|Discipleship Cornerstone||Biblical Teachings about this Cornerstone||Cautionary Teachings|
|Christ||"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)||There's a fatal defect in the life of Christ's church in the [current] century: a lack of true discipleship…. For many of today's supposed Christians – perhaps the majority – it is the case that while there is much talk about Christ and even much furious activity, there is actually very little following of Christ Himself…. There are several reasons that the situation I have described is common in today's churches. The first is defective theology that has crept over us like a deadening fog. - From Chapter 1 of Christ's Call to Discipleship by Dr. James Boice. The Bible Study Hour Letter (sent by Dr. Boice's organization just after Boice's death) echoes this idea and states, "Many people think they're followers of Jesus because they go to church and get involved in Christian activities. But that's not what Jesus meant."|
|Covenantal Relationships||"All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant." (Psalm 25:10)|
|Counsel of Scripture||"I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." (Acts 20:27, RSV)|
|Calling||"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully." (Romans 12:6-8)|
Discipleship within the Covenant Community Church
by Tim Voorhees
A small amount of plutonium can light up the world -- if the plutonium is managed within a properly constructed nuclear reactor. If however, the reactor is built with only 99% accuracy, the results can be the opposite. Instead of creating light for the benefit of mankind, the nuclear reaction can cause an extremely hot meltdown that precipitates a deadening fog. A small defect in design or construction can result in immediate fatal damage while destroying faith in the power generation process, as occurred at Chernobyl and Fukushima.
While plutonium contains tremendous energy, the message of Christ has infinitely more power to light up a pathway for everyone in the world. Christ gives us His bride, the church, to manage this great power. If we follow the church models taught in Scripture, we can build a powerful movement upon the rock (Matthew 16:18) and have confidence that the church will stand firm as the foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). If, however, we deviate from what the Bible teaches about the church, the fatal defect will undermine the power of the church and destroy faith in the power of Christ and His bride.
This brief essay explains how each Christian can experience Christ's light and power while questing along a divinely-guided spiritual pathway. The sections below review how, 1) God reveals Himself through the doctrines of grace, 2) man applies God's grace through theology, 3) theology is personalized through discipleship in the covenant community church, 4) church leaders must maintain sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it, and 5) discipleship-driven churches emphasize grace as the hallmark of success.
1) God Reveals Himself through the Doctrines of Grace
We praise God for how he leads us to confess the gospel of Christ. This obedience is a result of the surpassing grace God has given us. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (See 2 Corinthians 9:13-15).
In the above passage, and throughout church history, the Gospel has been explained with the doctrines of grace. Believers start with Scripture (sola Scriptura) and apply the Word of our Lord by faith (sola fide). The faith is informed by Christ (sola Christus), by God (soli Deo Gloria), and by the gracious manifestation of the Spirit (sola gracia).
Our Trinitarian Lord reveals Himself through the church, which has been given the keys of the Kingdom (Matthew 16:19) and the gifts of office (Ephesians 4:8.) as well as the divine Word for preaching (Romans 10:14, 17), faithful shepherding (1 Peter 5:1-5) and the means of grace (Acts 2:42). Because the church is essential to Christ's protection, provision, and tender discipline, many theologians refer to a sixth sola (sola ecclesia) .
Teachings about the five solas and the sixth sola have deep roots in the words of Christ and the prophets. It is through these doctrines of grace that God maintains the peace and purity of the church. According to John Piper, "These doctrines are the bulwark against man-centered teachings in many forms that gradually corrupt the church and make her weak from the inside, all the while making her look strong and popular. The church of the living God, rightly taught, is to be 'a pillar and buttress of truth (1 Tim 3:15)'"
2) Man Applies God's Grace through Theology
Dr. James Montgomery Boice, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, wrote extensively on the need for churches to maintain sound doctrine by upholding the doctrines of Grace. In The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel , Boice gives compelling historical examples of entire cities that were transformed by Christ-centered churches. He cites Calvin's Geneva, Kupyer's Amsterdam, the Puritans' New England, and other strong spiritual communities. Boice illustrates how the church has been the backbone of successful communities, and the successful churches have been marked by a consistent and compelling commitment to classic ecclesiastical teachings.
