What’s Wrong With Making Christians?
What does it mean to be a Christian? If you ask any self-professing “Christian,” more likely than not you will get different answers and in some instances, even contradicting answers. In this day and age being a Christian has become highly personalized to an individual’s own definition. The question is no longer what it means to be a Christian, but rather “what do you think it means to be a Christian?” It causes us to wonder if these people are reading the same book!
When we “create Christians”, we allow people to define Christ and His saving work how he or she sees fit. This type of Christianity creates people who believe they are the highest moral authority, encourages the individual to define Christ by their own experience, and might be informed by scripture but leaves the individual as the ultimate arbiter of truth. So while these Christians may hold to many of the teachings of Christ as it pertains to such things as love and kindness, they reject commands in scripture that require a holy life. They become cultural Christians who only submit to the lordship of Christ over their lives, except in those areas that are uniquely part of life in the 21st Century. Those areas in which Christ calls them to submission, but are contrary to what our culture says is truth, are seen as antiquated and not meant to be lived out in our society today.
You see, there is a difference between what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be Disciple. A “Christian” can be an abuser, liar, molestor, idolizer… As long as you say amen and hallelujah at the right time you too can join the billions of people that self-identify as Christians. This is the easy way to go but not what Christ has called us to.
Now I write this not bash an individual’s exercise of religion as they see fit. Rather, I want to shed light on a contrast between what scripture teaches about merely being a Christian, and what we are called to be by Christ: disciples. Scripture only references the word Christian three times: Acts 11:26,26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16. This title is not even used by Christians to identify themselves, but rather it is used by others to mock, hate, and belittle members of the group of people that self-identified as disciples of “The Way” (Acts 24:14), or disciples of Jesus Messiah.
To be a disciple of Christ, now that is tough. To be a disciple requires a Christ-like standard of living defined not by our personal or cultural definitions, not by what is comfortable, and not marred by hidden sin. Mathew 28:18-20 says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Christ’s command is not to make “Christians,” but to make disciples. We have a clear mandate that the relationship we are to have with Christ is to be his disciple and to disciple others into fellowship with Him. This is key to understand if we are to be in a right relationship with Christ and with each other. Jesus’ followers did not know what it meant to be a Christian, but they knew how to be a disciple. Their culture survived on it. Children would be discipled by their parents to take on the family business. Jesus himself was discipled to take on the construction business that Joseph would eventually leave behind. For the gifted few that would become teachers of scripture they would undergo a long process of discipleship by Rabbis in order so they themselves could become Rabbis.
For 1st century Israel, this was the main mode of education of the day. And so when Jesus called his disciples to make disciples of the world they knew well what that meant and what that required. To be a disciples means a relinquishing of pride and heartiness and submit under the teaching of your master. So, if we are to be and to make disciples, what is required?
1) Humility: “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” (John 13:16) We must acknowledge that our master Jesus is greater than all. Part of the relationship that we are to have with Jesus is that of our master. We cannot move forward with our discipleship if we are not willing to recognize that Jesus is truly Lord of all. Both in the macro and in the micro. Jesus is lord of the universe and is lord of the individual person and his or her life.
2) Proximity: “Cover in the dust of your Rabbi.” This old saying is part of Talmudic teaching in the Mishnah and its aim to show how close the disciple should always be from his rabbi. You should be so close to your master as a disciple as to be able to be cover with the dust that is lifted up as they walk forward. We should always strive to be as close to our Lord as possible. Our every thought and deed should be such that we emulate the life of Jesus (1 Corinthians 4:16). To be close we must know the Character of our Master. His character invades ours and indeed replace our failings.
3) Priorities: “She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” (Luke 10:39) Our priorities must be aligned to He who is the greatest good. While Martha was busy with what her society told her she must do, say, believe, Jesus was teaching Mary that bravely broke that paradigm and correctly picked Jesus over societal norms. For the disciple learning from our master always must win over whatever other priorities we may think we have.
4) Love: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) Love is indeed a pre-requisite to be a disciple. Love is needed to and indeed is crucial for the unification of the body that the earlier disciples and Apostles so guarded. When the outsider sees a disciple’s love for one another, they can truly identify us as disciples of one Lord, the God-Man Jesus Christ.
I want to encourage you to identify with what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Humble yourself, aligned your priorities to His, and love your brother with out reservations. Not in a love that does not bring accountability but in the love that is willing to walk with your weaker brother all for the glory of Jesus and the rise of his Kingdom.
All hail the king!
David is an active volunteer with his wife, Karina, at Phoenix Bible Church, serving as the Communion Lead and rocking out on the bass.