. I believe they do. . . But, then, as you know, Holiness is something more than an act – of surrender on their part and of cleansing on the part of the Holy Spirit – it is life. It is true that it begins in an act, but it necessitates also a continual progress. Purity should lead to maturity…” (William Booth, Talks with Officers – The General, 1921)
[In the next two articles we will explore the four essential components of discipleship and how discipleship is unfolded in The Salvation Army.]
Colonel Janet Munn
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