Expounding on the 12 Principals #9: The Principle of Systematic Discipling (by Jon Shuler​​)

The church is meant to be a community of men and women who are not only disciples of Jesus, but able to help others become faithful disciples of Jesus. For this to happen, the local community of believers must have some pattern, some system, to ensure that day by day, week by week, those who are part of the body learn to walk as disciple-making disciples. For this to happen there must be a way for it to be the reality lived, not a concept talked about. There must be a principled pattern, owned by all leaders and learned by all followers, that ensures – by Gods good grace – that those who come to faith actually walk in that faith. They must learn to be fishers of menas Jesus described it. They must take their place among those making disciples of all peoples.

What is the simplest way that disciple-making becomes normal for all Christians?

There are a few things that must be clear before an answer can be given.The first prerequisite must be an absolute understanding that no one lives this life who is not born again of the Spirit of God. There must be a heart change or there will be no life change. If the love of God has not been poured into their hear that will not follow where Jesus leads. Any church that does not see this as central will never be a disciple-making church. Any leader who does not live this truth will not lead others into it.

Secondly, the lived life of one disciple-making disciple must be seen and imitated by another for systematic discipleship to be ordinary in the life of the body of Christ. Men and women following Christ with integrity must be seen to demonstrate this life style. Unconsciously in the sense that all they do is with a heart ready to help another follow Christ Jesus. It is not a program for them, but a relational lifestyle. With integrity in the sense that they do not speak of what they do not live. They do not try to get others to do what they are not doing themselves. One helping another is the way of the Master.

So is there a system that is needed? In the local church there certainly need to be because most of Gods people will never learn without some framework to assist them. The challenge is to keep it as simple as possible and no simpler. Three things need to be identified and communicated, regularly, effectively, and systemically.

First, what did Jesus teach about discipling? Learning what the word of Jesus says, and abiding in it (John 8:31,32; 13:34,35; 15:7,8; Luke 14:26,27,33).

Second, those learning must see others doing what they are learning. They must be with those who are actively living the disciple-making life. They must be watching others they esteem following and obeying Jesus.

Third, those who have seen disciple-making in others must begin imitating what they have learned and seen. They must step out of their comfort zone and begin. They must start doing what Jesus says do. If not they are not following. They will not be fruitful.

Next Week: (10) The Principle of Every Member Ministry

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Expounding on the 12 Principals #8: The Principle of Worship (by Jon Shuler​​​​)

For many, if not most, the first contact they have with the church is when they attend a local gathering of the body of believers. Someone has invited them to come and see.When the Holy Spirit is manifestly present in the believing community, and the true word of God is preached, some who were strangers moments before come, almost immediately, to a place of faith. It is a wondrous thing to behold. Once it occurs, no matter how dimly understood, that person wants to be present when the church gathers to worship. To be present on the Lords Day begins to be their custom, just as it was the Lord Jesuscustom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath. Sunday by Sunday faithful attendance becomes their pattern of devotion, and they rarely miss the assembling together.

But if there is not clear biblical teaching they may come to a place of great peril. They begin to imagine that the Christian life is a pattern of church going, rather than a pattern of learning from, and obeying the Lord Jesus. They imagine that worship, as understood in the word of Truth, is church attendance alone. They may even confuse worship with songs of praise and hymns.

The principle of worship that must be understood, however, is that worship is the response of the whole person to the love of Christ Jesus that has come to them. They are indeed to adore and praise him with others weekly. They are to give thanks, to intercede for themselves and others, to make supplication, to cry out in penitence in the midst of Gods people gathered, to give him all their praise. But that is not the principle of worship fully lived if it is only on Sunday. What then is missing?

The worship God the Father seeks is that which comes from worshippers who worship him in spirit and in truth.This, at the very least, means when believers gather they are coming ready to be touched afresh by the truth of the gospel. They are not coming to have their ears tickledby smooth words, but are coming to hear the pure Word of God. They come wanting the Holy Spirit to awaken their cold and sluggish hearts. They come to be fed by the mystical gifts provided by their Lord Jesus, that only faith can receive. And they come knowing that the Sunday assembly is to lead them to a daily worship that is just as real, just as central, just as holy as that which they share with others on that day.

Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, which is your spiritual worship,the Apostle says. There is no part of your life that is not to be worship. Your rising and your going down, your waking and your sleeping, your work and your play. Seeking to live a holy life in all things is to be your worship.

And to discern what is the good and perfect will of Godfor you, is the heart of a true worshipper. To pray for the transformed mind that alone will lift the soul from earth to heaven. A daily desire, a daily yearning, a daily life chosen in Jesus.

Next Week: 9) The Principle of Systematic Discipling

Expounding on the 12 Principals #7:  The Principle of Biblical Authority (by Jon Shuler​​​)

This principle, some will surely say, should be placed first. They may indeed be right, but for this series I have chosen to place it here because so many in the historic churches have experienced the progression to this principle by steps of faith, and not as a beginning foundation. I have frequently stated that trust in the authority of Holy Scripture is a presupposition that must come to be believed if there is any hope of true reformation, and I will stand by that as an essential building block of what it means to be a church founded on the preaching of Jesus Christ and him crucified.Without the Holy Scripture, today, we would have no apostolic testimony that could save. So why here?

First of all, most people meet the Risen Lord Jesus long before they understand the biblical testimony to the truth of the gospel. They have heard the gospel preached, or explained, in a way that reaches their heart. They know themselves to be lost. They have realized they must repent, acknowledge Jesus as Savior, and have then yielded their lives to the living Lord. Their experience is that he has received them as his own, and he has taken up residence in their hearts. As a dear brother said to me recently, Now I don’t just believe in him, I know him.The Incarnate Word is the first word they believe and receive.

Secondly, the testimony of other true believers is the most frequent way a new believer comes to faith. The living Lord Jesus in another person shines forth to them. They believe because they see Jesus,whether they can explain it or not. The witness, verbal and non verbal, of a true believer is the catalyst of true faith in others. The word seen and heard in the body of Christ, the church, is the milk they next receive.

This is perhaps the reason that belief in the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God was not a part of the creedal faith of the early church, or so I believe. It was a universal conviction of the faithful community. It was the air they breathed. It is in that sense, that the teaching authority of the believing church did indeed come before the authority of the Holy Scriptures was ever articulated, as some critics of classic Christianity sometimes remind us. But it was assumed that they were the authority over every other.  It was impossible for them to imagine that any other authority was, or could ever be, primary. To suggest so was to be in grievous error.

Step by step the first communities accepted the writings of the apostles as having the same authority they had when in person. After the death of the apostles, and the ever widening knowledge of the writings they or their companions left behind was received, the church universal embraced and canonized the New Testament as the equivalent of the apostles teachingthat had been the center of the churchs life from the beginning.

It is now time to reassert as a principle that without devotion to the teaching of the Holy Scripture, to the whole counsel of Godin Christ Jesus, their is no faithful church.

Next Week: The Principle of Worship

Expounding the 12 Principles #6: The Principle of Lordship

The church of Jesus Christ submits to Christ, and to no other. She has only one Lord, and he must reign in, among, and over all who believe in him and have been reborn in him. Anything less is either a church that has lost its first love and must repent, or no church at all.

Of course when we speak like this we are using the word churchin the way it is always used in the New Testament. We mean the community of the faithful. The living, breathing men and women who have put on Christ.The heart of this community is the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is the fellowship of those reborn by water and the Spirit. It is a band of believers devotedto the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers.It is a community that knows one another well, and cares for one another well, and is no stranger to the lives and homes of other believers. It is not a gathering of polite Sunday worshippers who smile at others whose names they do not know, and then return to lives lived outside the will of Christ.

But, some will say to me, What you describe is so different from what we experience in the local congregation that we attend, how can this be normal?My answer must be, the normalin most congregations today is gravely abnormalwhen compared to the life Jesus commanded his followers to live if they were to be his disciples. The crowds paid attention to Jesus, of course, and a smaller group followed him from time to time, but the ones who truly attended to his words and were committed to walk in his way were an even smaller number. As we know all to well, there were very few at what seemed like the end as Jesus hung on the cross. Perhaps only three. Even in the days before Pentecost there were only 120 left in Jerusalem, and that after a three year public ministry of the Lord. These were the ones who would soon be accused of turning the world upside down, and that did not happen because they were casual Christians.

