Friday, February 12, 2010

Let’s go discipling…

Do you consider ‘disciple’ a verb? Normally, I don’t either. But read Matthew 28:19 in its original Greek (sounds like a great Friday evening…), and you’ll discover that’s how Jesus thought.

This verse, of course, is the famous “Great Commission,” although most translations miss the point. Here’s what you probably recognize- Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. And here’s why it’s wrong. Number one, Matthew didn’t write a phrase- “make disciples.” He used one word, and a verb at that. In English, it would be something like “discipling”. But put ‘discipling’ into Microsoft Word, and a squiggly red line appears beneath, suggesting that ain’t English. And it’s not; it’s Greek. Number two, Matthew’s word for “nations” has nothing to do with political arrangements that began emerging in the Middle Ages called nation-states. And besides, how would we ever “disciple” a “nation”? Let alone baptize a nation, as Jesus next instructs? Actually, Matthew’s Greek word is usually translated, in the New Testament, as “Gentiles” or “Peoples.” And it’s the root for the English words “ethnic” and “ethnicity.” So here’s Shane’s retranslation of the Great Commission, which I think better captures Matthew’s original writing, and makes Jesus’ mission more empowering. “Go, therefore, to all peoples, and disciple them…” I’ll be interested to know if that sparks insights of your own, but it matters to me because:

For starters, when understanding Jesus, I think it’s crucial to recognize that he locates the power of God’s transformation primarily in the relationships we build. Not in the institutional church or nation-state or economic order (as important as these are!), but relationships with God and other people. That’s why I prefer talk about going to all peoples, rather than nations. It clarifies the center of gravity in Jesus’ worldview. Christians, for centuries, forgot this, and built a growth model focused on ‘national’ expansion. Kings or whomever would suddenly consider it spiritually (or economically) convincing to trust Jesus and His Church, and would subsequently force her/his people to pledge such allegiance also. American states, even, tried this for centuries- Massachusetts being the final state to get rid of an ‘official religion’, in 1833. Mistranslating the Great Commission didn’t cause all that, of course, but I wonder if it helped. Still, going forward, I think we should return to roots of the Jesus Movement, and remember that Jesus believed the powers of intimacy and vulnerability-between-neighbors reflected God’s best ideas more than any other power we’d ever concoct.

Also, I think it’s cool to think of ‘Disciple’ as a verb, an activity. Usually, it’s a noun, and to me, an identity-marker. My denomination is the Disciples of Christ, thus I’m a Disciple. But in Matthew 28, Jesus suggests that following him, and inviting others to join, isn’t as much about checking a box like you would on the Census (mark here- if you’re Caucasian, 20-30 years-old, a Disciple, etc…), as it is about joining him on a journey. For many, the most we’ve helped in ‘making disciples’ was raising kids, or talking to youth about baptism, or teaching Sunday School to children. And that’s awesome. But too often, we act like once that’s happened- a person’s baptized, and thus (s)he’s claimed the identity “Disciple of Christ”- the job is done. I’m guessing Jesus doesn’t think so, however, since he calls us to go discipling. That sounds like the learning process is actively on-going; that the relationships must not simply begin, but also remain dynamic, if the transformative power of God is going to work fully.

To that end, this Lent, we’re discipling together. Both in worship and on Wednesday evenings (6-7 PM), I’ll be teaching and preaching about living as a Disciple of Christ. We’ll learn the basic practices of our religious tradition. But more importantly, we’ll discuss how updating those ideas for the 21st century can help us live more whole, and offer wholeness to our many neighbors who’ve grown skeptical of religion or never went to church, so don’t give it much thought. I hope you’ll join me for worship and class, and get excited about Discipling people. Jesus thought it’d be a great adventure. In all things,

Grace and Peace,


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