[It would really help, dear reader, if you browsed through Part 1 in order to get a better grip on the vital topic under discussion]
We have noted that the Church (certainly in the West/under Western influence) is in crisis. At our conference we examined a number of current threats to the fulfilment of the Great Commission in South Africa/Africa: e.g. secular humanism in the Church, the ‘gospel of covetousness’ and wide-spread animism [our President is an outspoken animist and practising polygamist]. In the light of this, I suggested the Church in SA ‘return to basics,’ and chose as ‘drawing-board’ that simple discipleship passage recorded in Mk. 1:14-18. [Why was I not surprised when in rugby-mad South Africa SPORT 24 ran an article this morning on the top South African Supersport team, the Sharks, needing to ‘get back to basics’ to stand any chance of winning the competition after two disastrous losses against the Stormers and the Cheetahs?] A summary thus far:
BASIC 1: GOD’S PEOPLE ARE ‘A KINGDOM PEOPLE’ [Mk. 1:14-15a)
BASIC 2: GOD’S PEOPLE ARE ‘A GOOD NEWS PEOPLE’ [Mk. 1:14,15b]
BASIC 3: ‘GOD’S PEOPLE ARE ‘A JESUS PEOPLE’ [Mk. 1:16]…
Mk. 1:16 sketches the Galilean scene where Jesus “saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said.” It was a simple, clear invitation to intimate association with him, friendship, relationship, fellowship. It was to be a relationship with Jesus as a person, the Messiah, the God-Man on earth.
They were not being called to some or other philosophy (like that of Plato), or a set of beliefs, or a moral code in the first place. They certainly were not being called to become members of some or other ‘denomination’ such as abound today [we have some 41,000 of them at this point, somewhat confusing to the person in the street, wouldn’t you say?]. They were not being called to follow some ‘Super Apostle’ or ‘Prophet’ or successful Business CEO as is common today. They certainly were not being called to follow some special ‘church program’: how many church members today, or even pastors, cannot exist without some or other ‘program,’ keeping one and all from their real calling and mission in the world.
The older ones among us would recall the ‘Jesus Revolution’ of the 1960’s and 1970’s, when many students and young people, during the hippie and drug culture in the USA, turned to Jesus for meaning and deliverance. Their casual dress and behaviour often did not sit well with traditional Christians, and many genuinely converted young people were turned away from the traditional Church. It took Dr. Billy Graham to point out that this Jesus movement was in fact a kind of spiritual revival, and that the Church had largely missed a golden opportunity of discipleship and renewal. It is generally known that many senior Christian leaders today look back to that time as their turning point in coming to know and follow and serve Christ.
Am I ‘a Jesus person?’ You recall the thrice-repeated key-question Jesus posed Peter after his reinstatement as disciple: ‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me?’ (Jn. 21:15ff). It’s still the fundamental question for you and me today!
BASIC 4: GOD’S PEOPLE ARE ‘A DISCIPLED PEOPLE’ [Mk. 1:17b]…
In v. 17 we read Jesus’ commitment to Peter and Andrew, “‘I will make you fishers of men.'” The ASV renders this, ‘I will make you to become fishers of men.’ Following Jesus is a commitment to a process, to a lifestyle centred in the Messiah, and Jesus would have his followers understand that from the outset.
Jesus also spelt out to any would-be followers that discipleship would be a costly process. In a later setting, Mark records our Lord’s words as he called the crowd and his disciples to himself (Mk. 8:34-35): “‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me… whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.'” As subsequent followers have found out, it is not a ‘posture-pedic cross,’ nor some temporary or personal impediment [Afrikaans people speak of ‘each home having its cross’: e.g. a difficult mother-in-law, etc]. Dietrich Bonhoeffer of the Confessing Church during World War 2 is famous for his statement, ‘When Christ bids a man come, he bids him come and die.’ In Bonhoeffer’s case it literally cost him his life – in our case it certainly will cost us death to our ego, self-importance, selfish ambitions and plans, on the basis of our faith-union with Christ in his death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-14).
The aged German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, in a recent interview, spoke of ‘two kinds of crosses’ we live by:
- The real cross, that of Golgotha. This is the cross that killed Christ and kills his followers.
- A dream cross, that of Constantine, the Roman Emperor (300’s AD), who in a dream was told to conquer by the sign of the cross. Constantine institutionalised and professionalised the Church, and we have suffered the tragic consequences to this day. This cross is merely a symbol, an ornament, without life and power and love.
[The following paragraph I did not get to mention in my message at the conference, due to oversight under time constraints. I include it here as it was in my notes to preach]. A discipled people is also a relational people. Jesus called his immediate followers into a group of 12, then a group of 70/72, and so on. He spoke of his ‘body’ which was to incarnate him in the world.
Discipleship must always be understood and practised in the context of a faith community, where Jesus is truly Lord. There is no hierarchy here. All are priests and kings. There is true community (Acts 2:42ff). In Jesus’ eyes, smaller is often better. From experience in and outside of the institutional Church, I honestly believe that we cannot have true community, prayer and holiness in a kind of ‘toaster-rack’ ‘pulpit-and-pew’ scenario where we seldom if ever get to go really deep with Jesus and one another [witness Bonhoeffer’s commune-like underground seminary in Finkenwalde]. Henri Nouwen, who at Christ’s call went from Harvard academic to l’Arche Community pastor to the mentally challenged, made clear in his little gem ‘In the Name of Jesus’ that no-one can truly lead or minister apart from intimate community or truly ‘doing it together.’
I personally believe God is raising up ‘a remnant’ in these days – don’t be surprised, dear friends, if it includes many around the world living and serving outside of the institutional Church, e.g. the underground House Church movement in China.
[This part I did include in my message]. At the end of the day only Jesus can disciple us. Yes a cell leader may help, or a mentor. Speak to any lonely missionary on a foreign field, and they will bear this out – it’s often just Jesus and them, them and Jesus! Are you and I part of Christ’s discipling process?
We have one more ‘basic’ and some conclusions to deal with. May I suggest that, instead of rushing these here, I leave it for a final and shorter ‘Part 3?’ Thank you sincerely for journeying so patiently with me thus far!