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Christian Living

Who Teaches You?

Do Sermons Belong in Church?

We go to church to learn about God, right? So sermons belong in church, right?

Who told you that? It was likely the minister at your local church. That’s who I’ve heard it from, and church is always the place where I heard it.

Isn’t that self-serving?

Think about it. A church hires a preacher. The church pays the preacher. The preacher tells us we need to be in church every Sunday to learn about God and that he is the one to teach us. One of the things he teaches us is to give money to the local church, often 10 percent of our income.

Why does the local church need money so badly? In large part, it’s to pay the preacher. The greatest expense at almost all churches is payroll, usually over half of their total budget, sometimes much more.

We don’t need preachers to teach us; that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Click To Tweet

So we hire someone who tells us we need him and then asks for money so he can stick around. If we didn’t revere our preachers so much and cling to our sacrosanct practices, I’d call this a racket.

As I read about the church in the New Testament, there is plenty of preaching. But I wonder if sermons belong in church. In the Bible, the preaching is always directed at those who are not following Jesus, the folks outside the church.

Yes, there is teaching inside the church, but I’ve not yet found any passage that says it happens every Sunday or is given by paid staff. In the examples I see, missionaries do the teaching when they come to visit or the congregation instructs one another as they share with each other.

John writes to the church and tells them plainly: “You do not need anyone to teach you.” Then he clarifies: “His anointing teaches you about all things.”

So it is God’s anointing, the Holy Spirit, who reveals truth to us. Therefore, we don’t need anyone to teach us, especially a paid preacher. John says so.

I suppose, then, if we go to church to learn, what the preacher should be telling us is how to listen to the Holy Spirit. Once we’ve learned that, the preacher’s job is done; we don’t need him to teach us anymore.

God’s anointed one will teach us and reveal truth to us. Then we can spend Sunday mornings sharing with each other what we’ve learned through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

But that will never happen. Preachers need to be needed, and they need us to pay them. They would never say anything to work themselves out of a job.

They want their paychecks too badly to tell us plainly what John said and what his words truly mean for the church of Jesus: We don’t need preachers to teach us; that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

[1 John 2:27]

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Who Says We Should Give 10 Percent to the Local Church?

Fundamentalist preachers twist what the Bible says and misapply it for their own benefit

I was taught to give 10 percent of my money to church. I’ve heard many evangelical preachers assert that their followers had to give 10 percent to the local church. It was a tithe, an obligation. You could, of course, give more.

That was a voluntary offering, but the 10 percent baseline was a requirement. If you failed to do so, it was a sin.

Says who?

It turns out the preachers who proclaim the 10-percent-to-the-local-church rule made it up. They want to fund their operation and ensure their paycheck.

Seriously, it’s not in the Bible.

The Bible never says to give 10 percent of our money to the local church. It’s not a command or even a guideline. Any place the New Testament mentions a tithe it’s in reference to the Old Testament Law, which Jesus fulfilled.

And don’t forget that the Old Testament tithe was from the harvest, not a paycheck. It was to the national temple, not a local assembly. Besides that, how many of the other 613 Old Testament Laws do you follow? Not many, I suspect.

So if you want to re-interpret the Old Testament and forget that Jesus fulfilled it, go ahead and tithe as a legalistic requirement. Just don’t act like it is an obligation or command others to do so.

The New Testament never says to give 10 percent to the local church. Click To Tweet

Here’s what the New Testament has to say:

In the New Testament we see a principle of stewardship, of carefully using what God blesses us with to help those around us. If you feel God calling you to give 10 percent to your local church, than go ahead and do it. But know that the Bible doesn’t command it. (It doesn’t prohibit it either.)

What I see in the Bible is a clear principle to help the poor and assist those who go outside the church to tell others about Jesus.

May our focus be on advancing the kingdom of God more so than on perpetuating the manmade institution of what many today call church.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Do You Go to a Missional Church? Are You Missional?

