Friday, July 18, 2008

Knowledge and Morality: What is True Discipleship?

I realized my relationship in Christ when I was 11 and submitted to baptism. The church my family belonged to met in a building that had not been finished. As such, the temporary baptistery was a concrete hole in the basement that contained a pump at one end for drawing water unfiltered and unheated from a nearby branch. The presence of the pump underwater was frightening enough for me. The fact that it was February in Ohio was another matter – the water was literally near freezing. Yet I was pleased to demonstrate the realization of my faith in God in a tangible way.

However, the circumstances of my life changed quickly and dramatically, and I have spelled those circumstances out before. In summary, between the loss of my mother and a change to a new location, a new denomination and a new church family resulted in a lack of adequate discipleship. Discipleship in that denomination amounted to teaching on the Ten Commandments, The Apostle’s Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Sacraments, and Confession. Know these things and the church can ostensibly be certain that you are a Christian. All these things are built into the service of the liturgical church in some form or fashion and are typically presented that way. In other words, the hope is that the liturgy and a good understanding of it will provide one’s weekly dose of good medicine to make someone a better Christian.

The small problem is that worship is not about what we get out of it. It’s what we put into it. Worship is not about what we get from God. We have already received our salvation. Out of a response of joy, we give ourselves over to glorifying God in any way we can. That’s true worship. The large problem is that this does nothing to inform our attitudes in our daily life.

Likewise, people have disciplined younger generations to do what is right. We look at what children read and what they watch and are perhaps pleased when a story has a good moral to it.

We approach civil law the same way. We want the laws of the land to reflect good morals. We want people who do not share our morals to act the way we know is right. That way, we think, God will like us better and bless us with an easier life. It is a good thing to seek a society that honors God in its public quarters.

It’s easy to focus on the evil we all do because we do so much of it all the time. To say otherwise is a false pretense. It is many times as instructive to honestly and earnestly examine conscience and demonstrate how we deal with sin practically through repentance, confession and forgiveness.

The question arose recently, what of the Law of Moses are we responsible for upholding, or what part of the Law did Christ fulfill? The easy answer is to break the Law into categories that are Biblically arbitrary, but make some cognitive sense to us. We can say that some of the law is civil in nature, some of it regards the sacrificial system and other of it is moral. For Peter and the Apostles, Acts says that there is no requirement for Gentiles except that we “abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality,” as recorded in Acts 15. What? Nothing about murder? Does this comport with the Law summed up by Christ in the gospels where He said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” But what does love for God and His people amount to? “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2,3) So we’re back to square one.

Now it’s good to desire to honor and glorify God by following His law. It’s hard to get real dogmatic about what we are supposed to do and what we are not supposed to do. We have some basic admonitions. The thing is, we can’t even keep the simple ones.

True Christian discipleship is more than the mere dispensation of knowledge or the modification of behavior to do good things. It is instruction in wisdom. It’s one thing to recite the golden rule. It’s quite another to see someone in need and think, “If I were that person I’d want someone like me to help, and I think I will,” rather than, “That person looks like a fool; I bet I could make a joke about them and make myself look like a winner.” This is not to say that discipleship shouldn't include the teaching of knowledge or the admonition to do good. But knowledge makes arrogant where love edifies and extensive lists of dos and don’ts takes the focus from grace and makes us seek to appear to be what we are not. Therefore, knowledge and morality should not be imparted without teaching understanding in light of God's sovereign providence.

That said, disciplers can only impart knowledge and can only present stimuli to someone else. This stimuli can be rather persuasive and we can study this for our use, but ultimately it is the activity of the Holy Spirit that enlightens the disciple to the Truth of God. That's sanctification.

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