Despite his great optimism about the power and light radiating from doctrinally-sound churches, Boice identified a fatal defect in the church and warned believers in the introduction to his book entitled Christ's Call to Discipleship. Boice writes, "There's a fatal defect in the life of Christ's church in the [current] century: a lack of true discipleship…. For many of today's supposed Christians – perhaps the majority – it is the case that while there is much talk about Christ and even much furious activity, there is actually very little following of Christ Himself…. There are several reasons that the situation I have described is common in today's churches. The first is defective theology that has crept over us like a deadening fog."
Boice exhorted Christians to affirm proven theology regarding the church's role in the life of the believer. One of Boice's students, Mark Dever, has summarized centuries of orthodox teaching about the church at www.9Marks.org. Dever's organization has subsequently identified hundreds of churches that affirm time-tested ecclesiastical standards.
3) Theology Is Personalized Through Discipleship in the Covenant Community Church
When studying the faithful and effective churches identified by Mark Dever, we see how teachings correspond closely to 10 marks of a covenant community seen throughout Scripture. These marks are summarized in Appendix One at the end of this article. The 9 marks of the modern church or the 10 marks of a covenantal church community can be condensed into this brief summary: Successful churches help believers experience Christ's light with active involvement from the Head (Preaching and Leadership based on the Gospel and Biblical theology), the Heart (Conversion and Discipleship), and the Body (Membership, Evangelism, and Discipline). While the above marks may not align perfectly with the head, heart, and body metaphor, Scripture provides abundant teachings about the importance of the head, heart, and body in the life of a healthy church.
Believers are to love God with all of our hearts, minds and strength of body . The words describing strength "are only found in biblical and church-related Greek ." In the Old Testament, exhortations about loving God refer to the covenant community. Teachings about covenantal relationships with God and Godly leaders are actively reaffirmed in New Testament teachings about uniting in a church body with fellow believers who commit their hearts and minds to faithful and loving community.
Scripture requires a full commitment of our hearts, minds and bodies. We must focus our hearts on things above (Col 3), keep the Word written on our hearts (Luke 8:12, 2 Corinthians 3:2), respect the laws engraved on our hearts (Hebrews 10:12), commit our whole hearts to truth (Acts 11:23, Ps 51:6), and set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15). Discipleship needs to focus on the issues of the heart (Acts 1:24) and work with God to reveal secrets of the heart (Acts 2:37, 1 Corinthians 14:25) as the Spirit searches the heart (Romans 8:27, Rev 2:23) with the light of Scripture (2 Corinthians 4:6, Hebrews 4:12). The heart must be committed to seek God in everything (Acts 13:22), loving with a pure heart (1 Timothy 5:11, 2 Timothy 2:2), and developing wisdom in the inner most places (Psalm 51:6).
Our minds must also be fully committed to our Lord. Paul writes, "This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but ....we have the mind of Christ: (1 Cor. 2:13,16)". We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). The trained mind can teach others to believe all that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:20).
The heartfelt and mindful commitment to God is best lived out in the body. Paul writes, In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:21 ). He goes on, "We will lovingly follow the truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly—and so become more in every way like Christ who is the Head of his body, the church." (Ephesians 1:22 , Ephesians 4:15)." It is in community that the disciples, "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts (Acts 2:42, 46).
The community commits to help each member prayerfully discern and follow a spiritual pathway. Prophetic preaching about the pathway unites believers in applying Gospel-centered and Biblical theology. Priestly care for the believers focuses on conversion, discipleship, and other heart issues. The prophet and priest are supported by leaders who know how to maintain the health of the church (Christ's kingdom on earth) through faithful commitment to Biblical teachings about membership, discipline, and evangelism. Churches with leaders gifted as prophets, priest, and kings can effectively reflect divine teachings about the head, heart, and body.
