Why Do We Keep Repeating Ourselves? Part 2: The Repetition Strikes Back

 
“Remember the purpose you have undertaken, and keep in mind the image of the Crucified. Even though you may have walked for many years on the pathway to God, you may well be ashamed if, with the image of Christ before you, you do not try to make yourself still more like Him.”
 
~ Thomas `a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
 
Sometimes, problems take a long time to solve. In 2018, graduate student Lisa Piccirillo solved the Conway knot problem in less than a week in her spare time. The problem had stumped mathematicians for decades. Piccirillo only mentioned in passing to a professor that she had solved the problem, not realizing how long it had escaped a solution.
 
In the previous article, we wrote about how it took more than a couple of centuries for believer’s baptism by immersion to become an acceptable practice within Christianity after its’ rediscovery. During the time that it took for the practice to become acceptable, believers were persecuted and even killed for observing believer’s baptism by immersion.
 
We then compared the rediscovery of believer’s baptism by immersion to the more recent rediscovery of Christian discipleship. Like the rediscovery of baptism by immersion, the rediscovery of imitating Jesus as His disciple was not immediately accepted by the church at large.
 
The rediscovery of imitating Jesus as His disciple has now spanned over a century and is deep into a second century. That is to say, even though we have been at this awhile, we are still sorting out the particulars.
 
Along the way, new perspectives to be considered arise which possibly fill in gaps and holes. Sometimes solutions matriculate slowly; sometimes fresh eyes find a solution quickly.
 
For 40 years of my life, I was unaware of what it meant to imitate Jesus as His disciple even though I had been in church my entire life. I stumbled upon discipleship through an elective class in seminary. However, I quickly realized that it was the solution to the problems within American Christianity that I had observed.
 
What I did not realize was that Christian discipleship was still in the process of being rediscovered and sorted out. As a result, I learned what it meant to imitate and obey Jesus as his disciple in bits and pieces.
 
The first piece that I was taught was Biblical Discipleship in a Relational Environment (or Relational Discipleship for short). My primary source was Jim Putman and The Relational Discipleship Network.
 
My personal definition of the principle of Relational Discipleship is:
 
Being conformed to the image of Jesus by imitating and obeying 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.
 
However, within a year I had discovered the limitations of only knowing this one piece of the puzzle.
 
Relational environments are essential to being and making disciples. In fact, this is how all disciples are made; even disciples of things and people other than Jesus. Scripture even tells us that the Pharisees made disciples of themselves and their theology in relational environments using Scripture just as Jesus did (Matthew 23:15, Mark 2:18, Luke 5:33, Acts 22:3).
 
Unfortunately, I realized that churches and Christian organizations could use Relational Discipleship to make disciples of something or someone other than Jesus, and then employ the logical fallacy of semantics/equivocation to still call it “making disciples of Jesus.”
 
I would argue that this is what occurred to me for the first half of my life. I was taught to be a disciple of a particular type of church within a particular denomination, and then taught that this was what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. Therefore, there needs to be another principle employed to ensure that churches use Relational Environments to only make actual disciples of Jesus.
 
The answer that you typically hear is “Scripture.” However, remember that the Pharisees made disciples of themselves using Scripture within relational environments as well.
 
The big issue in my particular culture and context is that the majority of the churches actually claim to completely believe in and only use Scripture to make disciples. Moreover, they make those disciples within relational environments.
 
Therefore, the problem is not whether they make disciples using Scripture within relational environments, but rather which parts of Scripture that they use, and how they use them within those relational environments. Because when they claim to use all of Scripture, what they really mean are their favorite passages cherry-picked from all over Scripture, and then cobbled together to mean whatever they want to make them mean.
 
The solution to this problem was the second principle of discipleship that I was taught: The First Century, Biblical Understanding of Discipleship. The first two sources that I read which taught this principle were Dave Earley and Dallas Willard.
 
My explanation of this principle is:
 
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.
 
I realized that when local churches cherry-picked the Bible to make their disciples, they often completely skipped the words of Jesus, or butchered them to make them fit their narrative. Conversely, a first century disciple of Jesus would have large portions of what He said, commanded, and exemplified memorized; and would be striving to imitate and obey Him.
 
This then seemed to solve the problem; but there was another issue.
 
While studying discipleship, there was another principle that was just sort of floating out there: Re-conformity to the Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship. I first noticed this principle in Ephesians 4:24 and in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and A.W. Tozer.
 
This principle is:
 
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.
 
But what I was missing is how this principle was connected to the other two.
 
What did re-conformity to the image of God have to do with imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple within relational environments?
 
There had to be a fourth principle to connect them together.
 
The answer is found in Ephesians 4:20-24. Paul wrote that it is by imitating Jesus as His disciple that we put off the old fallen self, and that we are made new, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
 
Therefore, the missing principle is 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.
 
This fills in the gap between the other three principles and produces a logical flow of information:
 
  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.[1]

 

  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.[2]

 

  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.[3]

 

  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.[4]

 
But is it really important that we teach all four of these principles?
 
Yes, for several reasons:
 
  1. Because it is what Scripture teaches. That should really be enough.

 

  1. It is the main point of Scripture. The story of Scripture is not that Jesus died on the cross to pay for man’s fallenness. The central story of Scripture is that Jesus came to rescue and redeem the image of God within mankind so that they might fulfill their original purpose of rendering glory unto God; which required Jesus to pay the price for man’s fallenness, but also includes men being re-conformed to the image of God through imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciples.

 

  1. It provides a logical flow from “why” we are to be disciples of Jesus to “how” we are to be disciples of Jesus.

 

  1. It inhibits us from using Scripture and relational environments to make disciples of something or someone other that Jesus and then employing the logical fallacy of semantics to still call it “making disciples of Jesus.”

 

  1. Because it is what Scripture teaches (did I write that already?).

 

One cannot claim to teach the full counsel of Scripture if you do not explicitly teach all four of these principles. I don’t care what excuse you give; you are simply afraid to teach what is explicitly taught in Scripture and some of its’ most fundamental truths if you do not teach them.
 
If you are a pastor or church leader and you are afraid you will lose members if you teach them; then that is probably a good indication that you are making disciples of something or someone else other than Jesus (even if you still call it “making disciples of Jesus”).
 
And that is why we repeat ourselves so often. Because even though we keep saying it over and over again; we still see many churches refusing to teach these fundamental principles of what it means to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple and why we are to be doing so.
 
So, we will keep repeating these principles until we see churches and church leaders either teach what the Scripture so clearly teaches, or until they openly indicate their refusal to teach the full counsel of Scripture (but we’re mostly hoping for the first option).
 
 
For more information on why it is so important to repent from sin and then imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple, start here and follow the links the end of each article:
 
 
 
 

Photo by Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash

 
[1] 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.
 
[2] 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 1:3, 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.
 
[3] 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. 
 

[4] Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 14:40, 2 Timothy 2:2.