Go and Make Disciples, Not Just Converts

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Farewell Discourse from the Maesta by Duccio (1308-1311)

 

At any given Sunday service, youth retreat, children’s church, Christian concert, etc, there is typically what is known in American Christianity as an “altar call.” It is usually an invitation of those who want to make Jesus Christ their personal Lord and Savior and those who already are Christians but want to rededicate their lives to Him. Some attribute the popularity of alter calls to Billy Graham and his popular crusades. While there is no direct biblical reference to alter calls, I cannot speak negatively of them. Many have come to Christ by the way of altar calls.

I want to talk about what happens after the altar call. I think we falter when we see altar calls as a litmus test of how well a ministry or sermon or gathering is going. We like seeing crowds come to the front. We like knowing that (x) amount of people filled out commitment cards. But there is a danger of a false sense of accomplishment here.

How many of these decisions to come forward were caused by family or peer pressure? How many of these decisions to come forward were based on emotions being drawn by the worship leader? What happens after the music stops? Are these conversions genuine? I’m sure millions are. But, who seeks to pour into spiritual growth afterwards?

In what is known as The Great Commission found in Matthew chapter 28, Jesus commands “Go and make disciples of all nations…”  While making converts is vital to the growth of the Church, there has to be a continuous maturing of the believer after that. Otherwise you’re left with large amounts of spiritual infants who, often by no fault of their own, haven’t moved from milk to meat. They were simply a face in a crowd. While the angels were rejoicing at their salvation the elders bragged about the number of hands that were raised.

If a man has been working at a job for 20 years and showed very little knowledge or skill in his work, you might believe something to be very wrong, either with him or the training program. If a man is a Christian for 20 years and can’t name something elementary like the four Gospels and shows very little spiritual fruit, we should be wondering what went wrong. He is spiritually a 20 year old infant.

Wikipedia defines a disciple as a “student”. Merriam Webster defines a disciple as “someone who accepts and helps to spread the teachings of a famous person.” In traditional Chinese, the disciple was a person “who believes in the ideas and principles of someone famous and tries to live the way they do or did.” In the original Greek of Matthew 28, disciple (didaskalos) is a pupil of a master or teacher. The root Latin word that we get disciple from (discipulus) actually means “scholar”.

As we can see the meaning of disciple is far from someone who stays in spiritual infancy. A disciple should be steadily growing in knowledge and holiness. While the Holy Spirit has His part to play, so do other believers. When Jesus called out Lazarus from the dead, he left it up to his family and friends to make sure he didn’t stay in his grave clothes. In other words when we are saved from our spiritually dead selves, it is the responsibility of those who have been waiting and praying over us to help us look like the spiritually awake individuals that we become. This is one reason being an active member of local church is so vital.

I know of many churches that don’t just leave the new believer alone after their conversion. Many send mail, call, or even visit to help ensure the believer is growing. Many churches have discipleship programs where the new believer or even the 20 year old infant can learn to grow in Christ. There are missionaries who don’t just leave the people they find with a new faith but actually ensure the natives they converted learn and grow to become new pastors and teachers. These are the churches and believers that are fulfilling Jesus’ mandate to make disciples.

If you are a new believer or believer who realizes that you haven’t been growing since you got saved, then my advice is to surround yourself with believers who are maturing spiritually. Find a church that encourages Bible reading and group study. And make the time often to study for yourself.

Helping believers grow in knowledge is one of our goals here at Theologetics.org. Every believer must also mature in spiritual fruit. It is our prayer that reading this will cause us to evaluate ourselves and motivate growth in both aspects of your Christian walk.

