Sunday, June 27, 2010

Discipleship and Church

Looking at the back of a bulletin today I was brought up short with another one of those "We've been hearing this for 40 years" moments. The scripture text had to do with those who were too busy to come along and follow Jesus. He responded, as we may remember, that we should let the dead bury the dead.

The text written by a young pastor had the sound of one I might have written 35 years ago. He was bemoaning the fact that a fishing trip "up north" often kept people away from church. Or the sad fact that going to soccer practice on a weekday evening kept them from attending Bible study. yep. I could have written those words in the mid-1970s.

I still remember a Friday evening when I was a guest preacher at a revival-type meeting at a friend's church in another town. As we drove through the downtown on the way to church I took notice of all the people walking along or the young people hanging around doing what young people do. "They should be in church tonight, I thought, (to hear me of course) and then they would get a new way of living. Then for many years I remember the bemoaning of myself along with colleagues about all those things that kept people away from church.

The bulletin author then went on to talk about Jesus' call to discipleship inherent in the scripture passage. These other things are keeping us from truly being disciples. It is the standard and long standing direction. It has not changed an iota in the 36 years since I was ordained or the 46 years since I became a Christian.

But I have learned in recent years through hard lessons of awareness that discipleship is NOT the same as going to church or attending Bible study. Discipleship may- and often does- get strengthened in those ways but they are not equal. Doing church work is not being a disciple in and of itself.

What heresy!

But I have come to believe that discipleship IS

  • turning "water into wine" at a wedding feast at the local Legion Hall;
  • picking up the injured man lying along your biking route;
  • stopping and visiting with the woman at the (coffee shop) well;
  • throwing money changers and bean counters out of God's houses of prayer.
Actually I have gone beyond heresy now to meddling. I know that because when I first wrote this down in my journal this morning I waffled on that last one- after all they pay my pension.)

The real enemy of discipleship is not necessarily the possibility of other things taking over our "church" duties. After all burying a dead loved one is not exactly an uncaring selfish thing. It may be that the real danger is to make the church the center of discipleship, the end-all and be-all of following Jesus.

I don't believe that is what Jesus meant.

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