What is Discipleship In The Bible?
Discipleship is an important part of the Christian faith, taking on various forms throughout different denominations and regions. The Bible gives us a roadmap for understanding this concept, first introduced in the early days of Christianity. In the New Testament, Jesus’s heartfelt commandment to “Follow me” is one of the most widely recognized expressions of discipleship. Initially, these were the first movements of followers as they gathered around Jesus as his chosen companion. Later, it would become the basis for many practices of discipling in the Bible.
In the Bible, Jesus chose 12 of his disciples, giving them the title “Apostles”. Their role was to spread Jesus’ teachings and to be credited as the first foundation of the Christian faith. Acts 1:21-26 states that the disciples were expected to take care of the affairs of the Church and to oversee any new converts. This idea of discipleship is still seen in some denominations of Christianity as they focus on welcoming new members, teaching and helping one another live a Christ-centered life.
The root of discipleship in the Bible lies within Jesus’ teachings. As we can see in the Gospels, Jesus invested time in each disciple, teaching and encouraging them to follow him. While preaching and teaching, He often used the phrase “Follow me” which is the fundamental call to be His disciple. According to Jesus, true disciples aren’t just those who follow his teachings, but also those who follow him with their heart and soul. In Luke 6:40, He makes it clear that a disciple should be one who, “When he is fully trained, will be like his teacher.”
The Bible also emphasizes the concept of discipling, which is a way for believers to learn and live out their faith by the example of another. This is seen in the life of Paul, a major player in the formation of the early Church. In Romans 1:11, Paul mentions that while he was in Corinth “I have made you my good disciples.” Later in 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul further explains that a true disciple should be someone “who sets an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
Discipleship within the Bible stresses the importance of modeling a life of faith in order to teach others. It also emphasizes the importance of having humility and following the example set by Jesus. The power of discipleship can be seen throughout the church and history, as followers of Jesus living out his commandments and teaching them to others.
Examples of Discipleship in the Bible
The Bible contains numerous examples of discipleship, from Jesus’ interactions with the 12 apostles to Paul’s travels to instruct new converts in the faith. Here are two key examples:
John 15:16 tells us that Jesus said “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” This speaks to the nature of discipleship, in that it is both a responsibility and a calling. Jesus utilizes this example to encourage his followers to follow his example of faith and trust. He wants those who follow him to go out and spread the teachings of the gospel, in order to influence the lives of others.
In the book of Acts, we see Paul and Barnabas travelling to new cities and proclaiming the gospel. Acts 15:36-41 tells us that they passed through a variety of different places in Asia Minor, strengthening the believes of those who had converted to Christianity. This passage reveals the importance of discipleship, in that those who were established in their faith (Paul and Barnabas) were appointed by the Holy Spirit to lead those who were new to the faith in the ways of Jesus.
Benefits of Discipleship in the Bible
The practice of discipleship can bring benefit to both individuals and the Church as a whole. For the individual, discipleship serves to empower them to live a life in accordance with God’s Word, providing them with a strong foundation for their faith. For the Church, discipleship strengthens its ties to the community and provides an opportunity for Christians to serve and share their faith with those around them.
In the Bible, we can see how these benefits are realized for individuals. In 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Paul writes that “From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” Here, Paul speaks to the benefits of discipleship, in that it serves as a tool to learn and grow in faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
We can also see the benefits of discipleship in the Bible for the Church. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus states that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Through this passage, Jesus points to the importance of discipleship in allowing the Church to elongate and expand its reach, by opening the door for Christian faith to be spread to different nations and cultures around the world.
Critique of Discipleship in the Bible
Historically, there have been some critiques towards the practice of discipling in the Bible. One of the criticisms is the idea that discipleship often takes the form of ‘vertical’ leadership, with a hierarchy of authority and allegiance to one leader or body. This is seen in the idea of the ‘apostles’, who are considered to be the most important group of disciples and are seen as the initial teachers of the faith. This structure has been criticized for creating an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, as those outside of these apostolic circles can feel isolated.
Additionally, in 1 Corinthians 16:12, some of Paul’s letters seemingly discourage cross-cultural relationships or partnership with other denominations or non-believers. This concept is seen in numerous verses throughout the New Testament where believers are instructed not to associate with non-believers. This has led to the critique that this idea of following one individual or body leads to an ‘in-group’ mentality, in which those outside of the group are often seen as outsiders.
Another critique is seen in the concept of submission to authority. In verses such as Ephesians 5:22 and James 5:14, believers are instructed to submit to those in authority, whether they are elders within the Church or even those in governmental positions. This has been critiqued by some as a way of ‘blindly following’ those in power, even if they are issuing commands that are contrary to Christian beliefs.
Conclusion: Reflection on Discipleship in the Bible
The practice of discipleship has been a part of the Christian faith from the earliest days of the Church as commanded by Jesus. It takes on various forms in different denominations and regions, with the Bible giving us a roadmap for understanding this concept. Discipleship within the Bible stress the importance of following Jesus’ example, centering one’s faith around him, and modeling a life of faith in order to teach others. Despite some critiques, the Bible continues to demonstrate the importance of discipleship and how this practice can strengthen individual faith and the Church as a whole.