Gifted leaders can help each church member pursue a pathway that leads to greater spiritual maturity. Each believer can pursue a spiritual journey increasingly focused on knowing, honoring, and enjoying God. The members can conform to Christ's image (Romans 8:29) and reflect His character more fully. (See, e.g., Ephesians 4:1, Ephesians 4:24, and Colossians 3:10). Believers questing along a personal pathway can support one another in covenantal institutions that reflect our Christ's character (the family, church and government).
While the church encourages each believer, it also helps protect each believer from deception. John Piper writes, "[He] will keep us from falling (Jude 1:24)...by mutual exhortation of other believers in our lives. This is one of the highest tributes that could possibly be paid to the church. God ordains the body of Christ as the means of his infallible keeping of the elect." The following section explains how this mutual exhortation must be based on sound doctrine.
Studies at www.Legacies.info (and in the book available at a download at Legacies.info) document the success of committing the head and heart to a discipleship pathway with support from the covenant community church body. The process at www.BiblicalPurpose.com suggests how church-based discipleship can help believers uphold Biblical truths, receive guidance from spirit-lead teachers, and guard against the insidious religions of this age. Moreover, teachers following ancient traditions of discipleship can help their students faithfully apply Scriptural teachings about Christian education, Biblical economics, and career planning.
4) Church Leaders Must Maintain Sound Doctrine and Refute Those Who Oppose It
While the lives of successful men and women help us see the effectiveness of discipleship within healthy covenantal relationships, statistic reveal how relatively few Christians successfully establish and pursue a God-honoring pathway throughout their lives. Why do only about 5% of people have life plans and why do only about 1/3 of leaders finish well? As we study the situation, we invariably observe how failures are rooted in not identifying issues of the heart, gathering facts with help from body, and respecting elders who are properly trained and equipped to provide divinely-guided headship. In short, we see how too many modern leaders content themselves with an understanding of the church and discipleship that differs markedly form the discipleship in the covenant church community described in Scripture and at www.9Marks.org.
Overcoming this deficiency requires that church leaders faithfully apply Scripture when defining the marks of the covenant community church. Each mark must be upheld in a way respects Christ, God's glory, and by the gracious manifestation of the Spirit.
Pastors who affirm the doctrines of grace can guard against the practices that undermine pure preaching. In particular, a churches affirming sound doctrine must have qualified overseers involved with teaching, discipline, and the administration of the sacraments. Such an overseer should meet the standards of 1 Timothy 3 and 4, Titus 1 and 2, and other passages about the qualifications of an elder and deacon. The purity of the church is maintained when worship is led by elders who can, "encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." (Titus 1:9)
When leaders are trained to understand the doctrines of grace, they can help members worshipfully follow Christ in spirit and truth. When churches give pastoral authority to untrained leaders, the individuals under their care are quickly distracted by the idols of the age. While Godly ideals may be affirmed in the abstract, budgets and calendars will show how resources are committed to personal pleasures and possessions rather than God-honoring pursuits. Moreover, the lack of teaching about accountability of leaders easily leads to exaltation of leadership apart from the family, church, and governmental authority ordained by Scripture. Leaders not accountable to Scripture and Godly elder boards will often promote unbalanced teachings about God's attributes and character. Too many untrained teachers undermine God's design for community by emphasizing love over holiness, female attributes of God over male attributes, and manmade rules over laws established by God.
When overseers are not trained, churches often teach a narrow subset of orthodox doctrines, thereby allowing leaders to fill in gaps with their own opinions or biased perspectives. Church members then fall prey to the furtive encroachment of other gods. Boice notes how "numerous polls" verify that "Christians in general have nearly the same thoughts, values, and behavior patterns as the world around them." Boice attributes this problem to leaders not knowing doctrinal truths well enough to confront the insidious gods of secularism, humanism, relativism, materialism, pragmatism, and mindlessness.