Make Sure That What You Do Advances the Kingdom of God

Many people talk about being a missional church (and a missional follower of Jesus). This is an ideal goal, yet people have different understandings about what it means to be missional. Before giving a holistic definition of this often-misunderstood word, let’s first look what it is not.

Missional Is Not a Mission Statement

Too many churches think that having a mission statement automatically means they’re a missional church. But there’s seldom a connection between their formal declaration of intent and its effective outcome.

Even including the word missional in a mission statement doesn’t count. Claiming to be missional falls far short of producing true missional results.

Missional Is Not Merely an Attitude

Beyond mission statements, having an attitude of mission is a good start, but thinking falls far short from doing. Being mission minded is an essential foundation to launch from, but we must put our faith into action to help others.

Missional Is Not Providing Financial Support to Missionaries

Giving money to support missionaries to go throughout the world and proclaim Jesus is an ideal use of funds. It is not, however, missional. Instead, it’s paying someone else to be missional in your place.

Yes, missionaries need money so they can focus on telling others about Jesus and advance his kingdom. (Notice I didn’t say grow a church.) Both we and our churches will do well to support missionaries, but don’t for a minute think this gets us off the hook for being missional ourselves.

Remember, Scripture says that faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26). Don’t have an ineffective, unproductive faith.

Missional Is Not Internal Programs

Another common fallacy is thinking that having internal church programs qualifies as being a missional church. Yes, some churches have their doors open every day of the week for some program, initiative, or gathering. But with rare exception, each one of these programs has an internal focus, seeking to serve church members and attendees, while doing nothing to benefit the surrounding community.

These programs are inward focused, self-serving, and selfish.

Consider your church budget. After removing salaries and facility expenses, look at what’s left—if anything. How much of this remaining sliver of donations goes to internal needs versus how much goes to outward-facing, community initiatives? For most churches, the answer is zero.

God-honoring mission is outward focused, serves others, and gives without expectation. This is what it means to be a missional church. Click To Tweet

Missional Church Is Outward Facing Action

True kingdom-growing mission is the opposite of internal programs geared toward the flock. God-honoring mission is outward focused, serves others, and gives without expectation. This is what it means to be a missional church.

Do your part to advance the kingdom of God. Pursue this missional mindset individually and as a group. This is necessary because a missional church is comprised of missional people.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Should You Pay Your Minister?

Pastor Compensation

For the most part, the church of today is an institution. Institutions require structure and leadership; self-perpetuation is essential—regardless of cost. For an institution to work, it needs paid staff.

That’s why local pastors receive a salary: to keep the institution of church functioning and viable. To pay your minister follows the Old Testament model of church.

But we don’t live in the Old Testament or under its covenant. We live in the New Testament and under its covenant—at least in theory.

In the New Testament, we (that is, those who follow Jesus) are his church. Each one of us is a priest (that is, a minister) to care for one another. We should not have to pay someone to do what we’re already supposed to be doing.

Further, our bodies are God’s temple. We don’t need to go to a building to go to church; we take church with us. In short, the institution of church is over—at least in theory. Without a physical building or an institution to maintain, there is no need to pay someone to run the whole mess.

However, there seems to be one exception to this idea of no compensation. In his letter to the people in Corinth, Paul builds a case to pay preachers. But he’s not talking about the folks who run local churches. He’s talking about those who go around telling others about Jesus.

Today, we might call these people evangelists or missionaries. Based on Paul’s teaching it’s right to pay them.

Yet once Paul builds his case to appropriately pay missionaries, he points to an even better way: for missionaries to earn their own money and not require outside support. Paul often covers his expenses and those who travel with him by working his trade; he is a tentmaker.

Springing from this is the idea of a tentmaker-minister, someone who pays their own way as they care for others.

So if you are part of an institution and want it to perpetuate, then buy a building, hire staff, and pay your minister their due.

