Five Questions on Discipleship: (3) Who Makes Disciples?

Yesterday we considered what a disciple is, today we answer the question: Who Makes Disciples?  And I would suggest that there are two ways to answer that question.  First, churches make disciples; second, mature believers make disciples.  Let’s consider.

Churches Make Disciples

At the institutional level, God has created the church to be a disciple-making community.  This is not to say that parachurches, camps, publishing houses, or Christian radio cannot be involved in the process, but in his wisdom, the church is the ordained means of defending the gospel, proclaiming salvation, and making disciples (Eph 3).

Accordingly, churches would be served by asking: If Jesus came today and evaluated our church, on what would he evaluate?  What are his expectations?  I think the answer and expectation is simple.  Jesus would inquire “What are you doing to make disciples?”  I don’t think he is very impressed with all sorts of activities, fellowships, and programs that make us busy but fail to make disciples.  He has not called us to be active, but to be active in making disciples.  Since Christ is in the business of making disciples, that is what he expects of us.

God’s word on this is clear.  As the body of Christ, we are to be the hands, feet, mouthpieces of our Lord.  Accordingly, if God is going to make disciples in this age, it is through the church, by his Spirit.  If his greatest passion is to see the lost converted into disciples, then he expects that his body would be about the same work.  The Great Commission is the explicit statement of this truth. “Go into all the world and make disciples.”   Churches that excel in ministry but do not excel in making gospel-centered, word-saturated disciples who are able to reproduce themselves are not excelling as much as their numbers might indicate.

Big or small, churches are called to make disciples.  That is the first level.

Mature Believers

At the individual level, it is mature believers that make disciples. As in life, mature adults have babies, so adult Christians “give birth” (or rather, serve as attending nurses to the birth from above) to new Christians.  While young Christians, infants in the Lord, can and do witness with great zeal and effectiveness, it is mature believers who are in a position to “disciple” newborn Christians.

The Great Commission includes a call to teach all that the Lord has instructed.  New believers rarely know all there is in Scripture, or how to apply it.  This is why Scripture repeatedly demonstrates older believers mentoring or discipling younger believers (think of Paul with Timothy, Titus, and Silas, or Barnabas with Paul or John Mark).  Titus 2 gives clear instruction that older women are to teach younger women, and older men are to be models for younger men.

Thus, all disciples should strive for maturity such that they can disciple others.  This is not an optional calling, this is part and parcel of being a growing disciple.  Sadly, as Hebrews 5 laments, many who should be teachers are in need of learning the elementary truths again.

As a way of evaluation, we can say that mature believers are those who exhibit Christlike character and who are able and actually discipling younger believers.  Discipling others shows Christian love, an understanding of God’s purposes in the world, and a self-sacrificing, others-centeredness that behooves a mature believer.  By contrast, maturity should not be measured by the number of years a person has gone to church or even by how many studies they have led, how many committees they have chaired, or even by the number of Bible certificates or degrees they hold. Maturity is measured by ones personal Christlikeness and their reproduction.

May God continue to raise up disciple-makers in this generation, that more and more disciples would be born, raised, and sent out.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Gender-Specificity and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

When Paul speaks in Titus 2:1 about sound doctrine, he immediately turns to relationships. Rather than expatiating a systematic theology, Paul says that theology is worked out in the context of distinctly masculine and feminine roles, in youthful and elderly stages of life, and in varying spheres of leadership and influence (i.e. masters and slaves).  Clearly theology that is genuine is incarnated in the daily life of Christians.  In regards to husband and wife relations, Christopher Ash in his book Marriage: Sex in the Service of God  picks up this same idea– theologically-infused living– when he comments on another Pauline passage in 1 Corinthians 11.  He writes:

Paul’s teaching here (1 Cor. 11:2-16) seems to be conditioned by women (perhaps reacting against the abuses of patriarchy) behaving as if they can ‘go it alone’ in their behaviour, whether by ceasing to be gladly feminine or by reluctance to cooperate in the marriage partnership. By their contentious and disorderly behaviour they bring disrepute on the gospel. In the absence of proper order (which includes Christian subordination of the wife to the husband, and headship as sacrificial serving authority) there will be rivalry rather than partnership between the sexes. Perhaps in Corinth the women needed reminding both of their interdependence with the men and that they were made ‘for the sake of’ man, as partners in a shared God-given task. Disorder (and in particular a wrong attitude of subordination) leads to rivalry in which the weakest go to the wall; the task will be neglected. Proper order will promote sexual relations in the service of God (302).

