–April of 1999
The Great Omission
For the last half of this century, the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. Contemporary American churches, in particular, do not require following Christ in His example, spirit, and teachings as conditions for membership in the local body. Discipleship has clearly become optional.
This is not the New Testament way. The word “disciple” occurs 269 times in the New Testament. The New Testament itself is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ. The kind of life we see lived out in the earliest glimpses of the church is that special life that has all of the markings of a dedicated follower of Jesus. All of the assurances and promises afforded to mankind through the gospel message presupposes such a life and makes no sense apart from it.
The first command that Jesus left for the early church was to use the power of the Holy Spirit within and the authority of His Name to make disciples. Having made these disciples, they were to “baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” This was Christ’s plan for the growth of the church. Today, however, we have jettisoned the disciplines of discipleship and rushed wobbly-legged believers into membership. Many of these “converts” aren’t even converted. Thus we have filled the church with people who haven’t a clue as to what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and live out the life that He requires.
What it meant to be a disciple back then on the dusty roads of rural Palestine is essentially the same in today’s world of advanced theology. It still means to follow Jesus in an attitude of study, obedience and imitation. Disciples always seek above all else to be like Him. They are so intent on becoming Christlike that they prioritize their life around His Word and the affairs of His kingdom. They love their enemies, bless those who curse them, and in general seek to live out Christ to the world around them.
Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote the book, The Cost of Discipleship. It was a powerful essay against cheap grace. In it he writes, “One cannot be a disciple of Christ without forfeiting things normally sought in human life, and that the one who pays little in this world’s coinage to bear His name has reason to wonder where he or she stands with God.”
Fortunately, not every church has abandoned our Lord’s commission. The narrow road to Heaven is still trod by a faithful band of men and women wearing a cross-shaped yoke, who know the joy of being His disciples and following in His steps.