Monday, July 02, 2007

The Challenge of Discipleship

Here's a portion of Sunday's sermon which addressed the challenge of discipleship:

The challenge of discipleship is not about adopting a new ideology, but about being grasped by a new way of living. Following Christ submerses us in the waters of baptism and transfers our citizenship from one dominion to another.

No one understood this better than did John Wesley who, in his classic essay, “The Character of a Methodist,” laid out an order of salvation that was committed to a lifetime of growth. The Methodist class meetings met weekly and provided a place for mutual study, correction, forgiveness, and prayer. Wesleyans, Will Willimon maintains, experienced the gospel call, not merely as the intellectual question, “Do you agree?” or its emotional opposite, “Do you feel?” but as the more politically-loaded question, “Will you join?” The danger in our culture is that the Christian faith may simply get reduced to a merely private or individualistic matter. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, facing the power of the Nazi state, knew that this kind of withdrawal from the culture would never empower Christians to resist. The only hope for Christians in an alien world, he suggested, was membership in a community that would enable them to stand up to the forces of Nazism. In his, Cost of Discipleship, he says: “There is a certain ‘political’ character involved in the idea of sanctification and it is this character which provides the only basis for the Church’s political ethic. The world is the world and the Church the Church, and yet the Word of God must go forth from the Church into all the world, proclaiming that the earth is the Lord’s and all that therein is. Herein is the ‘political’ character of the Church,” (314).

Perhaps living in a country such as ours, it is easy to mistake the veneer of religiosity for the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his most recent book, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Way that Jesus is the Way, Eugene Peterson shows us just how counter-cultural this call to discipleship really is. He says, “I cannot follow Jesus any way which I like. My following must be consonant with his leading. . . More often than not I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practiced by the high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations, and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often than not violate the ways of Jesus. North American Christians are conspicuous for going along with whatever the culture decides is charismatic, successful, influential—whatever gets things done, whatever can gather a crowd of followers—hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow,” (8).