Children and Disciples
In the secular world we can easily see the difference between those two groups, but somehow they are treated as one and the same by many Christians when the topic of discussion is Christian behavior. I’ve written about “faith and works” before, but this article takes a look at it from a different angle.
In the Bible we see people commended for having a “childlike faith”, a faith that simply trusts and does not hyper analyze. We also see the concept of salvation being like getting “born again”, which is to start a new life at the very simplest level. This is all about initial salvation, about the new birth, about spiritual infancy. But what I want to emphasize is that these people have no ’works’ yet, but are saved nonetheless. Many people forget this vital point, insisting that if a person is not outwardly exhibiting the marks of maturity that they are therefore nonexistent! Not useless, not ’dead’, not ineffective, but nonexistent. But that new birth did in fact happen, and the ’baby’ exists, whether in good health or poor.
Babies cannot be expected to have ’works’, to grasp the depths of theology, to have that deep walk with God. Babies are the ones who need a shepherd, who need to sit quietly and learn, who need to remember that they are babies and not adults yet. And they must not be content to remain infantile but strive to grow and develop-- to become disciples. Both the leadership and the ’laity’ are guilty of keeping the spiritually immature in that state. Leaders like to be in charge and be depended upon, and followers like to keep following and never be responsible. This is not how disciples are made!
A disciple is one who first of all desires to grow. This growth only happens by individual effort. Inherent in the word “disciple” is “discipline”. It’s work! And that’s the problem. So to be a disciple you have to start with desire and follow it with effort. And God will honor the prayer of the infant who wants to grow.
No leader can force growth upon anyone; no follower can get maturity by failing to listen or shirking responsibility. But the leader is responsible for teaching, and the disciple is responsible for learning and applying. Yet in the churches we see perpetual babies, people who spend a lifetime in church but never make any progress. As the writer of Hebrews laments, “By this time you should be teachers”. Incredibly, the teachers don’t show the slightest concern that so many people never become like them but remain students all their lives. Where is the outrage? Where is the cry against ineffective teachers and apathetic students?
What’s even more disturbing is the ones who insist so heavily on the necessity of ’works’ yet never lift a finger to turn babies into ’working’ disciples! The LS crowd (“Lordship Salvation”), the legalists, the Pharisees if you will, place the burden of maturity on babies, then lash out at the babies for not carrying the load! You want ’works’? Then do something! Teach, live the example, reach out. Don’t sit there on your upholstered pew and scowl at the babies, get off your “blessed assurance” and take them under your wing. We are all commanded to make disciples, not just spread the gospel.
But you can’t make disciples unless you are one yourself. Do you teach out of a ’quarterly’, a magazine, a teacher’s guide? Throw those away and open your Bible. If you can’t teach from that, then you have no business trying to make disciples or scowl at babies. Be a ’grown up’, and then nurture the babies. That’s how real individual and church growth happens. Not by being “driven” like cattle, but “led” by shepherds.