Friday, June 5, 2020

Dramatically Different Discipleship

Perhaps the greatest difference between true Christianity and modern churchianity is discipleship. 

During His ministry on earth, Jesus had a number of men and women who traveled with Him wherever He went, bearing witness to His words and His works and becoming the men and women who shared His story with the world. We are most familiar with the twelve, but there were many more than these, and in the early pages of Christianity, we see them doing exactly what Jesus has called them to do - tell His story. 

When Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch on the road after Jesus's ascension, the eunuch is reading from the text of Isaiah. Philip climbs up into the chariot and shows him how this text points to the living, breathing Christ. When Peter goes out to spread the Gospel among the region, he talks freely about all the works Jesus has done for the blind, the lame, the poor, the sick. The Gospel writers, when they write about Him, remember seemingly every little encounter He ever had with even the most outcast members of society. They don't clean Him up for anyone. They go right ahead and put the Samaritan woman in His story. They talk freely about the tax collectors. They spare no rebuke for the Pharisees, just as Jesus Himself does not. Even Paul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, becomes a man who can speak about nothing but Christ and Him crucified. 

No matter where you turn in the pages of Gospel discipleship, you see men and women telling the story of Jesus, giving those who lived in a different time and place a real chance to meaningfully encounter Immanuel - God with us - in the very real flesh in which He lived. Through His words. Through His works. Through His own testimony. 

In contrast, we...just don't talk about Jesus that much. 

Ask us what it means to be a Christian, and we will talk about being a part of our church. We will talk about attending Sunday services and going on mission trips and serving in our communities and maybe even being a deacon over some kind of very specific ministry. Ask us about what being a Christian even means, and we will point you to a book. We will even give you a copy of the Bible, put it right in your hands. And we'll expect you to read it. But whatever follow-up questions we have will be about the text, not about the characters. Our Christian education centers around the literature, not the living God. 

Be a little more specific still and ask us about discipleship, and we will start naming for you the members of our accountability group or the mentors who have led us in the faith. A disciple is just a student, right? So we will tell you of the men and women of whom we have been students. That pastor we met in our church growing up who shaped the way that we approached the Scriptures, the first elder to ever take an interest in us, the old married couple who counseled us through a rocky patch and showed us how to be better followers of Christ.

Perhaps that's it. Perhaps that's where our greatest trouble lies. We have come to call ourselves followers of Christ, trying to live "good" and "decent" and "loving" lives the way that Jesus lived and letting our stories be defined by how well we pull that off. Letting our faith be told by how we live it, rather than by how He lived. 

The truth is that we're pathetic disciples, most of us. We just aren't talking about Jesus. We just aren't telling His story. We just aren't making sure that our world, who live in a different time and place, have a chance to have a meaningful encounter with the living God. Instead, we try to give them ourselves and our own example and show them that somehow, that's enough. That they, too, can be enough. Even when we profess with our lips that without Jesus, we're nothing. 

You would never have seen Peter brag about what an awesome experience it was to be a disciple and try to get the people to follow his road; he wanted them on Jesus's path. He wanted them to know who Jesus was. Whatever little bit he had to tell them about Peter to help them understand, he would, but he wasn't about to make himself the center of the Gospel he was proclaiming. The same is true with Paul. With John Mark. With Luke. With Matthew. With Philip. With Bartholomew. With Thomas. Every single one of these men pointed with a single mind toward Jesus. Ask them what it means to be a disciple, and they would tell you without hesitation who Jesus was. 

Ask us, and we'll tell you who we are. Ask us, and we'll tell you who our church is. Ask us, and we'll tell you who our pastor is. And spoiler alert: our pastor is not Jesus. 

We have to become disciples again, not simply followers of Christ. We have to become those who use our lives to point to His. We have to stop being about the literature and start being about the Living God. We have to stop being about our programs and start being about His presence. When we tell our stories, they ought to be His stories, of which we are blessed to be but a small part. 

If we want to get away from our modern churchianity, we have to untie our sandals and step back on the shores of Galilee and start from the place where it all begins, where God created the universe, set us in it, and came to walk alongside us, that we may know Him and not merely ourselves. 

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