Tell Me Again Why You Go to Church… Part 2

“[God] also gave apostles, prophets, missionaries, as well as pastors and teachers as gifts to his church. Their purpose is to prepare God’s people to serve and to build up the body of Christ. This is to continue until all of us are united in our faith and in our knowledge about God’s Son, until we become mature, until we measure up to Christ, who is the standard. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed and carried about by all kinds of teachings that change like the wind. We will no longer be influenced by people who use cunning and clever strategies to lead us astray. Instead, as we lovingly speak the truth, we will grow up completely in our relationship to Christ, who is the head. He makes the whole body fit together and unites it through the support of every joint. As each and every part does its job, he makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
 
So I tell you and encourage you in the Lord’s name not to live any longer like other people in the world. Their minds are set on worthless things. […] But that is not what you learned from Christ’s teachings. You have certainly heard his message and have been taught his ways. The truth is in Jesus. You were taught to change the way you were living. The person you used to be will ruin you through desires that deceive you. However, you were taught to have a new attitude. You were also taught to become a new person created to be like God, with a life that truely has God’s approval and is holy. […] Imitate God, since you are the children he loves” (Ephesians 4:11-24, 5:1; GW, emphasis added).
 
In Ephesians 4, Paul gave the clearest instructions for how the church is to operate and what its end goal is to be.
 
He wrote that God has endowed a minority of men with the calling and ability to be leaders within the church, and as such, He then gives those men as gifts to the church. The result of these men properly fulfilling their calling is that the members of the church (true believers) grow in spiritual maturity by learning the words, teachings, commands, and example of Jesus. The ultimate end result will be that these disciples of Jesus are re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be, through being conformed to the image of Jesus, through imitating Him as His disciple.
 
Notice that the impetus begins with the men who have be called to be church leaders. They are responsible for the spiritual maturity of the church body; there is no blaming the congregation. Moreover, God knows how to give good gifts (Matthew 7:11). Church leaders who cannot lead a church to maturity have not been given by God as a gift to that church.
 
Therefore, pastors and church leaders alone have the ability and the means to empower and equip those within the church that wish to imitate Jesus as His disciple and be conformed to His image. But unfortunately, in our immediate culture and context, many pastors and church leaders have chosen instead to use those abilities and means to placate the false believers who attend their churches on a regular basis because those false believers are the majority, and those who wish to imitate Jesus as His disciple are the minority.
 
Worse yet, those same pastors and church leaders then have the gall to stand up every week and ask people to be more serious about Jesus. When ultimately it is only those very same pastors and church leaders who are impeding the growth of those that are serious about imitating Jesus as His disciple by their hypocritical capitulation to the unsaved majority.
 
This is the second article on the challenge of making disciples of Jesus in the immediate culture and context of His Words His Ways Fellowship. The specific challenge we are addressing is the significant number of false believers who will regularly attend theologically conservative, bible-believing, Evangelical churches; without ever demonstrating any desire to imitate Jesus as His disciple and thus be conformed to His image (the previous article can be read here).
 
In the previous article, we attempted to identify some of the various groups of false believers who will attend theologically conservative churches and their motivations for doing so. We argued that what is needed is a discipleship strategy for sorting out who in our churches are true believers who are interested in imitating Jesus as His disciple from those who are false believers and are attending for some other reason.
 
There is a plethora of discipleship strategies out there. Some are great, some not so great. Among the good ones, there is a lot of overlap and similarities. This should be expected given that the best discipleship strategies should be drawn from Scripture and therefore they should have the truth of Scripture in common.
 
At His Words His Ways Fellowship, we have spent the last 5 years exploring as many discipleship strategies as we could find and glean from them the scriptural truth upon which they should be based. In doing so, we identified some common scriptural principles and the relationship between those principles. Then we attempted to lay out those principles in a coherent progression that would enable us to identify and empower those that are serious about imitating Jesus as His disciple.
 
