“Apostasy and Discipleship”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations
The other morning, I was bragging on my church family a little bit. I like to do that as they give me opportunity! I noted that that Sunday, I had seen Christians taking the initiative to take on good works in several different ways.
One brother (not part of the church leadership) facilitated a brainstorming session about evangelism. A group of women spent the afternoon teaching the middle-school to high-school girls of the congregation how to serve. A new sister volunteered to make T-shirts for the girls. A young sister continued to collect sleeping bags for the homeless. Another brother (who happened to be a deacon, though he wasn’t wearing his deacon hat at the time) collected money after services for a poor man who came to the door asking for help.
It’s hard to imagine a more Ephesians 4:16 scenario than that! Every part is doing its part. In addition to being obviously praiseworthy and encouraging, I think all of these active Christians are doing something else. They are protecting against false doctrine.
I’ve been arguing for years that authority problems are actually discipleship problems. You start wanting to send money to the missionary society or the sponsoring church when you’re feeling guilty about your local congregation not evangelizing. You start using church funds to help the world’s poor when your individual members aren’t helping them. The discipleship failure creates the need that is filled by departing from the pattern.
However, if your congregation has a vibrant, healthy evangelism culture, the pressure to turn to human institutions becomes much less. If your members are interested in and active in caring for the world’s poor, there is no need for unscriptural expedients to fill. There is no problem to solve. As they should, the disciples have got it covered.
I think we see something similar happening with the work of women. In many progressive churches of Christ these days, there is tremendous pressure to abandon the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Often, the people exerting this pressure make an emotional argument. They exclaim over how awful it is that we are sidelining all these gifted and talented women by excluding them from the pulpit.
Well. . . Do the Jackson Heights women who spent the afternoon teaching seem sidelined? How about the T-shirt maker? How about the sleeping-bag collector? I think anybody who thinks those women are sidelined needs to expand their definition of the playing field!
Of course, there is a scenario in which the sidelining argument becomes more potent—when members have abandoned discipleship so completely that their only meaningful activity occurs in the assembly. According to the Scriptural pattern, men must lead in serving in the assembly. If assembling is all a group of Christians does, then men will be the only servants. Under those circumstances, sure, you’ve got a bunch of do-nothing women, but you’ve also got a do-nothing church.
The cure for the disease is not to abandon the pattern for the assembly. It is to apply the pattern for Christian living to the lives of Christian women. Titus 2:4 is sadly neglected in most congregations. There are all sorts of good works in which any Christian may engage. The woman who devotes herself to these things is no less a productive and useful member than the preacher or the elder.
I also have believed for a long time that the solution to any spiritual problem is “more Bible”. More Bible study; more Bible application. This is particularly relevant whenever a spiritual problem appears to demand apostasy as a solution. In truth, we don’t need to reject what the word of God teaches about the use of church funds or the role of women. Rather, we need to embrace what it teaches about the work of the disciple. If we get that down, we will be amazed at the way that those apparent problems with the pattern will disappear.