Ash does not only address women but men as well.  Writing later in his book, he furthers his argument of gender-specific gospel living by saying:

The love of husband for wife is to be modelled on the cross. It is to be self-sacrificial love and not the self-serving enjoyment of some misguided privilege. Christian headship in marriage is marriage in the shape of cross; most contemporary debate misses this central point. For Christ to be head of the church was not a cheap or comfortable calling; it involved crucifixion (322).

The purpose of marriage then, says Ash, is that “the husband takes upon himself the goal of being such a husband whose love will lead his wife into growth in personal and spiritual maturity (for there is not dichotomy between these two), so that his greatest aim in marriage is not his self-fulfillment but the blossoming of his wife. ‘Husbands should be utterly committed to the total well-being, especially the spiritual welfare, of their wives’ (Peter O’Brien 1999:422-424). This might sound a little self-righteous, as if he from his Olympian spiritual height can raise up his wife to his level; it is in fact deeply humbling. No husband can take responsibility seriously without himself being deeply conscious of his own need for cleansing, holiness and growth in grace” (324).

Both headship (expressed in sacrifice) and submissiveness (to unjust authority) are expressions of the way of the cross (327).

In these bold and counter-cultural statements, Christopher Ash is saying something twenty-first century Christians need to hear.  Both expressions of headship and submissiveness adorn the gospel of God and manifest, in part, the inner workings of the Trinity. In fleshing out male and female roles, husbands and wives, become more like the men and women God created them to be.  In other words, they more accurately display the gospel of Jesus Christ when they bear the fruits of biblical masculinity and feminity in the roles of head and helpmate.  Just as Jesus came as the perfect second Adam, so too married men and women, when they gladly take on their biblical roles, dignify humanity and call men and women living outside of God’s moral order to return to the truth. 

Realistically, the world’s response may not be commendation and praise, but rejection of the gospel light reflected in these godly marriages.  Nevertheless, when the world encounters a gracious patriarch willing to lay down his life for the care and protection of his family and gentle feminine companion unwilling to usurp his authority or combat his leadership, the world encounters something different, perhaps even transcedent.  When the world encounters a 1 Corinthians 11 woman or an Ephesians 5 man, it encounters a picture of Christ and the church! This is a powerful testimony and one the world can only hate. It cannot deny its Spirit-wrought reality!

May who claim the name of Christ all grow in grace and godliness, not as androgynous saints, but as brothers and sisters manifesting distinctly masculine and feminine godliness in the marriages God has given to us.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Complementarian Task: Marriage, Gender Roles, and the Great Commission (pt. 2)

Yesterday, we considered the biblical theological continuity and discontinuity of the creational imperatives of ruling and bearing children and how they are picked up in Jesus’ Great Commission.  I concluded by asking how gender roles in marriage impact the presentation and the proclamation of the gospel.  In other words, I wanted to get at how gender roles in marriage interact with the Great Commission.   Are they necessary for the discipling of the nations in such a way that if abandoned the message of salvation would be distorted or denied?  Or are they merely inconsequential components that actually impede the progress of the gospel?   Would it be better to “get over” issues of gender so that we can reach the plethora of egalitarian socities that are resistant to the gospel?  Which is it? Surely Scripture which in its opening chapter distinguishes male and female has something to say about the matter. 

