A Biblical Theology of Disciple-Making

(Summary of chapter 1 in: Intentional Discipleship and Disciple-Making, An Anglican Guide for Christian Life and Formation, The Anglican Consultative Council, London, 2016)

A. Disciple-making in the OT
Being a disciple in the OT is ‘to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul’ (Deut 10.12–13). That includes keeping to God’s instructions, but also imitating or reflecting God’s character. Israel, as a whole people, was called to that kind of discipleship, by living as the people of YHWH in the midst of the nations, being faithful to its covenant with him, worshipping him alone, and living by the standards of the Torah.
Four aspects of such practical discipling are outlined here.
(1) The training and mentoring of a new leader
The OT gives several examples of the transition from one leader to another: the role of the older one is preparing, training, and mentoring the younger. Moses has Joshua serve under him for a long time, and gives him both encouragement and warning before passing on the baton of leadership (Deut 3.21–22; 31.1–8). God himself reinforces the lessons that Moses had taught (Josh 1.1–9). Other examples: David and Solomon & Elijah and Elisha.
(2) The discipline of the family
Deuteronomy stresses the importance of the parents’ role in teaching each new generation to walk in the ways of the Lord. This included constant reminders of the story (what God had done) and of the teaching (God’s covenant promises and commandments) (Deut 4.9–14).
(3) The teaching impact of the community’s worship
Israel had its rich and complex system of worship, which should have functioned as a means of discipling in two ways:
(a) The teaching of the priests: Priests not only brought the sacrifices of the people to the altar. They also were responsible for teaching God’s law to the people (Lev 10.8–11; Deut 33.10).
(b) The instructive impact of the Psalms: Simply by repeated singing of the words of the Psalms the Israelites would be shaped in their thinking and practice by the values inculcated in worship.
(4) The shaping function of Scripture
The whole community was to be discipled by hearing and responding to the Word of God (Deut 31.9–13). Nehemiah 8 is a remarkable occasion of community discipling, as the whole law is read through in a week, and trained Levites are on hand to translate, explain, and make clear the meaning of the words read, after which the heads of the families pass it on to their families (Nehemiah 8.12,17).

B. Discipleship in the NT
The accounts in the Gospels of Jesus the Messiah are inevitably foundational in any quest to discover what is distinctively Christian about discipleship. Jesus was doing two main things:
(1) He was giving us a model in his own actions of how to be a disciple-maker;
(2) He was allowing his first disciples to become, for us, a model of how we should respond to Jesus’ call and follow him too.

Jesus the disciple-maker
In Mark’s Gospel we see, first, how Jesus does his training of his followers. In brief we see:
(a) His first calling of the disciples, which is clear and directional, vocational and radical (3.13–19);
(b) His commitment to sharing his life with them;
(c) His intention to give time for de-briefing (6.6b–13, 30–32) and his use of recent events and teachings as an opportunity for further teaching and discussion (4.35–41; 8.27–30);
(d) His willingness to have an inner circle (Peter, James, and John) who would witness more intimately and directly three momentous events in his life (5.37–43; 9.2–8; 14.32–36);
(e) His willingness to expose and rebuke his followers, while being totally committed to their growth and restoration (8.17–21; 9.35–37);
(f) His ability to ask questions which would bring to the surface their wrong motivations or confused ideas (8.17; 9.33–34);
(g) His occasional giving of strange instructions which simply had to be obeyed ‘because he said so’ (but which would make sense later: 11.2–3ff; 14.13–16);
(h) His deliberate policy of letting them see him both in public and in private.
All of these will need to be borne in mind whenever we come to ask the contemporary question: how can we be disciple-makers in our own generation?

Following Jesus: in the Gospels
Secondly, we can see in the Gospels how the first disciples responded to Jesus. Here are the marks of authentic Christian discipleship:
(1) Jesus the teacher – we must listen to his words
We, as followers of the Risen Jesus, are to be students of the words of Jesus, attentive to his living voice, obedient to his principles.
(2) Jesus the person – we must learn from his character
Christian discipleship means modelling our lives and characters on Jesus’ own; it means living his life.
(3) Jesus the leader – we must follow his direction
Jesus said, ‘Follow me’ (Mk 1.17). This then involves the idea that Jesus’ disciples are to set out on a journey – on a journey where Jesus is ‘out in front’ as the leader. We are to go where he leads and to be guided by his directions, even if, like the disciples, we do not always understand where he is leading us.

This following, however, takes the disciples into a mission which will outlast, and in some ways surpass, Jesus’ own ministry. Jesus was quite clear that he not only wanted his disciples to go out and minister as he ministered (Mt 10.8) during his lifetime, but that they would ‘do the works that I do, and in fact will do greater works than these’ (Jn 14.12), and furthermore that he wanted them to teach others to obey all that he had commanded them (Mt 28.19–20).

This journey therefore requires numerous qualities: self-denial, exposure to risks, setting out in faith, sticking close to Jesus, and actively trusting in his guiding. So being disciples of Jesus is an all-encompassing activity, which ‘demands our life, our soul, our all’. And it is this because the person whom we are called to follow is gloriously alive. We are to trust and obey this Risen Lord: ‘listen to his words’, ‘learn from his character’, and ‘follow his leading’.

Following Jesus: in the rest of the NT (1Peter)
So what does the rest of the NT say about discipleship – this following of the historical Jesus, now gloriously raised from the dead? For now we only focus on 1Peter.

One of the most powerful ways to read 1 Peter is to see it as the mature reflections of the same Peter who had been discipled by Jesus:
(a) ‘prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you’ (1.13);
(b) ‘do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance’ (1.14);
(c) ‘Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the [a pure] heart’ (1.22);
(d) ‘Rid yourselves … of all malice, and all guile, insincerity …Like newborn infants’ (2.1–2);
(e) ‘For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution’ (2.13);
(f ) ‘Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps’ (2.21);
(g) ‘have unity of spirit [mind], sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse’ (3.8–9);
(h) ‘Since … Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention’ (4.1);
(i) ‘tend the flock of God that is in your charge … Do not lord it over those in your charge … but be examples to the flock’ (5.2–3);
(j) ‘And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another’ (5.5).

Peter’s own speech, person, and agenda have so evidently been transformed by those of Jesus. And we too can now be transformed in our own discipleship by observing Peter’s words.

Conclusion
A full analysis of the NT’s teaching on this theme of following Jesus would confirm that Christian discipleship is inseparably linked with both the historical and human Jesus and the Risen and Exalted Jesus. In Luke 24 we see the Risen Jesus effectively emphasising six key themes as essential for his future disciples:
(1) his Resurrection (vv. 34, 46),
(2) his Cross (vv. 26, 46),
(3) the Holy Spirit (v. 49),
(4) the Scriptures (vv. 27, 44),
(5) the Sacrament (v. 35), and
(6) Mission (v. 48).

Luke portrays these six as being the top priorities of the Risen Lord for those who want to follow in his Way. This is Jesus’ curriculum for his training course in biblical discipleship. It would be great if these six themes were each given their proper place within the life of our Anglican Communion.