Bill Hull: I find no biblical evidence for a separation of Christian from disciple.

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Some months back, I came across this book “The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ” by Bill Hull and decided to add it to my library. It is, after all, positioned as “the definitive A-to-Z resource on discipleship”.

Learning more about discipleship is always good. However, my main objective was to see what Bill Hull’s position was with regards to believers and disciples. Simply: Are believers and Christians one and the same? or Is there a separate decision believers have to make to move on to being disciples? Do Christians get to choose whether to be or not be disciples? If you have read my posts on this topic and issue, you would know my view and position. If not, here are the links for your easy reference:

Whilst I used to think that there was a difference, I am today solidly (and biblically) convinced that all believers are automatically disciples. The question for me is no longer whether we are disciples or not, but if we are faithful or unfaithful ones. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this position. In fact, what is more commonly taught and propagated across churches is that discipleship is a separate and distinct decision a believer makes.

Given my schedule and priorities, it would be a while before the book made it to my bedside table. I finally read the first pages and I didn’t have to get too far to be encouraged.

The Introduction opened with a bold quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” Hull notes that today, “non-discipleship ‘Christianity’ dominates much of the thinking of contemporary church” because “we evangelicals accept and even encourage a two-level Christian experience in which only serious Christians pursue and practice discipleship, while grace and forgiveness is enough for everyone else.” Hull goes on to state that “we can’t truly follow Christ without desiring to become like Him. Following Him requires regeneration or new birth. If we’re reborn, we’ll follow Him – unless we’re taught that we don’t need to.” (pp15-17, emphasis mine)

In Chapter One: Biblical Foundations of Discipleship, in defining a Disciple, the author writes, “A disciple, then is a reborn follower of Jesus. I’ve already mentioned my distaste for the teaching that a difference exists between being a Christian and being a disciple. The common teaching is that a Christian is someone who by faith accepts Jesus as Saviour, receives eternal life, and is safe and secure in the family of God; a disciple is a more serious Christian active in the practice of the spiritual disciplines and engaged in evangelising and training others. But I must be blunt: I find no biblical evidence for a separation of Christian from disciple. In answer to the age-old question, ‘Are disciples born or made?’ I contend they are born to be made.” (pp32-33, emphasis mine)

Hull then clarifies, As a new Christian, an individual doesn’t take a ‘second step’ toward becoming a disciple. Instead he embarks on a seamless journey of growth that passes through spiritual childhood, adolescence, and adulthood to maturity.” Hull believes that “When the distinction between disciple and Christian disappears, so does the damaging belief in a two-tiered church. A disciple, then, is the normal Christian who follows Christ.” (p33, emphasis mine)

I love this guy! And I believe that I’m going to enjoy reading the rest of the book too 🙂

That said, it is not about winning an argument about believers and disciples. So what if I am right positionally but totally miss it relationally. I do not want to merely talk or teach discipleship and not be engaged in the lives of others. There is already enough for that in our churches where we run discipleship programmes but do not really disciple anyone at all. My prayer is that the Lord will enable me to be a faithful disciple who will in turn lead and impact others for Jesus. Amen!

Misconception #3: Disciples are a special class of believers

Misconception 3If you subscribe to misconceptions #1 and #2, this is how you will view disciples. You will consider mere believers as being inferior to disciples, as being lesser than those who have decided to follow Jesus. After all, these privileged ones received the call and have selflessly abandoned all to be with the Master. But not little ol’ me! Can you see what this is going?

Disciples are not a special class of believers! There is no one more special than another is God’s family! We were all undeserving of anything but have received everything by His grace. If we didn’t qualify to be saved, what qualifies us to be disciples? Nothing, except Jesus! If we understand this, we will not buy into the lie that some are more worthy than others to be disciples.

Of all the disciples, Jesus loved ALL the same. However, to prepare each for different assignments, He invested His time accordingly. As we have already noted, Jesus had more than 500 disciples, but He spent the most time with the 12 because these were chosen to be apostles, for specific assignments. Of the 12, His inner circle was three: Peter, James and John. Of the three, John was considered the beloved disciple, although Peter was de facto leader. In the early Church, disciples waited on tables and served the people. Others gave and shared their resources. Later, in the book of Ephesians, Paul clarified the roles of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

In the army, one may serve as a storeman or a clerk. But he is still considered a soldier. Everyone who dons the uniform is a soldier. Likewise, when we believed in Jesus, we put on the uniform when we were clothed with His righteousness. This is standard issue and every believer is a soldier in the Lord’s Army, equally equipped with the armour of God!

Disciples are not a special class of super-spiritual believers! Every believer is a disciple and each has a distinct role. We are a body of different parts and every part must do its share according to the measure of faith given by grace.

Misconception #1: Discipleship is a separate decision/event from believership [Part Two]

Part Two: What about the Multitudes?

Misconception 1.2

At this moment, I hear you ask, “What about the multitudes? Did they not follow? Are these also believers but not disciples then?” Please do not be offended, but those who ask this question are usually the ones who have no desire to be disciples. And if they can prove that multitudes are believers, it gives them the justification to stay right where they are. Well, you can’t really blame them for to these, to believe means to be saved, not to follow Jesus as a disciple.