We call these The Four Principles of Discipleship. These four principles in and of themselves are nothing. They are simply a logical outline of the scriptural truths which we believe have not been taught in our local culture and context, and therefore should be taught in order to sort out the mess in which we have found ourselves.
 
In this article, we would like to demonstrate how these four principles work to sort out within the church body who is actually willing to abandon all in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple; …and who is not.
 
In order to demonstrate this, and why we believe all four principles are necessary and should be taught, we will work through them in reverse order.
 
The Four Principles of Discipleship are:
 
  1. The Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship
  2. The Purpose of Imitating Jesus as His Disciple
  3. The First Century, Biblical Understanding of Discipleship.
  4. Biblical Discipleship in a Relational Environment

 

Biblical Discipleship in a Relational Environment (Relational Discipleship for short) is a phrase coined by Jim Putman of Real Life Ministries and the Relational Discipleship Network. It is also one of the first things I learned about discipleship. And to be sure, Relational Discipleship is often sorely lacking in our churches. And like me, many church leaders recognize this and attempt to implement Relational Discipleship in order to correct their discipleship problems within the church.
 
However, on its own this approach will probably only be somewhat successful. The problem is that while those interested in imitating Jesus as His disciple will jump on board with Relational Discipleship; so will some of the false believers who are not interested in imitating Jesus as His disciple.
 
Many false believers who attend church regularly, also thoroughly enjoy a good Bible study, small group, and/or Sunday School class. Moreover, some of them want to make connections with other people and talk about issues in their lives as much as true believers do; they just don’t want to imitate Jesus as His disciple. However, they will say that they want to be a disciple of Jesus just to get to be involved in the small groups; …they might even volunteer to teach a small group!
 
And this is how they throw Relational Discipleship off the rails; not by being opposed to it, but by derailing it from the inside. Once involved in the small groups, they will subtly attempt to keep it from going too far in the direction of abandoning all in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple. They will even use the small groups to make disciples of something other than Jesus; while employing the logical fallacy or semantics/equivocation to still call them “disciples of Jesus.”
 
This is the dangerous flip-side of Relational Discipleship; it can be used to make disciples of something other than Jesus. In the first century, the Pharisees made disciples of themselves, their traditions, and their theology in relational environments using Scripture just as Jesus did (Matthew 23:15, Mark 2:18, Luke 5:33, Acts 22:3). Cults (such as JWs and the Mormons) make disciples in relational environments using Scripture (they probably do a better job of making disciples than most Evangelical churches do).
 
Therefore, while Relational Discipleship is necessary for making disciple of Jesus, there must be something in place to ensure that it is not being used to make disciples of something else.
 
This brings us to the third principle:
 
The First Century, Biblical Understanding of Discipleship. I learned this principle mainly from Dallas Willard, Bill Hull, and Dave Earley (and quite a few others).
 
They all argue that in the first century a disciple of Jesus was someone who would have known everything that Jesus said, taught, commanded, and exemplified; and that they would have devoted their lives to imitating Him by abandoning what they normally say and do, and choosing instead to do what Jesus would normally say and do. Therefore, in order to make disciples of Jesus, we must begin by specifically teaching the words, teachings, commands, and example that He gave during His earthly ministry so that disciples know what to say and do. After beginning there, we then move on to the rest of Scripture (because Jesus commanded us to know all of Scripture) in a logical progression.
 
This principle does work to begin to weed out some of the false believers; but not all of them. Some of them will hang around and push back against this principle, or attempt to distort Jesus’ teachings while you are trying to teaching them. Some of their arguments will sound like this:
 

“I believe we should be teaching the whole Bible (meaning only their favorite parts).”

“Did Jesus really mean that?”

“Nobody is perfect.”

“Jesus will always forgive us when we fail, so we don’t have to keep all He commanded.”

“We just need to focus on the cross.”

“Being a disciple is only for certain people.”
 
And so, you will constantly be fighting a subtle battle of subversion from false believers who will be trying to keep discipleship from becoming too serious. The big problem you will face is that those that are actually serious about following Jesus will be constantly torn between the two factions, especially immature disciples.
 