Sound doctrine is easily undermined when churches assign teaching responsibilities to individuals who define grace with personal feelings and opinions rather than doctrinal truths. Moreover, knowledge of the truth is increasingly clouded when doctrinal instruction is too narrow to foster effective confrontation of idols. When teaching is shallow, leaders lack a clear basis for confronting the false religions that undermine discipleship and corrupt a proper understanding of the covenantal structures upon which great communities are built.
5) Discipleship-Driven Churches Emphasize Grace as the Hallmark Of Success.
Dr. Boice quotes The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer when highlighting the need for discipleship practiced by leaders who understand the doctrines of grace. A believer cannot disciple himself or herself. Nor can the believer practice grace apart from the community of believers. Bonhoeffer writes, "Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship…"
True discipleship requires a potentially costly commitment of time, money and other resources in the quest to be fully sanctified. Paul explains these ideals in 1 Thessalonians 5:23: "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." How do we fulfill these high standards when "the spirit is willing, but the body is weak"? (Matt 26:41). Christ fulfills the law and obeys God's commands on our behalf! (Matthew 5:19) "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
If Christ graciously obeys the law for us, what is the believer's role in living the successful Christian life? Obviously, the disciple must honor the first and greatest commandment -- to love God. We can love God by obeying what He has commanded. (John 14:15) We must understand why Jesus says that, "anyone who loves me will obey my teaching" (John 14:23). We should appreciate why John writes, "but if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them (1 John 2:5); "those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them" (1 John 3:24); and "to keep his commands… is not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). We will be encouraged to [love by walking] in obedience to his commands" (2 John 1:15) and to experience "great joy when some believers came and testified about [our faithfulness walking in the truth]" (3 John 1:3).
The Westminster Divines review a myriad of relevant Scriptural passages and answer this question in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter 15 reminds us that, "Repentance unto life is the evangelical grace…preached by every minister of the Gospel." (WCF 15:1). Through repentance we apprehend Christ's mercy, grieve our sins, and "turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments." (WCF 15:2). This quest to walk in all the ways of Him will fail but His mercies are new every morning when we repent. "Man ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man's duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins, particularly." (WCF 15:5). Every man is bound to make private confession of his sins to God and to pray for the pardon of all sins until there is reconciliation with brothers within the church.
Reconciliation with our Lord and the church body is realized through grace. It is through grace that we know the character and attributes of Christ and His bride. Moreover, it is through God's grace and mercy that we know how to turn to ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) and experience true forgiveness within the church. It is through the repentance and reconciliation process that the believer "might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:18) Through this imputed (not earned) righteousness, we can claim the divine promises of success. As Dallas Willard writes, "This process of 'conformation to Christ,' as we might more appropriately call it, is constantly supported by grace, and otherwise would be impossible."
To experience His light and power, Christ exhorts us to following Biblical teachings about the head, heart and body and guard against man-centered teachings . In Doctrines of Grace, Boice shows how the leaders in church communities were fully committed to the reformed covenants and the doctrines of grace. In particular, Boice underscores the importance of putting in place church leaders who oversee discipleship based on a God-centered mind, a penitent spirit, and a grateful heart. Boice concludes by showing how great leaders inspire others to pursue a glorious purpose marked by repentance (a submissive will) and a holy life. Qualified church leaders who embrace a Biblical understanding of discipleship can unite church members in affirming glorious purposes and holy pursuits characterized by humble submission and the gracious forgiveness of sins. If we respect the headship of the Father, the Spirit-led conviction of the heart, and Son's teachings about the body, we can more fully respect the divine command that we obey everything God has commanded. (Matthew 18:19-20). Then we follow Jesus as the ultimate source of light and power.
