There can be no revolution in the world until there is a revolution in the Church, bringing reformationlarge-scale changethat the Reformation never envisioned.
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Revolution in the ChurchChallenging the Religious System with a Call for Radical Change
By Michael L. Brown
CHOSEN BOOKSCopyright © 2002 Michael L. Brown
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCult-Like or Cutting-Edge?
What It Really Means To Be a Disciple
* * *
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."
Simply put, if you're not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it goodbye, you can't be my disciple.
Luke 14:33, MESSAGE
... the number of disciples was increasing.... The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.... They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples.... The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Acts 6:1, 7; 14:21; 11:26
If indeed we lived a life in imitation of his, our witness would be irresistible. If we dared to live beyond our self-concern, if we refused to shrink from being vulnerable, if we took nothing but a compassionate attitude toward the world, if we were a counterculture to our nation's lunatic lust for pride ofplace, power, and possessions, if we preferred to be faithful rather than successful, the walls of indifference to Jesus Christ would crumble. A handful of us could be ignored by society, but hundreds, thousands, millions of such servants would overwhelm the world. Christians filled with the authenticity, commitment, and generosity of Jesus would be the most spectacular sign in the history of the human race. The call of Jesus is revolutionary. If we implemented it, we would change the world in a few months.
Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus
Commitment is not fanaticism. In substance, the twelfth chapter of Romans says: "I urge you to present your life to Jesus Christ as a living sacrifice, acceptable to God-which is a reasonable, normal action on your part." That's not fanatical. In fact, you're not "normal" or reasonable until you've made that kind of commitment.
Tom Skinner, Words of Revolution
One of the things that holds many of us back is the fear of going too far, of crossing over the line, of going off the deep end, of becoming cult-like and fanatical, of losing touch with reality. The memories of Jonestown and Heaven's Gate are all too real to us, and we have heard more than enough stories of demonized parents or children who murdered their own flesh and blood because "God told them to." We have seen our share of Hare Krishna devotees chanting on street corners, or sleep-deprived young people selling flowers eighteen hours a day, or sweet-talking cult members knocking on our doors, eager to share their faith but incapable of thinking for themselves. We don't want to become like that!
And for good reason. God does not brainwash His children. He does not lobotomize us when we get saved and remove our capacity to think. He does not immobilize our minds and reduce us to robotic obedience. He does not call us to abusive and destructive acts, such as beating our bodies or mutilating ourselves in some bizarre attempt to subdue the flesh. And He certainly does not call us to submit every part of our lives-down to our innermost, secret thoughts-to the whims and demands of an earthly leader. All these things are characteristic of cults, bringing people into bondage and captivity. That is not the Jesus way. Jesus sets the captives free.
But there is another side to the story. Jesus demands radical, absolute obedience from His followers, an obedience so extreme that to most of the world (and much of the Church) it appears fanatical, even cult-like. Jesus calls us to be His disciples. Do we really know what this means?
For most of us, the answer is no. We have taken the punch out of the word so that the thought of being a disciple does not seem too threatening. After all, don't most serious believers want to be "discipled"? Isn't one of the great needs in the Body today the need for more discipling? A disciple is a devoted learner and a devoted follower. Who doesn't want to be a disciple?
Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions. Perhaps it would be better to ask, "Who wants to be a disciple of Jesus?" That puts everything in a different light. Are you sure you want to be one of His disciples?
Many of us are at home with the concept of being Christians. Yet the word Christian occurs only three times in the entire New Testament, once in Acts 11 (at Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians); once in Acts 26 (where Agrippa asks Paul if he thinks he can persuade him to be a Christian in such a short time); and once in 1 Peter 4 (where Peter tells the believers not to be ashamed of suffering reproach because they are called Christians). In New Testament times, not only was the term Christian rare, but it was used (most scholars agree) in a derogatory sense. Being called a Christian was anything but a compliment. It meant being one of them. Wearing that name meant bearing reproach.
How different things are today! The great majority of Americans consider themselves Christians. The name is common, the name has been cheapened and the name is hardly negative. To identify yourself as a Christian carries very little meaning and costs almost nothing, unless you came to Jesus from Islam or Hinduism or some other religion and you are telling someone from your old religion about your new faith.
The Word of God never calls people to "become Christians," especially as we commonly use the term. And the goal of the Great Commission is not to win people to a new religion, which is what "becoming a Christian" means to most people today. Rather, it is a call to make disciples-true disciples, obedient to the Lord. As Jesus commanded, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).
Has this Commission ever changed? Has anyone over-ruled the Lord and come up with a new and better plan?
By what authority have we left off making disciples and taken up getting "decisions," or signing up people for church membership, or getting people "saved" and stopping there? Who changed what Jesus commanded? What else have we to do on earth but become disciples and make disciples?
"Being a Christian" is not a New Testament emphasis, nor does it communicate today what it did in the days of the apostles. Even the concept of being a "believer"-a word used thirteen times in Acts and thirteen times in the rest of the New Testament-is hardly challenging for us. What does it actually cost to be a believer? What sacrifice is entailed? In America today, almost everyone believes in Jesus.