Multitudes in the Gospels In the gospels, the word multitudes is always used in contrast to disciples. This can mean one of two things, depending on one’s perspective. The traditional view is that they are believers of Jesus Christ but have not made the decision to be disciples. However, this raises a few questions that I find very difficult to answer and reconcile.

If these are indeed believers, why would Jesus send them away? If these believed in Jesus, why would Jesus deliberately keep the mysteries of the Kingdom from them, as if they are some second-class believers? Can you imagine your pastor telling you to go home so that he can share deeper secrets with those more deserving? If these were His own, why would Jesus describe them as sheep without a shepherd. Plainly, He was not their shepherd – yet. That means, they were not His sheep.

“But they followed!” you say, “surely then, they believed.” Indeed, they believed; but not necessarily in what Jesus would have them believe. They believed in what they wanted to believe. After all, they did want to make Jesus king. But the moment they did not receive a Messiah of their desire, they abandoned Jesus.

That said, let’s also be clear that one can follow without believing or understanding anything. Look at the crowds and mobs of today. Do you think they really believe in everything they picket about? I think not. Of course, it all begins with a core group who believe enough to do something (see, faith produces action). Yet, with herd mentality, it’s easy for many others to follow without even knowing why they are there. It just sounds and feels right. After all, everyone is doing it (sounds familiar?).

Without doubt, there would have been some who genuinely wanted to know more about Jesus. And these would constitute those who approached Jesus to be disciples. Once again, it is premised on their faith in Him that compels them to follow Him. The One we believe, we follow.

From the above, you will agree with me that it is not quite as straightforward to broadly declare the multitudes as believers or not believers. We will never know but the Lord does. That is not the point of this article at all. All I am convinced about is that one can follow without believing; but one cannot believe without following. Against this, the more pertinent question for each Christian is this: “If I believe, would I then follow? Why do I fight being a disciple so much?”

Multitudes in Acts By the time we come to the book of Acts, the word multitudes, and its various forms, is used very differently. Acts 6:1 records that “the number of disciples were multiplying”. The twelve apostles then “summoned the multitude of the disciples”, not believers. And finally in Acts 6:7, we are told that “the number of the disciples multiplied greatly.” Notice that it is used in conjunction with the word disciples. And when it is not used in this context, the crowds referred to non-believers, who more often than not, opposed the disciples.

Do you honestly think that they had such a good discipling programme that many believers signed up immediately? I don’t believe this is the right interpretation at all. Consider this instead: In the book of Acts, there is simply no distinction between believers and disciples. On the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 were added to the disciples; and then 5,000 more later. From Jerusalem, the gospel travels to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. Acts 11:21 tells us that “a great number believed”. What the city of Antioch saw as believers of Jesus Christ, Acts 11:26 records as disciplesOnce again, we see that believers are disciples. And right there in Antioch, these believer-disciples were called Christians, which literally means “followers of the Christ”, for the very first time.

Considering the number of mentions of the word disciples, it makes for a very interesting observation (revelation?). Of the 274 NT mentions, 242 are found in the gospels and only 32 in Acts. Surprisingly, there is not a single mention in the epistles and Revelation! How do you explain this? Jesus’ Great Commission was for them to make disciples, and there is not a single mention of the word disciple? Either they missed this important detail and messed up big time. Or there was simply no need to make any distinction between believers and disciples because there was none in the first place. Every New Testament believer of Jesus Christ is a disciple of Jesus Christ!

Seven Misconceptions of Discipleship

Seven MisconceptionsIn offering scholarships to encourage school leaving youths to consider a career in the military, the recruitment office did not opt for the guts ‘n’ glory angle. Instead, they found that the following points proved more attractive and effective:

  • Academic Pursuit: get the paper and qualification you desire
  • Financial Perks: get paid to study when others borrow to pay their fees
  • Material Benefits: while your peers are begging their parents for more pocket money, get a car before they can even dream of it
  • Adventure & Exposure: get to experience extreme sports and life
  • Prestige: get honour and glory in serving the nation, plus your girl (who can resist a man in uniform?)

Catching up with a friend who signed on as a regular, we asked him if he was having a great time with all these promises. He answered, “Nonsense, la!” After all, no one said anything about being a soldier, tough training, and the possibility of dying in battle!

Is it not the same with Christianity? Very likely so, I’m afraid. Do we not advertise the good news, calling out to all, “Be a Christian and get your [fill in the blank]!”? Hardly, if anything is said about being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Little wonder then, that the Church has discovered a great disconnect between being a Christian and being a disciple.

As if a knee-jerk reaction (prompted by the Holy Spirit, I’m sure), there is now, of late, a sudden attention turned to discipleship. In the bookshops are so many titles and programmes on discipleship. Contained in every church mission statement is the word disciple or discipleship. Every church wants to be an intentional disciple-making church (IDMC). With the new buzzword of discipleship, another problem has arisen. Discipleship has become hip and cool; and in that, we have missed the mark again!

