As this quarter’s lesson is on Discipleship I thought I should write at least one article on the subject. Unlike the Lesson Study Guide I don’t have to stretch the subject out Ad nauseam. There is something basic to Christianity that I think is often overlooked and is crucial to effective discipleship. I will illustrate this by referring to a website which seeks to bring people to Christ using hip hop music and a bit of written material to read as you listen to several songs. The site is titled: Read This Before You Die
Here is a paragraph from the final page of the presentation:
God is perfect in His love and forgiveness. But, He is also perfect in His fairness and justice. If you can stand in His court and admit that you are guilty and deserve punishment for your crimes, then He will show His perfect love and forgiveness towards you. This is because He has already taken His perfect justice out on another person instead of you.
Perfect fairness and justice is never identified by punishing someone else for a crime. In fact punishment is not identified with love and forgiveness ("this court sentences you to x years in prison for theft, we do this because we love and forgive you"). As anyone who listens to Jesus on the Cross would know, to punish someone is not to forgive them, to punish the innocent is a violation of God's law as recorded in the Old Testament.
The Website includes the frequently heard Christian expression that “God requires perfection”. But of course they don’t really mean that because God does not require perfection of the human beings it is only required of Jesus and Jesus substitutes His perfection for everyone else’s failures.
What is the message that these things give people. God is a bit confused, His justice is nothing like any human being would consider justice or fair and is contrary to the instructions given in the Bible. It also places God as demanding something that no human can ever achieve, even using the Genesis story of the first human beings they very clearly could not produce perfection as the first thing about them is their failure. Is that really what “be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” trying to convey?
One of the most important things we learn from the life of Jesus Christ is that God is not selfish. Yet in many of our descriptions about God we make Him out as selfish and demanding. Sin, and God must punish someone, we are just fortunate that instead of punishing the guilty He is willing to punish His loving Son. So Modern Christianity has tried to adjust their view to keep God as loving as possible because God was willing to let His Son come and pay our penalty. In essence we present a mixed view of God, a wrathful Father and a compassionate Son.
What if by discipleship we talked about the God who is ultimately selfless, who is completely oriented toward others? A God who created a world for others and reveals Himself for others because He knows that life can only be found in a connection with Him the source of life. How much different would our discipleship be if our focus was on the gifts of God rather than assumed demands of God.
What would our discipleship be if we were reaching out to people to comfort them and support them and stimulate them in our churches and our communities? Would an “others” centered church make a homosexual or an agnostic feel comfortable to attend? Would an “others” centered church demand that only their theological view could be expressed or would it invite people to present their opinions and encourage everyone’s growth?
It seems to me we have taken the discipleship idea and turned it on its head. We are not focused on others we are focused upon making people conform to our self centered view of what a Christian should be. I prefer to think that God will make His disciples, we introduce them to our God, we stimulate their thinking and we support their growth until ultimately they feel called and comfortable to be His disciples. The Great commission is to introduce God to people via a self replicating system of people to people “other” centered relationships. But we still have to be real, we are by nature selfish so we will often fail to be “other” centered we are not perfect but we can be better, we can do better.
Let us stop preaching to people and start relating to people, they need it and we need it and Christianity needs it. Maybe the quote about being perfect from the Sermon on the Mount is about being complete (another word in Greek for perfection) that is have a relationship with the God who is reaching out to us and invites us to “let this mind of Christ be in you”. Complete, connected to God.