Friday, January 6, 2012

Why discipleship must include the church

Matthew 16:18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Over the past several days we have been exploring the concept of discipleship.  A disciple is someone who by grace, through faith, follows Jesus Christ with the purpose to become like the Master.  In the process of our study we have discovered so far the following about discipleship:

1. Call of Christ begins Discipleship 
2. Cross bearing through self-denial is how one steps into discipleship 
3. Christ must be prized above any counted cost to continue in discipleship 
4. Commitment to the text of the scriptures is how one grows in Discipleship

In today's blog, we want to answer the simple question: Why does discipleship include the ministry of the local church? We will discover that the design, call, aim and desire of discipleship cannot be accomplished apart from the local church.

1. The design of discipleship - dependance, not independance
On the one hand, discipleship emphasizes the "personal" effort and experience of the disciple in their journey with the Master - Jesus Christ.  However to think that discipleship is a Lone Ranger affair is a myth.  In fact, if I approach discipleship only as a "me and Jesus" activity, then I will undo the principles of self-denial and counting the cost.  Not only has Christ designed discipleship to make me dependant upon Him, but also to break me of the self-sufficient mindset that often accompanies my dealings with other people. 

2. The call of discipleship demands connection with other disciples
The word "church" comes from a Greek word meaning "the called out ones".  As we have seen already, discipleship begins with the Master Himself calling you.  However with this idea of the church, as true as it is that Jesus calls each disciple one by one, He calls them to come together in the journey of following Him.  Hebrews 10:24-25 states -  "and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near."  Becoming involved with a local church is not optional for disciple.  We know there will be times when emergencies arise or sickness occurs.  However beyond those reasons, there is no reason to ever attempt the Christian life apart from the church.   

3. The aim of discipleship is to value what Jesus' values
The church is Jesus' own personal building project.  How important is it?  The Bible reminds us that He paid the price for the salvation of all His disciples - the church - with His own blood. (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:7).  Furthermore, God the Holy Spirit has been sent by the Father, in Jesus' own name, to help each individual disciple working with other disciples in being the church - in order to fulfill everything Jesus' commands. (John 14:16-21)  The Master has invested all of His eternal effort as God and all of His blood as man to provide the means by which His disciples can become more like Him.  Why would you not love what He loves? 

4. The desire to follow Jesus in discipleship is strengthened through the church
When Jesus says to Peter here in Matthew 16:18 "upon this rock I will build my church", what is the "rock" that He is talking about?  The idea of "rock" speaks of a foundation stone.  The only "rock" to which Christ could be referring to is none other than Himself.  1 Peter 2, written by the same Peter here in Matthew 16, speaks of each disciple being a "living stone", with Jesus Christ being the "Chief Cornerstone". (1 Peter 2:4-7)  Discipleship's calling is too demanding to be carried out only on the individual level.   Cultivating a deeper love for the Master can only take place in relationship with others whose goal is the same. (1 Peter 2:7)

A Simple illustration - Can you have a coach without a team
Is there such thing as a coach without a team?  Or how about a conductor without an orchestra?  Or a racecar driver without sponsors?  All these scenarios involve individuals who could never live out their identity, nor accomplish their tasks without their respective groups.  Now take what is true in the natural realm, and try to accomplish the God-ordained call to discipleship.  Disciples need one another.  Christ as so designed discipleship that though the calling is issued to one person at a time, yet it's very nature requires every disciple participating at the same time.