However, if you want to pursue a different path, as seen in the New Testament, take the church with you wherever you go and help others wherever you can, paying your own way as you do.

[1 Corinthians 9:7-18]

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Exploring Church Staff from a Biblical Perspective

Stop Paying Clergy and Ministry Staff to Do What We’re Supposed to Do Ourselves

In part one of Embrace a Fresh Perspective about Church we looked at adopting a new, biblically enlightened view on the role that a church building should play for our spiritual community. Now we’ll continue that theme by looking at church staff, along with the related topics of missionaries, local ministers, and payroll.

Church Staff

In 7 Things the Church Is Not, we mentioned that the church should not be an institution. Yet most churches today move in that direction after about ten years of operation, and they become an institution a couple of decades after that.

For an institution to work, it needs paid church staff (and money). That’s why local pastors receive a salary: to keep the institution of church functioning and viable.

As we’ve already covered, this thinking follows the Old Testament model of church. But we don’t live in the Old Testament or under its covenant. We live in the New Testament and under its covenant—at least in theory. In the New Testament, we—that is, those who follow Jesus—are his church.

Each one of us is a priest—that is, a minister—to care for one another. We shouldn’t pay someone to do what we’re supposed to do. As part of the body of Christ, we each do our part to advance the kingdom of God and shouldn’t expect to receive payment for our labor.

Missionaries

There is, however, one exception to this idea of no compensation. In his letter to the people in Corinth, Paul builds a case to pay missionaries. This doesn’t apply to the folks who run local churches. Paul refers to those who go around telling others about Jesus.

Today, we might call these people evangelists. Based on Paul’s teaching it’s right to pay them.

Yet once Paul builds his case to appropriately pay missionaries, he points to an even better way: for missionaries to earn their own money and not require outside support. Paul often covers his expenses and those who travel with him by plying his trade. He works as a tentmaker.

Springing from this is the idea of a tentmaker-missionary, someone who pays their own way as they tell others about Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:7–18).

Local Ministers

But what about the local church? Shouldn’t we reward our clergy, out church staff, by paying them? Doesn’t the Bible say that workers deserve compensation (1 Timothy 5:18)? Not quite.

The context of this is for traveling missionaries to be content with the food and lodging provided to them as they journey about telling others about Jesus (Luke 10:5–7).

But don’t we need a minister to teach us about God each Sunday? No. The Bible expects us to feed ourselves spiritually. And we are to teach one another.

What about a clergy member to address our spiritual needs as they arise? No. We are to care for one another.

No Payroll

In short, through Jesus the institution of church is over—at least in theory. Without a physical building or an institution to maintain, there is no need to pay church staff to run the whole show.

To pursue a New Testament path, take church with you wherever you go and help others however you can, paying your own way as you do. Click To Tweet

So if you are part of an institution and want to perpetuate it, then buy a building, hire church staff, and pay them their due. However, if you want to pursue a different path as seen in the New Testament, then take the church with you wherever you go and help others however you can, paying your own way as you do.

We must reform our thinking of paying church staff to do what the Bible calls us to do ourselves as priests who serve one another.

Next week we’ll look at the church and money.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The New Testament Approach to Church

Consider the Example of Jesus’s Followers in the Bible

The commands in the Old Testament about the tabernacle/temple, priesthood, and tithe are clear. The New Testament, however, lacks specific instructions for us to follow. But this doesn’t mean we should adhere to the Old Testament model as a default.

Instead we look at the practices of the early church to guide us in our interactions with God, to worship, serve, and tell the world about Jesus. We need to be a New Testament church.

Let’s start with Stephen. In his lengthy message before the Sanhedrin, he reminds those gathered that God does not live in the temple, in a house built by people (Acts 7:48-50).

But Stephen isn’t spouting a new idea. He quotes Isaiah (Isaiah 66:1-2). This verse finds support from other Old Testament passages (1 Kings 8:27 and 2 Chronicles 2:6).

