My job at the moment is developing discipleship in one Anglican diocese, so as you can imagine I do quite a bit of thinking about what discipleship is, what it means, and what it looks like. Here are some random thoughts, gleaned from my reflection on the Bible and current thinking …
One of the most helpful things I’ve read on discipleship is Rick ‘Purpose Driven’ Warren’s attempt to define it and to chart how it might grow in us. He begins with growth in knowledge – how much we know of what the Bible teaches, what the Church believes, how we are supposed to live, and so on. But, he says, this is merely the first step. Just because we know stuff doesn’t mean we’re living as disciples. So what we need next is what he calls ‘Perspective’, or learning to see things as God sees them, rather than in a merely human way. This is best seen in the gospel stories when Peter, with well-meaning human concern for his friend, tries to tell Jesus that he needn’t go to the cross. He is roundly rebuked, because ‘you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ (Mt 16:23) His perspective, while understandable, is completely wrong.
1 Corinthians 1 and 2 provide an extended exploration of this concept of ‘perspective’. The passage is all about the contrast between worldly thinking and the gospel. The message of the cross is ‘foolishness’ in merely human eyes, but is the power of God to those who have believed it (1:18). The wisdom and philosophy of the ‘world’ is contrasted with the apparent ‘foolishness’ of the preaching to which Christians have responded (1:19-21). Indeed our teaching is a ‘stumbling block’ (a ‘scandal’ in the Greek – 1:22-24). That’s why it is important that the preaching of the gospel doesn’t try to persuade people with worldly ‘wisdom’ and rhetoric, but is demonstrated by the power of the Holy Spirit (2:1-5). Indeed it is only through the Spirit that we are taught, and only through the Spirit that we can grasp the message of the gospel (2:10-13). Those who think merely from a human point of view simply don’t get it.
Disciples, therefore, might be defined as those seeking more and more to see things from God’s point of view. 2:15-16 tells us that
The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,
‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’
and then adds:
But we have the mind of Christ.
We have the mind of Christ, but we still need to learn to think with it. So my task, as a Christian disciple, is constantly to be asking ‘What does God think about this?’ What would Jesus do in a situation like this? As a Christian what do I think about ISIS, or Charlie Hebdo? How am I going to vote at the next General Election? How am I feeling at the prospect of another ‘Black Friday’ next November? There is no shortage of information from those ‘without the Spirit’ (2:14) telling me how I ought to be thinking, but what is the mind of Christ on these matters?
The corollary of this, of course, which Paul spells out only too clearly, is that to be a disciple will bring us into conflict, because we see things differently, we ‘get’ stuff which those without faith, or with faith but without perspective, simply don’t. We have received the Spirit so that we may understand what God has freely given us (2:12). Thanks be to God for his indescribable, if somewhat dangerous, gift!