So, you will see a measure of success from teaching believers that they must know and keep the words, teachings, commands, and example of Jesus; but your success will be impeded by false believers within the church all along the way. What is needed is another strategy to demonstrate why it is important to begin with the teachings and commands of Jesus, and why a disciple must imitate Him in every way possible.
 
My first attempt at this was to say, “Because Jesus said so.” Which is true, but it was met with the same amount of subversion and questioning. This then is where teaching the next principle of discipleship becomes necessary.
 
The Purpose of Imitating Jesus as His Disciple. The main difference between false believers and true believers is that true believers will be willing to abandon all in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple; but they will require a rebuttal towards the false believers within the church who will argue that it is not necessary.
 
The New Testament is emphatically clear that we are to be conformed to the image of Jesus. That principle is taught in almost every book of the New Testament. The most famous passage is Romans 8:28-29 which teaches that God the Father is working out all things to this end:
 
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:28-29).
 
However, being conformed to the image of Jesus has often been taught as mystery that God only accomplishes mysteriously through the mysterious power of the Holy Spirit when we do mysterious things like:
 

“Trust Him more and more…”

“Lean into Him…”

“Let go and let God…”

“Just have faith…”
 
Those sayings in and of themselves aren’t bad; if you know for certain what they mean. But they are often said in a way which is open-ended and can mean whatever you want to make them mean. So, before saying them, we need to clarify HOW God is conforming you and HOW you cooperate with that process.
 
This principle basically is a step of logic. If a disciple is someone who imitates their master, and Jesus is our Master; then if we are His disciples, we will imitate Him. And if we imitate Him, we will be conformed to His image. Mission accomplished.
 
Of course, there is a supernatural element involved in imitating Jesus as His disciple in that it requires the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. We are completely incapable of imitating Jesus in our fallenness unless God gives us the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
 
But where the church has failed in our culture and context is that we have told people that God will mysteriously conform them to the image of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit without telling them that it only occurs through imitating Him as His disciple. As a result, they have been just sitting in the church pew or on their couch waiting for God to change them.
 
Employing this second principle will close the mouths of some false believers (you should actually notice that some throw a big fit and that some leave the church), but it will not shut all of them down. You will still need to go a step further and teach WHY it is so important that we are conformed to the image of Jesus.
 
This is why we recommend beginning with the first principle of discipleship first. Rather than face all of the frustration of slowly whittling down the false believers, just go for the jugular and find out who is really serious about imitating Jesus as His disciple and who is not.
 
Because, if they argue against the first principle, it is pretty solid proof that they are a false believer. And as you consistently and repetitively teach the first principle, they will either become so uncomfortable that they will leave the church; or they will make such a stink that it will become evident to the true believers what they really are (and there is always the chance that they will get saved too).
 
What you as a church leader will have to become comfortable with is uncomfortableness. Because, it will at times become extremely uncomfortable for everyone involved. The false believers will become uncomfortable and in response they will make everyone else uncomfortable. You as a leader of the church will have to hold strong with a stiff spine and let events play out.
 
The end result should be that those who have no desire to follow Jesus will ultimately read the writing on the wall and leave, or repent and submit to Jesus as His disciple. Jesus let people who would not submit to Him walk away. As a disciple of Jesus, you must be willing to imitate Jesus and do the same.
 
Moreover, if you are a pastor or a church leader, you owe it to the true believers within your congregation (who actually want to imitate Jesus as His disciple) to allow the false believers who are impeding their growth to leave. And if you are unwilling to do so because the false believers are the majority and the true believers are the minority; then you are a fraud and a liar and you are not called by God to lead a church.
 
This first principle is:
 
The Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship. The ultimate goal of the Gospel is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be (Genesis 1:27, 1 Corinthians 11:7, Matthew 5:48, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:22-24, 5:1, Colossians 3:9-10, 2 Peter 1:4).
 