Centuries of tradition have come to adhere to the life of most of the historic and long established churches, and like too many barnacles on a ship, they often impede the purpose for which she was made. More attention is sometimes paid to the traditions of men, than to obedience to the Word of God. All too frequently much more attention than to the clear word of Jesus. He is spoken of as Lord by many, but is he obeyed as Lord? If he is not obeyed as Lord has he really been received as Savior? This is the crux of the principle of Lordship.

If the church in decline is to be rescued from its free fall, by the grace of God, the members of the local body can not continue to be allowed to imagine that their faith is secure if they disobey the Master. Even more critically, as we have repeated said, the churchs leadership cannot be allowed to lead disobediently. To do so makes a travesty of their profession of faith.

Either Jesus is Lord or he is not. There is no other sign of true faith.

Next Week: The Principle of Biblical Authority

Recapping Five Personal Principles for Reformation​ (by Jon Shuler​)

We have been asserting that nothing but a new reformation can bring the church of Jesus Christ into alignment with Gods will for the Bride of Christ. We believe it is especially needful for the church in the West, but we are convinced it is also needed throughout the global family of Christians. But nothing in organized Christian communities can change unless they are led by those whose inner life and heart has been changed. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is, as the recovery movement reminds us, a good definition of insanity. To try to reform others without first being reformed is sin. The following five principles are not all that is necessary for the whole counsel of God to again form the foundation of the churches life and teaching, but for leaders they must be a start.

1) Conformity to Christ Jesus. We are called to become what he is. We are to be brought into the life and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can never settle for less than this journey. To be shaped by his life, and his clear word is not just an emotional intention, it is the firm desire of our whole selves. We test everything by its congruity to the the gospel of truth in Jesus Christ. We abide in the word of Jesus.

2) Commitment to Gods Particular Will. The Scripture teaches that there is a particular work for every believer to walk in. Our Creator not only fashioned us in our uniqueness, but he has assigned for each of us a path of obedient faith. There is work we alone are to do, and we will give an account for it to God alone. We must seek that path and walk in it, Gods particular will, no matter the consequences.

3) Readiness to be Sent. One of the most consistent terms our Lord Jesus applied to his disciples was that of servant.Indeed in the original the meaning is slaveor bond servant.As unwelcome as these words are, the truth they seek to reveal is inescapable for a true believer. Jesus Christ is our Master, and we are to do his bidding. He has tasks for us to do, and we must do them. And  he has people to whom we will be sent. They may be in our own household, or on the other side of the world, but we must be willing to go when he says go.

4) Being a Disciple-making Disciple. No Christian in the apostolic age would have conceived of being a disciple of Jesus Christ without being ever ready to help make another disciple. Because of that fact, the Holy Spirit of God could add to the church day by day those who were being saved. Wherever believers went, whatever else they were doing, they were ready to assist another in the journey to Christ and eternity. They did not have to be evangelists, or apostles, or set apart leaders in the church, they simply had to be faithful disciples.

5) Serving the Body of Christ. Every member of the body has a part to play for the well being of the whole. It begins by being faithful in attendance when the local church gathers to worship her Lord week by week, but it also extends to the daily life of every Christian. The health and faithfulness of the local body of Christ is the responsibility of every believer. This is not an organizational or institutional responsibility, but a relational one. The servant love of the brethren for one another is the sign to an unbelieving world they we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

Next Week: 6) The Principle of Lordship

An Easter Pause/Easter Hope​​ (by Jon Shuler​​​)

Many religious scholars in the West have made much of the assertion that the early Christians were mistaken about the great Second Coming of the Lord. They expected him to return again in their lifetime, so it is said, and were disappointed in the failure for that to happen. Jesus was wrong they imply. Paul was wrong they declaim. Though Jesus himself told his disciples that only the Father knew when that day would come, these pundits discount that central truth.

