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?