“The disciple is the one, who intent upon becoming Christ-like and so dwelling in his ‘faith and practice,’ systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end.” ~ Dallas Willard
This morning, I began reading Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship. I am almost certain that afterwards I will read Leroy Eims’ The Lost Art of Disciple Making. To be sure the desire to read about discipleship is driven by the reality that I am one of those who realizes and is suffering from the reality that Willard is writing about: the absence of discipleship being offered, taught and modeled in today’s American church. Ironically, there simply are no occasions during Sunday morning worship or midweek Bible study wherein one can learn how to be more like Jesus Christ. Sermons have become therapeutic counseling sessions– pew turned couch and the worship experience has become seeker friendly or consumer- driven and now serves as “live entertainment.” The fellowship meal is now a coffee hour and we offer occasions for dialogue in more diverse places with “theology on tap” at local bars. The Church offers no distinction from the world, its mood and offerings. Somehow, in our attempt to “go out into all the world” and to include everyone, we have left Jesus Christ, His teachings and as a result, discipleship out. Our churches offer a Starbuck’s style of religion. We can make our relationship with Jesus Christ as strong as we would like it and discipleship is optional.
“For the last several decades, the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches do not require following Christ in his example, spirit and teachings as a condition of membership– either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denominational or local church.”
Still, I desire to “give myself over to (discipleship, apprenticeship) in a way that allows my life to be taken over by it” and I want Christ’s teachings to be especially evident in me in matters of race and in turn, love, acceptance, forgiveness and humility. A discussion on race is a challenge for most American Christians because of the demands that it places on our faith, the confession of faith and trust in Jesus Christ that it calls into question and the hypocrisies of our love for God that it exposes. Race seems to always ask the question, “How can you love God whom you’ve never seen yet hate your brother whom you see every day” (I John 4.20-21)?
Like Willard, I believe that there are those of us who are enamored by the title of Christian. We want to be associated with a good person, to be able to use Jesus Christ as a reference because He looks good on our social resume. We want to be seen as a good person but we don’t want to do the good things that He taught and modeled for us. A. W. Tozer felt that “a notable heresy ha(d) come into being throughout evangelical Christian circles– the widely accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need him as Savior and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to him as Lord as long as we want to!” He later added, “salvation apart from obedience is unknown in sacred scriptures.” In order to be Christ’s disciples, we must learn the discipline of obedience. We can not know Christ apart from His words and we can not be like Christ apart from imitating His ways.
The truth is that we don’t want to be disciples, students, practitioners, pupils or for Willard, apprentices of Jesus Christ. We don’t want to sit at the feet of the Master Teacher like Mary to hear words of instruction and correction; instead, we, like Martha, point to our to- do lists, informing Christ that we are too busy being about His Father’s business, a warped interpretation of His spiritual enterprise nonetheless. We want to look like we are His disciples. We want to dress the part; we like the attire and the words of Christ. We want to perform them, to act them out but we do not want to live them. We become Christians for the applause not out of adoration for God. We will do it for a living but we will not make discipleship our life. But, the posture of discipleship is sitting.
Sit down and look at the teachings of race more closely. You and I know that they do not align themselves with the life and work of Jesus Christ or the love and mission of God for humanity. They are not simply taught in different classrooms but are two different and separate schools of thought. The tenets of race suggest that salvation through Jesus Christ and subsequent discipleship is unnecessary for some and redundant for others as we are either hopelessly bound to the social determinations of the social coloring of our skin and therefore, have no way out and no life beyond it or are already socially good people and/or the saviors of the world. We simply cannot espouse the teachings of race and be disciples of Jesus Christ.
So, my New Year’s resolution is simple and singular: “to observe all things whatsoever I (Jesus Christ) have commanded you” (Matthew 28.20). Join me in imitating Jesus Christ this year and for the rest of our earthly lives together. Remember, it’s “a long obedience in the same direction.”