Every so often, the question arises: “Do we evangelize people to Christ or to Christian community?”
The question does spring out of certain groupings and their emphasis. For example, some (many) evangelicals think we just need to lead people to an altar call (a decision to accept Jesus as my Savior). And that’s the mission. Some (many) charismatic renewal people think we just need to get people baptized in the Spirit … mission.
“Go and make disciples”
Jesus said in Matthew 28: 19-20, “Go and make disciples … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded…”
So the mission according to Jesus is “ALL” …a decision for Christ, being baptized in his Spirit, and a discipleship that embraces all that he has commanded: teaching, training, deliverance, healing, service, pastoral care, love, ministry, accountability, correction, encouragement, brotherly relationships, character formation, growing from self-centered to other-centered, tithing and personal finance, love of Scripture, study of Scripture, personal prayer pattern, family prayer, corporate prayer, participation in the mission, etc.
Christian discipleship is both vertical and horizontal
A new life in Christ needs a body of Christians for support and discipleship. (Evangelical)
A Christian newly baptized in the Spirit needs a body where he/she can exercise the charismatic gifts: speaking in tongues, prophecy, discernment, miracles and healings, etc. (Charismatic)
Discipleship is normative in a community of disciples on mission. (Sword of the Spirit, community)
The Christian life is not just vertical or spiritual; it’s also horizontal as we are formed into the family of God.
A married couple does not bring a new life into the world and leave it to fend for itself. No, they nourish it, care for it, teach it, train it and form it to be a good citizen and a good member of the kingdom of God. So, marriage isn’t just for having children, it’s also for forming them. Also, it follows that parents should not be tricked into thinking that any initial spiritual experience will result in their child becoming a disciple of Jesus. As we have chosen, they will need to be in a formative environment of love and support to “grow up into Christ,” Ephesians 4:15.
While scads of altar calls (or baptisms in the Spirit) do produce some disciples, it is more fruitful to embrace the mission of discipleship, that is, intentional discipleship which includes a personal relationship with Christ and the baptism of his Holy Spirit.
The great commission
That’s the mission that Jesus left with us … the Great Commission. Matthew 28:19-20.
That’s his direction, that’s his plan.
Top image of glowing cross from www.graphicstock.com. Used with permission. Scripture quotation added.
Bob Tedesco is the founder of the People of God, a Sword of the Spirit community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA where he served as Senior Coordinator for 26 years. He has been involved in lay ministry for over forty-five years, and has served as Regional President of the North American region in the Sword of the Spirit.