The issue for us is not so much being a "Christian" or a "believer" but rather being a "disciple"-a term used more than 260 times in the entire New Testament (including more than 230 times in the gospels and 28 times in Acts). How can we downplay or ignore the call to true discipleship when it is such a prominent theme in the Word?
What does it tell us when the word Christian occurs just three times in the New Testament and the term believer only 26 times, but there are more than 260 references to disciples, with clear explanations about what this means? What does it tell us when most of us would have no problem saying, "I'm a Christian," or, "I'm a believer," but would have a much harder time saying, "I'm a disciple"? Just saying the words out loud causes us to examine ourselves afresh. "Am I really a disciple?"
Remember the culture of the New Testament world. Rabbi was not a formal title or clerical office at the time. It was a term of honor applied to special teachers and leaders. These rabbis had followers, devoted students who would flock around their teacher/leader/master. Rabbi Yohanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) had his followers; Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) had His. Scripture even records that "the Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John" (John 4:1; see also John 3:25).
A disciple was identified with his master. His whole world revolved around his leader. "A student [disciple] is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40). "A student [disciple] is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student [disciple] to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master" (Matthew 10:24-25). Yes, to be like one's teacher-that would be enough!
Have you ever seen pictures of an Indian guru with a band of loyal disciples? They follow him everywhere. They sit at his feet and devour his every word. They watch his every move and try to emulate his attitude and conduct. They carry his picture with them, gaze at him lovingly and esteem him beyond all proportion and reality. "Master! Swami!" They want to be like him. If they could only be half the man their leader is, if they could only be faithful miniatures of their master, they would be thrilled beyond words. Their lives are absorbed in his, and their whole identity comes from him. That is the picture of a disciple.
In the early 1980s I worked as a salesman for a small company. One of my colleagues was a man I will call Sam. We were a study in contrasts. I was a devoted follower of Jesus; he was a devoted follower of an "enlightened" American teacher named (at that time) Da Free John. Sam was certainly devoted. Part of his religious discipline included a strict vegetarian diet, so even when we had a business luncheon with potential customers, he would open his briefcase and take out some carefully packed food that looked more like leftover dog food and seaweed. Can you imagine someone doing that at a restaurant while courting new customers? But Sam did it without shame. In fact, I believe he did it with pride. He was a disciple! He was glad to be different. He was glad to stand out. It identified him with his master.
Sam's daily routine included another interesting practice: He would prostrate himself on the ground and meditate. Our boss, Stu, learned about this while taking a business trip with Sam. Stu spotted him lying on his face on the grass in front of a post office. It was the first free moment in the day that Sam could find. Not surprisingly, this drew the attention of the postmaster, who pointed out to Stu with some amusement, "That's where all the dogs go!" But Sam was not deterred. He lived to carry out his master's orders. (As a sidelight to this story I should mention that all three of us-Stu, Sam and I-were Jews.)
One day we learned that Sam and his wife planned to move to a small island thousands of miles away. Their master decided he wanted them there to carry out his work. As far as I know, they went without hesitation. Anything else would have been the height of disloyalty, unworthy of a true disciple.
"But that's cult-like!" you say. "That's not the Jesus way."
Yes and no. The absurdity of the practices, the false enlightenment of the leader and the deceptive powers at work were all cult-like, for sure. But Sam's unquestioning devotion toward his master was perfectly normal for a true disciple. Jesus demanded this and more. Come and see what the Scriptures teach.
The original twelve disciples of Jesus stayed constantly by the Lord's side. Where He was, they were. At times it is almost comical, as if they were virtually tripping over Him, and the only way He could get alone was to get up very early (Mark 1:35) or stay up really late (Luke 6:12). They were closer to Him than His own family (Matthew 12:48-50), and He shared His secrets with them, even sending them out to represent Him (Matthew 10:40) and carry out His mission (Matthew 10:7-8).
But the gospels do not speak only of the Twelve. In fact, the majority of references to "disciples" are not to the Twelve but to the many other men and women who followed Him. Jesus did not make it easy for them!
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
Whatever these verses mean, this much is sure: In order to be one of Rabbi Yeshua's disciples, personal convenience had to be crucified, personal bonds had to be broken and personal loyalties had to be left behind. No honest interpretation can cheapen the radical nature of the calling. The Lord simply made things too clear:
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Did you notice those words not worthy of Me? The eternal Word-made-flesh cuts no deals. Being one of His disciples is the highest calling known to man, and through His death for us (that's right, the sinless Master dies for the sinful disciples), we become part of His family, adopted by His Father and made joint-heirs with our Lord. He has every right to set the standards high. No other master is like our Master, no lord like our Lord. Who gave us the right to modify what He said?
After Jesus told His disciples He would suffer and die and rise from the dead in Jerusalem, and after He rebuked Peter for rebuking Him, the Lord made a universal declaration:
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done."
Excerpted from Revolution in the Church by Michael L. Brown Copyright © 2002 by Michael L. Brown
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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