For sure, so much has been taught and written about discipleship. But why all the confusion still? What is a disciple? Who is a disciple? How is discipleship done? Why is discipleship so difficult a concept to grasp in our days?

In preparing for a series on discipleship, I asked the Lord to show me afresh. I knew what I had been told and taught about discipleship. But my desire was to approach the Word without any presupposition or preconceived notions about discipleship. And the Lord gladly obliged. When He opened my eyes with a fresh revelation and understanding, it rocked whatever I had previously held on to. Oh my! What have I been teaching the people?

That’s what this series of articles will be about – the SEVEN misconceptions of discipleship that are prevalent in the Church, in the hearts and minds of God’s people.

  1. Discipleship is a separate decision/event from believership: Part One & Part Two
  2. Believers must be called to be disciples
  3. Disciples are a special class of believers
  4. Discipleship is an optional add-on to salvation
  5. Discipleship is a ministry or programme in the Church
  6. Discipleship is one aspect of the spiritual walk
  7. Discipleship is about me

Of the seven misconceptions, the first two are the most controversial. You may or may not agree with me, and that’s fine. Since sharing these, I’ve had different responses and it’s been interesting. I’ve also found that people like to remain in their comfort zones. And Christians presume many things without ever checking the Scriptures.

Therefore, if you disagree with anything, don’t disagree just because it doesn’t sound nice to you, goes against what you have been taught, or rocks your cushy Christian walk. Be like the Bereans who “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Finally, if we are still in disagreement, that is perfectly alright. My desire is not to win an argument about discipleship but that more would rise up to be faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ! If this exercise provokes and spurs you towards this goal, I would have more than done my part.

David Pawson: The True God and the True Gospel

I had two concerns when the link to David Pawson‘s video was sent to me. Firstly, the timer read “1:32” and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sit through an online message of such a length. But my second concern was a greater one. Knowing what a good teacher Pawson is, I didn’t relish the thought of having any chance of him point out anything I have been teaching or preaching wrongly.

I didn’t know what made me click the PLAY button. But when I started listening to this great bible teacher address the graduating students, I couldn’t stop.

Pawson challenged the popular proposition that “God is love”. As much as it sounded and felt good and right, Pawson pointed out that are actually very few passages in the Bible that spoke of the love of God. And where these are found, these were directed to believers and not pre-believers. In highlighting this one aspect of God to an extreme, we have presented an erroneous perspective of God to the pre-believers.

Similarly, we have made John 3:16 the gospel when contextually, and understanding the Greek continuous tense correctly, it was addressed to believers to go on believing in Jesus so that they can go on having eternal life. Simply, Pawson clarifies that it is not a gospel of love we should be preaching to pre-believers, but a gospel of righteousness, as written by Paul in Rom 1:16-17.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.'” Romans 1:16-17

I know that a few short sentences will not do justice to such an awesome address by David Pawson. To this end, I strongly encourage you to listen to the message in its entirety. Let me assure that it will most certainly be worth your time. It definitely challenged me to think more deeply and to see if I too have presented a wrong view of God and preached an inaccurate gospel.

By the way, the video is only 1hr20min, and not 1hr32min as displayed 🙂

Related Post: God So-o-o Loved the World

Are all believers of Jesus automatically disciples of Jesus?

Dear friends

I am wondering what the general view is to the above question, “Are all believers of Jesus automatically disciples of Jesus?” Please participate in this simple poll so that there are adequate responses for some meaningful analysis 🙂 Please feel free too to add your comments and thoughts as the answers in the poll have been deliberately kept simple and may not fully address your position or conviction.

Thanks for your support!

When God Says It He Means It

Some may remember the post I wrote in June, God Is Into New Things, based on a tree I saw in Bishan Park on one of my evening runs.

Well, since then, this tree has been my focus of attention each time I run past it, eager to see if more leaves would have sprouted. To my surprise, on my run this evening, the bare branches were all trimmed off, leaving only those with leaves!

Whilst the last message was one of hope and new beginnings, this is one of caution.

The words of Jesus came clearly to me, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away … If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” John 15:2 & 6

There is absolutely no doubt that God brings forth new things for the purpose of fruitfulness. And when God says it, He means it; and in His economy, everything needed to bring that to pass has already been provided for! The question is, Will we respond rightly that we may lay hold of that promise? Sadly, not everyone does. Perhaps, it’s apathy, or it’s presumption. Whatever it may be, the sad result is that nothing new emerges and that one remains barren and fruitless. In the end, the branch is cut down and cast out.

As believers of Jesus, we have every promise in Christ. The key is that we abide and remain in Him, as a branch needs to stay in the vine. Apart from the vine, the branch by itself can never be productive. Jesus says the same thing in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing.”

Dear friends, where are you in your relationship with Jesus, the True Vine? Are you abiding in Him and drawing from Him? Or are you merely relying on your baptism certificate and church attendance? Are you fruitful for Jesus? Or barren?

Remember, God is into new things, and you are included in that promise that you may participate and be productive in His purposes. Don’t miss out!