March 29, 2017

Five “R's” of the Cycle of Christian Discipleship

If you think about how the first disciples lived with Christ and received first-hand gems of truth from his teachings, you can't help but sense that there was excitement and inspiration in this. But today, if you mention the word "discipleship," you'll probably get an odd look. A Barna Poll shows that biblical illiteracy is rising in the US and there is little interest in spiritual truth and evangelism. And so questions arise: Is Christian discipleship still valid? And why isn't there more of it?

Today, the word "disciple" is bound to get more Google hits for a heavy metal rock band or a clothing company than as a spiritual subject. But the etymology and root basis of "disciple" is based on the New Testament biblical disciples of Jesus Christ: “Biblical borrowing from Latin discipulus "pupil, student, follower," said to be from discere "to learn"...”

Discipleship is marked as one of the most important subjects of Christ's teachings. But what exactly it consists of and how it fits into today's life style is widely interpreted. I'd like to offer five Bible verses that highlight the nature of Christian discipleship and how it applies today. And I'd also like to address the question as to why it's an unpopular subject, even for true believers of the Christian Church at large. The fact is, discipleship was taught as a central message by Christ, who suggested that it is essentially a cyclical process that was meant to be repeated:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV)

The same Creator that gave us the four seasons began the spiritual cycle of discipleship reproduction. In one way or another, all Christians today are a result of Christ teaching the first disciples and the disciples continuing to teach others in a cycle of teaching that continues from one generation to the next, all based on the accumulated Old Testament teachings, additional quoted teachings of Christ, and writings of the apostles. I'm not claiming that there has been a direct succession of personal discipleship because I don;t believe that this is knowable. But there has been a pattern.

Charles Spurgeon held to a belief in Baptist successionism, which offers that there has been an unbroken chain of churches since the days of John the Baptist which have held beliefs similar to those of current Baptists. This point is not an issue for me one way or another. But this is the basis with which Spurgeon refused to identify himself as a Protestant.

Discipleship is based on the word of God, defined by Christ as spiritual "seed" that is sown and bears fruit. This original "heirloom seed" of the word of God remains powerful and fruitful through each generation. God calls people to sow this pure seed, to help see it mature in discipleship, and then to help others resow it again. I've listed some points as Five "R's" of Christian Discipleship that can help to identify aspects of this process, not to be confused with the Five R's of Ecology, the Five Rs of Running Recovery, or Five-R Muscle Coaches...

The same Creator that gave us the four seasons, began the spiritual cycle of discipleship reproduction.

Five “R's” of the Cycle of Christian Discipleship...

RESPOND to Christ's calling, through Christ's fellowship, and for Christ's purpose: "He appointed twelve (designating them apostles), that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach." (Mark 3:14 NIV). The plan of redemption through spiritual regeneration is a part of God's master plan that every Christian should be aware of.

RENEW your strength and mind and in the Spirit and wisdom of God, as based on spending time with Christ and learning of him: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 NIV). "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2 NIV).

REJECT false teaching and the idolatry of worldly things for the higher cause of God's pleasure and God's glory: "Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it."  (Luke 9:23-24 NIV). A part of discipleship is teaching accurately, "to obey everything" that Christ taught (Matthew 28:20). And this includes testing all things related to doctrine (1 Thessalonians 5:21). A mature and solid teacher does not fear or discourage questions and tests of doctrine, but welcomes this, as Paul did with the Bereans (Acts 17:11).

REFLECT God's nature, will, and love, for example, as demonstrated by love among fellow believers and followers of Christ: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV). Learning to love God, love others, and to receive love, are all aspects of giving utmost glory to God with our lives.

REPEAT the process, as a basis of helping to mature believers and for spreading the gospel. Jesus called on believers to pray that he would send out laborers into his harvest (Matthew 9.38), and his mandate to reproduce and build up disciples is known as The Great Commission. According to Christ's example, investing in the lives of others' growth should be a top priority.

The subject of Christian discipleship confronts us with a noble calling that is much larger than ourselves and much greater than our own personal goals and sense of fulfillment, because the subject of discipleship centers on God's will and God's great pleasure of seeing lost souls come to know eternal life with God, and by using weak vessels of clay like us.

It's important to emphasize that we are following Christ above all, not only men or organizations. The Apostle Paul emphasized: "When one of you says, "I am a follower of Paul," and another says, "I follow Apollos," aren't you acting just like people of the world?" (1 Corinthians 3:4 NLT). And it's also important to clarify that formal discipleship is not required for salvation, which is the essence of a doctrine called "Lordship Salvation" (LS), and this offers an un-scriptural "works-based" view of salvation.

To summarize Christian discipleship in one sentence:

Christian discipleship is a cycle initiated by Christ, based on a commitment to fellowship with Christ and to follow Christ through the cross and to the harvest, as we intentionally help others to know, follow and teach about Christ, all the while depending on the power, guidance and wisdom of God, as imparted by the Holy Spirit.

Why is Christian discipleship unpopular in the Christian Church today?

I believe that there are many reasons why Christian discipleship is unpopular. One of the top reasons is probably that present culture increasingly vilifies Christian values and priorities, and so Christians are swayed by the opinions of peers and media and pressured to be silent and passive, not proactive. This can be defined as a culture war and also as a spiritual war that is behind the scenes of the culture war. Ephesians 6:12 outlines: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (NIV). Besetting sins, the flesh, the world and Satan, also obstruct progress. Seminaries today are subjectively redefining sin and increasingly producing priests and pastors that do not even believe that much of the Bible is true and relevant. A 2010 poll by Barna shows that biblical literacy and motivation for following spiritual principles are on the decrease in the US.

Barna lays a lot of the blame for a lack of accurate and intentional discipleship at the feet of institutional churches that are becoming increasingly humanistic and apathetic towards false doctrine: "Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled judgmental. The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies."

Physical "face time" is lacking today in society, simply spending time together, something that has been considered a basis of discipleship. Another reason is simply a lack of time. Though we have more gadgets that save us time in society, people are increasingly in survival mode, struggling economically, spending more time working just to pay rent, buy food and to pay bills. Despite all of these challenges, I personally believe that the Church, myself included, should try to make discipleship easier and pray for creative solutions in order to fulfill Christ's mandate of The Great Commission. And I'd like add this: Be encouraged that Monsanto can never corrupt and hijack the powerful seed of scripture.


Do you consider discipleship something that is important for the Church today?

Are my priorities in keeping with the higher priority that Jesus outlined in "The Great Commission" of making disciples?

Am I intentionally helping to disciple anyone else in the power of the Holy Spirit?


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