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Letter to Christianity Today

November 17, 2009

Mark Galli

Senior Managing Editor

Christianity Today

465 Gunderson Drive

Carol Stream, IL 60188

 

Dear Mr. Galli:

I’ve been a subscriber to CT for many years now, but also active in a work that God is doing that I’ve never read abut in your magazine. The closest I’ve seen you come to hitting on it is in your recent request to subscribers for renewal – where you promise you’re going to be writing about the need for deeper discipleship in US churches.

When you consider that Jesus spent serious time with a few – virtually every day for from 1-2 years, bringing them to a knowledge of Himself, His Father, and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, (which has hardly been preached for centuries), and is only now gaining ascendancy, how can we expect to produce authentic disciples by program and/or committee?

In a November 12, 2009 article, “Growing Authentic Disciples of Jesus, on the www.corediscipleship.wordpress.com website, the author says:

“Jesus ministered to the multitudes at least 17 times according to the Bible. However, there are approximately 46 mentions in the bible where He spent His time in private with His disciples. In those smaller group settings, He trained His committed followers for their own ministries.

“The great commission has two parts. The first is for us to go and make disciples. The second is of no less significance, but most often is set aside to secondary importance if used at all. It is to teach them to obey. In fact, there cannot be a disciple without this training. And there cannot be training without accountability.

“The primary objective of the church today as outlined by Jesus is for disciples of Jesus to develop other men and women into disciples. Discipleship should be at the forefront of our efforts. Everything we do, say, and teach should be considered as we ask, ‘’How will this help us make disciples?’’”

The author goes on to make John Wesley’s work an example we should seriously consider. And there is much merit in what Wesley was able to accomplish.

I believe however, that what God is about today is much deeper than Wesley’s work. Before discussing that, I’d like to call your attention to a quotation by Dick Halverson, one time pastor of the 4th Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, MD, and later Chaplain of the US Senate.

He said:

“When the Greeks got the gospel, they turned it into a philosophy; when the Romans got it, they turned it into a government; when the Europeans got it, they turned in into a culture, and when the Americans got it, they turned it into a business. (as quoted by Frank Viola in ‘Reimagining Church.’)

How can we begin to even think that we can bring true disciples to maturity using a church organized like General Motors or Microsoft?

Moreover, Frank Viola adds this:

”Very little of what is practiced in the modern institutional church has its roots in the New Testament. Instead, human-invented practices that were spawned centuries ago have both shaped and redefined the church. Such practices undermine the headship of Christ, hamper the –every-member-functioning of Christ’s body, violate New Testament theology, and disaffirms the fellowship of the triune God.”  (Reimagining Church)

Even one of the Methodist’s own, Dr. E. Stanley Jones, had something very strong to say on this matter:

“It is the depravity of institutions and movements that given in the beginning to express life, they often end in throttling that very life.  Therefore, they need constant review, perpetual criticism and continuous bringing back to the original purposes and spirit. The Christian church is no exception.  It is the chief illustration of the above.”

Any student of church history should recognize that there was a train wreck in the early 4th century, with the recognition of our faith by the Roman government as the official religion of the Empire.  This brought about a religious and political compromise, not only diluting and ultimately eliminating true discipleship, but pushing the Gospel of the Kingdom of God under the millennial rug, and replacing it with a very different gospel: “Come to Christ and when you die, you’ll go to heaven.”  This is a vital fraction of the true Gospel, but hardly the one that Jesus preached, and hardly one that can fulfill the destiny and callings that God ordained for the followers of His Son. In Revelation 13:8, we discover that the Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world. Which must mean that the Godhead knew man was going to sin ahead of time. Which must mean that God’s purpose in creating man must have been much larger than just so He could step in and save him. But I digress.

In the process of this, meetings in homes were made illegal, and city wide meetings where the early Christians went to hear the apostles teach was abandoned. The result: the mouse married the elephant, and from these two genuine methods of meeting practiced by the early church, we were given a hybrid, the congregation, which accomplishes very poorly the functions of either of the earlier two. There are 58 “one anothers” in the New Testament. When studied together, one comes away with the conclusion that the only was these can be lived out is in the intense kind of small group and house churches that the first century enjoyed. J.B. Phillips, translator of the marvelous New Testament translation that bears his name, said of this:

“The great difference between present-day Christianity and that of which we read in these [the New Testament] letters is that to us it is primarily a performance; to them it was a real experience. We are apt to reduce the Christian religion to a code, or at best a rule of heart and life. To these men it is quite plainly the invasion of their lives by a new quality of life altogether.” (J B Phillips as quoted in Reimagining Church)

To try to help the current US church make “deeper disciples” will be pouring new wine into old wineskins. When you examine the New Testament for the concept that bests describes the early church, it’s “family.” Families with fathers and sons. Establishing households. Moreover,  Ephesians 2:20 says that apostles and prophets were the foundation of the church. They weren’t just such because of their doctrine, although that was vital. They were the foundation by virtue of their character as individuals. It was their love, integrity, anointing, and commitment that were the foundation for the early churches. And they are every bit as much needed today as then for these very reasons.

There is much more I could say here – but I’ll conclude with this:

  • Congregations are not going to produce disciples
  • Pastors who are CEOs aren’t going to produce disciples
  • Leaders who don’t have an intimate, passionate, personal relationship with Jesus aren’t going to produce disciples.
  • Leaders who are hired by denominational/institutional churches aren’t required to have an intimate, personal, passionate relationship with Him, and are often kept on even when their behavior and ministry style strays from the scriptures. Many are just transferred if they become public relations problems.
  • Furthermore the loyalty of those so employed is first to their denomination – ahead of those they are supposed to be serving. They aren’t going to produce disciples.

A major portion of the solution: SONSHIP.

Sonship is a crucial missing element here. Adam was a son of God (Luke 3:38). Jesus was a Son of God. Paul writes that we are called to be adopted as sons of God (Ephesians 1:5), and that the whole of creation groans for the coming to maturity of the sons of God (Romans 8:19).

Could it be that the Lord was serious in Malachi 4:5-6 when He said:

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the earth with a curse.”

Could it be that He would be doing that in the hour when fatherlessness is the primary crisis we face in the world today? Negligent, absent, perverted, abusive fathers have created a maelstrom of crises in every nation, and we are reaping the whirlwind because of it.  Jesus identified John the Baptist as the one who came in the spirit of Elijah ()(see also Like 1:17). Isaiah identified Him as the “Everlasting Father.” (Isaiah 9:6ff).

It should also be noted that we serve a God who is a Father, but who has a Son. And that we serve a God who is a Son, but who has a Father!! And they have invited us into their fellowship (John 17). Do you suppose we might need to be experiencing father/son relationships to produce true disciples?

I’ve just scratched the surface here. Do you imagine that there are ministries out there that are walking in any of this? Is there any one that thinks we’re living in ‘’normal times’’ today? There are seasons with God. Could we possibly be in a new one? He says in Hebrews 12:25-29 that we really should be listening, that He is going to shake everything that can be shaken so that which cannot be shaken can stand. Can you feel the tremors? Then He tells us He is giving us an unshakeable kingdom.  What is that about?

Here are two ministries that are immersed in this kind of work:

  • Sam Soleyn                             www.soleyn.com
  • John Alley                               www.peace.org.au

I’m sure there are others. But if you’re going  to cover Christianity Today, I think major space and attention should be given to the deep anointing on these and any others in this league your research may discover.

I would greatly appreciate your response.

Sincerely,

Robert M Highland Jr.

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