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The following text was delivered to a gathering at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Orlando on July 5, 2017. A hard copy of this text may be downloaded at this link.

 

The goal of this presentation is to provide a description and definition of Christian formation that reflects an Anabaptist perspective. Corresponding to common usage, the term “spiritual formation” is used here synonymously with “Christian formation.” In addition, and in accord with common usage, “spiritual formation” is the primary term used, until conclusions are drawn at the end of the presentation.

There is a compelling need for the treatment of this topic. Models deriving from two streams dominate literature on spiritual formation emanating from authors identifying with the Western Church. One stream is medieval pietism, which focuses on the believer’s relationship with God. Examples found in this stream include the works of Roman Catholic moral theologians as well as the writings of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and A.W. Tozer. The other stream is Reformed theology, which focuses on one’s behavior toward God. Flowing within this stream are writings from Calvinist authors like J. I. Packer and John Piper. However, this stream also includes works by authors who retain the “two-step” paradigm introduced by John Wesley. This approach to spiritual formation stems from the teaching of Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, and has been propagated by his students with dogged effort. This presentation proposes that spiritual formation from an Anabaptist perspective is not so much a third stream, but a coherent theological and historical bridge between the two prevalent streams of thought. In other words, it provides a more than satisfactory option for one to consider.

The presentation proceeds along the following path: First, following a brief recitation of Anabaptism’s origin and significance, the author explains what he means by an Anabaptist Perspective. Second, from a position within that perspective, the author gives the features of an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation. In so doing, it will be necessary to consider the topic of discipleship, and the place of disciplines in this scheme. Finally, the author will propose a definition of spiritual formation based on the contributions coming from an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANABAPTISM’S ORIGIN AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

Contemporary Anabaptists trace their origin to the 16th century Reformation movement distinguished by its insistence on believer’s baptism, hence the moniker Anabaptists or re-baptizers. In addition, these reformers advocated a radical imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, with special attention given to the Sermon on the Mount. They based this conclusion on the conviction that Jesus had inaugurated the promised messianic kingdom during his earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and session.

The Anabaptist insistence on a “believer’s church,” though, put its adherents in direct conflict, not only with Roman Catholics, but also with Protestants, both Lutheran and Reformed. This conflict, in turn, boiled over into opposition from these three groups’ governmental protectors, with whom, in practice, they were effectively merged.[1] When this opposition came to a head in the form of persecution, Anabaptists’ radical adherence to the teaching and example of Jesus prohibited them from active resistance, resulting in widespread deaths.[2]

This brief account of the origin of the Anabaptist movement reveals in seed-form the two most apparent ways in which the practices of its members differ from that of members of contemporary Protestant faith traditions: Anabaptists maintain that the New Testament requires of disciples a level of commitment to Christ’s Kingdom mandating (1) strict separation of church and state and (2) non-resistance or pacifism.

Contemporary Anabaptists are represented primarily by Mennonites and by most groups with the word Brethren in their name.[3] However, their influence can be seen among Baptists and most free-church groups.[4] Evidence for this influence exists not only in the widespread practice of believer’s baptism and in various expressions of the separation of church and state, but also in the adherence to Anabaptism’s teaching on the symbolic nature of the ordinances and the visible nature and autonomy of the local church.

AN ANABAPTIST PERSPECTIVE

The preceding account identified two Anabaptist distinctives: separation of church and state, and pacifism. These, and other, distinctives arise from a particular theological perspective.

The perspective, or story, an interpreter inhabits and, therefore, from which the interpreter reads a text profoundly influences one’s interpretation.[5] Put another way, (more…)

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The overarching theme of God’s story is shalōm. God created a Kingdom characterized by shalōm: complete-positive-peace. But, humans destroyed shalōm. The Old Testament provides an ongoing testimony to that destruction. Nevertheless, God promised a reign through which he would re-establish shalōm. He inaugurated this reign through Jesus of Nazareth, whom He made Lord and Christ. Christ accomplished this work by initiating the New Covenant. The New Covenant ushered in perpetual jubilee marked by reconciliation based on liberty from sin and oppression

God freely grants citizenship in this Kingdom—and the reconciliation it entails—apart from any merit. Instead it comes through the free and conscious exercise of faith in God on the basis of the Gospel: God’s promise of reconciliation through forgiveness and restoration.

Faith is ongoing trust or allegiance that necessarily includes repentance—departure from sin—and discipleship—following in all areas of life Christ’s example and teaching as well as the teaching of His apostles. It is made possible and required by the new birth, resulting in progressively knowing and resembling God.

