Editorial: June 2011
Before our Lord ascended into heaven, He gave the Great Commission to His followers: Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them all that He had commanded. The command was not just for the eleven disciples on the hilltop that day. It is for every person who calls himself a Christian. However, discipleship has vanished from our vocabulary. It is very gratifying to find that the Cape Town Commitment has laid considerable emphasis on discipleship. (The full text of the Commitment can be read at: www.lausanne.org/ctcommitment).
Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ are the first acts of obedience the Gospel calls for; ongoing obedience to God’s commands is the way of life that Gospel faith enables, through the sanctifying Holy Spirit (Rom.8:4). Obedience is thus the living proof of saving faith and the living fruit of it. Obedience is also the test of our love for Jesus. ‘Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me’ (Jn.14:21). ‘We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands’ (1 Jn.2:3).
Comprehensive Biblical love should be the defining identity and hallmark of the disciples of Jesus. Such love means to be like Christ Himself: robust in endurance, yet gentle in humility; tough in resisting evil, yet tender in compassion for the suffering; courageous in suffering and faithful even unto death. Such love was modelled by Christ on earth and is measured by the risen Christ in glory. People who have given their lives to Jesus have to give their life-styles to Him. Those who want to be His disciples have to accept His Lordship in their lives. But like Old Testament Israel, we allow our love for God to be adulterated by going after the gods of this world. We are enticed by many idols such as greed, power and success, serving mammon rather than God. Self-denial is the only way to discipleship (Mk. 1:16-20; 8:34-38; 10:18-22, 28-30, 14:33; Phil. 2:3-8). The Christian label that we give ourselves is what we find least in our lives. The ugliness among us so disfigures the face of our dear Lord Jesus Christ and hides His beauty from the world--the world that so desperately needs to be drawn to Him.
There is great need for more profound discernment, for clear warnings against delusion, for the exposure of fraudulent and self-serving manipulators who abuse spiritual power for their own ungodly enrichment. Above all, there is a great need for sustained Biblical teaching and preaching, soaked in humble prayer that will equip ordinary believers to understand and rejoice in the true Gospel and to recognise and reject false gospels.
We are commanded not to love the world of sinful desire, greed, and human pride. Exactly those marks of worldliness very often disfigure Christian presence and deny Gospel witness. As disciples of Jesus, we are Gospel people. The core of our identity is our passion for the Biblical good news of the saving work of God through Jesus Christ.
"Discipleship means discipline. The disciple is one who has come with his ignorance, superstition, and sin to find learning, truth, and forgiveness from the Saviour. Without disciplines we are not disciples."
Jesus calls all His disciples together to be one family among the nations, a reconciled fellowship in which all sinful barriers are broken down through His reconciling grace. The salvation we proclaim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.
If the Gospel is not deeply rooted in the context, challenging and transforming underlying worldviews and systems of injustice, then, when the evil day comes, Christian allegiance is discarded like an unwanted cloak and people revert to unregenerate loyalties and actions. Evangelising without discipling, or revival without radical obedience to the commands of Christ, is not just deficient; it is dangerous.
Our high calling as disciples is to see people of other faiths as our neighbours. They are human beings, created in God’s image, whom God loves and for whose sins Christ died. We strive not only to see them as neighbours, but to obey Christ’s teaching by being neighbours to them. Then charity and social work becomes part of our lives, and not add-ons. We are called to be gentle, but not naïve; to be discerning and not gullible; to be alert to whatever threats we may face, but not ruled by fear. Evangelism is lived out most effectively through relationships.
Bible At The Centre
Bible remains indispensable for discipling believers. A fresh conviction, gripping the entire Church, of the central necessity of Bible teaching for the Church’s growth in ministry, unity and maturity, is the need of the hour.
Some leaders have chosen to change the message in an attempt to seem more relevant to people in our time. They have replaced it with a hollow, lifeless, hopeless message created by man. The cross of Jesus Christ is still the only answer for the marred condition of mankind.
The rapid growth of the Church in many places remains shallow and vulnerable, because the people are not rooted in God’s Word. There is a lack of discipled leaders, and so many use their positions for worldly power, arrogant status or personal enrichment. As a result, God’s people suffer, Christ is dishonoured, and Gospel is undermined.
‘Leadership training’ is the commonly-proposed priority solution. Leadership training programmes of all kinds have multiplied, but the problem remains.