|Appendix One Marks of the Biblical Church|
|The marks listed below parallel those at 9Marks.org but add a 10th mark involving economics because, 1) Jesus speaks more about economics than any other topics, 2) poll-takers list economic concerns among the biggest local and national problems, and 3) the church has a key economic role in working with the family and government to implement Biblical economic solutions. The 10 marks below are organized into a covenantal structure. See www.BiblicalReason.com and www.Legacies.info for details.|
|Description from www.9Marks.org||Corresponding Covenantal Element|
|R||Revelation and Resources|
|Biblical Theology||Sound doctrine—a church can't live without it.||God reveals His character through the creation covenant followed by the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and other covenants cumulating with the revelation through the New Covenant.|
|The Gospel||The difference between a church and a non-church is whether or not it believes, teaches, and lives out the message of the gospel.||The Gospel has been revealed through covenants since long before Christ preached the gospel message.|
|T||Transcendent, Purposeful Preaching|
|Preaching||Want to know how to be utterly counter-cultural and culturally-relevant at the same time? Try opening God's Word, taking the main point of a biblical text, making it the main point of a sermon, and applying it to life today. Read more||Scripture, such as in Romans 10:14-15, emphasizes the purposes of preaching in reaching the lost. Preaching is also essential to encourage the heirs of the covenant.|
|H||Hearing God through His Hierarchy|
|Leadership||The Bible teaches that churches should be led by a plurality of godly, qualified shepherds. What does it call them? Elders.||Covenant communities (e.g. Churches) have always been led by a plurality of elders that are chosen, equipped, and monitored according to a time-tested and Spirit-led process. These elders reflect Christ's character as prophet (e.g., preaching), priest (e.g., giving pastoral care), and king (e.g., managing programs).|
|Membership||Church membership isn't just names on a list or an emotional attachment to your childhood church. It's attending, loving, serving, and submitting to a congregation of people.||Church membership roles and responsibilities have been defined throughout Scripture. Membership covenants unite church members around a shared understanding.|
|Discipleship||Christians learn by instruction and imitation, which means that churches are where both should happen. Read more||Discipleship pastors equip members to know their calling and follow Christ in the classroom, family room, board room, court room, and other places where believers are called to reflect the covenantal character of God.|
|Economics||Should the church look different from the world? The fact that Jesus and Paul commanded churches to practice discipline tells us the answer is "yes."||Church discipline helps maintain the peace and purity of the body. When conflicts develop, Biblical peacemaking can resolve the conflicts promptly according to provisions in the church bylaws and membership covenants.|
|O||Outcomes – Oaths|
|Discipline||Should the church look different from the world? The fact that Jesus and Paul commanded churches to practice discipline tells us the answer is "yes."||Church discipline helps maintain the peace and purity of the body. When conflicts develop, Biblical peacemaking can resolve the conflicts promptly according to provisions in the church bylaws and membership covenants.|
|Evangelism||Biblical evangelism means (i) sharing the message about Jesus' death and resurrection with non-Christians and (ii) calling them to repent and believe.||Churches upholding hallmarks of the covenant community (above) can enjoy great success and invest in replicating success through other successful churches.|
|Conversion||God must act, and people must act. God must give life to the dead. People must repent of sin and trust in Christ.||Biblical preaching emphasizes elements of the covenant. God's revelation and transcendence are preached with power and conviction that leads to conversion.|
1 See, e.g., http://tinyurl.com/6thSola
2 Piper, John. Five Points. Christian Focus Publications (November 10, 2013). Kindle Location 975 of 1233
3 See http://tinyurl.com/DoctrinesOfGraceBoice and http://tinyurl.com/GospelOfGraceBoice.
4 Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27
6 Piper, John. Five Points. Christian Focus Publications (November 10, 2013). Kindle Location 926 of 1233
7 http://skipmoen.com/tag/the-event-of-church-3/ and http://skipmoen.com/2013/06/30/some-surprises-dwight-pryor-on-paul/
8 See http://tinyurl.com/GospelOfGraceBoice.