The Discipleship Continuum
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…
teaching them to observe all things I have commanded,"
A careful study of Paul’s missionary methodology demonstrates his commitment to the above mandate of our Lord. His objective did not end with winning souls to faith in Jesus Christ. In every epistle he emphasizes the goal of bringing believers to full discipleship. When we analyze the history of Christian missions, we find the disturbing tendency to evangelize areas of the globe and then to consider the work of "the great commission" accomplished. The practice of evangelism without further instruction is even written into the constitution of certain mission organizations. Yet church history reveals that in such places commitment to the faith usually lapses within as little as a generation, leaving a spiritual vacuum that is filled by various cults holding perversions of Biblical teachings.
It is interesting to study the Biblical definition of discipleship. Far too often, believers are content to simply be a child of God, and remain in an immature state. In the well known call of Jesus in Mat 11:28-29 we see a call to faith (v.28) followed by a call to discipleship (v.29). A disciple is first of all a believer in Jesus Christ, then also a “follower” or student who learns from Christ. All believers are called to discipleship, but the truth is that few meet the criteria. Even learning the “fundamentals of the faith” is not enough, for Jesus said “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” (Joh 8:31). Again, learning alone is not enough. The study of God’s word must ultimately lead to an increasingly productive life. “Abide in Me, and I in you….By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; and so prove to be My disciples” (Joh 15:4, Joh 15:8 NASV).
We begin to see something of the comprehensive nature of the call to discipleship in Luk 9:23, where Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” It is tragic that today the “Lordship Salvation” camp has confused this with a requirement for obtaining eternal life. It is clear that Jesus is here addressing those who are already believers; in fact, they were disciples already (see vs.Luk 9:18-22). Jesus is calling those who are disciples already to a far higher commitment. The sad truth is that one who is once a disciple may not always continue as a disciple (consider Joh.6:66 where disciples cease being disciples). Discipleship is a life-long commitment to claiming higher spiritual ground. This was true in the life of the Apostle Paul, who said of himself, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected (complete); but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” (Phi 3:12).
In reality, the path of discipleship is an “upward call in Christ Jesus” (Phi 3:14). The life of faith becomes increasingly demanding as we progress toward the goal of Christ-conformity (Rom 8:29). This includes not only all that we are, but also all that we possess. For this reason Jesus said, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luk 14:33). This is not a call to sell all we possess and live an ascetic existence. It is simply the practical outworking of the comprehensive nature of the call to discipleship. Discipleship involves a spiritual continuum, a series of steps or stages all concerned with the same objective. In the vibrant Christian life we must go “from faith to faith” (Rom 1:17b). We are constantly reaching for higher ground. At the moment we cease this upward striving, we cease to be a true disciple. The discipleship continuum calls us to become a believer, then a learner, then a worker, then a soldier, and on and on as we seek Christ-likeness. A good example of this continuum is Paul’s description of Epaphroditus (Phi 2:25). And why is it so crucial that each one of us persist in this course? Because on each of us is the obligation placed to “make disciples”. And there is a truth declared from the beginning that each specie can only reproduce “according to its kind” (ten times in Gen.1). Only disciples can produce disciples (2Ti 2:1-3). And “disciple-making” is the essence of missions, and what every believer is called to do.
In the last two weeks of October I fulfilled a promise made over four yrears ago to visit a pastor call "Billy" in the Western Province of
Fortunately, God supplied me with a good fellow-soldier in Logan Carnell of Amador Bible Church in
Though our time of teaching was limited to about seven sessions over two-and-a-half days, the journey was well worth while. The villagers were eager students.
It was difficult to leave these believers so soon, and to begin the long arduous journey homeward. Two incidents on the way out are worth mentioning. As Logan and I were walking along far behind the Ox-cart under a blazing African sun, we heard children yelling. Looking off across the bush we saw a string of children of all ages running across our path. At first we thought they were running to see the ox-cart, but then saw far ahead of them a lean dog flattened out in full pursuit of a rabbit, fleeing for its life. The rabbit was running to escape the dog, the dog was hoping to catch the rabbit with enough time to get a bite or two before the children caught up, who were running to get there before the dog ate the rabbit. All were running for survival. What a picture of
We ask you to remember these believers in your prayers. Pray for Pastor Billy, who often leaves home to visit remote churches, the circuit taking a month or more! Though some of these people have contact with the “outside” world, many do not. We were told we were the first white men to have come teaching the Word of God into these areas. And we only touched the fringe of a vast harvest-field of souls. I was reminded of the words of David Livingstone, who pioneered mission work in these regions. “From where I stand”, he wrote, “I can see the smoke of a thousand villages”. Those villages still exist, and many are still unreached. Pray for Pastor Mwashamputa who accompanied us and who is considered a “Father” and overseer by many isolated churches. We thank so many who continue to pray and give to make our work possible. May God richly reward each one according to what you do for the cause of Christ in these places.
Nan and I were privileged to be invited to a “Homecoming Celebration" for all former pastors and members of
The day after Thanksgiving we leave for a pastor’s conference in the mountains of
By Grace alone,