Many, if not most, of these same scholars go on to undermine other parts of the early church’s testimony, and in the process have sown great confusion and doubt in the minds and hearts of those whose faith is only notional. It is a tragic reality that for at least several lifetimes many Western scholars have specialized in destroying biblical faith, at least among those whose faith is second hand. But it has not affected those with a living and true faith. Men and women who have met the Risen Jesus Christ need no scholar to support them. They know what God has wrought in the coming of Jesus Christ, and they know they have been drawn into the joyful mystery of Resurrection Life. They know a truth no doubter can remove. They have a joy no quisling can destroy. They have a hope that will never disappoint. They are successors to the first believers.

Easter became, almost immediately, the defining event for all who followed in the way of the Master. To join in the triumphal train of believers was to become part of an Easter People. Sunday became, and remains, for true believers a “little Easter” because always the gospel of the Cross and Resurrection is re-presented. First in word and preaching, and then in the sublime mystery of the sacramental coming of the Risen Lord. Every believer kneeling at the Table of the Lord experiences Easter again.

But does this weekly coming take the place of that Great Day?

It was certainly to be expected that many, perhaps most, would hope that indeed Jesus Christ would return to take his bride home in the lifetime of the first disciples, but it was never taught as doctrine. The central focus on the Lord’s Day as the day of Resurrection, and the consistent experience of the Lord’s presence, did not diminish that confident faith that the Day of Resurrection would one day come for all believers.

Every gathering of faithful since the first Easter always includes the clear and unmistakable news that a day of triumph is coming. The One who came in humility “will come again in power and great glory to judge both the quick and the dead.” Easter Hope is not extinguished, but fanned into bright flame week by week in the company of those who know the Lord Jesus. The Lord who taught them that he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life also taught them that he would come again to take them home.

Whether in this life, or after earthly death, the Easter Hope will be fulfilled among the saints who are in Christ Jesus. Easter Hope is a certainty.
Next Week: Recapping the First Five Principles for Reformation

Expounding the 12 Principles:#5 — The Serving Principle. (by ​Jon Shuler​)

There is no part of the human body that was not created for a purpose. Each limb, each organ, every major system, indeed every cell has a purpose. It is possible to live after the loss of some, but each of the manifold parts was created to be supportive of the whole. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. As it is in the human body, so it is in the church. The constituent living cell is a believer, and every healthy cell in the body has a purpose.

The Apostle Paul writes of the church as the body of Christ, and the Apostle Peter gives us the image of a living temple. Whether we think organically of the body, or more structurally of the temple (though remember it is a “living” temple), each believer has a part to play. None are to be passive, even if hidden, because each is needed for the common good. To serve the Lord means not only to serve among his people, but also to serve his people.

We argued in an earlier post in this series that every believer is to find the work that the Lord has created them to do, that is their unique and particular ministry. As the journey of faith unfolds, this early work, or ministry, often becomes the primary calling of their life. But here we are describing a different element of the healthy church, not vocation. We are describing a willingness to be used, even outside of ones gifting. This serving is the readiness to do whatever needs to be done. This serving posture is for all.

To begin the journey of a Christian is to learn that we are to be stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Central to this is to begin to exercise the common grace of serving others. We discover that Sunday worship is vital and normal, but we also learn to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. When we learn to tithe, that is to return a tenth of our financial resources to the Lord, we are serving the body. When we begin to take part in daily intercession for the mission and ministry of the local church, we are serving the body. If we agree to do some simple act of service for a member in need, we are serving the body. In such ways we learn not to hold back from the needs of the church. We offer ourselves to fill a gap. We serve the body of Christ.

And to what end? Why does it matter that all learn the principle of serving? Because the Lord who created us calls us to this. We are part of the family of God, and we share in the common life. We have received so we can give. We have been blessed so we can be a blessing. Our model for this way of life is Jesus Christ our Lord.The one who came down from heaven to save us, gave himself for us. We are servants of the servant Lord. The whole body of Christ is to grow up into the head, into Christ. It cannot do so unless every part is working together for the common good. All are called to be a serving disciples.
Next Week: An Easter Pause/Easter Truth