Disciples have undivided allegiance to one king and to his one Kingdom. They are a holy nation that rejects all thoughts, words, and actions that would compromise this allegiance. For example, they neither seek to interfere with the affairs of earthly kingdoms nor do they seek protection or endorsement from those kingdoms.

However, they do seek to influence society prophetically: They proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom, welcome new citizens, nourish one another’s faith, and prophetically rebuke, by word and non-violent action, society’s values and actions which depart from those of the Kingdom.

These disciples assemble in counter-cultural communities characterized by love: unity, peace, and mutual commitment. They demonstrate this commitment primarily through good works, including instruction, encouragement, correction, discipline, and restoration. In addition, they share with one another their material resources, which is possible, since they live simply.

Assemblies regularly practice baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These signs represent and commemorate the Gospel, and, therefore, nourish the faith of participants and witnesses. In addition, they signify the believer’s identity with and commitment to the unified local body of believers.

Baptism, specifically, is the rite of initiation into discipleship and into covenantal membership with a local assembly of believers. It symbolizes and recalls the baptism of the Spirit believers experience at conversion. It also pictures cleansing, death, birth, and resurrection, resulting from the pledge believers make to Christ at conversion. Therefore, only those who have exercised voluntary faith in Christ are fit subjects for baptism.

The most prominent marks of discipleship include truth-telling, kingdom living, and peacemaking. First of all, one who follows Jesus practices and tells the Jesus, since Jesus is the Truth. Furthermore, Jesus commanded his disciples to speak the truth, a command profoundly emphasized by his forbidding oaths.

Kingdom living for disciples accords with the values of perpetual Jubilee: They make disciples. They also help and comfort the weak, needy, and helpless. Furthermore, they separate from evil, particularly worldliness—the desire, pursuit, acquisition, maintenance, and use of power in order to receive glory and praise.

Finally, peacemaking must characterize the disciple’s life. Peace is both the goal of disciples’ words and actions as well as the means whereby they achieve that goal. Therefore, they pursue peace, unity, justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness. They neither resist violence nor retaliate against its manifestations. Jesus’ actions and teaching, and those of his apostles, provide the basis for this life-style.

Jesus inaugurated God’s reign in order to re-establish shalōm, the complete-positive-peace which characterized his creation. This overarching theme of God’s story—shalōm—characterized the story of Christ, both his teaching and example: He taught and prayed that his disciples would live by love, peace, unity, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, and nonresistance, insisting that peacemaking and forgiveness are necessary components of faith and discipleship. In addition, he consistently practiced love, including loving His enemies and doing good for them. He also modeled nonresistance and non-retaliation. He did not punish His enemies; he loved them and did good for them—He died for them, whereby he obtained reconciliation and peace with God for all people.

Therefore, disciples love: They love one another, and they love their enemies and do good for them. They seek reconciliation, peace, and unity with one another and all people, even at the cost of personal suffering. For example, they do not settle their disputes in earthly courts, but they rely on the wisdom of the assembly. Furthermore, they alleviate human distress and suffering. But, they do not oppose violence with violence, despite whatever form of greater good the violence purports it will achieve. Specifically, disciples will not use lethal force in behalf of any kingdom such as a nation-state.

The preceding text is a summary of “Anabaptist Spiritual Formation Salvation History: Cosmic and Personal, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.”

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The Most Prominent Marks of Discipleship—Progressive Holiness—Include Truth-Telling, Kingdom Living, and Peacemaking. Truth-telling is the correspondence of one’s words and deeds. Jesus, the Truth (John 14:6), perfectly embodies this correspondence. One who follows Jesus, then, practices and tells the truth.

In addition, disciples seek to fulfill their obligations as citizens of Christ’s Kingdom and, therefore, as Christ’s servant and subject. These obligations correspond to the values and principles of Christ’s Kingdom, including perpetual Jubilee. First of all, then, they seek to obey Christ’s command to make disciples. They also strive to help and comfort the weak, needy, and helpless, especially those from these groups who are disciples. Furthermore, they separate from evil, particularly worldliness. Worldliness is especially clear in that set of behaviors which generally governs social relations: desiring, pursuing, acquiring, maintaining, and using power, for the purpose of receiving glory and praise.

Foremost of all, disciples make peace—they neither resist violence nor retaliate against its manifestations.

