Friday, August 14, 2009

Thoughts on making disciples

My friend Dennis Elenburg asked how we are fulfilling the great commandment to go out and make disciples. I said with my family, preaching at the retirement home, and leading worship at my kids' middle school. He then asked me three followup questions, which I will attempt to answer here.

(1) How do I make disciples within my own family: Well, one thing is that I am trying to teach the kids good theology. Nobody (believer or unbeliever) has no theology, just right theology or wrong theology. And theology is something that I think is also neglected in many churches today. We can't even come to faith in Christ without a somewhat right theology - to believe that we are sinners, that God is holy, hates sin, and only Christ can save us. So, with my son (and daughter to the extent she can understand, which will grow as she gets older of course) I have him read books that teach good theology - such as the absolute sovereignty of God in every area, including salvation - and we talk about the subject, such as discussing fallacies and problems with other theologies. He needs to be able to think and understand these things for himself, which is part of being a Christian.

Another thing is to teach them through words and example that they are here to do the work God put them here to do. So, I had my son join us in the evangelism course we took, practiced together, etc. Also, I make it very clear that I expect him to volunteer his time to help people in the community, to shine the light of Christ for them. I told him he could do anything he wanted, but since I am already connected at the retirement home, suggested he start there. And he is. He's playing the music for my Sunday morning service and also at another lady's Wednesday Bible study, and is doing other volunteering over there. Last week he played cards with the residents for an hour or so.

(2) How do you know if someone is a "true disciple": Well, I'd say that it's impossible to know for sure. I do think that God gives us some level of discernment, but ultimately we won't really know. I think the best measurement may be how they react to the gospel and its preaching. For example, I know a person who seems to be a Christian, is very interested in church things. We got to talking about sin and how many churches don't seem to want to talk about it nowadays. This person said something along the lines of their church talking about it too much. That made my ears prick up. Can you ever really talk too much about sin, given that in any church there will likely be a number of people who desperately need to understand their own sinfulness and hear the gospel? Somebody else complained about their sermons always presenting the gospel (sin, repentance, the cross, salvation). Does any true Christian/disciple get tired of hearing that message? I certainly don't.

However, my point was not really that we can know whether somebody is a true disciple, but rather whether we really preach the gospel so that they can become true disciples. We can talk about doing good things for other people and learn how to have a better sex life all day long, but unless we understand sin, repentance, and the cross, we and they are never going to become true disciples.

(3) Have you seen any elderly folk come to faith in Christ at their advanced ages? Not yet that I know of. There was one gentleman who I think God was drawing to Himself - his level of interest was certainly increasing, based on the questions he peppered me with weekly - but he passed away a few weeks ago. I can only pray that he heard and heeded the truth before he died. I figure if I'm faithful, if I'm there, God will draw those whom He wants. I may plant the seeds, water, or reap the fruits, but God gives the increase.


elenburg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
elenburg said...

Gary, thanks so much for answering my questions. Hearing what other brothers are doing to be salt and light where God has planted them is an inspiration for all of us.

I've been doing a lot of mission work in New Orleans over the years, and that has led to working with the homeless here in Dallas too. My son and I go to Union Gospel Mission on the 2nd Saturday of every month and serve the homeless men breakfast. It has been a real education and eye opener getting out of the comfy suburbs and into the urban area where there is so much more need.

I'm totally tracking with you on the theology education. I quiz my kids all the time on doctrine as we ride along in the car. :-)

Craig said...

I will go a little against the grain here. :-)

I teach my children "truth" but I would not classify it as theology. Truth is truth - whether it is the truth that God created everything, or truth that 2+2=4, or truth that we are called to love people, or truth that there are orphans in China, Africa, and everywhere else in the world who desparately need people to care for them, or truth that God tells us to care for them.

I think far too many Christians emphasize "biblical knowledge" as the measure of maturity. Therefore, I would rather teach my children the heart of God and how to hear His voice, rather than just sound theology. As A.W. Tozer said in his great book "The Pursuit of God," we have ample knowledge of the Bible today, but in the midst of that we lack a true knowledge of, and intimacy with, God.

Having said that, I applaud your efforts at displaying acts of service. Our knowledge means nothing if we are not laying down our lives daily and displaying love and service toward others.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. If you do these, you will fulfill the whole law.

Peace and grace!

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Craig, I do not dispute what you are saying, that "truth is truth." And obviously I agree with you that helping other people understand God's love through our words and our actions is so important.

However, I suggest that, in a certain sense, you are not living in the present. No doubt there are still some today who, as in Tozer's time, elevate correct doctrine over helping others. But I would submit that, taken as a whole, today there is hardly anybody in the church who is concerned about doctrine, while huge segments of the Christian church (especially those identifying with the Seeker Sensitive and Emergent sectors) all but ignore doctrine in favor of social action.

C.S. Lewis cautioned us that once a man falls off a horse on one side and gets back on, he needs to be especially careful about falling off on the other. (I can vouch for that from when I was so concerned about dropping my motorcycle on the left, I ended up dropping it on the right!) I think it's the same here. In the past we needed to be cautious about paying too much attention to doctrine; now we need to be cautious about paying too little. And I think it's clear that today we have fallen off on the other side. The only solution is to be cautious about falling off on either side, and to do and teach both. To do any less is not living up to what Christ calls us to do.

Craig said...


I think we may be talking about two different things. I do see a lot of seeker-sensitive or emergent churches that are not teaching truth. But, to a great degree, I do not necessarily think they are full of Christians, but rather are often filled with seekers.

On the other hand, I see a lot of conservative, doctrinally-sound churches that are teaching truth, but are filled with people who likely are Christians with too much emphasis on "biblical knowledge" rather than biblical practice in a wholistic sense.

For example, I know a lot of conservative Christians who emphasize scripture memorization, etc. with their kids, but do very little to actually get their kids out serving among the least among us. That is why I loved elenburg's post about taking his kids to the gospel mission. It integrates truth and practice together, the way it ought to be.

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

I don't think we are talking about two different things. I whole-heartedly agree with you that we have to integrate correct doctrine with reaching out and helping others both spiritually and physically. I totally agree that churches teaching only doctrine- the few that are left - are not living up to what Christ called us to do. I said as much previously.

What I am saying is that this side of the problem has been brought up, lamented, and lambasted continuously for the past 20 or more years. The startling silence I hear today is the lack of any concern about doctrine in many churches. I mention emergent and seeker-sensitive churches not because they are filled with Christians, but because they are not filled with "seekers" but frankly with unrepentant sinners who (like the rest of us) deserve hell, but are sadly not hearing the theological truths that can save their souls. Instead, they hear tired complaints about how bad the "traditional" church is, exhortations to social action, and advice on how to improve their sex lives (plus candles and mystic prayer if they tend toward the emergent side).

Once again, I will emphasize that if you know conservative Christians who do little or nothing to serve the world around them, you should try to help them understand the error of their ways. But don't fall off the horse on the other side: those who call themselves "Christians" but emphasize only social action but put little emphasis on doctrinal truth should be rebuked in the same way. That the latter group are mostly non-Christians, is no doubt true; but then they should be helped to understand the Gospel. And that means the hard doctrinal truths.