Even in the Old Testament God is already countering his people’s idea that he lives in the temple, and that they must go there to engage with him.

Remember that God didn’t issue his commands about the temple, priests, and tithes until after the people refused to let him speak to them directly and insisted that Moses stand in for them (Exodus 19:6).

Could it be that God gave his people the temple, priests, and tithes as a concession to their desire to keep him at a distance?

Interesting.

Regardless, Jesus fulfills this Old Testament way to approach God.

What does this mean for us? What should change? Let’s look at the New Testament narrative to gather insight in how to adapt God’s Old Testament model of temple, priests, and tithes into a New Testament approach to church.

The New Testament church meets in homes. Click To Tweet

They Meet in Homes

The first place Jesus’s followers meet after he returns to heaven is in the upper room, a part of someone’s home (Acts 1:13).

They spend time at the temple (Acts 2:46, Acts 3:1, and Acts 5:20) and visit synagogues on the Sabbath (Acts 9:20, Acts 13:14, and Acts 14:1)—until they’re no longer welcome (Acts 18:7). They also meet in public spaces (Acts 16:13 and Acts 19:9).

Mostly they meet in people’s homes (Acts 2:46, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 1:2). But this isn’t a once-a-week occurrence. They meet daily to eat together (Acts 6:1) and encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13).

The early church continues in their practice of meeting in people’s homes for about three centuries.

At this time, Constantine legalizes Christianity and begins building churches. This starts a shift from gathering in people’s homes—as the early church practiced—back to going to dedicated worship spaces—as the Old Testament did.

The book of Hebrews confirms this transition. It states that the Old Testament tabernacle is an earthly, manmade sanctuary and part of the first covenant—the Old testament way (Hebrews 9:1-2). Whereas Jesus, as our high priest, gives us a more perfect tabernacle, one not manmade (Hebrews 9:11).

The New Testament church serves a priests. Click To Tweet

They Serve as Priests

We’ve already covered that as Jesus’s followers we are his holy and royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). John also confirms that Jesus made us to be his priests (Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10, and Revelation 20:6).

In Hebrews we read that just as the priesthood changed—through Jesus—the law must change as well (Hebrews 7:12). In one grand stroke, God’s law of the Old Testament becomes Jesus’s love in the New Testament. (Not only does the priesthood change in this transition, but so do the accompanying practices of temple and tithe.)

The book of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is our high priest (Hebrews 3:1). This makes him the ultimate priest, with us looking to him as an example of how to be priests serving under him.

As followers of Jesus we are his priests, a holy priesthood, a nation of priests. Are we doing this? No. Instead we hire clergy to work as our modern-day priests, serving as our intermediary between God and us.

We’re not functioning as we should as God’s priests. We delegate this holy responsibility to a select few who have put in their time at seminary and received their ordination papers.

Yet God expects us to obey his call to serve as his holy nation of priests. What are we waiting for? What must we do? There are three elements to address in serving our Lord as priests: minister to those in his church, tell others about him, and worship him.

1. Minister to Those in the Church: God intends all those in his family to serve as priests. We’re all priests. This means there are none in our group who aren’t. Within our church—where everyone is a priest—there’s no longer a role to represent God to his people.

As priests we can all approach him directly, without the need for an intermediary.

Within the church body, as priests we minister to each other. As Jesus’s priests we need to love one another and treat each other as the New Testament tells us to.

2. Tell Others about Jesus: In the Old Testament, the priests have an inward focus on God’s chosen people. They do little to reach out to those outside their group.

This is one of the things Jesus changes when he fulfills the Old Testament. No longer are we to have an inward focus as his followers, as his priests. Instead he wants us to look outward.

The resurrected Jesus makes this clear before he returns to heaven. He tells his disciples to go throughout the world and make disciples. This includes baptizing them and teaching them about him (Matthew 28:19-20).

