The Discipling Movement: Is it Biblical?

Purpose and Scope

1. What is the Movement?

2. Basis of the Movement

3. What does the Movement Teach?

4. How is the Movement at Variance with the Bible?

5. Temptation and Dangers of the Movement

6. Christian, Beware of the Movement

7. Conclusions

 

Purpose and Scope

In the contemporary church there is a movement that for the purpose of this study we will designate as "The Discipling Movement" or Movement for short. What does this movement teach? What principles is it based on? Is it biblical? What are it's dangers? Can we examine it's precepts by a biblical standard? I hope to address these questions. Let us examine seven aspects regarding the Movement as follows.

1. What is the Movement?

The Movement is the collective enterprise of discipleship adherents. It is not restricted to any particular organization, sect, denomination, or church. It does have advocates throughout contemporary Christianity. Its principles are employed by orthodox and heterodox Christians regardless of confession or creed.

It is expressed in the professed reliance on "discipleship" relationships.

2. Basis of the Movement

The Movement claims its basis is in the biblical statement of Matthew 28:19, saying: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations...." This is interpreted in context of Jesus relationship to the twelve as illustrated in the four gospels.

The specifics on how this task is performed are defined by several authors who have published popular teachings on discipleship. Foremost among them are The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman, and Call to Discipleship by Juan Ortiz. Magazines that expound some of these principles are Upside Down and Discipleship.

Using these or similar teaching as a foundation the Movement appears in various ministries under different names. Since they are so diverse and also appear within mainline and denominational churches, it would be tough to know them by name. It has made the rounds in Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatic, and Catholic traditions; not generally bound by sectarian definition.

3. What does the Movement Teach?

The Movement maintains that Jesus set the pattern of relationships to accomplish the mission of the church according to His relationship with the twelve; that Christians must disciple others in the fashion that Jesus discipled the twelve. Using this relationship, Christians may "reproduce" themselves to go and produce other Christians.

According to this doctrine, Christians must be discipled in a Master/ Disciple authoritarian relationship to be a true disciple of Christ. This is accomplished according to the authority that Jesus has over the twelve apostles. Further, that this subordinate relationship with another Christian is necessary to bear "fruit". "Fruit" is specifically defined as the production of disciples. Therefore the Movement establishes a hierarchical chain of members by placing men in the position of Master/Disciple.

Rapid growth is the chief goal of the Movement. By the usage of authority over the lives of its "disciples" the Movement aims to cause large numbers of converts. The assumption of the Movement is that a genuine Christian will produce "much fruit" and therefore many disciples. Assessment of the value of a Christian is according to their success at bearing "fruit". Hence a Christian, according to the Movement, is defined by performance. Failure to produce will call into question the character, legitimacy, and acceptance of the Christian. A doctrine of "fruit inspection".

Enforcement of the Movement's standard is via various discipleship techniques. These range from meetings with a discipler who interrogates the disciple's performance. Such encounters may be called "soul talks", "spiritual discussions", or "prayer partners". Although the terminology and intensity varies, the intent is to produce performance by compulsion. The Movement will convey to the disciple potential loss of salvation and thus eternal damnation by direct or indirect confrontation. Often, the threat is communicated indirectly in other teachings, sermons, and writings.

4. How is the Movement at Variance with the Bible?

A. It places men in the role as Master; a position reserved for Jesus.

Following Christ's example as Master is specifically forbidden in the scripture. Jesus told his disciples:

"But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren. .... Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ." (Mt 23:8,10)

Here Jesus directly warns against the rabbinical practice in those days. A "Rabbi", sometimes translated teacher, is a term that describes a composite master/teacher/guru personage. The relationship of Christians is to be one of brothers and sisters; not parents, masters, rabbi's...

