Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: discipleship

The threefold purpose of the church

As I read the New Testament, the evidence accumulates that there is a threefold purpose for the existence of the church. Each of these purposes is connected to, and dependent upon, the other two. Perhaps we could call this a three-legged stool and whenever one of the legs is shorter than the others it creates an unstable situation.

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1. To Glorify God
The first purpose is to glorify God. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12). This passage is set around the throne of God in heaven, but we must begin glorifying God here and now in order to be able to continue in eternity.

The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace and all the rest, must be evident in the church. Joy should not be muted in the name of humility, or forced, out of a sense of duty. Peace must be genuine, based on thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and readiness to forgive others.

2. To be a safe place for God’s people
The second purpose is to provide a sheepfold for the God’s flock – a place where they can be fed, have their wounds cared for and be protected from the enemies seeking to harm them. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).

The church should be a place where the wounded and weary can find true brotherly love that will be a balm to their wounds and speed their recovery. Yet the church must also be pure. Weak members should feel welcome, those who live in wilful disobedience must be reproved and if they do not repent they must not be retained in the sheepfold lest their disobedience be a snare to others.

3. To make new disciples in our home communities and in all the world
The third purpose is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to others. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

The Great Commission says to teach, make disciples of, all nations. Proclaiming the gospel is only the beginning. When those who here are converted, that is still the preliminary stage of fulfilling the mission Jesus has given to us. New converts need the help of seasoned Christians to discern if a new life has sprung up within them, or merely a desire for a new life. They need teaching, support and encouragement as they forsake their old pathways and learn to walk with Jesus. We all need the support of genuine believers all through our Christian life.

I don’t know that any one of these three purposes has preeminence over the others. If we are truly led of the Holy Spirit, we will accomplish all three. If we let the Spirit do His perfect work in us, there will be no wobbliness in the way the church is perceived by others.

I want to be an L.E.D.

We all know what led’s are, right? Those things that give off a nice clear light but won’t burn you if you get too close to them. That’s what I want to be – a Light Emitting Disciple.

There is a problem, though – I am not capable of producing light by myself. But I sure am capable of producing heat. Far too often I have tried to enlighten someone else and that person had to back off for fear of getting burned.

That has never been what I wanted to do, but it took me years to realize that when I begin to get hot under the collar the possibility of convincing someone else of what I believe to be right drops to zero.

I had a lesson on this in my youth – from a cow. The cows were coming into the barn and I needed to get this cow into a different stall than the one that had been her home up to then. She had no idea what I wanted her to do or why, she just wanted to get into her old familiar stall. I started to yell and to slap her. She was frightened and tried to get away from me. Finally I realized that I had lost this battle. I waited until we had both cooled off, then took her by the halter and led her to the stall where I wanted her to go. Once she understood what I wanted she settled right down.

You’d think a lesson like that might have stuck, but it took quite a few more, with people and animals, before the lesson was learned. If indeed it has been learned, and I think it has for the most part.

Through all this, I have come to understand what James was talking about when he wrote:

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. James 3:14-17

He is saying that heat comes from below and light comes from above. If I truly want to be a Light Emitting Disciple, I need to disconnect myself from the source of heat and connect to the source of light.

What is an indigenous church?

An indigenous church is one that has been planted in a new environment, taken root and grows and thrives without outside support. People in the community do not see a cultural barrier between themselves and members of the church and conclude that any differences between them and the members of this church are due to their spiritual beliefs. The faith remains true to its roots, unmixed with local spiritual beliefs and practices, but lifestyle and culture have adapted to the new environment.

The three self principle
These principles of an indigenous church in another land or culture were first described 150 years ago by a Christian missionary. I was a little put off at first because Communist China has appropriated the three self label for what is essentially a state-controlled church. But I haven’t found a better way to describe the working of an indigenous church.

1) Self-governing. The faith has taken root in the new location and local leaders can be trusted to replace the missionaries. They are grounded in the faith and following the lead of the Holy Spirit. From now on the local church will make its own decisions with an understanding of the local culture that a missionary can never quite attain.