Training leaders to be godly and Christ-like is the wrong way round. Biblically, only those whose lives already display basic qualities of mature discipleship should be appointed to leadership (1 Tim.3:1-13, Tit. 1:6-9, 1 Pet. 5:1-3). If we are faced with many people in leadership who have scarcely been discipled, then there is no option but to include such basic discipling in their leadership development. The scale of un-Christlike and worldly leadership in the Church is glaring evidence of generations of neglected discipling. The answer to leadership failure is better discipleship training. Leaders must first be disciples of Christ.
Some leadership training programmes focus on packaged knowledge, techniques and skills to the neglect of godly character. By contrast, authentic Christian leaders must be like Christ in having a servant heart, humility, integrity, purity, lack of greed, prayerfulness, dependence on God’s Spirit, and a deep love for people. Some leadership training programmes lack specific training in the key skill that Paul includes in his list of qualifications -- ability to teach God’s Word. False teachers should be refuted, rebuked sharply and rejected (Tit.1:13). Bible teaching is the paramount means of disciple-making and the most serious deficiency in contemporary leaders. Efforts in disciple-making should be greatly intensified through the long-term work of teaching and nurturing new believers, so that those whom God calls and gives to the Church as leaders are qualified according to Biblical criteria of maturity and servanthood. Seminaries, and all those who deliver leadership training programmes, should focus more on spiritual and character formation, not only on imparting knowledge or grading performance.
We should pray that God would: multiply, protect and encourage leaders who are Biblically faithful and obedient; rebuke, remove, or bring to repentance leaders who dishonour His name and discredit the Gospel; raise up a new generation of discipled servant-leaders whose passion is to know Christ and be like Him.
God’s People The Problem
God’s greatest problem is not just with the nations of the world, but with the people He has called to be the means of blessing to the nations. The biggest obstacle to fulfilling that mission is idolatry among God’s own people. We are called to bring the nations to worship the only true and living God; we fail miserably if we ourselves are running after the false gods such as greed, power and success of the people around us.
When there is no distinction in conduct between Christians and non-Christians-for example, in the practice of corruption and greed, sexual promiscuity, divorce, relapse to pre-Christian religious practices, attitudes towards people of other races, consumerist life-styles, or social prejudice-then the world is right to wonder if our Christianity makes any difference at all. Our message carries no authenticity to a watching world.
There is no Biblical mission without Biblical living. All those who profess the name of Christ should live in radical distinctiveness from the ways of the world, to ‘put on the new humanity, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.’
Power is often exercised to abuse and exploit others. We exalt ourselves, claiming superiority of gender, race, or social status. Paul counters all these marks of the idolatry of pride and power with his requirement that those who are filled by God’s Spirit will submit to one another for Christ’s sake. Such mutual submission and reciprocal love is to be expressed in marriage, family, and socio-economic relations.
Pastors should help believers to understand, honestly discuss, and practise the mutual submission that God requires of His children towards one another. In a world of greed, power and abuse, God is calling His Church to be the place of gentle humility and selfless love among its members. All leaders should resist the temptation to be less than totally truthful in presenting their work. It is dishonest to exaggerate reports with unsubstantiated statistics, or twist the truth for the sake of gain. God knows the truth and He is the judge. A cleansing wave of honesty and the end of such distortion, manipulation and exaggeration are essential. We should strive for a culture of total integrity and transparency. We should choose to walk in the light and truth of God, for the Lord tests the heart and is pleased with integrity. Billy Graham said, "Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything we have."
Biblical mission demands that those who claim Christ’s name should be like Him, by taking up their cross, denying themselves, and following Him in the paths of humility, love, integrity, generosity, and servanthood. To fail in discipleship and disciple-making, is to fail at the most basic level of our mission. The call of Christ to His Church comes to us afresh from the gospels: ‘Come and follow Me’; ‘Go and make disciples’; ‘Teach all that He commanded.’ To preach anything less is to trivialise the cross.
The command is missional. ‘By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.’ The evangelisation of the world and the recognition of Christ’s deity are helped or hindered by whether or not we obey Him in practice. The call of Christ and His apostles comes to us afresh: ‘Love one another’, ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ When we live in the reconciled unity of love by the power of the Holy Spirit, the world will come to know Jesus, and the Father who sent Him.