To be sure the Movement (except in some extreme cases) avoids the usage of such terms to conceal its authoritarian character. Rather it employs terms as "discipler", "spiritual director"

Christians may not have followers or disciples as Jesus did. Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians commanded to have disciples or to "Lord over" others in authoritarian fashion:

"...You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you..." (Mt 20:25-26 NIV)

B. It demands acceptance based on performance rather than relationship.

Christians are removed from their relationship as brethren and placed into Master/Disciple relationships. This requires the Christian to strive for acceptance based on performance. Consider Jesus encounter with the devil and notice carefully what Satan is suggesting:

"And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. ...Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down;..." (Mt 4:3-6)

Jesus relationship as Son is challenged on the basis of performance!

The relationship of a disciple to his discipler is one of a servant:

"The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his Lord..." (Mt 10:24-25)

Servants, and hence disciples, are always accepted by performance.

C. It undermines the principle of biblical sonship in favor of discipleship.

The relationship of a Christian to the Lord is a child to father. Anyone who prays "our Father" ought to believe this. If anyone is a child of God, it cannot be taken away by anyone except God.

Consider who you are in the household of God. Are you a child or a servant? Let us compare and contrast the roles of sons/daughters versus servants in a household.

Son/Daughter

• Is born or adopted into family.

• Has an inheritance by birthright.

• Is accepted by love of parent.

• Is always a child. Not rejected.

• Has rights.

• Gives obedience out of love.

• Interest in family affairs.

• May be punished if disobedient.

Servant

• Obtained by oppression or misfortune.

• Sold into slavery.

• No inheritance.

• Is accepted by performance.

• Can be cast away, sold, rejected.

• No rights.

• Obedience demanded by threat of punishment.

• No interest in household.

• Can be killed for disobedience.

 

What does the Scripture reveal in regard to servants and sons?

"I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called they son; make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned.... But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet." (Lk 15:18-22)

"And the servant abideth not in the house forever, but the Son abideth ever." (Jn 8:35)

"Wherefore, thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." (Gal 4:7)

"For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father." (Ro 8:15)

"Not now as a servant but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me..." (Philem 16)

"Who in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me," (Philem 11)

"Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So ye also, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants;..." (Lk 7:9-10)

"And cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness;..." (Mt 25:30)

Discipleship places men in servant relationships with men serving as "masters".

Are you a child of God, a servant of God, or outside the household? Every Christian needs to understand this because in any household the position of son/daughter is above the servant. If you are not certain you are child of God maybe you need to be adopted and born again, once and for all, of incorruptible seed.

In comparison to God, we are wicked parents. Yet we still know how to love our children. Would we cast away our children?

"... Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein." (Lk 18:17)

D. The Movement implies that we have men as spiritual "fathers".

The movement considers disciples to be spiritual children of the disciplers; they are "begotten" in the process of discipling.

According to discipling teachings, Christians are bastard children wandering in the streets without parents unless they have disciplers over them; an affront to God the Father!

"And call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father, who is in heaven." (Mt 23:9)

It would be a real stretch to apply the above verse to physical fatherhood.

Christians are to be made in the image of Jesus; not the image of other men.

E. It requires that men be perfected according to the "flesh"; after the fashion of other men.

"Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; or I of Apollos; or I, of Cephas; or I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name Paul?" (1 Cor 1:12,13)

Paul warns the Corinthians that their attitude towards God's ministers is carnal and after the flesh; hence revealing they are spiritual babies:

"And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for to this time ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So, then, neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God giveth the increase." (1 Cor 3:1-7)

Regarding men as something other than fellow laborers with God may place the Christian in dependence on something other than Christ.

"For we are laborers together with God; ye are God's cultivated field, ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid foundation, and another buildeth on it. But let every man take heed how he buildeth upon it. For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 3:9-11)

Scripture does not advocate spiritual growth according to the pattern of men:

"Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" (Gal 3:3)

 

F. It requires that men trust and commit themselves to other men.

"Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of? (Is 2:22)

"Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord." (Jer 17:5)

"Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is." (Jer 17:7)

"Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help." (Psalm 146:3)

"TRUST in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thy self also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. COMMIT thy way unto the LORD; TRUST also in him; and he shall bring it to pass." (PS 37:3-5)

"It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man." (Ps 118:8)

"But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men. And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man." (Jn 2:24,25)

The Movement contends that you need to be committed to another person who is more "mature" and that your growth is dependent on such relationship. Furthermore, that strong covenantal bonding is required making the relationship one that cannot be rejected without rejecting God. Such notions are foreign to apostolic Christianity and are closer to Rabbinical OT practice.

