A Call to Reformed Discipleship

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Originally posted on March 28, 2018 at the Areopagus Director's blog, "From Balaam's Donkey."

"OCCASIONALLY A VOICE IS RAISED AMONG US TO THE EFFECT THAT THE SOLE TASK OF THE CHURCH IS TO BRING THE GOSPEL TO THE UNSAVED. HOW FOOLISH! IF THE CHRISTIAN REFORMED CHURCH SHOULD TAKE THAT POSITION, THE DAY WOULD NOT BE FAR OFF WHEN, FOR LACK OF A STRONG HOME BASE, IT WOULD FIND ITSELF INCAPABLE OF EFFECTIVE EVANGELISM. [1]"

In the first post in this short series, we examined R.B. Kuiper's understanding of the motivations for evangelism, and gave a call for reformed churches to passionately engage in evangelism. This week, we turn our attention to that which undergirds the evangelistic efforts of the church (as institute and organism): discipleship.

If the church is going to engage in evangelism well, her members must be built up and equipped in the faith; matured through faithful teaching (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy). The creeds, confessions, and world and life view (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation) are not simply fences for testing whether one is "Christian" or "reformed," but also powerful tools for helping us better understand Scripture, and find our place in the unfolding drama of redemptive history. Furthermore, they challenge us to practice charity, unity, loving-service, and faithfulness in every sphere of life.  

Discipleship takes the shape of family worship, of catechesis, and participation in corporate worship. Through such activities--which serve to shape our hearts and minds--we are equipped for evangelism and service (living out the virtues of Christ). We can neither afford to ignore the formative impact of these tools and practices--rejecting them as antiquated, outdated, unimportant, or irrelevant--nor fail to participate in them because we are "too busy" or "disinterested." 

Sadly, as Kuiper points out, this is all too often the case:

“There are churches round about us, evangelical churches at that, which strongly stress evangelism but neglect almost entirely the religious education of their own children and the building up of the adult members in the faith. [2] ”

The consequence? Kuiper goes on to describe how such a failure leads to a diminishing of the doctrine of the church, and the gospel itself. Like the pendulum of a great clock, church history reveals the way the church has swung between periods of great evangelistic fervor and doctrinal controversy. For the purposes of his book, Kuiper reflects on the rise of protestant liberalism and the social gospel, which arose in the wake of the Second Great Awakening. A lack of discipleship can lead to the "adjustment of Christian message," "a willingness to remove the offense of the gospel," and the watering down of worship.  

However, a lack of discipleship can also lead to other consequences: namely, the degrading, distress, and disillusionment of the faith among new Christians. I cannot count the number of times in which I've witnessed new Christians thrust into roles of leadership and the evangelistic endeavor only to be beaten down by the questions, objections, and/or ridicule of non-Christians (let alone the physical, emotional, and spiritual effort it takes to do such work). How can one be expected to be prepared to give a reason for the hope they have (1 Peter 3:15) so that they are not tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and the cunning and craftiness of those who oppose the Christian faith (Eph. 4:14) unless they are being trained in sound doctrine and practices that reflect Christ and the kingdom of God? 

It's important that our churches not become lax in adult education: participation in worship, Bible study, mentorship, and Sunday school. It's important that we continue to catechize our young people, and to engage in family worship. It may require reorienting our lives, cutting things out of our busy schedules, or being creative in the ways we engage in such efforts, but neglecting these things is not an option. Both are part and parcel of God's calling for the church, and central to her fulfilling her mission in the world. 

Evangelism and discipleship exist in a delicate balance. Failure to do one affects the other. This ultimately leads our churches down the broad road that begins with impotent witness, followed by sickness, and ending in death. However, if we make it our mission to glorify God in both evangelism and discipleship--both as individuals and the church--we will find ourselves on the narrow way towards powerful witness, flourishing, and blessing. So, may we take up the task not only of reformed evangelism, but also reformed discipleship.  

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