Why Do We Keep Repeating Ourselves?

Ok everybody, time for a little theology/history lesson. Buckle up because this could get a little curvy trying to get to my point…
 
 
The Rediscovery of Believers Baptism by Immersion
 
Baptism of believers by immersion had largely been lost during the Middle Ages. Instead, it had become the norm to baptize all infants within the remnants of the Roman Empire under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.
 
However, preceding and concurring with the Protestant Reformation, there was a rediscovery of the baptism of believers by immersion. Simply stated, through studying the Scripture, believers became convinced that only those who had made a choice to follow Jesus should be baptized by immersion, in contradiction to the Roman Catholic Church which baptized all infants by sprinkling.
 
These believers had become convinced that Scripture taught something very specific and therefore they must follow the teachings of Scripture exactly as prescribed.
 
It seems strange now, but those who began to practice baptism of believers by immersion were branded as heretics, and faced persecution and even death at the hands of not only the Roman Catholic Church, but also at the hands of other Protestants who continued to practice infant baptism such as Lutherans and Anglicans.
 
While you may not be a Baptist in name, if you belong to an Evangelical church that practices the baptism of believers by immersion, that practice most likely came to you through the Baptist faith.
 
The first “Baptist” church is generally considered to be a group of English Separatist who had exiled themselves to Amsterdam. There, possibly through the influence of Anabaptist, they became convinced of believer’s baptism. Afterwards, a group of them returned England and established the first Baptist church.
 
Roger Williams, a former Anglican Priest turned English Separatist, would go on to plant possibly the first Baptist church in the American colonies.
 
However, Baptists in both England and in America continuously faced persecution and even death for keeping what they believed to be the true teaching of Scripture. This persecution and the writings of Williams are often pointed to as factors that influenced the adoption of the concept of freedom of religion in the American Constitution.
 
The rediscovery of believer’s baptism by immersion was not an overnight development. It was a movement that spanned a couple of centuries which was incrementally worked out and accepted over time.
 
 
An Evangelical Distinctive
 
But understanding the history of the adoption of believer’s baptism by immersion by Evangelical Protestants raises some serious questions for Evangelicals today.
 
If you belong to an Evangelical Protestant church, you most likely hold to the premise that believer’s baptism by immersion is the practice that is supported by Scripture; and if you are a pastor or leader in such a church you can probably defend that position from Scripture.
 
Scripture presents baptism as a picture of both the physical death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the spiritual death, burial, and resurrection of His disciples.
 
“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-4).
 
“Your whole self, ruled by the flesh, was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12).
 
Believer’s baptism by immersion is a picture of Jesus’ disciples burying their dead, fallen selves and of their new selves being resurrected in His image.
 
But, if you lived in the day and age when you would be persecuted and possibly lose your livelihood, or even your life, for holding that position, would you still hold it and defend it?
 
That is to ask, would your commitment to scriptural truth be worth paying a high price when it came to believer’s baptism? Or would you consider it something not worth losing your livelihood or life over?
 
But then, if you considered believer’s baptism by immersion to be scripturally accurate, but at the same time you were not prepared to pay a price to defend it, could you really claim to be committed to the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture?
 
Because this is the point: Evangelicals are not committed to believer’s baptism by immersion simply in and of itself. Evangelicals are committed to believer’s baptism by immersion because they are committed to the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture; and they hold to the premise that believer’s baptism is prescribed by Scripture.
 
And throughout the history of the church, men and women have been willing to pay a high price in the face of persecution, and even death, in order to do and teach exactly what Scripture prescribes and teaches.
 
But even a commitment to the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture is not an end in and of itself.
 
Ultimately, Evangelicals are committed to Jesus. They are only committed to the inerrancy of Scripture because it was taught by Jesus and by His earliest disciples (who would have learned it from Him).
 
Therefore, Evangelicals are committed to teaching and observing believer’s baptism by immersion because they believe that Scripture teaches that Jesus taught and demonstrated believer’s baptism by immersion; and they view doing so as a commitment to Him as His disciple.
 
 
The History of the Rediscovery of Discipleship in the Modern Evangelical Church
 
Like believer’s baptism by immersion, understanding what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus was largely lost during the Middle Ages.
 