Closely aligned with this is the practice of "covering" by the movement. This applies the covering principle to Christian over Christian. It is the idea that by submitting entirely to another Christian one will not be held responsible for actions. Know that in the Bible this thinking does not wash. God holds men responsible for their individual actions and in no wise accepts the plea that another was pulling the strings. Covering does apply to the relationship with Jesus Christ; his directives should be obeyed.

Again the movement is substituting men in the place of Christ.

G. It is a departure from the building of the church body as revealed in the epistles.

The normative process of Christian growth in the church is revealed as an

interdependence of ministry functions. Different offices with specific gifts:

"And he gave some , apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ,..." (Eph 4:11-12)

The body is built by a co-function of ministries; not individual dependence on men so that no flesh may glory, no man be the head, no doctrine of men may prevail, and unity of the body is strengthened:

"Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive; But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, who is the head, even Christ; From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." (Eph 4:13-16)

The Lord does not intend that we as Christians are developed by dependence on a discipler personage; this would imply that certain men possess all the attributes necessary for perfection of the saints. If such were the case then the necessity of the body would be negated in favor of personal development with "one man shows".

It seems odd that the word "disciple" does not occur in the scripture after the book of ACTS. If discipling were the preferred methodology in making a Christian, then surely the epistles would strongly emphasize the process. Why don't they contain definitive teaching on the matter? The movement cites the gospels and Acts as the pattern for Christian relationship; refusing to believe that God is working in developing his church in a new pattern as the old transitions out.

5. Temptation and Dangers of the Movement

The temptation of the Movement is to maximize the number of converts and the performance of the disciples. It does this according to the flesh, making disciples in the image of men and not Christ. In fact, the Movement stresses that new converts should quickly "reproduce" to gain disciples for themselves. This amounts to putting new believers in authority; a practice frowned upon according to 1 Tim 3:6.

In one case a major sect of the Movement was found to be altering the psychological personality types of the individuals such that most of the persons tested were one type. (The Meyers-Briggs-Indicator type was used). This indicator shows the normal personality differences in persons and is not of itself a bad or good parameter. Forcing persons into the same type pattern amounts to "cloning" after the flesh. This sort of psychological aberration is usually found in destructive cults. Indeed this is precisely what the movement teaches; reproduction of disciples in the pattern of men.

Various components of the movement manifest danger signs and may vary in intensity from group to group. Some of the things that have occurred:

Control

Foremost is a spirit of control. Teachings on grace, liberty, freedom, and so forth are avoided or branded as apostasy. Extraordinary emphasis is placed on submission and obedience. Complaints of abuse are countered by justification based on Jesus submission and obedience to ungodly authority as the Romans. Be aware that Jesus had no kind words for the ecclesiastical authority and popular religious leaders of his day.

Exclusivity

Christian experience is denigrated or denied for those outside the Movement. "We are real Christians...others are just playing Church." ... Sometimes the meaning is veiled in terms like "faithful remnant". Sometimes the attitude is "Woe to those who are not like us."; a policy of the Pharisees harshly rebuked by Jesus.

Coercion

The tendency of the Movement is to seek performance via compulsion. Instead of relying on the leading of the Spirit, the Movement requires that men force performance of their disciples. This amounts to coercion according to the flesh.

Cross-examination

Performance is monitored according a method of inquiry. This method is justified on the basis of verses like 2 Cor. 13:5 and 1 Cor. 11:28 which states:

"Examine yourselves, whether ye be in faith, prove you own selves."

"But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup."

First, it states that self examination is necessary, not cross-examination!

Second, this is with sin in view and not performance. Some followers of the movement actually maintain sin lists. Imagine that! That God would forgive and totally forget sins; while disciplers keep records just in case they are needed for leverage. Friends, if God has forgiven sin then he does not account them in some ledger.

