THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTIAN BIBLICAL DISCIPLESHIP
by Dr. Hanna Shahin
I fully realize that one cannot make sound and lasting judgments based on one’s personal experience, especially if that experience was not repeated. I know it is dangerous to come up with generalized principles borne of the same. I make these statements in relation to the matter of Christian discipleship.
When is it that Christian discipleship begins? One easy way to find the answer is to read the four Gospels. And so we can ask: When did the followers of Jesus become His disciples? And was He not discipling them when He lived His life before them? He was teaching them, or discipling them in how to pray when he prayed before them. He taught them what Christian forgiveness was when he forgave others before them. He was not doing this as an exercise. That was His life, whether in prayer, or in forgiveness or in any other aspect.
For reasons that I do not fully understand, we have rendered our discipleship of others to a series of courses that we term “discipleship courses.” “Doing life” as a Jesus follower has been replaced in our Christian jargon and practice, by courses. Jesus was not giving anybody courses. He called those twelve men to follow Him. The act of daily following Him was the discipleship that Jesus offered them.
All the disciples of Jesus came from a Jewish background. They did not have Christian parents. And all of them, without exception, were called His disciples while still Jewish in their thinking and culture.
Many have differed as to when the disciples stopped being Jewish and became Christian. I don’t have the answer to this question, and I am not seeking one. The only point I am trying to make is that they were Jewish and they were followers of Jesus, and therefore His disciples. It was not until quite later that they began to really know Who He was. Initially they did not have their theology in place. Who among them could have put together the Nicene Creed back then? Definitely none of them! Still, they were His followers. His disciples! His Jewish disciples.
What did Jesus mean when He sent His disciples commissioning them to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…, and teaching them to obey..”? What did He mean by the words “make disciples”? Was that to happen before those nations accepted His forgiveness or after? Was it before they were to be baptized or after? And was it before they would be taught to obey His commandments or after?
The problem with many among us is that we have taken Jesus’ words out of context. Discipleship was not the act of baptizing them, and more importantly, was not the act of teaching. It was never a course that He asked students to follow. To me, what Jesus was saying, was to go and live His life before the nations, and invite others to do likewise. Baptism can always follow, as well as the teaching parts. The order of the verbs in the commission is not questionable!
It is my conviction today, that if we had failed to bring about a breakthrough in our attempts to win the Middle Easterners to Christ, and for that matter our own people here in the West, it is because this is what we have been trying to do: Win them! That was never the intent.
The intent, according to my New Testament, was and is to disciple them. To live the life of Christ before them! It is not unimaginable to think that we as a church have failed miserably to live the life of Christ. That is why we do not have disciples, followers who will imitate our lives as we imitate His life. The problem lies with us.
It is a lot easier to teach someone a course, than to ask Him to do like you do. We, as a church, have become detached from the Message! Instead of living The Message, of becoming the Message, we have carried it. Instead of living as a Person, Christ, we present Him in books! How tragic!
We may call ourselves Christian. Others may call us Christian. But what Christ is looking for are not Christians, sons and daughters of Christians. He is looking for followers, for disciples. And these could be of any background, race or culture, just like His early followers were Jewish. Ibrahim, Bachir, Sarah and scores of other Middle Eastern individuals that have blessed my life and enriched it may never be called Christians, and definitely not by their countrymen. But no one can take away their proper calling. Disciples of Christ. Followers of Christ. Middle Eastern disciples of Christ!