Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Disciple-Making and Worship

Recently, David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, identified weaknesses in what has become a de facto church-plant model and summarized it this way:
Beyond this there are little variations: a video clip here, a testimony there. But the look, feel and even the doctrine of these church plants are virtual carbon copies of one another. We haven’t had this much conformity in worship since the days of medieval Catholicism.
At first, that may appear to be a good thing.  After all, Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church (John 17:11).  However, may I suggest that the reason church plants all look the same is because the “mother” congregations are already using this organization; or those starting the plants are using the model as a way to break with traditionalism.  Pragmatism drives the push for this model: if it works, we need to catch the wave and follow suit.  It is a stage presentation meant to draw people into the building, not make disciples; or if they are being made, growth is sporadic or anemic.  What presuppositions drive the poor disciple-making practices?

In modern Evangelical parlance, the Christian life is a two-step process: 1) hear the gospel and believe, and 2) become a disciple by according to whatever biblical markers are used as systematized by a particular denomination.  These two are more properly referred to as justification and sanctification.  While scripture certainly does speak of them separately, they are not regarded so much as two steps for the believer, but as two works performed by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.  But believers are disciples.  We can see this when we look at our Lord’s closing instruction to the eleven:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (John 28:18-20)
A disciple is made by being baptized and taught.  There is no extra step.  You are a disciple, or you are not.  This is the same process used in Jesus’ ministry as He went out proclaiming “Repent, for kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17).  Those who repented were baptized (John 3:22, 26; 4:1-3) and taught, thus immediately becoming disciples.  We see this played out on the Day of Pentecost as Peter preached a sermon provoking repentance:
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.… So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  (Acts 2:37-41)
Later in Acts, the growth of the Church is referred to as an increase in disciples, not as an increase in believers (Acts 6:1-2, 7).  These continued as disciples, though we do see that some turned back as when Jesus’ teaching became hard (John 6:60-66).  One can argue whether their faith was genuine, however all who were baptized and taught were called disciples as they actively followed Christ.

The two-stage approach of the Christian life has caused a mindset that all activities on Sunday morning be designed to bring people into the building and help them be comfortable.  If sin, righteous, and judgment are mentioned, they are presented as something keeping you away from a close, loving relationship with God; and while that is technically true, it leaves open the thought that the listener can try harder to improve the relationship by being a better person.  The truth is that only because of the redeeming work of our Lord Jesus can anyone hope to enter into or grow in those things promised through the gospel.

If Christ is to be preëminent, why are clear Law and Gospel texts in song and sermon being replaced with texts that are about me and my life?  Why are people and programs promoted more than the Savior?  Should not Sunday worship be a complete immersion into all that God has wrought in Christ?  Isn’t that where the disciple is most enlivened?  Rather than a place of comfort, the worship service should be a place where Christ is presented, openly and boldly, for all to feed on and for which we return our praise.  Disciples are being formed and fed on Sunday morning.  When the full force of God’s Law is delivered, both believer and unbeliever will squirm in their need; and when the full sweetness of the Gospel is offered, both will see the abundance of grace for sin.  Though the response may vary, the offer is clear.  Whatever someone’s spiritual condition, Christ’s atoning work will have been proclaimed and the Almighty Triune God will have been exalted.

Why am I pressing this?  Let's face facts: many of those who sit in the pews on a given Sunday will not read their Bibles or study any catechetical material for the remainder of the week.  These need substantive spiritual nourishment from the shepherd of the local flock, since he is the only biblical source of their knowledge.  The remainder will eat in pastures of varying nutritional value—some beneficial, another sweet to the taste but souring the stomach, and possibly a few swallowing poison.  Here, too, the shepherd has a lead role, guiding the flock to where good pasture can be found.  The Chief Shepherd warned of both goatherds and wolves who care nothing for the sheep save for fleecing or chewing them up.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  (1 Pet 5:1-4)

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