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

IMG_9376

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!

Non-Discipleship is Tragically Costly

Back in March 2011, I posted “The Cost of Non-Discipleship“. Of course, it was just another rambling thought of my searching heart and inquisitive mind. With all the talk about discipleship in church circles, it is rather surprising why there are so few true disciples of Jesus Christ. Perhaps, just perhaps, many hold the view that there is choice as to whether one decides to be a disciple or not.

Admittedly, I used to think that too, but that view has changed in recent times [Read “Seven Misconceptions of Discipleship“]. Today, I am very convinced and convicted that once we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we become His followers, His disciples. After all, we have been bought by His precious blood and we are no longer our own. Sadly, not everyone agrees with that view, thereby contributing to and propagating the more popular understanding that it is alright not to be a disciple. As such, non-discipleship continues to be the preferred option (not that there is one), and thus a major trend in the church.

And since I am a nobody, an unknown, with respect to being a discipleship guru, my little post (and messages) will only go that far. To this end, I was rather encouraged to stumble upon a short clip by David Platt (the current big name amongst other equally prominent ones where discipleship is concerned), entitled “The Tragic Cost of Non-Discipleship“.

In his words, “the cost is of non-discipleship is far, far greater than that of discipleship” and “many [who continue to sit comfortable in church] are eternally deceived.” And if those who call themselves Christians do not awaken to this, “the consequences of casual cultural Christianity in the world are tragic.”

Granted that Platt’s remarks may not have addressed my position on discipleship directly and are more evangelistically skewed, but they are no less relevant. Until Christians rise up to their positions as disciples of Jesus, the sacrifices and challenges notwithstanding, non-discipleship remains tragically costly — to each believer personally, and to the greater good of a world in desperate need of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!

Related Post: Seven Misconceptions of Discipleship

Misconception #7: Discipleship is about me

Misconception 7Discipleship may concern, involve and affect you, but it’s not about you. Every disciple knows that he’s in it because of the Master. For the Christian, it is all about JESUS! Get this wrong and our personal agendas will jostle for top spot over and over again.

At Caesarea Philippi, Peter gloated after providing the right answer and promptly proceeded to rebuke his Master for talking about dying. In return, Jesus rebuked him with the title, Satan! Clearly, Jesus’ agenda was not according to “the things of men, but the things of God!” (Matt 16:13-23) Similarly, in Luke 9:51-56, James and John revealed their hatred for the Samaritans, all too ready to call down fire upon them. But Jesus’ agenda was not about destroying those who rejected Him, but saving those who are doomed for destruction. Later in Mark 10:35-45, James and John asked for prime positions and got their motives challenged. Jesus’ agenda was not that He be served, but that He would serve.

The multitudes were no different. They received healing and provision, saw signs and wonders, and enjoyed great teaching and revelation. All these served their needs and agenda, but did they follow Jesus as disciples? No, it demanded too high a cost! Are we not the same today?

But Jesus will not conform to our definition of discipleship, on our terms. We must submit to His standards! Jesus said what needed to be said, never lowered the bar, and never played to the crowds. Jesus was not afraid to lose the big crowds, but we are! He never lowered the standards of the Kingdom, but we are all too ready to do it in the name of love and grace, so that more will fill the pews.

When Jesus didn’t give His disciples what they wanted, Judas betrayed Him and the disciples left Him. When the multitudes did not get a Messiah according to their desire, their shouts turned from “Hail Him!” to “Nail Him!” Believers, you think?

Make no mistake. Discipleship is about JESUS! Does your idea of discipleship have a personal agenda or a Jesus agenda? What do you want Jesus to be to you, or to do for you? Do you not know that what He came to do, He has already done when He declared, “It is finished!”? If you believe in Him, do you not realise He is already your Saviour. Would you now acknowledge Him as your Master and start following Him as His disciple?

