May 12, 2014

How Do You Do Discipleship in the Schemes (2)

“I didn't really know what a Christian was until the knowledge I had in my head moved down to my heart.” That’s a popular phrase in modern Christianity. I hear it time and again from young people, invariably, brought up in Christian homes. I have no reason to disbelieve the genuineness of the expression, but I do feel that there is a danger that is being (unwittingly?) communicated through a phrase like this. My concern is simply that there is a feeling among many young Christians today that head knowledge is bad, unspiritual even, and what matters is how we feel. Doctrine is dangerous. Theology is divisive. Knowledge is a Holy Spirit killer. And as we face a discipleship crisis in our country (particularly in the schemes), it is easy to trace it back to this kind of thinking. My contention is that we need, initially at least, to put experience to one side and focus on head knowledge as we do discipleship in the schemes.

Now, it’s an ancient illustration, but it is still a true one. What matters most when building a house is the foundation. If that is weak, then the whole structure built on top of it will be weak. The same is true in the Christian life when it comes to discipleship. It matters what we win people with. The foundation matters. Paul knew it when talking to the Corinthian church in chapter three of his first letter to them. He was challenging the baby like behaviour of Christians who should have been off spiritual milk and onto spiritual meat. He reminds the church that he was like a skilled master builder who had laid a foundation in their lives and other men had now been building upon that. “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11).”

Therefore, it follows that when we do discipleship in the schemes, we must make sure that we lay the right foundation. All our head knowledge must be based on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once that foundation is laid, we begin to build into their lives the milk/elementary teachings of the faith: repentance, faith, baptism, the church, resurrection, and eternal life as per Hebrews 6:1–2. The basic premise behind all of our discipleship has to be 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful. The gospel as found in the Word of God is the foundation upon which we build our disciples.

Why is head knowledge so important as we do discipleship? Well, when people first come to faith in Christ, we know that they are immediately justified in the sight of God. Even though they have repented of their sinful rebellion, they still need to be transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ. They need to be nurtured from babies and on into spiritual adulthood and maturity. If we want to see deep, spiritual transformation then we must get our people into the Word of God quickly. Why the rush? Paul reminds the church in Romans 12:2 to, “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. People will not change their sinful habits and the way they live until they (literally) change their minds and the way that they think. The unregenerate are marked (among other things) by a depraved mind (Rom. 1:28). Therefore, the regenerate must be marked by a mind transformed by the knowledge of the Word of God.

Bible knowledge leading to spiritual transformation is not just a good idea. Rather, we must insist upon building it into our discipleship. Paul is clear to the Ephesian church on this point in 4:17. “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking”How do we do discipleship? We must ask God to do the miracle that he did with his own followers in Luke 24:45 when,“He opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures”. Never lose sight of the fact that, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of God.” (Rom. 10:17) We start the Christian life in the Word and we learn our spiritual milk from the Word and we go onto maturity in the same Word. Discipleship has to include teaching the Bible faithfully and systematically. It seems ridiculous that I have to say it, but many people have lost confidence in the Scriptures. They are looking for some sort of silver bullet for working among the poor. It doesn’t matter whether they can read or write or whether they are dyslexic or have ADHD, if our young believers do not continue to grow in knowledge throughout their Christian lives, then they will never get off the bottle and they will never make much progress.

Why are we failing to see growing converts and disciples on our schemes? Why are so many of our people stuck in neutral or constantly going backward in their walk with the Lord? I believe it is because we are simply not teaching them the Bible. We somehow think that head knowledge is damaging. We elevate our experience above all other considerations. We think that somehow people ‘can’t handle it’. They can. If God has truly saved a person out of darkness then he has saved them for a purpose. He wants them to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Head knowledge is key.

So, is there no room for experience then? Ah, I didn’t say that. That comes in the next post.


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