discipleship vs spirituality

July 26, 2005

Mere DiscipleshipI’m in the midst of rereading Mere Discipleship by Lee Camp. In the book, he makes a strong case that what we know as Christianity today is far from what authentic discipleship should be. Instead of living a radical life that follows a pattern set by Jesus, Christianity has become a set of doctrines to be followed, with a little bit of a moral code thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps most readers of this blog would not argue with this, but I’ve not seen it stated anywhere as well as in this book. Here’s just a few of the things I’ve underlined in the first two chapters that are worth mulling over:

  • “Christianity” increasingly loses the biblical emphasis upon discipleship, and replaces it with an emphasis upon religious ritual. “Church,” rather than connoting the New Testament concept as a community of disciples living as the “body of Christ,” begins to connote a hierarchy that protects “orthodoxy.” “Salvation,” instead of being construed as the gift of a transformed, abundant life in the now-present kingdom of God, begins to be equated with an otherworldly reward. More crassly put, “salvation” is increasingly viewed as a fire-insurance policy–rather than the gift of new life in the here and now that stands confident even in the fact of death, “salvation” becomes a “Get Out of Hell Free Card,” guranteeing an escape from the fires of torment and ensuring the receipt of treasures in heaven. (pg 22)
  • …following a Jesus who commands love of enemies, or sharing of one’s provisions, or ongoing practices of forgiveness, is looked upon as “far-out,” as an extremem viewpoint with little to offer the “real world.” Such “radical” claims are looked upon as idealistic, unrelated to the pragmatic concerns of those who are trying to “make a difference” in the world. Thus we fashion a religion that suits this model–we “go to church,” are offered pious sentiment to warm our hearts, theological warm-fuzzies intended to assure us of our eternal reward or a life filled with “meaning,” with little word of the kingdom of God.” (pg 23)
  • The church, then, a community called to follow in the way of Christ, a community that is “the body of Christ,” exists not to show the world how to be “religious,” but to show the world how to be the world God created it to be. (pg 25)
  • In this way, “discipleship” gets castrated, or at least sharply curtailed in its assumed rightful place. “Following Jesus” becomes something one does on Sundays and in one’s quiet time in order to “go to heaven,” but the way of Christ has no place in the real world of violence, injustice, and greed. “Church” becomes an institution necessary to instill “moral values” in the citizenry of a democracy, but the fundamental teachings of its Messiah are taken to be irrelevant to the way the world “really works.” (pg 31)
  • Whereas the early church did not, for example, spend a great deal of time asking whether “Jesus really meant” what Matthew records in the Sermon on the Mount, later Christianity began to “spiritualize,” to interiorize, Christian discipleship — discipleship becomes more a mater of one’s “heart” than all of one’s life. The “hard sayings” of Jesus become reserved for those who are not involved in the “real world,” but cloistered away in a monastery. (pg 36)
  • But this move, at a very profound level, overlooks the basic Christian claim that Jesus, both fully human and fully God, revealed to us what the Creator intends humankind to be and to do. Can those who claim Jesus to be divine grant so little authority to the One who showed us what it means to live a human life in accordance with the will of God? “Hey, be realistic, none of us are Jesus!” it is objected. But do such objections not overlook the New Testament claim that the people of God, the “body of Christ,” continue the ministry and work of Christ right in the midst of real human history, right in the midst of oppression, injustice, violence, and greed? (pg 39)

I ended up typing more than I thought I would, but I still left some other stuff out…

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