Three Identifiers of Disciple

Following with Jesus with Everything

In my last post (read it here), I explored research from McCrindle and Barna Group, outlining Christianity's trends within the "Western World". The McCrindle report showed that out of the 45% identified as Christian, only 15% were churchgoers (at least monthly), and 7% were active practicers (or extremely involved). Similarly, Kinnaman & Matlock found that among today's 18- 29 year-olds who grew up Christian:

  • 22% are prodigals: ex-Christians who do not currently identify as Christian despite growing up in the Christian faith

  • 30% are Nomads: Unchurched with the vast majority not being to Church within the last six months or more

  • 38% are Habitual Churchgoers: Those who describe themselves as Christian and have been once within the previous month but do not meet foundational core beliefs with being an intentional, engaged disciple

  • 10% are Resilient disciples: Church followers with regular attendance (at least once a month) who engage with their Church more than just worship services, trust firmly in the Bible, are committed to Jesus personally and believe in his death and resurrection, and express a desire to transform the broader society as an outcome of their faith.

This means that roughly 2 in 13 (or 1 in 10) "christians" are followers of the one they say they follow. Follow-ship or discipleship is not new, nor is it unique to the Christian faith. Everyone, whether consciously or unconsciously, is a disciple of someone or something. You may be a disciple of your mum or dad — following in their footsteps — or you may even be a disciple of your phone — spending every spare minute looking at the news or social media from the time you wake up to just before you sleep.

The word disciple comes from the Latin discipulus, which means 'learner.' A disciple was a follower or pupil of a teacher, leader, or philosopher. Aristotle was a disciple of Plato, who was a disciple of Socrates. As Greek influences penetrated Jewish culture, the act of discipleship became more common. Many Rabbis before and after Jesus had disciples; some haveing many and some only a few.

Post-exile Jewish Education

After the Second Temple's construction, instigated by Ezra, The Jewish remnant believed that God now only spoke through the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Torah and study of it became the core of the Hebrew community.

The synagogue became a prominent educational and devotional centre with service held twice on the Sabbath, on all feast and fast-days, and on the two weekly market-days, Monday and Thursday. These services had two distinct parts; Liturgy and instruction around the Torah, which divided so that it was read over a three and a half year period (Schoeman, 1997). As it became apparent that there needed to be more people to teach the Torah, oral and written, a school for apprentice scribes (boys ages sixteen to seventeen) called the Bet ha-midrash (House of Study) was established. This would later become the "secondary" school.

Elementary: Bet ha-sefer (House of the Book)

In 75 BCE, Simon ben Sheath (president of the Great Sanhedrin) reformed education by decreeing that boys more than seven years of age should go to school. The schools called Bet ha-sefer (House of the Book) instructed young boys in the Torah. Eighty-nine years later (64 CE), Joshua ben Gamala (high priest 63–65 CE) decreed that teachers (Rabbis) be appointed in every town and that children (boys and girls) enter these schools free at six or seven years. Elementary education was completed within a group of twenty-five with a teacher (or a group of less than fifty with a teacher and assistant) in four years or less. The curriculum included religion, morals, manners, local history and law, reading, writing and mathematics. After Bet ha-sefer, a boy had memorized all of the Torah. Most children (especially girls) would finish their schooling here and apprentice in their father's trade or help with home duties.

Secondary: Bet ha-midrash (House of Study)

While learning a trade, the best students from Bet ha-sefer would continue to study under the Rabbi. Students studied the prophets and the writings in addition to the Torah (what we call the Old Testament). They began to learn the Oral Torah's interpretations and how to make applications and interpretations. Memorization and repetition were considered an essential element of learning. Here The Rabbi instructed students in the art of questioning, answering a question with another question. Students demonstrated their knowledge and curiosity of the scriptures using this technique (think Jesus as a boy asking questions at the temple; Luke 2:46–50).

Discipleship: Bet ha-Talmud (House of Talmud)

Very few students made it to this level of their education. Only the best of the best from the Bet ha-midrash could go to a Rabbi and ask to follow him. The Rabbi would grill the prospective students with questions about the Scriptures, their life and their interpretations. More often than not, a Rabbi would tell a student to go back to their family's business, but to the rare few would say, "come, follow me." The student would then become a Talmid (disciple) of the Rabbi. They would learn to become like the Rabbi. They took notice of everything the Rabbi said and did. The disciples would move in with the Rabbi, listening, watching and imitating. Even to the point of walking with a limp if the Rabbi was hurt and walking with a limp. A disciple had to do what the Rabbi did. Moreover, they would take on his Yoke — his interpretation of Scripture and way of life.

Jesus: Disciple to Rabbi

Being a disciple was not for everyone. It was for a chosen few; the best of the best. It is thought that Jesus was a disciple of Rabbi Hillel, the Elder who was the Pharisees' highest authority. This would be why Jesus often had open arguments with the Phararasies. Jesus became a Rabbi believed to have s'mikhah or authority to make new interpretations. Most of the teachers could only teach accepted interpretations. Those with authority could make new interpretations and pass legal judgments. Crowds were amazed because Jesus taught with authority.

Jesus was one of the few who completed his education (while learning stonemasonry) and was part of a smaller group that was a Rabbi with authority. But what Jesus did was never done by any Rabbi before or after him; he went to twelve men (most likely older than him) who didn't make the cut.

"And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zeb′edee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zeb′edee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him." Mark 1:16–20 (RSV)

Most of Jesus' disciples probably finished their education at ten years of age. Yet Jesus says, "follow me." They knew he was a great Rabbi and heard what every Jewish boy wanted to hear one day. Moreover, Jesus says to Simon and Andrew that he would make them fishers of men. Most read this and think it's a play on words; Jesus was funny. However, the term "fisher of men" referred to a great teacher with a large following.

As we read through the gospels, we see that the disciples left everything and followed Jesus. They became Talmid. Their goal was to be exactly like Jesus. Be with Jesus 24/7. Walk like Jesus. Talk like Jesus. Do what Jesus did.

What Does This Mean For Us? Three Identifiers of A Jesus Follower

It is a journey to become and be a disciple of Jesus. It doesn't happen overnight, nor does it happen without planning or without people. As a disciple, apprentice, talmid of Jesus, we need to:

1. Be with Jesus

We need to intentionally spend every waking hour with our Rabbi (Jesus) through prayer, reading the Bible and meditation. The goal is to learn to live in a constant state of awareness and connection to the Spirit.

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." — John 15:5 (NIV)

2. Become like Jesus

Dallas Willard says, "Spiritual formation in the Christian tradition is a process of increasingly being possessed and permeated by the character traits (of Jesus) as we walk in the easy yoke of discipleship with Jesus our "teacher". Our goal is to become more and more like Jesus. This takes constant reorientation of our lives.

3. To do what Jesus did

Jesus taught his disciples to do what he did; preaching the gospel, teaching the way, healing the sick, casting out demons, making peace, praying, prophesying and many other things.

Jesus' Yoke (teaching, way of life) is easy when lived out through the Spirit. Deitrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship states, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." To live in Jesus, we need to die to ourselves. Paul urges us, in Romans 12, to "in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will."

D.L. Moody has famously said, "the problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the alter." Being a disciple of Jesus is a daily, sometimes even hourly, decision.

Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour everyone; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen. (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:13–22)


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