Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Graduate Already!
(The Church, the Holy Spirit and the Disciple)

As my understanding of discipleship and the simple life is developing, I feel the leading and providence of the Holy Spirit to certain resources, passages of Scripture and discussions with friends. Over the last week I came across a Messianic Jewish website called RabbiYeshua.com that gives some great insight into first century discipleship. I also came across an article by a fellow named Robert Brow on the role of the Holy Spirit as teacher or rabbi in the life of a Christian disciple. Both of these resources were very insightful, pointing my thoughts down the road of first-century discipleship as a context for understanding our mandate to follow Christ today. (However, I know very little about either of these sources and do not endorse or necessarily recommend them.)

A few days ago I searched for "Celebration of Discipline" on iTunes and found it in audiobook format and also discovered a sermon by its author, Richard Foster, given at a chapel service at Seattle Pacific University in the late 70s shortly after the book was written. The message was INCREDIBLE (I do highly recommend getting it - it's under the podcast section of the iTunes store). I began to search the digital library of SPU chapel services and found a message by Rob Wall entitled "Scripture and Jesus," given recently. In this message, Rob teaches from John 13 & 14 and gives great insight into the disciples' struggle to understand Jesus' impending departure and the gift of the Holy Spirit as an indwelling teacher (or rabbi).

I wrote all of that to give the back-story to my current thoughts and to assign credit where it is due. Now on to my thoughts...

What is the role of the church and the Holy Spirit in the life of a modern-day disciple? Rob Wall painted a gripping picture of the anxiety that Jesus' disciples must have felt when he announced his leaving; they were to become disciples without a rabbi, learners without a teacher. They had given their whole lives to follow one man, sacrificing their reputations and laying aside the normal responsibilities of life to align themselves with this radical teacher. What were they to do without him? Who would be the rabbi for this group of orphaned students?

Jesus had a plan! "I will not leave you as orphans..." Our Savior needed to leave so that the next stage of their discipleship could begin. Until this time, they followed a physical person in attempts to garner wisdom from him and live life as much like him as possible. Their three years of following Jesus were riddled with frustrating moments for their rabbi; often he would say things like, "How much longer do I have to put up with you?" or "How long have I been with you and you still do not know me?" The disciples were trying their best to follow Christ but had not developed "eyes to see and ears to hear" what God was doing in his kingdom. Rarely one of them would have moments of revelation; when Peter identified Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior replied "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven!" Jesus was eager to initiate his disciples into their next stage of learning because they would receive a new, much needed type of instruction - learning from a teacher within. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit who would remind them of all he said and lead them into all truth. This teacher would take them to places they had yet to go (and would not be able to go) following an earthly rabbi. This was the beginning of the best...

Believers today long for the opportunity to follow Christ as the disciples did. "If I could spend three years with Jesus I would really get things right!" There is a stage of discipleship that requires a season of following an earthly teacher and, in Jesus' absence, the Body of Christ fills that role. Christians rightly look to the church (local and universal) to lead them in learning about God and all things spiritual. However, we make a grave mistake when we see the church as our primary source of spiritual learning. Jesus intended for the twelve to graduate to a new level of discipleship and he intends the same for us today. There comes a time when we must wean ourselves off of the church as our substitute rabbi and lean primarily on the indwelling Teacher that Christ died to provide.

This concept can be frightening for both the disciple and the church leader. What might happen? Will people stop attending services? Will error creep in as people seek to find truth "on their own"? Yes, these things will happen to some (hopefully slight) degree. However, the power of Spirit-led discipleship is explosive! Imagine an army of Christ-followers who are united as a body but dependent primarily on the Holy Spirit (not the pastor) to lead them into truth! Imagine the impact as we follow Christ in pursuit of the lost, listening to his Spirit and living by his Word!

What role does the church play in helping disciples graduate to the next level? That's another post...

John 13:36-14:31

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