Archives For Discipleship

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
– 2 Timothy 3:16-17

It was a moment indelibly imprinted in my memory. I was an undergrad student at Baylor and speaking with one of my religion professors about the exclusivity of salvation in Christ. The professor was kind to entertain the dialogue, and it was a friendly, good-spirited encounter. But what stood out in our conversation was a comment he made. In our discussion I referenced a Pauline passage in support of the idea that God saves people solely through the Person and Work of Christ and asked what he thought about that specific biblical text. He simply responded, “Well Yancey, I hope Paul was wrong.” It wasn’t a debate on whether the text in question was genuinely scriptural of whether I might have misinterpreted the passage, my professor simply believed that the apostle was wrong. I was taken back by his frankness but appreciated his honesty.

As an evangelical Christian, I believe the entire corpus of the Bible is inspired by God. The technical definition is verbal-plenary inspiration. In essence, I believe the original writings of the Scriptures (known as the original manuscripts) contain all the words God wanted for them, and none that he didn’t. In short, it’s all the Word of God. My job as a follower of Jesus is to read it faithfully, interpret it soundly, and apply it sincerely. There is no question in our studying the Bible we will encounter difficult to understand passages (cf., 2 Pt. 3:16) or sections which push against our worldview, yet our call is to know what the Bible says as God’s Word and apply it as such. The option followers of Jesus don’t have is to dismiss any Scripture simply because we disagree with it.

That’s why when I hear professing Christians today offer explanations for their rejection of positions or beliefs God’s people have held for literally millennia from reading their Bibles (e.g. sexuality, gender roles, marriage), I hear the echo of my old professor’s voice belying his trust in the total inspiration of Scripture. But culture is a mean mistress, for in order to be embraced by her, she calls followers of Jesus to separate from biblical authority by either deluding them to conjure fantastical if not bizarre exegetical claims of fairly straightforward passages or, as in the case of my professor, to simply deny their inspiration altogether. Consequently, the Bible is treated like the drunk uncle at the family reunion. You have to keep him around because he’s family, but you’re embarrassed by him every now and then for what he says and does. Thus, you’re always either having to tell your friends “what he really means” or just ignore him altogether.

This exposes not the weakness of Scripture, but the one who, in trying to be embraced by the world, seeks to tweak it, silence it, or apologize for it. In their attempt to “dress up” the drunk uncle of Scripture with new interpretations and understandings that no believer in two millennia would ever conclude, they merely display their embarrassment of the Bible. It says things that now might make us persona non grata in the public square, marginalize us in national conversations, or just keep us from being the cool kids anymore. That’s why if we can’t make certain biblical passages disappear, we invent ways to make them more socially palatable, hoping the culture doesn’t shift any further lest our drunk uncle embarrass us even more.

Others take the route of my old professor. Instead of looking silly trying to convince everyone that the Bible doesn’t say what it clearly says, they advocate biblical authors were simply wrong. Recently Rob Bell, the former pastor and current self-help guru for Oprah, when asked what he thought of the church’s refusal to embrace same-sex marriage, replied, “I think culture is already there [with same-sex marriage] and the Church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.” [ref]http://www.relevantmagazine.com/slices/rob-bell-church-moments-away-accepting-gay-marriage[/ref] The Bible? Listen, the Scriptures are wrong on this. Christians need not look to it as an authority on this issue and follow the culture. At least Bell is honest, the rest give off the idea they’re simply embarrassed.

Neither of these approaches to Scripture cut it. The Bible doesn’t give an easy way out for those who claim to follow Jesus. Passages like 2 Tim. 3:16-17 affirm the totality of the Bible’s inspiration, not to mention Jesus’ own endorsement of Scripture (cf., Mt. 5:18) and its authority. I’m mindful of John 6 where, after Jesus taught some “hard sayings,” verses 66-68 record, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.'” Wrestling with what God’s Word says is part-and-parcel of following Jesus, but rewriting or rejecting what it says, isn’t.

It’s only embarrassing.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
– Acts 2:42

Just Jesus and me.

It sounds correct, even noble, on the surface. At least that’s what I thought when I first heard it in my initial years of spiritual formation. The idea is that followers of Jesus should be disicpled to such a degree they can be independent in their growth. In other words, when they are trained in areas like interpreting the Bible, praying, and having a “Quiet Time,” then, like a kid turning 18, they can fly the spiritual coop. They don’t have to have others’ help to grow spiritually. With a Bible in hand and knowing how to feed themselves, they have all they need. They’re independent.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I believe young (and old) Christians should learn to individually use their Bibles in order to grow spiritually. What I’m against is leading budding Christians to think independence equates to spiritual maturity. It doesn’t. There is no picture in the New Testament showing mature Christians living independently from the local church. Not one. On the contrary, it seems mature (and immature) Christians are not only connected by fellowship within the community found in the local church but growing spiritually with them as well. Put another way, the aim of maturity isn’t independence but interdependence.

