What is Discipleship? – Discipleship Series Part 1

15 01 2008

jesus-talks-to-his-disciples-about-heaven.jpgThis question seems to come up quite often so I’d like to try and define discipleship as I’ve grown to understand it from the Scriptures.

A disciple may sound like a unique part of Christian jargon to us today but in Jesus’ day it was a common word that described the most radical adherents to the teachings of a rabbi. These disciples were actively working toward the assimilation of the rabbi’s particular life philosophies into their lives under the direct care of a trainer (the actual rabbi or one of his apprentices).

Jesus defines discipleship clearly in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) by saying “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Here are the elements –

1. A teacher possessing authority (in Jesus’ case ultimate authority over everyone. This is why Christians must evangelize. If Jesus had authority only over those who had willingly submitted to his teachings than no evangelism would be necessary. But Jesus has authority over everyone including those who are actively in rebellion against his authority creating the mandate to proclaim this new reality to everyone.)

2. A clear, public demonstration of ones decision to become a disciple – Baptism is the fork and the necessary rite of passage to signify to the world, spiritual beings and the individual that they have chosen sides and are now ready to begin the discipleship process (what a tragedy to baptize someone who has committed their entire life to Christ’s teachings and have nothing more for him or her than a simple “see you next Sunday”)

3. A defined training process that continues until the disciple’s life is brought into conformity with Christ’s teachings. Here we have the definition and this is where so many activities designed for purposes other than discipleship (sermons, small groups, seminary classes, sunday school, friendship, etc.) fall far short of meeting the minimum elements of the definition. Jesus said to MAKE disciples which requires a defined, intentional process (making something is clearly distinguished from something that happens accidentally). I dig deeper into methods in Part 2.

4. This process must consistently result in a radicalized follower. Jesus said this training was to be exhaustive (EVERYTHING I’ve commanded you). Here we have a distinction between someone selectively following the rabbi’s teaching and the one who is a walking, talking, real life demonstration of the results of this teaching. Many I’ve described this to have recoiled at the use of the word radical because of its recent use to distinguish a radical Muslim who might resort to violence and a more moderate Muslim. In my opinion, this is the best time to use the term radical to distinguish a Christian disciple from an enculturated Christian. Our Christian equivalent to the radical Muslim is precisely the Christian disciple. What better way to demonstrate the clear superiority of the teachings of our Lord than for people to see when someone becomes a radical in the Islamic faith it leads to acts of violence but when someone becomes a radical disciple of Christ it leads to a life of love, peace, joy and hope which blesses the world in a way that is rarely seen? Christians must not only be willing to be radicals but must be systematically radicalized if disciples are to be made and Christ’s commission is to be fulfilled.

Click here for Part 2 – Discipleship Methods



2 responses

15 01 2008
Discipleship Methods - Discipleship Series Part 2 « From Eden to Zion

[…] into conformity with Christ’s teachings” from the elements of the Great Commission (click here to read more) let’s get practical and describe […]

26 01 2008
Distinctives of Christian Training - Discipleship Series Part 3 « From Eden to Zion

[…] of Christian Training – Discipleship Series Part 3 26 01 2008 We’ve defined discipleship and unearthed training methods but what elements must be a part of Christian discipleship?  Below […]

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