Anyone familiar with sports knows that the most essential training to prepare for a new season involves returning to the fundamentals. This kind of remedial action in any organization is sometimes called clarifying the “basic building blocks.” Using it as a metaphor let us ask: What then is the most basic building block for the kingdom of God?
Is it not one convinced and committed believer? Someone who has responded to the love of God in Christ Jesus, has been brought through to a living faith that has changed them from the inside out, and who is dedicated to the journey of obedient discipleship? In other words a disciple of Christ Jesus.
When ever there are two of these disciples gathered, the Lord of Lords promises to be with them. In that Spirit made threesome is also the beginning of the church as the body of Christ in any place. If those two have learned from the Master, and are beginning to be obedient, they will not be small indefinitely. The two will become four, and the four eight, and the eight will multiply in short order. Gathering will soon require multiple spaces during the week and a larger common place on the Lord’s Day. One glorious reality they will discover is that the Lord Jesus will be with them whenever and however they gather. They cannot outgrow his presence with his faithful ones. When the basic building block is present the body of Christ grows and the kingdom spreads.
Once this process was witnessed in England. From it grew the church in England, and for centuries that church grew and gave itself away. When did that stop, and why?
Many answers have been given, and most of them have some salience. The doctrinal battles of the late 16th Century that began to divide the Protestant world into defined sub groups of Christians. The fracturing of Christendom itself at the Reformation. The European wars of religion in the 17th century. The coming of the Industrial Revolution. Each of these can be pointed to. But behind every other suggestion is one that alone leads to the truth, and that is the erosion and breakdown of an understanding of the nature and practice of disciple making discipleship. When the church community began to lose this understanding of the word disciple, that a truly “made” disciple implicitly means a disciple making disciple, the deterioration began.
For centuries the erosion was slowed by the continuing widespread understanding that parents were to disciple their children, and that masters were to disciple their charges. Schoolteachers were discipling their students, and members of all guilds and professions were doing the same. But when the Medieval Culture that kept these patterns alive began to die, a decline probably well along by the late 13th Century. A new pattern of church life was gradually replacing the apostolic one. A single ordained priestly leader in a single village, with the task of preaching and teaching the faith and administering the sacraments had emerged as normal. That pattern in the local parish soon became so deep that nothing in the Reformation era replaced it. The most important behavior necessary for the spread of the kingdom of God was missing.
Next Week: Painful Memories