Paul—who God sends to tell the Gentiles about Jesus—acknowledges this is his priestly duty (Romans 15:15-16). As Jesus’s priest, Paul tells the Gentiles—that is, non-Jews, which means the rest of the world—the good news of salvation. This is so they can be made right with God.

Peter also touches on this in his writing about us being Jesus’s priests. He says we are to declare our adoration of Jesus to others. Implicitly this is to address those living in darkness so we can bring them into his light (1 Peter 2:9).

Jesus instructs us to tell others about him. Paul and Peter say that we do so as his priests.

3. Worship Him: Much of what God establishes in the Old Testament about the tabernacle/temple, priest, and tithes relate to worshiping him. Does this Old Testament worship have a place in the New Testament church?

Yes.

But whereas worship was the goal in the Old Testament, it might more so be the means to reach the goal in the New Testament. It is as Jesus’s church worships him and fasts that the Holy Spirit tells them what to do (Acts 13:2).

Note that they are doing two things when God speaks to them. It isn’t just worship. They also fast. Don’t lose sight of this.

Let’s consider some other mentions of worship in the New Testament.

We’ll start with Jesus and his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. She asks about the appropriate place to worship God. Jesus dismisses the discussion about location and says that his followers will worship Father God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:20-24).

This means we can worship God anywhere and don’t need to go to a dedicated space. What matters is our attitude toward worship, to do so honestly under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Peter talks about us offering spiritual sacrifices as our worship (1 Peter 2:5), Paul uses the phrase living sacrifice. It’s holy and pleasing to our Lord, serving as honest and right worship (Romans 12:1).

Paul also testifies that as a part of his faith journey he continues to worship God (Acts 24:11 and 14). Furthermore, in his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul goes into much detail about having orderly worship (1 Corinthians 14).

The author of Hebrews talks about us being thankful for the eternal salvation we received as worshiping God in reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29).

And remember that John’s Revelation overflows with worship. This suggests that not only is worshiping God a New Testament act, but it will also be an end times and everlasting practice (Revelation 4:10, 5:14, 7:11, 9:20, 11:16, 14:7, 15:4, 19:4, 19:10, and 22:8-9).

Yes, we will continue to worship God. But it should look much different than the Old Testament way.

The New Testament church helps their own who are in need. Click To Tweet

They Give Generously

Not only do Jesus’s followers meet in homes and minister to one another, they also have a fresh perspective on giving. Instead of tithing, which isn’t a New Testament command, they practice generosity.

The New Testament doesn’t mention Jesus’s followers taking collections to support the church infrastructure. Instead they receive offerings to help other disciples in need (Acts 24:17, Romans 15:26, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, and 2 Corinthians 8).

Notice that the focus of their generosity is to those within the church.

The only time the New Testament mentions a weekly collection (1 Corinthians 16:2) is simply to set aside money to help the struggling believers in Jerusalem, not to support a minister.

They also share what they have with one another (Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32). This is significant, but it isn’t a command. Instead it’s an example.

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul confirms the importance of helping the poor. In this case, however, he seems to be talking about all who are poor, both those within the church and those outside (Galatians 2:10).

Jesus talks a lot about money and generosity. He says that there will always be poor people among us (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8), but this isn’t a reason to not help them. On several occasions Jesus tells people to give money to the poor.

He says this to the rich man seeking eternal life (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, and Luke 18:22), the Pharisees (Luke 11:41), and his disciples, which we can rightly apply to ourselves as his present-day disciples (Luke 12:33).

There is evidence in the New Testament that the church provides financial support to missionary efforts, though Paul holds up himself as an example of paying for his own expenses as the ideal. This happens even though he feels he has a right to receive financial support as God’s messenger (1 Corinthians 9:4-18).

Regardless, this financial support is for those who travel to tell the good news of Jesus to those who don’t know him, not for local ministers at various city churches.