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman” (1 Cor. 11:2).  Just as Peter says, “wives, be submissive to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1ff), commending them to be daughters of Sarah who showed her husband respect and deference by calling him “lord.”  “Likewise, husbands, live with your wifes in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).  Even if the world lives to turn the Bible on its head and rejects these teachings in passionate unbelief, the Scriptural portrait is undeniable.  Men and women are equal, yet distinct.  Both made in the image of God, they are co-heirs; nevertheless in their roles and natural relations they are different.  Husbands are to lead and wives are to help.   This is the original pattern, and this is the restored relationship in the plan of redemption.  The man’s good works are uniquely masculine, while the woman also displays a particular feminine conformity into the image of Christ.  And in the Great Commission, these roles are not to be undermined.  Rather as mutually distinctive partners, husbands and wives, can, should, and must complement one another in the work, not compete for one another’s place of service.  Douglas Wilson writes about this in his book, Reforming Marriage:

A husband and wife are not to be shoulder-to-shoulder, marching off to work at the task together. Nor are they both to be home all the time, face-to-face, eternally and perpetually ‘in love.’ Rather, with both man and woman understanding their respective roles, he faces his future and calling under God, and she, by his side, faces him (Doug Wilson, 66).

The point is, Jesus’ Great Commision is not a sex-less enterprise. Rising from the dust of the original imperative to be fruitful and multiply, it is not to be accomplished by androgynous disciples; rather, it is to be fulfilled by redeemed men and women who are shaped by the Spirit into distinctly masculine and feminine representives of the kingdom. Paul commends this in Titus 2 when he instructs older women to teach younger women and older men to model the faith before younger men (cf. 2:1-10).  Though cross-gender evangelism is frequent and fruitful, this is not the same thing as biblical discipleship.  Men need godly men to whom they can pattern their lives, and women need mature females to train them in domestic holiness.

Likewise, we who claim the name of Christ must realize that the evangelistic task is not simply about winning disconnected individuals to the Lord, though many will come on their own (Matt. 10:34-36), but to see the families of the nations (Ps. 22:27)–men, women, and children–saved and adopted into the family of faith.   When this happens, relationships are built, roles are revived, the household of God flourishes, and the glory of the gospel is seen.  The gospel then does more than give eternal life to the transexual male who flees from their former lifestyle, it completes its task by “restor[ing] the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6).  Likewise, the gospel’s witness and effect is not only seen in that it redeems the soul of a pro-choice prostitute, it also dignifies that woman’s choice to become a mother, so that she may be saved through child-bearing as she “continue[s] in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint” (1 Tim. 2:15).  Here we are not talking about the rudiments of the gospel–what must be believed–but the effects.  The gospel is seen in the transformed lives of men and women (cf. James 2:14ff, not coincidentally James includes a man and a woman in his illustration–Abraham and Rahab).

This kind of specific gospel transformation can only take place when gender roles are upheld.  Moreover, the Great Commission can only have its true effect when the nations obey all Scripture has to say about men and women’s roles.  This can take place in the jungle tribe that forsakes polygamy to conform their marriages into unions that resemble Christ and the church, or it can take place in the urban jungle where a young married couple decides against the pill and to pursue a family in a culture that normalizes two-person incomes.  In his wisdom, God designed his Spirit-indwelt children to find gender-specifc niches in his family–as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters–and in doing this the Great Commission is advanced.  To neglect this is to reject the whole counself of Scripture and the need to rightly reflect in our marriages and homes the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is not optional, but absolutely essential.

Focusing on the need for marital conformity to the Great Commission is instructive because it calls Christian husbands and wives to consider their marital orientation and to ask, “How are we fulfilling the Great Commission?” For those who are married, this must be the central aim of their marriages. It must become the one thing that sets the agenda for everything else. Truly, this is a high and holy calling and one impossible without the Spirit, but then again, why should we settle for anything less?  Jesus promised to all those who believe in him, that he would come and live within them, until the end of the age, and that by his Spirit we would be bold witnesses (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).  This is the promise that accompanies the command to be worldwide witnesses. This reality is true personally and in marriage.

May the Spirit of Christ be pleased to grant us grace and wisdom to fulfill the task of winning the nations, through husbands who lead their families to love the kingdom of Christ and wives who come alongside their men to help accomplish the task.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss