Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Disciple Doctrine: Part 2 – To be a Disciple; and not a Christian?

The disciple doctrine seeks “eyewitness accounts” in the New Testament. They focus mostly on the Gospels in order to establish a ‘Christian lifestyle’ based on Jesus training His disciples. However, this teaching of discipleship ignores certain critical points regarding the chronological account of Jesus and his teachings.

Supporters of the disciple doctrine become their own kind of “eyewitness.” They speak with a sense of authority on the subject of discipleship. However their facts often “distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30)

Let us investigate an important catchphrase used to entice Christians to be a “Disciple” and not a “Christian.”

When did Jesus ask anyone to become a Christian?

Instructors of the disciple doctrine enquire, “When did Jesus ask anyone to become a Christian?” Or they state, “Jesus never used the word; he never called anyone to be a Christian. He called people to be disciples.”

Where do we go for answers? Instinctively we go to the Gospels because the central figure in these questions is Jesus. And here we will find that Jesus never referred to anyone to be a “Christian.”

It seems to the supporters of the disciple doctrine that they have “discovered” something very important. Their discovery led them to believe that mainstream Christianity has overlooked the fact that Christ never spoke of Christians but only disciples. Therefore the disciple doctrine challenges mainstream thought on being a Christian because Christ never used that word. The disciple doctrine reverts to the term used by Jesus – disciple.

First and foremost, nobody can challenge these observations made by the disciple doctrine because all above-mentioned issues are absolutely truthful. This is very important to understand.

However, we have to bear in mind that while most observations made by the disciple doctrine are accurate, their conclusions often lead to distortion of “the truth”! We ought to know that it is the “truth” that becomes distorted; not “lies!” Hence many vulnerable people become disciples of the disciple doctrine. The case above is no different!

Secondly, we ought to establish why Jesus never used the term – Christian. But for now, let us review the above-mentioned question and statements and provide them with our answers. We shall return to this checklist in order to see if our conclusions or the conclusions of the disciple doctrine are biblically sound.

When did Jesus ask anyone to become a Christian? Answer: Never
2. Jesus never used the word. Answer: True
3. He never called anyone to be a Christian. Answer: True
4. He called people to be disciples. Answer: True

  • Questions often asked by the disciple doctrine

  • The question alludes to a timeframe – “When.” It also refers to a point in time before which a period is reckoned “to become a Christian.”

    We know the biblical term “Christian” comes from non-Gospel sources (Acts & 1 Peter). Why did Jesus never ask anyone to become a “Christian” if the term is so firmly established later in the early church? (1 Peter 4:16)

    We would know precious little about Jesus if all we had were the non-Gospel sources. Fortunately the Gospel sources particularly the four canonical Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the New Testament provide us with much information. The documents although placed first amongst the 27 books of the New Testament and despite vividly describing the original followers of Jesus they were written 40 to 60 years after Jesus!

    More so, we should understand some critical points about the four canonical Gospels often ignored by the casual observer. They shed light on events covering the first third of the first century (4 B.C.E. - 36 C.E.). The Gospel writers in the final third period of the first century, c. 70-100 C.E. recorded these accounts. The original texts circulated anonymously. No one knows where the original texts were composed or who the original authors were. By the second century the traditional ascriptions “Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke” and “John” were given.

    We should appreciate the fact that the New Testament recognizes that Paul was known to be a theologian (2 Peter 3:16). The bible warns Christians that Paul’s letters “contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Furthermore, Paul was an apostle of Christ “sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.” (Galatians 1:1) His early Epistles precede the earliest Gospel – the Gospel of Mark by fifteen years! Paul was a contemporary of Jesus and his disciples. (Acts 9:17; Galatians 2:9) His first letter arguably Galatians (other scholars think it might be 1 Thessalonians) was penned by mid-century.

    Paul’s death is not recorded in the bible but according to church tradition Nero beheaded Paul in the mid-60s of the first century. The Gospel of Mark is recognized to be the earliest document of the four and was composed after the lifetime of Paul. It was composed during the period when the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple (70 C.E.). Therefore, Paul the Apostle never read the actual Gospels!

    These critical points are extremely important in order to address the timeframe of the question: “When did Jesus ask anyone to become a Christian?”

    It is critical from our own viewpoint or own retrospective knowledge of the bible whenever studying religious texts such as the Gospels or central figures such as Jesus and Paul not to assume the bible facts we hold dearly like being a Christian were common knowledge to those we read about.