The New Testament churches practice of generosity is to help the poor and support missionary efforts, not to pay the salaries of local ministers or build and maintain church buildings.

A New Testament Church

This is the New Testament model for church, Jesus’s church. We have much to do.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Four Parts of the Great Commission

Explore Jesus’s Parting Words

A few weeks ago we looked at Jesus’s final instructions as found in each of the Bible’s four biographies of him. Melding these together, we came up with three steps. First is to follow Jesus, second is to wait for Holy Spirit power, and three is to go and tell others.

Looking specifically at Matthews record of Jesus’s words in Matthew 28:19-20, we have the passage many people call the Great Commission. In this we have four action verbs.

Go: Step One of the Great Commission

Jesus tells his disciples they are to go. This is the opposite of stay. But staying is exactly what they do. They stay in Jerusalem—as initially commanded—waiting for the Holy Spirit. But once the Holy Spirit shows up, they continue to stay.

It isn’t until a wave of persecution sweeps through the church in Jerusalem that Jesus’s followers scatter. Finally, this forces them to go, as Jesus instructed.

Matthew doesn’t record where they are to go, other than everywhere. Luke, however, gives more details in the beginning of his writing in the book of Acts (Acts 1:8).

There Jesus says that under Holy Spirit power he wants his followers to tell others about him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the world. (Again, notice that being filled with the Holy Spirit proceeds the going phase.)

From these four locations we can interpret four areas of ministry. Jerusalem, which is where we live; Judea, which is our own people group; Samaria represents other people who live nearby; and the ends of the earth mean everyone else.

Make Disciples: Step Two of the Great Commission

As Jesus’s followers go on their missionary journeys, they are to make disciples. He doesn’t say to make converts, though the implied prerequisite for discipleship is following Jesus. Instead he says to make disciples.

Conversion is a onetime effort. We make the decision to follow Jesus in an instant, but discipleship takes a lifetime. Too often the focus today is getting people to say “yes” to Jesus.

Evangelists track their number of salvation decisions, but they seldom talk about the difficult follow-up work of making disciples. In fact, they often convert people and then leave, with no discipleship work whatsoever—abandoning their converts and letting them flounder.

Since Jesus doesn’t talk about conversion—even though it’s implied in making disciples—we can wisely surmise that Jesus cares much more about disciples than decisions.

Jesus cares much more about disciples then decisions. Click To Tweet

Baptize: Step Three of the Great Commission

For our third action word we read baptize. This is phase one of making disciples. Notice that baptism doesn’t come before the instruction to make disciples, but after it. It’s the first aspect of making disciples, not a prerequisite for discipleship.

Some people, however, place baptism ahead of discipleship, often stopping at baptism and never making any effort to disciple the people they baptize. This brings us to the fourth word in the Great Commission.

Teach: Step Four of the Great Commission

The fourth action step in the Great Commission is to teach. Like the word baptize, teach is part of making disciples. It’s phase two of the discipleship process. And though baptism is a onetime action, teaching is ongoing. Teaching is the long-term effort of making disciples.

There are other aspects of teaching, which Jesus doesn’t detail in this passage, but we can infer from his actions we read about in the Bible. After teaching comes application, in which the disciples go out and do the things they learned about.

We see this when Jesus’s disciples baptize others (John 4:1-2), heal others (Matthew 10:1, Mark 6:7), and point others to Jesus (Luke 10:1).

In these last two instances, they must go. This takes us full circle, implying that the final step of discipleship is to go and repeat the process.

From Jesus’s charge in the Great Commission, he wants his followers to go everywhere, make disciples, baptize, and teach them.

How does this apply to us today?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 26-28, and today’s post is on Matthew 28:19-20.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Should Christians Follow Jesus, Be His Disciple, or Go as a Missionary?

We Must Choose Labels with Care for They Reflect Our Identity and Our Theology

By definition I am a Christian, but I’ve always shied away from that word. It means different things to different people, not all of which are positive. For too many, Christian is a negative label implying narrow minded, bigoted, or hate-filled people.

