Making Disciples - Revisiting the Commission - Jesus' Secret Plan

With Brian McLaren's new book The Secret Message of Jesus reaching stores in a few months, I've been thinking a lot about what Jesus came here to do. What was the point? I'm not sure of the exact direction Brian has taken, but I have some thoughts of my own about the nature of Jesus’ commission.

Of course we all have our Christianese answers, mass-marketed, canned or prepackaged for easy digestion. But I know we're missing something, and more and more, those of us taking part in the emergent conversation are realizing just how deep our misunderstandings have buried us.

Let's begin the long climb out...

Without being overly disparaging of the Church (as I confess I have a deep and overzealous inclination to do) I believe that Jesus' "Kingdom" was meant to be both spiritual and physical and that as a religious movement, Christianity has lost sight of its central focus – the Integral Mission of the Church.

Let me elaborate: when we talk about the Church's greatest commandment - its central purpose - its mission statement - we cite the Great Commission. “Go make disciples!”

But why? Why must we make disciples? What are they supposed to do, and what's the point of our discipling?

We talk a lot about Discipleship today in terms of "accountability partners" or personal mentors. The Shepherding Movement of the 1980s was a good example of this view of discipleship taken to an extreme. In some instances, one's personal bank account statements were reviewed to ensure "holy living." That's a whole other can of worms to be disected, but a good example of what I still tend to think of when discussing “discipleship.” Overbearing, high pressure “mentors.”

The other view of a disciple is much more passive, both in its meaning and in its manifestation among believers. Essentially, disciples are regarded no differently than "believers" who accept (i.e. mental assent...) the teachings of Jesus. Little action. Little change. Shiney happy subculture.

Back in college I used to dream of joining the Peace Corps, but I specifically remember hearing a sermon about evangelism and "realizing," with a note of self-condemnation, that nothing but salvation had value... it was sad. How typical of the church as a whole! We have so devalued the Earth and the Life God has given us that we turn our heads, close our eyes and pretend we're already in Heaven.

Alright, perhaps I'm getting off track on this discussion of discipleship - or maybe not… I believe that the practical expansion of the Kingdom of God (the Kingdom of Heaven... maybe the same, maybe slightly different... semantics...) IS the Great Commission of Jesus. The Great Commission is to make disciples, and the purpose of the disciples is to establish the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. This is both a physical and a spiritual kingdom, as we take care of the poor and the widows, and as we call on and manifest the power of the Holy Spirit.

The dictionary definition of disciple is "One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another." I think we (the Church) stopped at "One who embraces" the teachings, and forgot about “assistance.” Let's face it, even Marcus Borg said in one lecture: "Mental assent is easy - show me how your faith transforms lives and communities." He's right, even if you disagree with his theology. Borg is responding to a failure of the church to understand what the Kingdom really means and how our commission as believers fits in.

We pushed the Kingdom into the far future of dispensational eschatology so we wouldn’t have to worry about it.

"The Kingdom is God's problem. We just have to get people saved!"

But no it isn't just God's problem - and there's so much more to saving people than simply changing their worldview. There’s a deep discussion there, too: Christianity as a Worldview vs. Christianity as an Endeavor.

Jesus promised transformation and healing in the Kingdom of Heaven, but that was too tall an order for us! We dumbed it down for our own sanity (who, afterall, could imagine taking Jesus words literally?) and made Salvation into a long-term retirement plan with a small initial investment and no subsequent payments.

Does that make sense? I think the Church has failed to globally manifest the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now, on the other hand, I believe we can see glimpses of the Kingdom when the Church feeds the homeless without requiring them to sit through a sermon or recite the sinner's prayer. I think the Kingdom is visible when the church stands for justice, even outside of its own church walls, denominational lines, or religious identity (say, standing up for human rights in a Muslim nation). When the church selflessly gives itself over to blessing humanity out of love, not out of evangelistic agendas, it is truly manifesting the Kingdom of Heaven.

I think that Jesus intended for His Kingdom to be established in every facet and aspect of our lives, of our cultures, of our consciousness. No secular vs. spiritual. ALL is spiritual.

Instead, the Church has manifested the Kingdom as a Movement of Ideas, not a Movement of Movement… Meaning: less action than thought.