    The term “Christian” was in circulation and was well established long before the Gospels were written. However, the term was foreign to Jesus due to the time and space in which Jesus operated his earthly ministry. Fortunately, the New Testament verifies that Paul the apostle of Jesus was aware of the term – Christian (Acts 26:28). The Gospel writers like Paul were familiar with the term “Christian” as we are today, but none of the historical figures featuring in the documents of the four gospels could have known what a Christian is. Therefore Christ in the Gospels never defines the word Christian. We need to seek the correct historical boundaries for the term Christian. Here, it would be dangerous to assume that Paul was a “Christian” as we perceive it to be. Fortunately, the historical context of the term is documented in the New Testament in Acts 11:26.
    “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”
  • (Acts 11:26c NIV)

  • Jesus never dismissed the term – Christian nor could he because such a term and description for His disciples never existed at the time.

    The four canonical Gospels never referred to the term “Christian” in order to describe the disciples of Jesus because Jesus’ inner core of followers were still known as “Galileans” (Acts 2:7) who spoke Aramaic. However, the term “Christian” came later. It was applied to the disciples of Jesus in the post-resurrection era (Acts 11:26c; c.7-11) long before the first synoptic gospel was introduced – the Gospel of Mark (c. 65-70).

    Think about it in this way. Nobody had ever heard of an i-Pod or talked about it, not until it was finally established. Therefore, if you spotted an i-Pod in a movie that predated the arrival of such a devise it would be a classical anachronism. Likewise, although written late the Gospel writers never introduced the term Christian in the Gospel script despite knowing about it because it never concerned the people they wrote about.

    Only when we follow a proper trajectory of events in the New Testament do we realize that we have no choice but to accept the term Christian was something Paul was familiar with (Acts 26:28) and Jesus was not.

    After gathering all the facts and reading the whole New Testament we cannot conclude that the term Christian is irrelevant because Christ never spoke about it. Nevertheless this is exactly the conclusion of the disciple doctrine. They justify that rejection of the term Christian on account that Christ never spoke of it. Rather we should put our own retrospective knowledge of the bible aside when asking such questions.

    In the end, what Jesus means for the disciple doctrine is an entirely different matter to what Jesus means for mainstream Christianity.

    We conclude that the question is an anachronism. The term Christian cannot be applied in the historical context of Jesus in the Gospels. And it does not mean Jesus disapproved of being called a Christian! (1 Peter 4:14,16)

    Let us review those issues armed with this new insight (Ephesians 5:17).

    When did Jesus ask anyone to become a Christian? Answer: Never
    2. Jesus never used the word. Answer: True
    3. He never called anyone to be a Christian. Answer: True
    4. He called people to be disciples. Answer: True

  • Questions often asked by the disciple doctrine

  • Evidently nothing has changed. The observations made by the disciple doctrine are correct. Our conclusions remain the same. It harmonizes with the bible and historical context of the central figures.

    The problem arises the moment we force our conclusions into a timeframe alien to the central figures we discuss. This is precisely the mistake the disciple doctrine makes insisting calling Christians to be “Disciples” in order to support their theological framework of discipleship.

    However, Christians must be weary concerning the application of these critical points in the disciple doctrine. Here, the disciple doctrine concludes one must be a “Disciple” and not a “Christian.” In doing so, they distort the truth!

    If one understands the historical context of Jesus in the Gospels then issues like these should not upset our faith. Christians should “contend for the faith that was once entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 3)

    Saturday, March 10, 2012

    The Disciple Doctrine: Part 1 - When Christianity no longer tastes like Coca-Cola

    It is wrong when bible teachers from the disciple doctrine insist on separating the New Testament term – ‘Christian’ and ‘disciple’ from one another. This is in order to treat them as separate entities in order to define who rightly is a Christian. Let us investigate the matter.

    Evaluation of a Christian

    Teachers of the disciple doctrine have an ulterior motive before concluding a ‘disciple’ and a ‘Christian’ are the same. First they define the meaning of each concept before concluding they are the same. Secondly, they insist a Christian is not for real, unless they can confirm also they are a disciple of Jesus Christ. They ask: “What is a Christian? What is a disciple? Are you a Christian? Are you a disciple?” Here you cannot say ‘yes’ to one question and ‘no’ to the other. Nor can you plead ignorance. In the end, the questions are designed to plant the seed of doubt in the mind in order to question one’s salvation.

    Teachers of the disciple doctrine are persuaded to first analyse ‘what is a disciple’ before concluding ‘it is a Christian.’ This sort of hermeneutics leads to erroneous teachings based on the correctness of Scripture and leads to the wrong conclusions. These teachers do not rely on sound explanation – exegesis based on careful objective analysis, but rather own interpretation of eisegesis that leads to subjective, non-analytical reading, distorting the text to whatever they want.