When looking back across Christian history, one can find instances of discipleship being rediscovered and practiced; even though often it was without using the words ‘disciple’ or ‘discipleship.’ The ministry of John Wesley is a prime example. While Wesley would preach to thousands in open fields, he would also organize Bible study groups of those who had come to hear him preach.
 
But for multiple reasons (a much longer article) the biblical concept of being a disciple of Jesus was replaced by the concept of being a member of a Christian society. While there is some overlap between the two, being a cultural Christian falls short of being a disciple of Jesus as it is presented in Scripture.
 
However, in the 19th century there began to be a rediscovery of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. One of the most important works from that time is A.B. Bruce’s The Training of the Twelve.
 
Published in 1872, The Training of the Twelve laid out the process by which Jesus trained his disciples to follow Him; and most importantly, how He moved them through a process of discipleship towards maturity in His image.
 
The rediscovery of being a disciple of Jesus continued into the 20th century. Two of the next significant milestones were The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer argued against the “cheap grace” of modern Christianity and that the purpose of following Christ as His disciple was to be re-conformed to the image of God through living and interacting in a community with other disciples of Jesus.
 
A.W. Tozer likewise wrote prolifically in the mid-20th century about the worldliness of modern Christianity in America and pointed to being re-conformed to the image of God by imitating Jesus as His disciple.
 
The next significant milestone in the rediscovery of discipleship in the modern Evangelical church was The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman in 1963. Coleman noted the influence of Bruce’s The Training of the Twelve on himself and his desire to follow in those footsteps.
 
Coleman’s book is as much about discipleship as it is evangelism (if there really even is a differentiation). The Master Plan is cited by many modern discipleship leaders as one of the greatest influences on them.
 
In the 1980s, Bill Hull, who was strongly influenced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, began publishing books about discipleship, which culminated in his The Complete Book of Discipleship.
 
In the 1990s philosopher Dallas Willard began to write about discipleship, arguing that the modern church had lost it’s focus on being conformed to the image of Jesus, which is the purpose of being His disciple.
 
At the same time, Avery Willis was developing and publishing the MasterLife materials in his effort to introduce discipleship into the SBC. Willis would go on to develop “storying” as an integral part of discipleship.
 
At the beginning of the 21st century, Jim Putman took the ideas of all of these men and planted a church using the concept of Relational Discipleship. Putman would team up with Willis to introduce a church-wide “storying” type of discipleship within their small groups.
 
Like the rediscovery of believer’s baptism by immersion, the rediscovery of being a disciple of Jesus has not been an overnight development. It is a movement that has now spanned a couple of centuries and is being incrementally worked out and accepted over time. We are still in a state of working it out and understanding it.
 
 
Theories of the Basis of Discipleship
 
As part of the continuing development of understanding exactly what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, there has been a continuous discussion as to the exact “why” we are to be disciples of Jesus. This of course is an important question to ask if we are attempting to explain to people and churches who are accustom to cultural Christianity.
 
Like those who were asked to leave behind the accepted custom of infant baptism by sprinkling for believer’s baptism by immersion, it needs to be clearly explained to them why they should leave behind cultural Christianity to follow and imitate Jesus as His disciple.
 
As we continue to work out and understand being a disciple of Jesus, multiple explanations as to “why” we should imitate and obey Jesus as His disciples have been put forth. There is quite a bit of similarity and overlap in many of these:

 

  • Out of gratitude for our salvation
  • Jesus commanded us to
  • Jesus/God has the authority to tell us what to do
  • Jesus/God is King
  • It is how the church is multiplied
  • It is how men are brought to salvation
  • It is how the Kingdom of God is made manifest
  • It is how justice and equality are established on the earth
  • Et cetera…

 

All of these statements carry an element of truth, but none of them are the reason that Scripture gives as to why we are to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple.
 
Throughout Scripture and throughout the history of the church, there stands out one specific reason as to “why” we are to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple:
 
The end goal of the Gospel (and therefore discipleship) is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be. This re-conformity into the image of God is accomplished by men being conformed to the image of Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) by imitating and obeying Him as His disciple (through the supernatural enlightenment and empowerment of the Holy Spirit).
 
 
The Importance of Re-Conformity
 
The Bible is a book written to men from God to explain His purpose of their existence and what their proper response should be. In this divinely inspired book, men are introduced to themselves and their purpose with these words:
 
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
 
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:26-28).
 