Without action, the Integral Mission of the Church cannot permeate politics or economies, ecological systems or communities. Historically, the church HAS made incredible contributions to the arts and the sciences. These days, instead of art we offer kitschy spiritualized knockoffs of genuine secular art (secular often because we make it so) and fight science with reactionary rhetoric coined in the 1950s.

I used to send money to a mission in San Francisco on a monthly basis. My church sent a group down several times to work with them, and I saw such practical goodness MIXED with evangelism. I wanted to help! But on the third trip I took there – three years after first visiting – I watched how care for the poor seemed a forgotten focus or a minor distraction. All the resources were aimed at "saving souls," and the disappointment and disapproval in the eyes of the street people was palpable. It tore my heart to make the decision, but I stopped giving them money.

Revealing my own kitschy-Christendom, I remember a song by Michael W. Smith entitled "Live the Life." It lists the ineffective methods of evangelism we've taken and again and again repeats: "THAT'S NO LONGER GOOD ENOUGH!"

we're passengers aboard the train, silent little lambs amidst the pain…
and when it's time to speak our faith, we use a language no-one can explain...
that's no longer good enough.

Jesus has so much more in store for us. Let us listen closely. Let us be on our way! It's time to change the world!

Thoughts on the Future...

Well, here I am, one day before my wedding. My beautiful bride-to-be is frantic, running around, trying to tie up loose ends. I'm left to my own devices, and I couple of thoughts about the future of the church have run into my brain. I thought I would share. For better-articulated thoughts on the same subjects, check out Brian McLaren's "The Church on the Other Side!"

Looking Ahead (Farther Ahead)

One of the most striking dangers I see with the church's shift from modernism to postmodernism is a tendency to want to say, "once we get there," or maybe, "good, now that we're here," or, "I'm glad that's over with. NOW we can get BACK to doing church."

The most important decision the church could make during this time of transition might be choosing to remain in transition. Once we have acclimated to postmodernism, post-colonialism, emergence, post-whatever else, will we kick up our cool retro-black-euro-boots and say, "the job is done, we made it," or do we say: "OK, what's coming next? How do we continue to prepare for more changes?" Because cultures will not stop changing and adapting, neither can we, if we hope to remain relevant.

Looking Farther Ahead involves looking beyond even postmodernism... what will post-postmodernism look like? How about after that? With a little bit of whimsy, we might ask: How do we be the church on different planets? What does the "World Church" do with Lunar Colonies?

"Looking farther ahead" is vital because it is the outlook and attitude that might protect the church from revisiting its glaring failures of irrelevance with each cultural and philosophical move.

Designing a New Apologetic is Troubling

Dan Kimball wrote a piece on the sins (and occasional benefits) of apologetics in the Josh McDowell-strain of thinking, on his Vintage Faith Blog. Kimball's main points were...
  • We use apologetics to display the clever answers that we have come up with to prove people wrong - KA-POW!
  • We use apologetics like bullets to shoot people down - BLAM!
  • We use apologetics like we are lawyers on a television episode of Law and Order - WHAP!

Kimball suggests that our old ways of thinking of apologetics and argumentation are played out... there is little appropriate use for them. He writes that the only time apologetics may be appropriate are when people actually ask for them. Obviously, in those rare occasions, we should be prepared to give an intelligently articulated account for our faith.

Kimball follows up, however, by saying that we should not see the phrase, "I don't know," as a negative, or as a weakness. Humility must be at the center of any apologetic, understanding that God is the source of truth and understanding - not human intellect.

So the notion of creating a new apologetic is very necessary in these strange transitional times, but it is a daunting task, because I don't want it to be anything like the old way of us-vs-them, intellectual battle to the death, shame-them-with-their-lack-of-knowledge-style thinking.

I suppose what I would like to see in a new style of apologetics is a renewed love for the journey - a respect and honoring of questions.

Even more difficult for some: I would love to see Christians become excited by alternative perspectives - see them as a new angle from which to observe our own perspectives, instead of attackers at the gates of our theological strongholds.

How does this look in practice? I'm not sure, but I'm guessing it involves meekness and peacemaking...

Holy Beatitudes, Bible-Man!

By the way... GETTING MARRIED!

This Saturday I'll be a husband!
She's amazing!

Popular Posts