The Overarching Theme of God’s Story Is Shalōm. The same holds, then, for the story of Christ and the stories of his followers. Shalōm (complete-positive-peace) is the promise and goal of the messianic reign. Accordingly, peace, unity, justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness are central to the teaching and example of Christ.

Christ was foreseen as the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). His advent was announced with an angelic blessing of peace (Luke 2:14). Immediately before His arrest and consequent death, Jesus prayed for peace and unity (John 17). During His earthly ministry, as did His apostles, Jesus taught love, peace, unity, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, and nonresistance, which corresponded to his insistence that peacemaking and forgiveness are necessary components of faith and discipleship (Matt 5:9–10, 44–45; 6:12). In addition, he consistently practiced love, including loving His enemies and doing good for them. He also modeled nonresistance and non-retaliation, which finally led Him to death on a cross, whereby he obtained reconciliation and peace with God for all people (Rom 5:1, 9–10).

Jesus’ actions and teaching, and those of His apostles, provide the basis for disciples to live in love, including loving one’s enemies and doing good for them, as well as living in reconciliation, peace, and unity with one another and all people (1 Cor 7:15; Eph 2:13–16; Heb 12:14), even at the cost of personal suffering. Rather than punish His enemies, He loved them and did good for them—He died for them. Suffering and painful providences, therefore, are the disciple’s normal expectation (1 Peter 2:21–23; 4:12–13; 2 Tim 3:12).

Disciples, those who live out their stories in the story of the Kingdom, seek peace. It is both the goal of disciples’ words and actions as well as the means whereby they meet that goal. For example, disagreeing believers do not appeal to earthly courts to settle their disputes, but they rely on the wisdom of the church (1 Cor 6:1–11). Furthermore, believers seek to ease human distress and suffering, but they do not oppose violence with violence, whatever form the violence takes. Violent opposition to violence, especially lethal force performed in behalf of a king in competition with Christ, such as a secular nation-state, or in the name of a so-called “greater good,” is unjustified.

You may access Part 1 here, and you may access Part 2 here.

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Click on the image to see a larger, more readable version.

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Two of the Bible verses that I first learned were “God helps those who help themselves” and “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Neither of these “verses,” however, is actually found in the Bible. But, they do reflect the morality of American civil religion, a sentimental mindset based on individualism and governed by utilitarianism. Civil religion combined with widespread biblical illiteracy has produced a societal “story” that has led many people to assume that these sayings, and others like them, are found in divinely, authoritative text and, therefore, have God’s imprimatur.

On the other hand, the passages listed below ARE found in the Bible.

Followers of Jesus regard the Bible as the essential book. They believe it is inspired by God—the Word of God—the fully reliable, trustworthy, and authoritative source and standard for Christian faith and life.

Does this stance toward the Bible match the way professing followers of Jesus understand and heed the following passages? If not, then why not? Maybe these passages are inextricably bound to an age and culture so different from ours that they no longer apply. Or perhaps they will apply in a future dispensation. Possibly they should be viewed more as ideals to which one should aspire. Maybe they are like proverbs which one must apply differently in different situations. How about interpreting them figuratively? And, isn’t it possible that their apparent meaning would be different if they were understood in light of the historical and literary context in which they were written? Finally, couldn’t they be literary creations added to Scripture over time by well-intentioned people?

But, what if we treated these passages as “essential,” “inspired by God—the Word of God”: “fully reliable, trustworthy, and authoritative” “for Christian faith and life”? What if we took them at their face value, and understood them in a way which corresponds to their apparent meaning?

What if we don’t?

  • Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12.
  • So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39.
  • Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39, 44 – 45.
  • Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:21 – 23.
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17 – 21.
  • Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 1 Peter 3:9 – 11.
  • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:44 – 45.
  • But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. James 3:17 – 18.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9.
  • Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Colossians 3:9 – 10.
  • Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. Ephesians 4:25.
  • Do not swear at all. Simply let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No”; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Matthew 5:34, 37.
  • But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36 – 37.
  • All liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. Revelation 21:8.

  • What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus said, Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. Mark 10:17, 21.
  • Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”  But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God. Then Jesus said to his disciples: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:15 – 23, 29 – 34.
  • This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. 1 John 3:16 – 20.

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Text: The Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3 – 12

Questions: Who are the people? What are the blessings?

Clue: Note the parallel structure.

(Is the chart hard to read? Click on it for a bigger version.)

Hypothesis:

The left column identifies the same person from different points of view.

The right column identifies the same blessing from different points of view.

Hmmm. . . .

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