Thursday, January 24, 2008

notes on salvation 4

Are We Making Disciples or Just Converts?

In Matthew, Jesus closes out his physical time on this planet by exhorting his followers to make disciples of all men. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a disciple is “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another”. In New Testament times, the Hebrew word for disciple would have been Talmidim, a term that, much like our modern day understanding of disciple, would have defined somebody who, not only understood the teachings or doctrines of his teacher or Rabbi, but a student who would have also had the commitment to, quite literally, live out the doctrines of his Rabbi or, to become like the Rabbi. This would explain Peter’s attempt to walk on water, just as his Rabbi had done. And while it is easy to pick and choose verses, as I have done over these related posts, that would support the idea of social justice being at the very heart and soul of Jesus’ doctrine, I feel confident in saying that an unbiased read through the gospels and the prophets will confirm Jesus’ words and my belief that all of the law and the prophets really do come down to loving God and loving our neighbour.

And so, for me, the idea of “just getting them saved” is a good one as long as it includes a full understanding of what, in my opinion, the gospel was meant to be; not just a moment of personal conversion, but a more encompassing reform of our culture’s morals, i.e. sense of justice, and the church’s theology. I fear, however, that when most of the church uses the phrase “just get them saved”, they are speaking of an understanding of salvation, born out of the great revivals where, like cattle, we herd people through a service, coerce them into repeating a prayer, and send them on their way, “saved” and ready to face eternity. Rather than Paul’s understanding of salvation, that it is a process meant to be worked out, this theology of salvation is much more convenient because it takes all the responsibility of social justice out of our hands and leaves us with only the responsibility of, at most, telling our friends about salvation from hell or, at the very least, inviting them to church so that our pastor can tell them.

In conclusion I believe that, just as Old Testament law was meant to govern social justice into action, so was the full gospel of Jesus. To bring it back to Wesley’s Means of Grace, the night of the last supper was meant to be an analogy of the gospel or The Good News. In one night Jesus summarized the entire gospel plan. However, the evening did not end with the drinking of the wine and the eating of the bread, meant to symbolize Jesus’ redemption of sins, it ended with Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, an act meant to demonstrate how God’s Kingdom on Earth had arrived and was meant to reverse the injustices that so many around the world were experiencing. Without this part of the story, God seems impotent and powerless to do anything in this dimension and outside the realms of a spiritual heaven, somewhere up above the clouds, where the streets are gold.

I also believe that, while their methods may have differed, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and Barth would have rebuked much of our modern day theology of salvation and clearly encouraged the making of disciples rather than just converts. And for me, the making of disciples, or discipleship, has to include our part in fighting social injustice because without it we are only becoming converts rather than true disciples of Jesus Christ. And though, in the end, all we may ultimately be able to do is throw all of our good deeds at the feet of Christ and admit that we are not fit to wipe off His shoes, it is still our mission, not as converts, but as disciples, to have good deeds to throw.

(the end)

Comments on "notes on salvation 4"


Blogger Bill said ... (12:28 AM) : 


I have been absent from blog reading but this last week I have been re-energized in part because of thoughts like you have expressed.

It is brillant.

Would you be willing to send me a copy of your paper so I can use it in our "soldiership" classes?

I wonder how many emails you will get condeming your thoughts as heretical because you hint that following christ is actually about what we do with our lives. I mean really. Anyway, from one follower to anouther blessings on your journey.


Blogger Tim said ... (12:36 AM) : 

Hi Bill,

I'm not entirely sure who you are, but if you'll provide an email address, or write me at mine ( I'll gladly send along the essay.



Blogger Trent said ... (4:12 AM) : 

I have not forgotten the long email I need to send you, but I have not even started it. Maybe by the time I do get down to punching keys it will actually be comprehensible.


Blogger Cari said ... (10:20 AM) : 

This has been bothering me as well. We do Judgement House at our church and I am so concerned about scaring people with a sudden Heaven or Hell choice, and then sending them out the door with a false sense of security. I believe that salvation isn't in the recited prayer, but rather a process of sorts. I talked to a friend about our "cattle drive" where a whopping number of salvations follows each night's drama. He made a good point. People aren't saved when we lead them in a prayer. They are saved when the Holy Spirit comes to them, and they choose to accept or refuse Him. That is, of course, the very simplisitc explaination, but basically, we are responsible for planting seeds. At the same time, if we forget to water new growth as it is placed in our path, we are making a fatal mistake. I believe God puts people in our lives to either plant a seed, water a new plant, or maybe even to be watered by them. What has happened to our discipleship, I think, is that like you said, we're putting emphasis on "getting them saved." Discipleship is intimate, messy, and difficult work. We have adopted a John 3:16 doctrine but then have somehow dropped the entire book of James. I am as much to blame as anyone, but have been praying for more sensitivity to the community and a willingness to work and serve, not a fear.

A short story and I'll leave you alone. I really messed up a while back. I mean, big. I needed to talk to someone, and so I called my best friend Jana (Sorrell) and she said to come over and we'd do pedicures and talk. There she was, kneeling at my feet, washing them in the special foot bath that we use for "real" pedis, and I was crying and pouring my heart our to her. All at once, the sobs caught in my throat, and I said-or croaked, really-"Jana! You're washing my feet!" Suddenly the failure-the sin-didn't seem quite so big, but the humility I felt at our positions right then took me right to where Peter must have been that night. I felt so unworthy of her attention, but she is my best friend for a reason. That story used to be awkward to me. I hate dirty feet. But now it is so personal and beautiful. If we can serve the people we deem dirty or undeserving in a very loving, humble way, it humbles them, and I feel that they are more receptive to our message. True love breaks every barrier.

Thanks for letting me burn up some of your space, here. You've given me so much to think about.


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