Since these things make me cringe and don’t describe me, I typically avoid saying or writing the word Christian. Instead I say I’m a follower of Jesus.

I could also say I’m a disciple of Jesus, but I’m wary of that for fear that I too often fall short. Others say that they’re missionaries for Jesus, which implies following him and being his disciple. But that label never clicked with me either.

What insight does the Bible give us about which label we should use?

Christian

Interestingly, the word Christian only appears three times in the Bible, twice in Acts and once in 1 Peter. People who know Greek tell me it means “little Christs.” It may have first been a derisive term (Acts 11:26 and Acts 26:28), which was later accepted by Jesus’s squad (1 Peter 4:16).

But the fact that the Bible rarely uses Christian is telling. I wonder if we should avoid it too, especially given how emotionally laden this word has become.

Follower of Jesus

In the Bible, the idea of following Jesus occurs a lot in its various forms. This includes, they “followed him” (27 times), “follow me” (22), “followed Jesus” (5), and “following Jesus” (2).

The command Jesus seems to give most often to people who approach him is to follow him. Though he sometimes says, “repent and follow me,” the idea of following implies a prior repentance. Think of repent as doing a U-turn; we must do a U-turn if we follow Jesus.

Disciple of Jesus

Disciple, which means an “active adherent” or “someone who embraces and spreads the teachings of another,” occurs in the Bible a lot. It occurs nearly three hundred times in the New Testament, all in the four biographies of Jesus and the book of Acts.

Disciple emerges as the preferred descriptive term in the Bible for those who follow Jesus, a.k.a. Christians. I suppose disciples refers to the early church, but church isn’t used nearly as often (114 times), mostly by Paul. Besides church is perhaps an even bigger misused and misunderstood term.

A disciple is someone who embraces and spreads the teachings of Jesus. Click To Tweet

Missionary of Jesus

In last week’s post on the Great Commission, which many see as a call to be a missionary, the word go emerges as the first action step. Missionary refers to someone who goes to persuade or convert others, but it doesn’t appear in the Bible at all. It’s a word we added after the Bible was written.

I wonder if we should likewise avoid using it. That doesn’t mean being a missionary of Jesus isn’t biblical or is wrong, but it does imply it might be the wrong label.

Let’s go back to the definition of disciple. A disciple is someone who embraces and spreads the teachings of another person, in our case Jesus. This means that as a disciple, we are by default a missionary—or at least we should be.

Frankly, that makes me squirm a bit. It’s easy for me to be a missionary for Jesus in the words I write, but it’s a much more challenging task to be a missionary with the words I say, at least to those opposed to Jesus.

Conclusion: Be a Disciple of Jesus

Though we can call ourselves Christians or identify as part of the church, being a disciple of Jesus emerges as the most accurate, biblical, and appropriate label to use. Both following Jesus and being a missionary for Jesus are embedded in what it means to truly be a disciple of Jesus.

I’m going to start making that mental shift from being a follower of Jesus to being a disciple of Jesus. Will you join me in this journey? It could change everything.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Jesus’s Final Instructions as Found in the Four Gospels

Consider what Jesus expects of his followers—and us

A while ago we looked at the final words in each book of the New Testament. This provides us with interesting information. However, more enlightening is to look at the final words of Jesus in each of the four biographies of him in the Bible.

While you may be most familiar with what Matthew records as Jesus’s final instructions, let’s start with what John says.

John Writes to “Follow Jesus”

The Gospel of John ends, not with any profound instructions, but instead Jesus focuses on reinstating Peter to the group. Twice Jesus reminds Peter to “follow me” (John 21:19, 22).

By extension we can apply this to us today. Jesus’s most essential instruction, the foundational starting point, is for us to follow him.

