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Two Questions


??????????????????What does a disciple of Jesus look like?

??????????????????What are the specific responsibilities of a disciple??????

  Over the last few years, I've posed these two questions to a large number of pastors and laypeople, and not surprisingly, have received an array of different answers.  And because of the vast variety of answers, a consensus view of discipleship would at this time be difficult to attain.  If we were to try and adopt a common view, this sort of disagreement, based on the merging of many varying opinions, would naturally cause a great deal of the specifics to be removed.  Either the consensus view would be too bland (having most of the specifics taken out) to be worthwhile, or (having left all the variants in) it would be too rigid, keeping many who were a part of that process from being able to wholeheartedly, and without reservation, adopt such a view.  And this is a big problem.  We need specifics and unity.  I'll explain why in just a little while. 


In September of 1999, an international group of Christian leaders met in Eastbourne, England for a consultation on discipleship. They came away with this definition of discipleship:

While there are valid differences of perspective on what constitutes discipleship, we define Christian discipleship as a process that takes place within accountable relationships over a period of time for the purpose of bringing believers to spiritual maturity in Christ. Biblical examples suggest that discipleship is both relational and intentional, both a position and a process. We become disciples by turning from sin through repentance and turning to God through faith. The process of discipleship is played out in a vital life-giving relationship to God that enables us to walk in the light as He is in the light, and do the will of the Father (1 John 1:7; John 4:34). Jesus said if we hold to His teaching, then we are really His disciples (John 8:31), and we demonstrate this through loving one another (John 13:34-35).

They went on further to identify the "marks of a disciple":

Although the process of identifying effective discipleship tools or methods is affected by the culture and setting, we affirm that 1. the life of a disciple is marked by submission to Christ. Jesus said that we cannot be His disciples unless we give up our very lives (Luke 14:27). 2. the marks of true repentance in the life of a disciple are evidenced by ongoing transformation, personal holiness, compassionate service, and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). We acknowledge that perfection will not be achieved until we see Him face to face. True disciples do fail and are marked by humble repentance in response to personal failure, but recognize God's forgiveness and restoration in the journey.

* The entire document is on this site under the heading Eastbourne Discipleship

The Eastbourne Consultation Joint Statement on Discipleship, from which the two above excerpts were taken, was created in September of 1999.  The document was revised six times during its three day genesis, as reported by Robert Webber in Ancient-Future Evangelism.  The mere fact that it was revised six times speaks to the lack of continuity in Christendom today regarding a most important facet of our faith, namely discipleship.  Now, I want to make this excessively clear;  I applaud these men and women for their work in the area of discipleship.  I am glad they held this conference and would gladly support another.  But the problem I want to point out and address is not with this particular document or with their work.  Their document, in its revisions and lack of specifics, only serves to illustrate there is a problem; and that being, a universal lack of real consensus and direction regarding discipleship. 


Lack of Specifics

In the excerpts above, there is a glaring lack of specificity regarding the particulars of discipleship.  Now this lack can be attributed to the fact that these statements were created through a consensus process.  Obviously, the inclusion of details is almost impossible in a mutually agreed-upon conglomeration.  Let's look at the opening statement from each of the above paragraphs:  1. While there are valid differences of perspective on what constitutes discipleship..., and 2. Although the process of identifying effective discipleship tools or methods is affected by the culture and setting... .  Both of these statements admit the difference of opinion present in Christianity regarding discipleship.  Yet for a proper discipleship to Jesus Christ, which is necessarily about replication, we need specifics, we need a specific model, a clear and unified direction, for you cannot replicate that which is not known.  Let me restate that here:  If you want to replicate something, you have to know exactly what you are replicating; you need a blueprint.   



So Just What is a Disciple?

As it was commonly used in the first century, the word disciple meant a dedicated student; a learner bent on understanding and implementing what their master was attempting to teach them.  The master/disciple relationship (not confined to Jesus and The Twelve) was a very serious relationship in antiquity.  A master was a respected teacher and his disciple, a follower and subordinate learner; one seeking to learn a specific body of wisdom.  Today, we need to recapture the meaning of the word disciple as it was used in the first century; as it was used by Jesus and the Apostles.  The meaning is really rather simple: a dedicated follower, a learner desiring to replicate his or her master in exactly what they were teaching.  Jesus taught the Twelve a specific body of wisdom.  We need to learn and implement that specific body of wisdom in our own lives and then pass it on to others. 

So where is that specific body of wisdom

Matthew: The Man who Delivered Jesus' Command to his Readers

Jesus commanded His disciples:  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;... (Matthew 28:19-20a, NASB).  And it was Matthew, of course, who ended his gospel this way.  

Let me make this perfectly clear: Jesus was speaking about replication.  The Great Commission is all about replication.  But before anyone can replicate anything, they must know exactly what it is that they are replicating.  Likewise, if I were to tell you to replicate an engine of a Boeing 747, or any other thing for that matter, you wouldn't be able to unless you knew exactly what the original was like. 

Matthew purposefully made Jesus' order to replicate - or train others regarding that specific body of wisdom - the last statement of his Gospel.  The importance of this fact cannot be overstated.


The Difficult Problem

If we Christians are going to be obedient to Jesus, as we work towards fulfilling the Great Commission, we're going to have to be primarily concerned with His command for replication.  The very first step in replication is to have a full understanding of that which we have been commanded to be/make, and then replicate.  The action of 'replication' demands that we have this intimate and precise knowledge.  Consequently, if we don't fully know what it is that we are supposed to be replicating, how can we effectively do so?  Exactly what does a disciple look like?  What does he or she do?  What are their responsibilities?  Our inability to come up with a consensus that contains specifics reveals that we really aren't sure what it is we've been called to be/make.  We must be able to think and speak in specifics if we are to first, be effective disciples, then second, be replicators of the same.  We must be able to lay our hands on the specific body of wisdom; the curriculum Jesus taught and implement it in our own lives and know it well enough to pass along to others.  Can one obtain this specific body of wisdom from just a simple reading of the Gospel?  No.  Wisdom, in the Hebrew culture, was almost never given freely.  It must be sought out.  The actual curriculum of Christ is available from the Gospel of Matthew, but not through a simple and straightforward reading.  There are secrets and wisdom that lay purposefully hidden; secrets and wisdom that can be uncovered; secrets and wisdom reserved for the worthy and diligent seeker.  We must possess and personally apply this material before we can consider right and responsible replication.  I've talked to many believers who have said something like this, 'I believe I'm a disciple and I know I should be making other disciples.  But I'm just not sure how to go about it; no one trained me.  I mean, what really constitutes a disciple?  what does a disciple look like?  and what do they do?' 

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