    The disciple doctrine’s approach on how to assess if someone is a Christian is like this example from everyday life. It’s like trying to first establish if an ice-cold Coke standing in a fridge is for real! Is it the real deal? The bottle and package is from Coke (Christian), but what about that dark brown sugary liquid (disciple) inside the bottle?

    Imagine if before buying a bottle of ice-cold Coke an individual were to taste the contents in order to determine if it is the real deal! If not, the bottle is placed back into the refrigerator! In doing so, it is wrong!

    Likewise, the teachers of the disciple doctrine are highly sceptical about any individual’s salvation if they have not been trained to think and act according to the established principles of the disciple doctrine – “to make disciples” or have “close ‘discipling’ relations with other Christians”. Therefore they deem it necessary to analyse whether one has first met the requirements of discipleship before concluding one is a Christian. They will quickly establish all about a person’s church background and use whatever evidence to show such a person is not a Christian, not a disciple and not saved! The disciple doctrine questions whether Christianity as we know it is the real deal. They demand that Christians should be called disciples.

    What is ICOC Commentary’s view on being a ‘Christian’ and a ‘disciple’?

    A Christian is a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ. And a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ is a Christian. (John 8:31, 32; 2 John 9; Acts 26:28)

    A Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. And a disciple of Jesus Christ is a Christian. (John 14:6; Acts 9:1; 1 Pe 4:16)

    A Christian is a disciple. And a disciple is a Christian. (Acts 11:26c)

    Our definitions are biblically sound, but not exactly what the teachers of the disciple doctrine “want to hear.” Why not? Our examples according to the disciple doctrine lack a clear distinction between the two words – disciple and Christian. However, our definitions harmonize with the Scripture!

    The teachers of the disciple doctrine “want to hear” a clear distinction between the two. A Christian according to them is one thing while a disciple is another. Their teaching is like playing two chords on a piano, one chord representing – a disciple and the other – a Christian. Our definitions harmonize the concept into a single chord.

    The disciple doctrine is not from God and is easy to comply with in any belief system

    The disciple doctrine is nothing but a “wind of teaching” (Eph 4:14) that is blowing into many Christian churches. The bible teaches Christians: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Ti 4:3 NIV)

    The winds that carried this teaching spawned the Shepherding/Discipling movement from the early 1970s. Influential teachers like Robert Emerson Coleman, Juan Carlos Ortiz, Watchman Nee, the ‘Fort Lauderdale Five’, Kip McKean, Mike Taliaferro and many more have influenced Christians to review their standing before God as Christians.

    The disciple doctrine has a great impact on Christians who are caught off guard with its intense work ethic that put ordinary Christian routines to shame. This is established after examining ‘what is’ a disciple. Here, an ordinary Christian will quickly assess how little ‘discipleship’ is taking place in one’s own church group! Initially some churches despite criticizing the disciple doctrine have even kept some views of the disciple doctrine‘– right or wrong in order to rectify a lack of ‘commitment.’

    Lately, many Christian groups have begun to embrace discipleship courses based on principles of the disciple doctrine. This doctrine places much emphasis on apparent “rediscovered truths long forgotten by orthodox Christianity,” which is a fallacy!

    In reality, the teachers of the disciple doctrine have redesigned these terms in a theological framework of their own making and to their own liking. This process developed in the 20th Century becoming very popular in many church groups.

    All kinds of church groups affected by this doctrine speak the same language, but may vary on its implementation. Even the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa has already allowed the disciple doctrine to infiltrate their churches. Here members adhering to the teachings of the disciple doctrine will inevitably form a church within a church scenario with dire consequences. Some members have implemented “discipling” courses and some even demand to be re-baptized by being fully immersed in water! This “wind of teaching” is adaptable in any church setting or belief system.

    Much wrong about the disciple doctrine taught by the former International Churches of Christ (ICOC) was exposed by former members, scholars and psychiatrists. Eventually the movement came to an end in 2002, but carried on along with teaching the principles of the disciple doctrine with the emergence of two distinctly factions formed in 2005. The importance of the disciple doctrine is emphasised in a quote from the Unity Proposal document of the ICOC Co-operation Churches (ICOC) who represent the majority of congregations of the former ICOC.
    “In order to best communicate our beliefs, we are striving both to articulate the theological framework of “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3) and to reaffirm those truths and emphases[sic] that have particularly shaped our branch of God’s movement from the campus ministry days until now.”
  • Unity Proposal Document, March 11th, 2006, p.4

  • The teachings “from the campus ministry days” are none other than the teachings of the Boston/Crossroads Movement, which from the outset were highly controversial. It is based on the disciple doctrine.