Luke Writes to “Wait for the Holy Spirit”

Now let’s move to the book of Luke. Dr. Luke writes that Jesus reminds his disciples that he will send them a gift (the Holy Spirit) from Papa and that they are to return to Jerusalem and wait for that gift (Luke 24:49). Then Jesus ascends to heaven.

Dr. Luke picks up the story in Acts. There he writes that Jesus’s followers were in constant prayer as they waited for Jesus’s special gift (Acts 1:14). As they paused and prayed, the Holy Spirit showed up in an awesome display of supernatural power (Acts 2:1-13).

Mark Writes to “Go and Preach”

Mark’s account of Jesus has three different endings. As a writer I get this. It’s sometimes difficult to know how to end a book. So I’m okay with a few different attempts to get it right.

The oldest of manuscripts of Mark ends without Jesus giving any final instructions. It stops abruptly at Luke 16:8 with the women standing at Jesus’s empty tomb and an angel instructing them to tell the disciples. But they’re afraid and don’t. That’s not a good ending.

A few manuscripts of Mark, tack on an added passage after Luke 16:8: “After this, Jesus himself also sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” This helps some, but it feels rushed and is an unsatisfying ending.

Other manuscripts of Mark don’t contain that extra passage, but they do include versus 9–20, which reads like an epilogue. In this text, we do hear Jesus’s final instructions. He essentially says, “Go everywhere and tell everyone about me” (Mark 16:15).

Matthew Writes to “Go, Make Disciples, Baptize, and Teach”

Last, we get to Matthew’s more well-known account. In what’s often called The Great Commission, Jesus tells his followers, “Go everywhere, make disciples, baptize, and teach about me (Matthew 28:19-20).

Putting It All Together

Can we combine these four thoughts from John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew to provide one comprehensive instruction? How about a three-step procedure?

Jesus’s final instructions are to:

  1. Follow Jesus.
  2. Wait for Holy Spirit power.
  3. Go, make disciples, and then baptize and teach them.

It starts with us following Jesus, but we need to make sure we don’t do anything without the Holy Spirit. We need to make sure we don’t do anything without the Holy Spirit. Click To Tweet

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Should Paul’s Self-Description Inspire Our Faith Perspective?

Paul’s letter to the Romans opens with three traits for us to ponder

Paul begins his letter to the church in Rome by giving them an overview of his situation. He shares three characteristics about himself, his mission, and his calling.

Though he does this to establish credibility for his message, and thereby encourage the recipients to take his words seriously, the attributes seem like a mini-biography, one with spiritual importance.

In Paul’s self-assessment, he says he is:

A Servant of Jesus

I like to call myself a follower of Jesus—as opposed to the more general description of Christian, which means different things to different people. Being a follower of Jesus shows commitment, yet it still implies I have some say in the matter, that I made a choice.

Being a servant, however, carries with it a deeper commitment. I need to move my mindset from being a follower to becoming a servant. Maybe you do, too.

Called to be an Apostle

Instead of focusing on the meaning of the word apostle, which could suggest a missionary, a church leader, or a passionate adherent (all of which describe Paul), let’s instead focus on the word called. What does it mean to be called by God?

While we may not have a calling at the same high level as Paul, all Christians are called, first to follow Jesus (as in “Come and follow me,” Matthew 4:19) and then to obey him (John 8:51).

As we serve him he will tell us to do other things, too. These are our callings, even if we’re not traveling around the world as his missionary.

Everyone who follows Jesus should be set apart. Click To Tweet

Set Apart for the Gospel

While being set apart could be a Spirit-led summoning of the highest order (Acts 13:2), it could also be a simple command to set ourselves apart from the world, to not be conformed to it (Romans 12:2).

Everyone who follows Jesus should be set apart in this way, while being open for him to also set us apart for something greater.

If we are a true Christian (as opposed to being one in name only), we will do well to adopt the attitude of Paul: that through Jesus we are his servant, called, and set apart.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 1-4, and today’s post is on Romans 1:1.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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