In responding to the Great Commission, there’s no way we can ignore the centrality of discipleship. That seems to be more of an emphasis among the churches I’m in contact with these days. But the important question moving forward is, what’s the best approach in making a disciple?

I realize there are countless of ways to approach it, but I’ve come to observe two fundamentally different lines of thought that forms the basis of how we understand the topic. The first version simplifies discipleship for accessibility sake, and the second version complicates discipleship for accuracy sake.

Advocates of the first version, who we’ll call the “simplifiers,” emphasizes the “priesthood of all believers,” a belief that everyone has the ability to correspond with God. They remind us how the message of the gospel needs to be simple and reproducible, how Jesus chose uneducated fishermen to be His conduits of truth. In reaffirming the bold stance of the Reformation, they exhort all believers to read, interpret and apply scripture for themselves. Due to the questionable track record of corrupt pastors/priests throughout history, “simplifiers” tend to be weary of relying too heavily on the interpretation of those in authority. They do as much as they can to put the text in the hands of the people. They want to ensure that every believer has the ability to hear God for themselves, a mindset that democratizes the way we intepret the Bible. Therefore, “simplifiers” tend to be generous when it comes to the messy process of attaining truth. They don’t mind the ambiguity that comes with this kind of approach.

Champions of the second version, who we’ll call the “cautious,” remind us that although many can hear the word of God, very few understand the depth of its truth. In addition to affirming the “priesthood of all believers,” the “cautious” emphasizes the distinctions within that priesthood Martin Luther lays out for us. They recognize the evident differences between those who are spiritually mature and those who are not. They aren’t afraid of making hierarchical distinctions within the body and they embrace the responsibility God places on church leadership to guide the flock.They would rather reproduce one solid disciple grounded in the word than hundred disciples who have vague understanding of scripture. They understand that humans are prone to wander so their approach ensures that a strong foundation is built with a robust theology. They are realists when it comes to the man’s ability to follow through.

In my opinion, these two lines of thought create the framework in which we discuss discipleship methodology. I know many of us will claim to be somewhere in the middle, but depending on your history with the church, your personality or values, you are likely to see through the lens of one or the other.

Which line of thought resonates with you more?


2 thoughts on “The Simple and the Cautious: Two Streams of Discipleship

  1. Both approaches resonate with me. I value the strengths of both. In my mind they are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps a healthy church knows HOW to “marry” both approaches. I believe it is possible to lay a strong theological foundation that simultaneously encourages independent communication with God, yet models and teaches accountability within the Body. I believe many churches are doing just that–making solid disciples who hear and obey God. However, they are solid because they have learned to submit to the authority of the leaders under whom God has put them. This is of course a subjective decision by each believer/disciple. Perhaps the healthiest of churches also educate themselves in how to prevent strong-willed, super independent disciples from getting off track through distortions of Scripture and personal agendas. Another necessary part of building a strong foundation includes educating believers about those “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who use Christianity as a platform to lead authentic believers into error. Scripture tells us plainly “You shall know them by their fruit….a good tree does not bear bad fruit”. Even though these guidelines are there for our admonition, how often do we fail to help believers learn “how” to discern truth versus lies, good versus evil, God’s voice versus the enemy’s etc. Where Christians gather together, ‘there He is in the midst of us”. Even so, “Satan appears as an angel of light”….”seeking whom he may devour”…etc. Given this truism, it is important, no–critical, to equip all believers with Scriptural guidelines for discerning Gods’ leading, voice and the fruit of His Kingdom versus Satan’s leading, voice and the alleged fruit of his. This distinction might put me in the “cautious” camp more than the “simplifier’s” camp…I’m not really sure. But it seems to me that the Great Commission’s mandate is not only to “make disciples of all nations” but to also be “married to the backslider” because God the Father is.. In order to go the distance with those headed down the wrong path, we must strike a balance between “accessibility and accuracy”, knowing WHEN to emphasize WHAT. Although Paul was committed to “being all things to all people”, he turned away from John-Mark when he felt that this disciple abandoned him and the work of the gospel. But Barnabas continued to mentor his cousin and the outcome was an example of what happens when “truth and mercy kiss one another”. For me, it is more about which church is “rightly dividing the word of God” and teaching believers how to do this well themselves. Regardless of which camp we lean toward, ambiguity will always be there. In various seasons, it will reign in the personal journey’s of the official leaders as well as in those of the laity. Being “told” what God says or doesn’t say without room to personally engage and hear God through Scripture will not result in more clarity or accuracy. It will only result in more replications of truth or error depending upon the personal walk of the leaders doing the telling. Jesus [the Word Incarnate] met personally with the masses and was He not a fan of the way in which the Pharisees mediated Scripture. Thus, I believe Jesus is fully in favour of “the priesthood of the laity” and the risks that this theology poses. That is likely because He knows that “His sheep hear His voice..and will not hearken to the voice of a hireling”. Praise God!

  2. Please forgive typo in 4th line from the bottom…it should read, “He was not a fan of the way in which the Pharisees mediated Scripture”.

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