Luke 14:25-26 (ESV)- Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
In the Gospels (especially the Gospel of Luke), the chroniclers make a continual differentiation between the “disciples” of Lord Jesus and “the crowds.”
Lord Jesus oftentimes found himself avoiding the crowds. Although Christ oftentimes did miracles for them, dealing with them was not actually his “favorite” pass-time.
Luke 6: 12-19 presents a scenario that is practically extinct among today’s Christians. The act of selecting disciples from the crowds was such an important task, that Lord Jesus spent an entire night in prayer before choosing them. From among the crowds he called a large group of disciples, but from among them, he chose only 12 men for the purpose of serving as their leaders.
Basically, while the 12 would be intimately trained by Lord Jesus himself, they in turn would serve as facilitators for the other disciples and carry their questions back to the Master, unless they were able to find solutions by themselves. This is why there are so many instances in which the 12 disciples are presented as arguing certain matters among themselves until they bring the question in mind to their Teacher in order to settle the matter. (Luke 9:46-48)
This methodology pragmatically taught the followers of Lord Jesus to respect the necessity of rank within a disciplic movement while also providing ample opportunities to master the skill of forming disciples through preaching, teaching and example.
For traditional Jews (as with most Eastern religions), to become a disciple of a Master is one of the loftiest goals that a religious person can ever aspire. Anyone can follow a teacher as part of the crowd, but not everyone gets to be selected by the Master to be a disciple. Proven Masters usually have long lists of aspirants who must prove themselves worthy of being selected.
Even though Christianity as a disciplic movement is virtually extinct, Lord Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20) is still vociferously ringing in the ears of every Pastor-Teacher that has been appointed by Christ in order to fulfill the command. The injunction to make disciples of all nations will continue to be effective “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (see context of Ephesians 4:11-13) And on the Last Day, Christ will hold us accountable for what we have done with the injunction. (Luke 12:41-48)
The Bible presents 2 types of baptisms: the baptism of John the Forerunner known as a “baptism of repentance” (Acts 19:4-5) and Christ’s baptism, which is a rite of initiation for disciples. (Matthew 28: 18-20)
The Apostolic Fathers (the direct disciples of the Apostles) made a great distinction between the “Hearers” (or Catechumens) and the “Illumined” (or Enlightened). The “Hearers” were those persons who were indefinitely associated with the Church as aspirants for Baptism, while the “Illumined” were those who had fulfilled all the demanding requirements that made them worthy of being selected and recommended for Holy Baptism. (See The Art of Listening in the Early Church by Carol Harrison; Oxford University Press, 2013)
For most Christians today, Baptism serves as a Sacrament for the purpose of regenerational grace (salvation) or as a symbolic gesture of obedience that serves as a public declaration of faith, known as an Ordinance. Interestingly both the Sacramental and the Ordinance emphases are correct by their own right when standing directly under the primary (and Scriptural) reason for Baptism: Christian Initiation.
EVERYONE should be welcomed into the general assembly of the Church. But if we’re going to follow the model that Lord Jesus left us, then congregations that believe in both the Bible and the Apostolic Fathers should make a concerted effort to discard the “club-membership” model of our present churches, and re-adopt the disciplic model that Lord Jesus established and passed down through His disciples, and their disciples, and their disciples, and their disciples, and their disciples, and their disciples…until the early Middle Ages.
But for this, the Church will have to change its current Ethos of seeking to please the Crowds for the benefit of experiencing Christianity, as Christ intended.
Every congregation should have 3 types of people who attend its services:
- Hearers (Catechumens)
And among the disciples, every Pastor-Teacher should have the authority to select those who will share more intimate times with him so that they in turn, can serve as teachers and facilitators to disciples, hearers and visitors.
But true discipleship looks very different than today’s casual Christianity. I can frankly tell you that adding to the Master’s words cited above (Luke 14:25-26) would be unnecessarily redundant. The Master states clearly what it takes to become a true disciple.
But I will say this- an aspirant to discipleship must be the type of person who is willing to die to his own self and live entirely for the teachings of Christ through the instructions of his or her own Pastor-Teacher. This requires that the aspirant to discipleship treat his Pastor-Teacher as if he was Christ himself, or at least, one of His Apostles.
This means, that the Pastor-Teacher should not be coerced to act and live like everyone else, nor should he be treated as a “buddy.” In fact, any Pastor-Teacher that allows such a treatment, does not understand the gravity of his responsibility as a Teacher unto Salvation. A conscientious Pastor-Teacher will do his utmost best to live in constant communion with God through a very public life of Prayer, Fasting, Bible-Study, Teaching, Visitation, Meditation, Counseling and the like…for this is his vocation from God, whether the crowd understands it or not. (Acts 6:4; 1Timothy 4:1-5)
St. Ignatius of Antioch (35?-108 A.D.) who was a disciple of St. John said the following in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 8:1, on his way to his martyrdom:
Flee from divisions as the beginning of evils. You must all follow the Bishop (Main Pastor-Teacher) as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and follow the council of Presbyters (Ordained Pastors) as you would the Apostles; respect the Deacons (ordained servants) as the commandment of God. Let no one do anything that has to do with the church without the Bishop…
My humblest and most sincere prayer is that we come to the realization that our modern form of “Christianity” is at least, extremely different in comparison to what our Lord intended. If we love Lord Jesus and his teachings…then we should be, at least, extremely disturbed about the current condition of the Universal Church, and desire to contribute to its re-building upon the foundation of the Prophets, the Apostles and their disciples. (Ephesians 2:20)
Otherwise, it would be useless to call ourselves “Christians.” (Acts 11:25-26)