Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kingdom-Oriented Relationships 3

Jesus taught us to love one another, but he also taught us to go and make disciples. I think that, with the best of intentions, we often choose the former and disregard the latter, as if the two were essentially at odds.

In our churches, we make discipleship a matter of theological study, increasing in our knowledge of church doctrine, and in time perhaps moving into a leadership role. Churches being human institutions, sometimes this process produces leaders who do not love, while the loving ones, choosing not to climb the leadership ladder, go about their lives in quiet and blessed anonymity.

Because I'm not a part of any church fellowship right now, I'm thinking about how to apply Christ's imperative, "go and make disciples," out here in the world beyond the church parking lot. But it's always helpful to define your terms. In the Christian context, a disciple is a follower of Jesus. To "make disciples," then, is to guide people toward Jesus.

Dallas Willard has laid out the problematic nature of discipleship in Evangelicalism in his great article for the Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology (found online here).

Willard's article is very helpful, and you should read it all, but the essence of New Testament discipleship, as Willard sees it, is "being with Jesus, and learning to be like him." Here's more from Willard:
Now this practice of discipleship in the communities of Christ followers—being with Christ learning to be like him, in part by being with those who are further along on that same path—is what lends realism and hope to the glowing pictures of his people that stand out from the pages of the New Testament. Such passages as Matthew chapters 5-7, John chapters 14-17, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians chapters 4-5, and Colossians 3 readily come to mind. These are not just passages stating required behaviors, as laws might do—"Turn the other cheek" and so forth—not a new and sterner legalism. Rather, as expressing what lies "beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees" (Matt. 5:20), they are indications of what life becomes for those who are devoted disciples of Jesus Christ within the fellowship of disciples and under the administration of the Word and of the Holy Spirit. A life of this quality is the "output" of disciples of Jesus who make disciples wherever they go, gather them in Trinitarian reality, and teach them in such a way that they come to do all that Jesus told us to do out of transformed personalities. What is now generally regarded as "normal Christianity" drops away with the "cleaning of the inside of the cup" (Matt. 23:25-26). Discipleship is the status or position within which spiritual (trans)formation occurs.
I'll have more to say concerning all this, but simply note for now that, given Willard's NT references above, you will understand that love is not something that happens apart from discipleship and disciple-making, but a fruit that is produced by our "being with and learning to be like Jesus."

The life of a disciple is this "drawing near" to Jesus (in the Word, in prayer, in fellowship with other followers of Jesus), learning from him, and then application of that which we've learned. This application happens in contexts that are anything but private, inward, or strictly "spiritual," but intensely relational. This application, this "walking out," looks a lot like love.