Applicable verses:
Matthew 28:19
Hosea 4:6
Psalm 1:1-3
2 Peter 1:5-6
2 Peter 3:18
2 Corinthians 13:5
Colossians 1:10
Ephesians 4:15
Galatians 5:22-23
Titus 2:1-8
Hebrews 5:12

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Go and Make Disciples, Not Just Converts

Christ, Christianity, and Plato’s Cave

school of athens
Plato (left) and Aristotle (right),  from The School of Athens by Raphael (1509-1511)

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.- C. S. Lewis

In Plato’s famous work The Republic, written around 380 b.C., he gives an allegory commonly known as The Cave. In this discourse he describes people who are trapped in a cave from birth. The inside of the cave is all they know. They are chained by the feet and neck so that they can only face the back of the cave. Behind them is a fire. Between the people and the fire, objects past by casting only shadows for the people to see in front of them. From these shadows the people come up with all types of stories, theories, and philosophies. They form their realities based on the shadows they see on the wall not realizing they are only illusions of real objects. In fact they took great pride in their abilities to interpret the pictures on the wall.

One day, one of the people is freed from his lifelong prison. He finds his way outside the cave into the glorious sunlight. However, since he’d been in the dark all of his life, the sunlight hurts his eyes. After a while, his eyes become adjusted to the bright light and he begins to see plants, animals, trees, himself. He sees the shadows that he saw in the cave only to come to the reality that shadows are mere representatives of actual objects and people. He sees that these objects have colors. He then realizes that it is the sun by which he sees everything and after a while he can even gaze upon the very source of light itself.

He then returns to the cave. The sunlight has not only exposed the true world to him but it has also made the cave seem much darker than he remembers. Because his eyes haven’t readjusted, the darkness doesn’t fit like it used to, per se. Neither does the ignorance of being in the dark. He tries to explain to his fellow man that they are being kept in darkness and tries to make them understand the experience he just had. But they are so set in their perception of reality. They’ve believed it all their lives. The illusions of the darkness believed by everyone cannot compare to the truths of a “mad-man”; even though this mad-man is the only one who knows the truth. His new found freedom and attempt to free the others is met with so much disdain and mistrust that they plot to kill him.

Plato’s cave allegory has had many interpretations over the past 2300 years. To him it was a picture of the teacher attempting to free the masses from ignorance. His teacher, Socrates, was killed for this very thing. However, when I read it, I immediately thought about the life of Jesus. He was the “illuminated One” who sought to free people from their bondage to darkness only to be killed as a result. However, He was never in bondage like the rest of us. He only came in the form of the rest of us.

I also thought about the process of the new birth through Him.

Like the people inside the cave, we are all born in spiritual darkness (Ephesians 5:8). Since the fall of Adam and Eve, each of us has been born with Adam’s sinfulness imputed into us (Romans 5:12). Our perception of reality is flawed because of this sinful nature and the proprietor of the cave has kept us chained in ignorance (2 Corinthians 4:4). One day, by the grace of God, someone is freed from the chains. He is led to the opening of the cave. This new experience can be scary for some as they begin to see things differently. Although it is scary, there is something liberating about it all. He begins to see things like he has never even thought about seeing them. Then he sees the Sun (Son) and has now been born again.

But he can’t wait to tell the rest of the cave-dwellers what he has experienced. As he reenters the “cave”, the new believer understands that this way of darkness is no longer fitting to him (1 Peter 1:14, Romans 6:2). As he tries to tell the others, he is seen as a foolish man (1 Corinthians 1:18). In many cases, these attempts to free the others from their deeply held ignorance, leads to being ostracized or even death.

I must also point back to my personal testimony. Before I had even heard of Plato’s story, I described understanding  the power of the Gospel in a very similar way. Instead of a cave, I had been living under a rock my whole life. In my blindness I’d heard and believed stories of the sky (God’s forgiveness) but my actions proved I was still in darkness. But, when I got saved the rock was removed and I experienced the breadth and length and depth and height and immensely beautiful color of the sky (Ephesians 3:18). I was never the same.

God is not willing that any of us should perish by remaining in the “cave” (Hosea 6:4, 2 Peter 3:19). Jesus, in John 3, tells Nicodemus “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” And “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” In John chapter 8, He says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

You too can come out of the cave, from under the rock and experience a new life. The abundant life (John 10:10). If you read this blog and do not know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, please send us an email (Theologetics3.15@gmail.com). We would love to tell you more about how to have a personal relationship with Him!

By Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

Christ, Christianity, and Plato’s Cave