Man was made in the image of God to bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 11:7), which was to be expressed through their dominion over God’s creation. However, the conflict in the plot of the Bible is quickly introduced when mankind fails to fulfill this purpose, and along with the creation that has been placed under his dominion, he falls into the curse.
 
Moreover, this curse specifically affects the expression of the image of God within mankind. No longer does mankind have perfect dominion over God’s creation and no longer are they able to fill creation with God’s glory through the multiplication of His image-bearers (Genesis 3:16-19, 5:1-3).
 
As Paul wrote: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
 
But in the climax of his letter to the Ephesians (which was a circular letter to all the extant churches), Paul wrote that through imitating Jesus as His disciple, mankind could be re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be:
 
“You heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness “ (Ephesians 4:21-24).
 
And this is not an obscure idea in Scripture. The majority of the books of the New Testament have either an allusion or a direct reference to being conformed to the image of Jesus/God. Along with Jesus paying the price of our fallenness on the Cross and then overcoming death through His resurrection, it is one of the central concepts of Scripture.
 
In fact, these concepts are intertwined. Jesus paid the price of our sins and was raised from the dead so that He might rescue, redeem, and resurrect the image of God within us; so that God might receive the glory that He is due from us.
 
Ultimately the Bible is the story of how God created mankind to magnify and reflect His glory through man acting as God’s image by having dominion over God’s creation. And while man failed to accomplish his purpose, God did not fail in His.
 
Jesus was sent to rescued and restored the image of God within mankind through both His life and His death. His death paid the price of mankind’s fallenness, but His life is the pattern by which mankind is be restored to their original purpose of rendering glory unto God.
 
The story of the Bible concludes with those who have submitted to imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple being completely restored along with the rest of creation, and then mankind finally fulfilling their original purpose of being the perfect image of God by having dominion over a re-perfected creation.
 
And not only is this concept taught in Scripture (which should be enough), it has been historically taught by men such as Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement, Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Basil of Caesarea, John Calvin, John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A.W. Tozer, and C.S. Lewis.
 
 
Why is This Important Now?
 
So why does it matter if we teach the correct reason as to why we are to be and make disciples of Jesus?
 
For the same reason that we need to get baptism correct.
 
Because Scripture teaches a specific reason why.
 
Because we are to be committed to teaching Scripture correctly.
 
Because Jesus was committed to teaching Scripture correctly.
 
Because we are committed to imitating Jesus as His disciple.
 
Because if Scripture teaches a specific reason as to why we are to be and make disciples of Jesus, but at the same time we are not prepared to pay the price to teach and defend that reason, can we really claim to be committed to the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture?
 
 
But What About Churches and Church Leaders in the Past That Did Not Teach This?
 
As stated, the rediscovery of being a disciple of Jesus has been a process that has now spread out over a couple of centuries. We are still working out the particulars.
 
Just because churches and church leaders in the past did not get the reason behind discipleship correct (although some did), that is not an excuse to continue to teach incorrect reasons.
 
Just as there came a point in church history where churches, pastors, and believers had to choose to get baptism right regardless of what had been done in the past; we have to make a decision to get this right and to teach what Scripture teaches.
 
 
Our Current Culture
 
Because honestly, the church of the past is dead. The internet and the smartphone killed it. There is no such thing as a small country church that is isolated and protected from the rest of society.
 
Younger generations have access to more theological information in the palms of their hands than a pastor coming out of seminary with a PhD did just a few decades ago.
 
And at the same time, younger generations have more deceptive information competing for their souls and their minds in the palms of their hands than the worst sinner had just a few decades ago.
 
Just a couple of decades ago, we could afford to not get the reasons behind being a disciple of Jesus exactly right; because we were isolated and protected from some of the enemy’s deception.
 
But now we cannot. We are in an all-out war for the souls and lives of the younger generations. The enemy is bringing out his biggest guns; we need to bring out ours.
 
We need to tell the same story that the Bible tells if we expect to rescue and redeem the lost from his deception.
 
To overcome deception, we must tell the full truth.
 
If we are dedicated to Jesus, if we are dedicated to Scripture, if we are dedicated to the truth; then we must teach the truth that Scripture teaches, no matter what it costs us.
 
So, to answer the question in the title…
 
We will keep repeating it until we see people do it.
 
 

 

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 Leonardo Sanches on Unsplash