2) Self-supporting. Members are giving sacrificially to their church and it is able to meet its own needs. Outside financial support, except in cases of dire emergency, will undermine the local church and damage relations between them and the churches in other countries.

3) Self-propagating. This church will extend its ministry in its local area and beyond without outside help. If we wish to spread the gospel around the world we need to establish churches that will then start other churches.

Discipleship
The Great Commission says “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The Greek word that is here translated teach is the verb form of the noun that means disciple. Thus, Jesus is telling us to go and make disciples in all nations. It is not enough to baptize new converts, they need to be discipled: taught, mentored, and encouraged so that they are equipped to help disciple others. “. . . the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).

The Cost of Discipleship

This is the title of a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It’s not hard to understand that attempting to be faithful to Christ in Nazi Germany would come at a cost, but it has been more difficult for us to grasp that to be a true disciple of Christ will always entail a cost, even in times of peace, prosperity and favourable public opinion.

We are forgetful people. It appears that we have forgotten that the friendship of the world is enmity with God. Or perhaps we never really understood how that could be true. The world was just a big, soft, cuddly bear, and would never do us any harm. Are we beginning to see the danger today? Is it too late to sound an alarm?

When we speak of the cost of discipleship, it should not be thought to mean that we can earn or pay for salvation. It simply means that if we try to carry the baggage of the world as we embark on our pilgrimage to heaven, we will never reach our intended destination. There will be dangerous, narrow passages along the way where we just will not be able to squeeze through with that baggage. There are alternate routes where that baggage will not be a hindrance. Christian beware! Those routes do not lead to the celestial city.

That baggage includes things like pride of accomplishment, feelings of superiority, bitterness, resentment, lust, the desire for material gain, a failure to admit and take full responsibility when we have done wrong, refusing to accept admonition and anything that might diminish our love for others.

It is entirely possible to convince ourselves that we love God and the feeling is mutual, but others just don’t understand us. Perhaps they don’t fully understand us; or perhaps they understand us better than we do ourselves. More important, we have missed the teaching that our relationship with God can largely be discerned by our relationship with our fellow believers. “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11).

The cost of discipleship will vary from person to person, according to what part of the world is most dear to us. God may grant material abundance to someone, but let such a person beware of boasting or thinking himself better than those who have less. God may use someone to do great things in His kingdom, but let such a person beware of thinking he is too important to consider the reproof of his brethren.

Others may study to become humble, learning the right appearance, words and mannerisms to appear the most inoffensive. Such a person may be unwilling to do the little things the Spirit prompts them to do for fear that someone might misunderstand and criticize. This may be the worst mistake of all. A person who is active in serving the Lord will be criticized, sometimes with cause, sometimes unjustly. The one who is truly spiritual will recognize his faults, make the needed corrections and carry on serving the Lord.
Perhaps fear is the most cumbersome piece of baggage that some carry. Such a person may believe himself to be humble, but could fear get such a hold if there was no pride for it to fasten itself to?

God is sounding the alarm today for all who will hear to cast off the baggage that hinders us from truly being His disciples. If the cost seems too great, perhaps we do not grasp how great the reward will be for those who are faithful, nor how great the loss for those who are not.

Let’s be led’s

A true Christian should be a light emitting disciple (led). Our purpose as a light emitting disciple is not to dazzle folks with our brilliance, but to shed light on their path. We don’t want to be a cold light, there needs to be some warmth, but no one should ever get burned from coming into contact with us.

Friendliness is next to godliness – part two

“The strong Anabaptist emphasis on discipleship has led to a warm fellowship among the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite congregations and a gentleness in human relations which makes visitors feel unusually welcome among them.”

– page 228, An Introduction to Mennonite History, Cornelius J. Dyck, editor © 1967 by Herald Press.

It was many years ago when I first read the above quote and it gave me the extra courage I needed to first set foot inside the door of a congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.  I found it to be exactly as described above.

Now we have been members for many years and are no longer total strangers when we visit another congregation.   We are leaving today to visit relatives in south-eastern Saskatchewan and tomorrow morning we will attend the worship service at the Sinclair, Manitoba congregation, the Lord willing.

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