    Semantically the disciple doctrine opposes the historically accepted meanings of biblical terms. Therefore it will be nearly impossible to communicate biblical concepts, unless one fully comprehends the teachings of the disciple doctrine because they speak not the vocabulary of the bible by definition.

    How does the disciple doctrine view a Christian?

    According to them, a Christian is a disciple, as we have determined, but the name Christian defines the life the disciple lives. They argue that the name Christian comes from a worldly perspective – what the world called Jesus’ disciples. Also the New Testament only mentions “Christian” three times! It seems to them the early Christians never really adopted the name. They strongly argue that Jesus never used the term “Christian” only “disciple.” Therefore they argue we should determine what Jesus teaches about being a disciple. Once they have established a clear definition of each term, they will join them as we have determined. But before that can happen they spread discord!

    In a nutshell, the disciple doctrine states – it is unscriptural to teach that a person can be a “Christian” and not be a disciple. Evidently, the disciple doctrine clearly distinguishes ‘what is’ a Christian and ‘what is’ a disciple. We have to ask and challenge if such an approach and viewpoint is biblically sound. What did Jesus and the Apostles teach?

    How do they do it?

    Teachers of the disciple doctrine marginalise the word “Christian” because it only appears three times in the New Testament. While the word “disciple” appears in the New Testament about 300 times.

    “There are many who call themselves by the name of Jesus Christ,” says Cooper P. Abrams III on his website, “they call themselves Christians, yet do not necessarily called[sic] themselves disciples.”

    The passage in Acts 11:26 is used by the disciple doctrine as a foundational scripture to enforce and establish new grounds or truths believed to be overlooked by Christianity.

    Acts 11:26
    • Is there is a difference between being a Christian and being a disciple?
    • Are you a disciple of Jesus? Do you consider yourself to be Christian?
    • Do you see how your answer to these two questions must be the same?

  • Making Disciples Core Studies of the Port Elizabeth Church of Christ: Discipleship, p9

  • Here the teachers of the disciple doctrine draw from biblical sources in order to substantiate truths. However they embrace ‘truths’ that are carefully redefined. In other words, they only read into the biblical text what their “itching ears want to hear.”

    Questions posed by the disciple doctrine forces Christians to think – and think hard! For example: The concept Christian is divided into 2 entities – Christian vs. disciple.

    The focus of questions after reading Acts 11:26 is on ‘what is’ a Christian, then the attention shifts back to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. In doing so ‘truths’ are established and simultaneously ‘doubt’ is sown in the mind of those being interrogated.

    The disciple doctrine admits that a Christian and a disciple of Jesus is the same thing. This concept is clearly understood by mainstream Christianity, but after some evaluation and thought a person will waiver from being called a disciple. Why? Most of the Christians don’t necessarily call themselves disciples. Nor do their lives reflect the “total commitment” of a disciple as the disciple doctrine defines. Some teachers of the disciple doctrine pronounce Christians who do not measure up to their definition being a Christian as not saved. But does it mean such a Christian is not ‘saved’?

    What does the bible teach about the word “Christian”?

    The bible has combined the terms to mean the same. That is exactly what mainstream Christianity teaches. And this is exactly what the disciple doctrine believes, but the disciple doctrine insists we must see ‘what is’ a Christian and ‘what is’ a disciple. Only after establishing such definitions according to them can one determine ‘what is’ a Christian in totality. Therefore they first breakdown what is a Christian as determined by the three bible passages (Acts 11:26; 26:28 and 1 Pe 4:16) that makes reference to the word – “Christian.”

    The first passage mentioning the word “Christian” is in the book of Acts – Acts 11:26.

    “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”
  • (Acts 11:26c NIV)

  • What does the scripture teach?

    Here, at the city of Antioch meaning a location or place, disciples of Jesus were first called Christians. It is a biblical fact. Not before, but after Jesus’ ascension more or less a decade ago disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. To be a Christian means to belong to Jesus Christ.

    The disciple doctrine eisegesis:

    Acts 11:26c serves as an important pretext for the disciple doctrine. The doctrine extracts a formula: disciple = Christian and teaches that to become a Christian one must first become a disciple.

    • Now who is being referred to here in Acts 11 as Christians?
    • The disciples were.
    • Was there a difference between the 2? No, biblically they were one in the same. So if one wanted to know what it was to be considered a Christian in the bible, what must one do?
    • Study out what it means to be a disciple.
    • Exactly.

