A friend sent me this link from Brian Jones, and I think it makes some valid points. Primarily he is arguing that the term "Christian" is only used in the Bible by non-believers who are describing people as Christ Followers. Not a bad term, but he is arguing the point that its not all that scriptural in the first place, and that it says nothing of function. Disciple, however, is used routinely in the New Testament and, he says, has a more active connotation and root meaning. My question is this... Is anyone outside the circles of Christianity (non-believers, un-churched, what have you) going to care? Is there truly a connotation of activity with one word over another? And what activity is conjured in the mind of those not already in the community of faith? Not that we tailor to the needs of those outside the community, but the question (at least for me) is whether we are practicing a theology of inclusivity or exclusivity.
I think this speaks to the quagmire of faith the church is mucking through right now. We have this WASPy milieu that says, "They will know we are Christians by our love" and yet the church has become a service provider for faith rather than the active arm of God transforming society. In the US we live in a nation uncomfortably at war. Polls show an increasing disatisfaction, but the war remains staffed by an all volunteer military. We learned our lesson in Vietnam regarding the care and respect for our troupes, and so we find a mixed expression of care packages and dissatisfaction with political leaders. Through all of this the church has been largely silent. In fact the church is really more concerned about "attracting members" and "assuring a church for future generations" than it is in being the Body of Christ. Offering the presence of Christ can never come through naval gazing or institution building and maintenance. It comes only through suffering with and offering the healing that only a community of love can offer.
So, yes, discipleship matters for these things. A church filled with disciples is going to be a church that steps out into the world acting as Christ. Rob Bell, in one of his "Nooma" studies, talks about the idea that a disciple followed a Rabi hoping not just to learn from him but to be like him. Not only that, he suggests that having given the example and the means through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus... God has faith in us that "we can actually be the kind of people we were meant to be. People of love, compassion, peace, forgiveness, and hope. People who try to do the right thing all of the time. Who act on the endless opportunities around us every day for good, beauty, and truth."
In light of discussions over declining membership and divided denominations over social and theological issues, I wonder if we as the church have forgotten this. I wonder if the famous quote by Marianne Williamson could be applied to the institution of the church:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
So, is discipleship the key? I think it quite possibly could be. Call me what you will: Christian, Christ-follower, Disciple of Jesus. I'm fine with Cristian, but I hope I will be understood as all of the above.