Misconception #6: Discipleship is one aspect of the spiritual walk

Misconception 6This misconception extends from the previous one. Those ‘called’ to the prayer ministry will focus on prayer. Those ‘called ‘ to the worship ministry will elevate the worship experience. Those ‘called’ to teach will emphasise the discipline of study. And the more we specialise, the more we compartmentalise. To be sure, these are all different aspects that contribute to our spiritual walk. However, when we consider discipleship on the same level as these, we make a grave mistake. Discipleship is not just an aspect of the spiritual walk. It is the spiritual walk.

Discipleship is the Christian life as we learn how to handle people and situations as Jesus did when He walked on earth, empowered by the Holy Spirit! Everything we think, do and say as a Christian is discipleship because we desire to think, do and say as our Master, Jesus, would. Every aspect of our lives is open for the Master’s inspection! Every word we utter is subject to His approval. What this means is that discipleship is not something that happens only in church but how we walk as followers of Jesus Christ in life!

How does this look in real life? Simply, I am first and foremost a disciple of Jesus before I am husband to Serene, father to my children, pastor to my congregation and dean to my students. I want to learn from Jesus that I may be more and more like Him in my relationship with my wife, my children, my congregation and my students. Walking in His ways is what discipleship is all about! Discipleship is not merely one aspect of my spiritual walk; it is everything my spiritual walk is supposed to be.

The right perspective and understanding of discipleship will radically change the way we live our lives and how we relate to one another. Husbands, as a disciple of Jesus, love your wives! Wives, as a disciple of Jesus, love your husbands! Parents, as disciples of Jesus, raise your children in the ways of Jesus. Fathers & Mothers, as disciples of Jesus, love and serve your children. Children, as disciples of Jesus, honour and obey your parents. Bosses, as disciples of Jesus, run your companies well. Employees, as disciples of Jesus, do you work well. Citizens of Singapore, as disciples of Jesus, stop complaining!

Stop seeing discipleship as only one component of your spiritual walk. This narrow view will cause you to minimise the importance of discipleship and what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus.

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 #2: Believers must be called to be disciples

Misconception 2We have all been told that we must first be called before we can be considered for discipleship. After all, that was what Jesus did.

Everyone presumes that Jesus called the 12. However, the gospels only record seven – Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew, Philip and Nathanael (Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11; John 1:35-51). The Bible is silent on the other five. And technically, Jesus didn’t call Nathanael; Philip did (John 1:48).

Another presumption is that Jesus had 12 and only 12 disciples (just like we presume there were three kings in the nativity story. It’s not in the Bible, by the way.). Quite obviously, Jesus had more than 12 disciples. Otherwise, there would have been no need to pray the entire night to choose 12 to be apostles (Luke 6:12-16). Luke 10:1 mentions 70 (or 72 NIV) others. After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to over 500 brethren at once. This means that there could have been a lot more before Jesus died but these stopped believing and following upon His death.

Numbers notwithstanding, Scriptures show us that Jesus invited (called) some and some invited themselves, as in Luke 9:57-62. When Jesus explained what it meant to follow Him, some stopped believing and thus did not follow. In Mark 10:17-22, Jesus told the rich young man that eternal life was found in Him. The call for him to follow was essentially an invitation for him to believe in that promise. The rich young man believed in his riches and good works and followed these instead of the One who could give him eternal life. Once again, discipleship is premised on faith in Jesus and what He promises. Discipleship is to put legs to our faith, to walk the talk.

From the above, we see that Jesus did not call each and every one of His disciples. As such, this notion of the call cannot be applied across the board. But that is what we have been taught! And this has resulted in too many waiting to be called, claiming they have not heard the call or rationalising that they are not called, that discipleship does not apply to them. Can this possibly be true? How can one say that they are followers of Jesus Christ yet be convinced that discipleship is not for them?

There is no need to wait for a call to be a disciple! Stop waiting to be called! If you truly know what you believe, you will follow!

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!