Third, who are men to judge another's servant? They stand or fall to their own master according to Romans 14.

Deception

The Movement may be introduced without a full disclosure of the authoritarian roots and the consequences. If a work is of the Lord, it is clearly manifest in the sight of men. It should be in the open like a city on a hill, like a lamp on a table. We should not veil works of light.

Discipleship may be presented as a teacher/mentor relationship that would seem to help Christian growth. In fact, biblical discipleship is authoritarian in nature and knows nothing of peer or mentor relationships.

Fruits

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law." (Gal 5:22-23)

The appearance of these nine fruits may seem evident at first encounter with these groups. However, once a person gets involved deeper the pattern is abuse and use. Authoritative manipulation is the rule. Group order may more resemble Machiavellian power then the Holy Spirit. Whatever spirit produces fruit in these groups, it is not the Spirit of God.

Intimidation

There is often a tendency of the Movement to impose it's precepts on a basis that they cannot be challenged. The methods are considered to have the automatic divine stamp of approval. Intimidation results if a disciple questions the methods. Thus the disciple is charged with sin, rebellion, faith loss, and various other charges of iniquity.

6. Christian, Beware of the Movement

The Movement's teaching advocates introduction of its methods by stealth and without the knowledge of the church leadership. One of it's authors endorses introducing the methods secretly in order to not alarm the presbytery. Others justify questionable tactics because the objectives are so "righteous"; reminiscent of Marxist teachings in order to impose totalitarian/authoritarian ideology. In their doctrine, the ends justify the means.

Because the Movement is introduced via personal relationship ("one-on-one") apart from the view of the church, it lends itself readily to deceptive methods. Forming small groups apart from the main body is also a popular tactic in order to attain this lack of accountability.

Paul gives grave warning that certain men would arise to prey on the flock:

"For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." (Acts 20:29-30)

Beware of wolves. They look like sheep. They work by stealth. The arguments they employ can be seductive. They generally refuse to be challenged and advance their principles using assertion, analogies, and intimidation rather then biblical exegesis. The church leadership may not be wise to their presence or fail to confront them with biblical/apostolic teaching.

"But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep." (Jn 10:12)

Listen to the good shepherd. Search the scriptures. Avoid the alluring teachings of men. Be as harmless as doves; and wise as serpents.

Watch out for "bait and switch" tactics used by some proponents of the Movement. They desire to gain acceptance of their principles without a disclosure of the real nature. They may use spiritual "smooth talk" in order to gain a following. Once established, they impose methods that are authoritarian in nature. Further, they justify this with the "count the cost" arguments. Initially they portray a biblical Jesus, later Jesus becomes a different person. Initially they may seem biblical but apply the teachings of men. Initially they portray themselves as shepherds, then proceed to prey on the sheep. Initially they preach the necessity of "fruits", then inflict thorns onto the disciples.

7. Conclusions

The discipling movement seeks to impose relationships not permitted or commanded in the Bible. It applies the Lordship of Jesus to inter Christian relations in order to gain control. Control is what the movement desires. It teaches that in order to be a Christian you must be a disciple of men. Hence it maintains that you need men controlling you in the fashion of Jesus.

With men acting in the role of Master/Disciple we see a transition of relationships as follows:

FROM TO

Jesus >>>>.>>>>>>>>>>>>> Another lord

Gospel of God>>>>>>>>>>> Teachings of men

Grace >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Merit

Bible >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Dogma

Love >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Abuse

Fruits >>>.>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Thorns

Sons >.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Servants

Discipleship>>>>>>>>>>>>> Mastership

Shepherds >>>>>>>>>>>>> Wolves

Dear Christian, there is no such thing as biblical discipleship without mastership; the two cannot be separated. Before accepting a discipling structure you should question: Who is the master?

"And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer." (Rev 6:2)

Note: Unless otherwise noted all bible quotes from KJV.

Standard Disclaimer: Not my employers opinion.

1996 by Joseph Byczko <byczko@gdc.com>. All rights reserved.

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