  • Boston Church of Christ Campus Ministry: Repentance and Discipleship Study

  • Mainstream Christian exegesis:

    However, this is not what the passage says. Neither does this passage serve as a formula teaching: disciple = Christian = saved. However it teaches they mean the same! It does not teach that to be a Christian one must become a disciple first! The emphasis of “first” is location and nothing else!

    The second passage mentioning the word “Christian” is also in the book of Acts – Acts 26:28.

    Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?
  • Acts 26:28 NIV

  • What does the scripture teach?

    King Agrippa made reference – “to be a Christian.” This happens during Paul’s defence “against all the accusations of the Jews.” (Acts 26:2, 28)

    The disciple doctrine eisegesis:

    The disciple doctrine argues the word “Christian” was used in the early church by non-Christians and not by the early disciples. Also Jesus Christ never called anyone to be a Christian.
    King Agrippa using the name non-Christians called the disciples of Christ.

  • Christians are Disciples – The Lost Doctrine

  • Jesus never used the word; he never called anyone to be a Christian. He called people to be disciples.
  • Boston Church of Christ Campus Ministry: Repentance and Discipleship Study

  • Mainstream Christian exegesis:

    Notice that Paul did not object to the King’s reproach “to be a Christian.” Paul encouraged the whole Court “may become what I am, except for these chains.” What was Paul – a criminal or a Christian? Did Paul belong to a criminal network or Jesus Christ? Paul did not want people to become criminals, but Christians! It stands to reason that if non-Christians used the word “Christian” in order to describe disciples of Jesus Christ, then they are aware of the terminology. This is evident in the third passage!

    The third passage mentioning the word “Christian” is in the book of 1 Peter – 1 Peter 4:16.

    However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
  • 1 Pe 4:16 NIV

  • What does the scripture teach?

    According to Clarke’s commentary on the bible: “Yet if - as a Christian - If he be persecuted because he has embraced the Christian faith, let him not be ashamed, but let him rather glorify God on this very account. Christ suffered by the Jews because he was holy; Christians suffer because they resemble him.”

    The disciple doctrine eisegesis:

    The disciple doctrine argues that the early disciples did not accept the word “Christian”. Outsiders mostly used it as a derogatory term. For example, for people who persecuted the early church. Therefore there is a negative connotation to the name of Christ – Christian.

    In 1 Peter 4:14-16 Peter's statement too is using the word from the world's perspective, "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." The title Christian through the world's eyes was on the same par as murderer or thief.

  • Christians are Disciples – The Lost Doctrine

  • Mainstream Christian exegesis:

    We should never forget. The disciple doctrine’s business is to marginalise the word “Christian” to sooth their itching ears in favour of the word “disciple” in order to emphasise discipleship principles.

    Although nobody with absolute certainty can state ‘whom’ and ‘why’ the disciples of Jesus were called “Christians” it does not matter because the bible teaches we ought to “praise God that you bear that name.” This instruction from this passage comes from a Christian to another Christian! God accepts this term without question! Christians called themselves “believers” (Acts 2:44); “disciples” (Acts 6:1); “brothers” (Acts 6:3) and “saints” (Acts 9:13). Outsiders called Christians “Galileans” (Acts 2:7) or “Nazarenes (Acts 24:5). Bottom line, a Christian shall not be ashamed if outsiders treat such a person like a criminal. Such a person shall not be ashamed of his or her faith so as to refuse to suffer on account of it, nor be ashamed that he or she is despised and maltreated.

    The “name of Christ” (1 Pe 4:14) is associated with being a “Christian” (1 Pe 4:16). The disciple doctrine cannot disapprove of people becoming Christians and being known as such.

    In conclusion, the disciple doctrine is wrong when it marginalises the word “Christian.” There is no negative connotation to the word today. Even when Jesus never used the term we know the New Testament bible endorses “that name” – “to become a Christian” and “to praise God that you bear that name.” The disciples of Jesus were called Christians. It is time for “disciples” to be called again “Christians.”

    Christians encountering the disciple doctrine should not deny being a disciple of Jesus, after all a Christian is a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ. And a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ is a Christian.

    Or, a Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. And a disciple of Jesus Christ is a Christian.

    And finally, a Christian is a disciple. And a disciple is a Christian.

    The bible warns Christians about teachers who will “say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Ti 4:3) The teachers of the disciple doctrine are no different. Teachers of the ‘disciple doctrine’ always question the motives of those who call themselves Christians. Then they proceed with new rhetoric.

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