Believers should be trained not only to use the Bible individually but communally as a part of, and in fellowship with, the local church. In other words, we read, interpret, and apply the Bible not only in community but as a community. Far too often Christians read the New Testament’s “you’s” as individual appeals when many of those “you’s” are plural. As we would say in Texas, the “you’s” are “y’all’s.” That’s why the goal of helping people grow spiritually isn’t independence but interdependence. It’s to fly the coop knowing that the “y’all” will always be a part of spiritual growth.

Please note this isn’t a call for abandoning individual reading of the Bible, prayer, etc. Conversely, if spiritual disciplines can only be done in community then one has moved from biblical independence to ungodly co-dependence. The call to interdependence isn’t a mandate to abdicate the personal but to embrace the communal. It’s to live as you were redeemed – not merely as a person but as a people (cf. Dt. 7:6, Jer. 24:7, Rev. 21:3). Thus, while I want to train converts how to feed themselves, I don’t want them merely to eat by themselves.[ref]I think it worth noting Peter’s call by Christ was not to teach people to feed themselves but to feed them (Jn. 21:15-17). I don’t think it too much a stretch to deduce that church leadership likely has some role with using the Bible in the spiritual formation of God’s people.[/ref]

The goal in discipling is interdependence not independence, because the truth is, it isn’t just Jesus and me but Jesus and us.

 

 

The Aim of Maturity

August 21, 2014 — 1 Comment

How are mature followers of Jesus to engage the world around them? What does spiritual maturity look like in this area? Do we abstain from watching this or drinking that? Or is it just the opposite, doing everything and anything we run across? What’s the answer? Well, it may help to think of a Christian’s engagement with the world on a spectrum with three different responses. The first two are found on the extremes of the spectrum.

The RULE KEEPER road sees life as black and white. If something is gray it’s wrong. Every aspect of life is governed by rules. The Bible is seen as Great Big Rule Book which shows us all the things followers of Jesus shouldn’t see, eat, listen, touch, feel, or enjoy as a whole. It is the life that is defined by how much you can’t do. On the opposite side, the FREE BIRD defines spiritual maturity by how much of world one can enjoy, consume, and experience at the expense of the rest of the Body of Christ. They trample consciences in parading their so-called “freedoms,” and frankly, they may not be sure if those activities are really healthy for themselves as well. Neither of these options display spiritual maturity but exactly the opposite. The Rule Keeper defines maturity by how much of world he cuts out of his life. The Free Bird by how much of the world he adds into it. Fortunately, the Bible gives us a better path to tread toward spiritual maturity.

Spiritually mature believers aim for a life that discerns the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, the right from the wrong. It’s the life that takes from the world around it “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, [and thinks]  about these things” (Phil. 4:8)

Biblical discernment avoids the legalism of Rule Keeper and the licentiousness of Free Bird by charting a God-honoring, creation-enjoying, community-keeping path. That’s why discernment is the aim of believers who desire to engage the world in a spiritually mature way. No wonder the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:9-11, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Aim not at legalism or licentiousness, but the liberty found in biblical discernment.

Mature followers of Jesus are discerning followers of Jesus.

Biblical discernment allows us to…

  • Enjoy the fullness of God’s common grace found in the world
  • Have courage to engage the world instead of retreat into a Christian ghetto
  • Increase our understanding of the culture in which we seek to relate
  • Provide good examples to those younger in the faith about how mature Christians live in the world
  • Know how the gospel intersects each area of life, indeed, it is to see how all of life is centered around the gospel

This is why Heb 5:14 can confidently proclaim, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” You might need to grow your level of biblical discernment “by constant practice” if you…

  • expect the pastor’s sermon to be the primary way you get the Bible in your life.
  • believe every book which sits upon the bestseller shelf at the local Christian bookstore is a quality read.
  • continually expose yourself to media (magazines, music, movies) that shrinks, not expands, your soul
  • think a preacher is solid simply because his sermons make you feel good as you leave
  • refrain from certain activities simply because someone (e.g., a pastor) told you not do to it but you don’t know why
  • do whatever you like without first thinking, “How does the Bible address this?”
  • always find yourself asking others what the biblical thing to do is without doing the hard work of cracking open a Bible and discovering the answer yourself

Don’t settle for those poor habits. Aim at discernment because mature followers of Jesus are discerning followers of Jesus.