Christ in Discipleship
The tradition of the Christian discipleship dates back to the appearance of Christianity. It is based on the example of the life of Jesus Christ, which can be definitely called the central issue that determines the Christian world view and the doctrine of the discipleship. The importance of the centrality of Christ can be explained by the similarity of the main characteristics of the discipleship like the obedience and the stages of understanding God with the same issues of the life and atonement of Jesus depicted in the New Testament.
CENTRALITY OF CHRIST IN DISCIPLESHIP
There are numerous Biblical evidences that show the central place of the example of Jesus in the Christian ministry and discipleship. It is possible to find the lines about the central place of Christ in the book of Colossians, where Paul tells to search for the divine above, where Christ is, on the right hand of God the Father. Those Christians who want to become better, and to understand the virtue, need to look for the inspiration in the divine things, not on those that can be found on the earth (Colossians 3:1-3). They need to follow the divine example in order to fight with the death. That means that they to defeat idolatry, covetousness, evil desires, passion, impurity and sexual immorality. Such things provoke God’s wrath (Colossians 3:5-6). People of all nations are equal in the eyes of God, unless they follow the example of His Son (Colossians 3:11).
Christ is in all of the living people and He is at the same time everything in the universe. The main idea of becoming a disciple of Christ is rejecting the own self and trying to achieve holiness of the Son of God. It is possible only by replacing the old sinful personality with the one of Jesus. If the focus is shifted from Christ in understanding the notion of being a disciple, the message of the true love is lost. 1
It is a strange phenomenon, but many of the contemporary theologians and philosophers of Christianity try to understand what they are believing in with the help of negations. They make attempts to figure out what they are not, what the Christian religion is not. At the same time the initial meaning from the Holy Scripture is completely another. 2 It is written in John 13:35 that everyone will know His disciples, when all of them will love their brothers. The entire process starts from salvation with the Gospel in its center. Jesus Christ is in the center of the Gospel.
Such system shows that the tradition of the Christian discipleship is not connected with the theories, the strict ethical code that a disciple has to follow, but it is Christ centered and devotion to Him is the most essential component. Prayer, devotion and love to Jesus will change the soul of the disciple.
OBEDIENCE IN DISCIPLESHIP
Obedience is one of the most important aspects in being a disciple, because once the person decides to chose this path, he/she acknowledges Jesus as the center of his/her life, and follows His example. Christ talks about obedience during the Sermon on the Mount. It is written in Matthew 5:5 : “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth”. Obedience is the strength of the meek, their power that allows them to accomplish the task their master gives them. It is not right to think that Jesus wanted his disciples to become empty people without mind and desires. He wanted them to overcome their human weaknesses, which is impossible without obedience to the will of Christ, and to become the glory of God with their purified souls.
Bonhoeffer writes about the possibility of being a disciple of Christ without being obedient to His will. 3 He states that it is impossible, because the obedience is the main trait of character that made the life of the Son of God holy and helped Him to expiate the sins of the humankind. Without obedience or submission the entire tradition of discipleship is turned into the search of cheap grace. It is possible to justify the sin with the cheap grace gives justification for the sin, however the sinner is not forgiven. Such approach is not acceptable for those faithful Christians who decided to chose a more difficult path and to become the disciples of Christ. 4They need to search for the grace that requires high prices, that are payed by constant prayer and virtuous life by the example of Jesus. According the theologian, the notion of costly grace is called this way because becoming a disciple is costly, and following Jesus is grace. It is also costly because people have to give their life, and it is grace because it makes the sense of their living. 5
There can not be partial submission for a disciple like there was none in the life of Christ, so Jesus expects the same obedience from those Christians who decided to follow Him. The words from Matthew 26:39 describe it in a good way: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will”. The disciple has to try to live as Jesus did, because His way is superior to the ones that exist in the world.
It is not easy to achieve complete obedience, it is possible only after the life of the disciple is transformed by the world of the Gospel. Earley and Dempsey call a disciple a protégé, who follows the instructions and the precepts of the teacher and learns this way. 6 They write that the word disciple stands for the student or the learner. It is used to denote a protégé who prays, works on improvement of himself and follows the instructions and the precepts of his teacher. A disciple adopts the lifestyle of his teacher and God, and al this is based on the complete obedience. 7
THREE STAGES OF DISCIPLESHIP
Earley and Dempsey point out three main stages in the Christian discipleship. The first stage is called Declaration and it supposes that the disciple will investigate into the issue, repent and acquire faith in Christ. On the second stage, Development, the emphasis is made on changing the old life style to the new one, which will be the ministry and the apprenticeship. Deployment is the last third stage and it supposes intentional global commissioning. 8
The three stages show the development of the disciple. He/she starts from salvation, continues training and ends by giving of what the person acquired to the rest of the world. In fact, it is the ministry that the faithful Christian who decided to separate from the secular world has to do. This is the logical progress of the faithful Christian who decided to follow Jesus and the stages can not be skipped or mixed. 9
The goal of the Salvation stage is to make the disciple understand his/her sinful nature, repent and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. When the disciple finally achieves the committed belief and repents, he/she passes to the second stage. It is possible to assume that the second and the third stages do not have the end, because it is the life long process of becoming ready to serve Christ and the serving itself. The second stage can not be completed because of the sinful human nature, that is constantly tempted by evil. When the Christians start their ministry, which is the third stage, they still make themselves remember that their body is sinful, and their spirit is far from virtue, and such discipline helps them to maintain the way of Christ disciples. 10 Constant work on self improvement, prayer and ministry can not be performed without obedience and true faith in God.
Not all Christians think that attending the church every Sunday and praying every day is enough. Some of them decide that becoming a disciple in order to purify their souls and live according to the words of the Holy Scripture. The discipleship is based upon the life and the sufferings of Jesus Christ, which are the central components of the tradition. It is possible to divide the discipleship into three states, based on the work of Dempsey and Earley. They are Declaration, Development and Deployment. In fact, they show the way that every faithful Christian who decided to become a disciple has to pass. After repenting, there goes the stage of self improvement, which does not have a defined end, and it lasts during the entire ministry, which is the third stage. Obedience or submission is the most important component that makes the discipleship possible. The analogy of the disciple’s obedience to the words of the Gospels and to the will of Jesus Christ has much in common with the submission of Christ to God the Father. The readiness Jesus shows to follow every will of God and submission in the face of the destiny made the refinement of the human sins possible. That is why it is possible to claim that the example of Jesus is the main central idea in the Christian discipleship.
Barna, George. Growing True Disciples. Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press, 2001.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.
Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is… Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2013.
Kinnaman, David, and Gabe Lyons. Unchristian. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2007.
Putman, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman. Discipleshift. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013.
1Barna George. Growing True Disciples (Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press, 2001), 52.
2Kinnaman David, Gabe Lyons. Unchristian (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2007), 24.
3Bonhoeffer Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4: Discipleship (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 66 – 68.
5Putman Jim, Bobby Harrington, Robert E. Coleman. Discipleshift (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 81.
6Earley Dave, Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is… (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 14 – 15.
8Ibid., 52 – 53.
10Ibid., 56 – 58.