Here’s a third reason our discipleship of others is so shallow, and may even be non-existent.
3. Our churches are less converted.
Our churches have fewer truly regenerate Christians in them, and so there are fewer people able to disciple each other.
No doubt the reasons for this are complex, but let me suggest two.
Firstly, it used to be the way that to be known as a member of the body of Christ, you had to be a Christian. That’s the assumption made by the New Testament.
But now, in many churches – even in some large, well-known evangelical churches – you can become a member of the church simply by ticking a box on a welcome card. It’s a voluntary practise. There is little or no attempt to examine the person spiritually to try and ascertain that they are truly followers of Christ.
How can we expect people who aren’t disciples themselves to be discipling others?
Secondly, the practise of church discipline has been all but lost.
This was the standard practise of the New Testament church. In 1 Corinthians 5, for example, Paul says that we are to expel unrepentant sinners from membership in the church.
Our failure to hear what Paul says here means that our churches often contain a great number of people who profess to be disciples, but show little sign of actually being disciples. Indeed, they may be showing signs of being actively opposed to Christ, to the great dishonour of the Lord and his gospel.
Again, we can’t expect people who aren’t disciples themselves to be discipling others.
Why have we neglected these two things?
I think there are several reasons, but here’s one of the main ones: numbers have become so important to us, we will do anything to boost them. We are desperate for people to enter, and desperate for them to stay. We have lowered the cost in the hope that more will buy.
What happens when we ignore the biblical practices of church membership and discipline? We end up with a church culture that is profoundly de-Christianized, denuded of its salt and light. How can we cultivate a culture of discipleship in our churches when so many of our members are not disciples in the first place? And what influence will those non-discipling church members have on those church members who are genuinely seeking to follow Christ?
To put it another way (and to borrow Mark Dever’s analogy), it used to be that the front door of the church was protected carefully, while the back door was left wide open. Now, however, we leave the front door swinging wide open, and we jam the back door tight shut because we’re so afraid of anyone leaving.
If this is our mindset, expect to see congregations who are not discipling one another.
Next week, if you’re still with me, I’ll suggest a fourth reason we don’t disciple.
It seems to me that this is another one of the possible side effects of living in a free country – and something those of us lucky enough not to suffer persecution should be very wary of. Certain forms of repression in some countries (specifically the communist totalitarian brand) seems to act in some ways like a control on this. The use of spies and informers inserted into church congregations creates a need to be careful about who they allow to become members – in the Baptist conventions in Cuba for example, you have to have regularly attended and met other criteria for three years before you can be baptized and enter into membership. The heavy restrictions, to the point of making it impossible, on building new churches also put serious capacity limitations on existing churches, which in turn has led to the proliferation of house churches, attached to and associated with existing “mother” churches, but churches in their own right. Finally, large numbers of people attract negative attention from the government – so numbers aren’t necessarily a priority, while preparing trustworthy, faithful, and strong members capable of standing up to lifelong discrimination is. Though not perfect, the situation tends to create a healthy, close-knit Church. I compare that to other countries in which I work, where mega-churches that boast of meeting in sports stadiums with tens of thousands of people proliferate, and the tendencies (anecdotal admittedly) of many Christians I’ve met there to drift from church to church, some of which, sadly, often veer off into heretical practices and teaching. Hmmm… could be an idea for a comparative study/book one day on the “persecuted church under communism model”… 🙂
That’s a fascinating insight, BV. God grant Western churches the gift of suffering (Philippians 1:29).