My previous post, The Evangelical Collapse, surprisingly got some good reactions and reviews both from people telling me verbally as well as others in the blogosphere. I had expected people to reject my ideas outright, but of course I might have been still viewing the post like it was written originally. Or maybe people are ready for a real change in the way we do church? I know that I am, and I’d like to think that more people out there are as well. Lots of people read this blog now and I’ve seen many people have the same reaction: I should be a disciple of Jesus, not this half-hearted pew-warming learner I am now. But when I mention discipleship and finding yourself a mentor and becoming their disciple, alot of people struggle with that. Some will ask: “Aren’t we all disciples of Jesus?” Sometimes even someone will bring up Paul in 1 Cor. 1:10-17 where he berates the Corinthians for dividing and saying “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” and etc, and use that as a reason against having human disciplers. But I think that going down the path of “we’re all just disciples of Jesus” has led us (in part) to where we are today. Allow me to explain…
The first century Jewish approach to discipleship is key to understanding what I mean. In truth, discipleship has changed little and you can find schools of disciples following their rabbi around in the land of Israel today, just like Jesus did with his twelve. Anyway, the disciples follow the rabbi everywhere he goes and watch him live life. What good is “book knowledge” if you’ve never put it to the test? One of the failings of the American education system (especially in math) has to do with teaching the theory but not the application thereof. I cannot count how many times I said or heard one of my classmates in highschool say “I’m never going to use this in the ‘real world’!” The same goes for religion and I’ve found this to be very true in my own life. I can have all the knowledge in the world, but without learning how to apply it – it’s useless. Here’s a good example: Paul, who was himself a Jewish rabbi, talks about something very similar in his first letter to the Corinthians.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am noisy gong or a clanging symbol!” (1 Cor. 13:1, ESV)
Lots of people pick out a song for themselves as their “theme song”. Well, I actually call the above verse “James’ Theme Verse.” I do a ton of teaching and speaking at church now, and this verse helps me remember that I can teach the best lesson EVER, but if I don’t have love, I’m just making noise – and not just noise, but loud, clanging, ugly noise. If this is true, how much more is it true for the rest of the Bible? And so rabbinic Jewish education in the first century in Galilee (where Jesus did most of his ministry) was all about seeing the rabbi live life and use God’s commands in everyday encounters. A business dealing comes up and now there’s an opportunity to teach about not lying. A woman (or man) walks by who is a known adulterer and the opportunity comes up not to commit adultery. And by living life, the disciples learned not only God’s commands, but how they apply to today, now. The disciples learned this by watching their rabbi in action. They didn’t just read about how to do it, they saw it lived out before their eyes in the society and culture of the day.
But if we’re all “just disciples of Jesus”, then there’s a major problem. You see, Jesus isn’t here with us now in the flesh so you can touch him. He’s here alright, but not in the same way the guy next door is. He’s real, but not in the same way you or I am, for he has been made new, the first fruits of the resurrection, as Paul puts it. Anyway, so my point is this: how can you have a discussion with someone who’s not physically here on this earth? How do you learn and interact with that person? How do you ask him questions and get back verbal answers? How do you hold yourself accountable to them in the same way you would a physical person? The answer is that you can’t. And that’s not bad or wrong, it’s just true. You cannot watch Jesus (the actual rabbi Jesus) in the situations of life because he’s not here anymore.
So what does that mean for or I? It means that we need to find humans to become disciples of. Again, you might find that hard to follow, perhaps asking “But why would I want to pattern my life after a flawed and sinful human? Shouldn’t I be patterning my life after the only perfect human to have ever existed?” Good questions. Think about this: if I make myself a disciple to someone wise in the faith, and that person is trying their absolute hardest to become like Jesus, then by trying become like this faithful person I am trying to become like Jesus through a real live-out example! Just like my experience with hearing people say about their highschool education that it wouldn’t apply to “real life,” I cannot count how many times I have heard people say “I can’t be like Jesus, he was perfect and I’m not.” I think if we saw the examples of people living out their faith from a disciple’s point of view (an insider, up close and personal) then we too would feel like we can do it, because they are doing it (for the most part…at the very least, they’re probably doing it better than me right now).
Paul was certainly right about disciples: you have to be careful that you don’t take too much pride in who discipled you. We all follow the Messiah. A little pride in your discipler isn’t wrong and is in fact healthy – it means you care – but too much is unhealthy for the church. In the end, it doesn’t matter who discipled you, but that you all were trying to become what Jesus is through the real life examples of those people who were striving for the same thing.
Peace to you,