I learned this principle from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and A.W. Tozer; and more importantly, from Jesus and the Apostles in Scripture. This principle demonstrates WHY we must imitate Jesus as His disciple. To not be concerned about being conformed to the image of Jesus is to not be concerned that God receives the glory that He is due. And if someone is not concerned that God receive the glory that He is due, then they are clearly an unbeliever; no matter what they say.
 
In teaching this principle, you will have to spend a significant amount of time teaching through the scriptural prooftexts and the historical sources that demonstrate that the church has historically taught this principle. This is because this principle has not been taught in the recent history of the church and so it will sound new to church members in our culture and context. But it is not new. It is clearly stated in scripture and has been historical argued by great men in the church.
 
Putting the four principles together, they logically work through a progression:
 
  1. The Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship. The ultimate goal of the Gospel is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be (Genesis 1:27, 1 Corinthians 11:7, Matthew 5:48, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:22-24, 5:1, Colossians 3:9-10, 2 Peter 1:4).

 

  1. The Purpose of Imitating Jesus as His Disciple. The goal of men being re-conformed to the image of God is accomplished by men imitating Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) as His disciple; through the empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 15:49, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Galatians 2:20, Philippians 2:1-5, 3:7-11, Colossians 1:15, 1:28-29, 2:2-3, 2:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Timothy 3:12,Titus 3:4-6, Hebrews 3:1, 6:1, 12:1-3, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:1-4, 2-21, 2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:6, 3:3, 4:17).

 

  1. The First Century, Biblical Understanding of Discipleship. Imitating Jesus as His disciple begins (but does not end) with specifically learning and then keeping the words, teachings, commands, and example that He gave during His earthly ministry. It is simply impossible to imitate someone without knowing what they said and did (Matthew 7:24-29, 10:24-25, 11:25-30, 12:41-42, 13:16-17, 13:34-35, 17:5, 24:35; Mark 4:24-25, 4:33-34, 6:34, 8:38, 9:7, 13:31; Luke 6:46-49, 9:35, 10:24, 10:38-42, 11:31-32, 17:10, 19:47-48, John 3:31-36, 4:25-26, 4:40-42, 5:24, 5:38-39, 5:46-47, 6:28-29, 6:63, 6:66-69, 8:31-32, 8:51, 9:26, 10:27, 12:48, 13:34-35, 14:12, 14:15, 14:23-26, 15:7-17, 15:20-24, 16:6-8).

 

  1. Biblical Discipleship in a Relational Environment (Relational Discipleship). Being conformed to the image of Jesus by imitating Him as His disciple is not a passive process, but an active/interactive process that occurs within a relational environment; which was established and demonstrated by Jesus during His earthly ministry (Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 14:40, 2 Timothy 2:2).

 

So, there you have it. No more excuses. Here is a clear path to determining who is a false believer within a church congregation and who is actually willing to abandon all in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple and be conformed to His image to the glory of God.
 
The only conceivable reasons I can come up with not to teach these four principles is:
 
  1. You think we are wrong. If so, please let us know at HWHWF1@outlook.com. But be warned, we have spent a lot of time on this and we will vigorously defend our position.

 

  1. You have found a better method. If you think so, please contact us at HWHWF1@outlook.com. But again, if we think your method is incomplete or it is just saying one or more of the four principles in a different way; we will tell you so. But, if we are convinced that you do have a better method, we will adopt it.

 

  1. You are afraid to find out who is a false believer in your church. And you are probably correct to be afraid. Our experience has been that people will surprise you both ways. You will both be surprised at who listens and at who rejects it. But that is no reason not to do it. If fear is the only thing stopping you from teaching these four principles; then you probably need to step down from being a pastor or church leader.

 

  1. You still aren’t completely convinced and you would like to learn more. Start here and follow the links to each article. If still not completely convinced, let us know why at HWHWF1@outlook.com. Better yet, come and visit us on a Sunday morning. Here is our location.

 

 
 

The Four Principles of Discipleship…

 

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash