DISCIPLES … AN ORIGINAL CONCEPT?

by  Stephen L. Dunn

I had my first ministry assignment in 1971 when I was hired as the part-time Youth Pastor of the Newville (PA) Church of God.  That was forty years ago. It was a time when, particularly in small towns, churches were the centers of the community, church people were viewed as solid citizens, and pastors were positions of honor and respect.

Forty years have pretty much changed that. The ecclesiastical landscape is not a pretty sight.  During those 40 years our society has seen a seismic shift in its values and perceptions.  Churches are now considered by many postmoderns as entities that squelch true spirituality.  Church people are often viewed as political enemies of reasonable, “normal” people.  Clergy types are viewed with suspicion.

Scholars, social commentators, and religious historians speak of a shift from being a churched culture to a … you fill in the blank.  Whatever the case, churches and Christianity no longer hold home field advantage.

In the churched culture, people thought being good folk was synonymous with being good Christians.  In a culture that tracked with the church (Robert Bellah said this was because the culture had a civil religion that resemble Christianity), people thought of their churches as organizations that recruited members, provided benefits to those members (including status in the world and eternal life in the next). But because church and culture were basically on a parallel course, few churches concerned themselves with making disciples.  They just were recruiting and indoctrinating members with shared values).

Evangelism was replaced with church marketing.  Good people became the goal (good people who knew how to navigate a prayer book/hymnal) rather than transformed people.  But even choosing to become a Christian was relatively costless because the culture would affirm you anyway.  Most of the emphasis was on the outward appearance of faith and the willingness to do our “Christian duty.” Many, many mainline denominations continue to operate from this premise.  Many, many evangelical ones have chosen to be cultural curmudgeons.

Somewhere the idea of being Christ’s disciples was replaced with being a Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and members of the Republican Party (if you were a social conservative) or the Democratic Party (if you were a social liberal).  The church and our culture have suffered immensely by this loss of true identity – of biblical identity.

When Jesus walked on planet Earth and lived in our neighborhood, he spoke of people becoming his disciples.  Of being people who proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom by following Him.  FOLLOWING HIM.

In fact, that’s how Christians came to be called Christians.  They were recognized as followers/disciples of Jesus Christ.

Isn’t it time to stop being members of a church, or advocates of a particular doctrinal distinctive, or members of a political force in the nation’s culture wars – TO ONCE AGAIN BEING CHRIST’S DISCIPLES?

(c) 2011 by Stephen L Dunn

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