Note: This post is designed to engage those who self-identify as Wesleyan-Arminian in theology
During a recent conversation after a Sunday worship gathering, a friend and I discussed the second/third/fourth (you get the idea) fiddle discipleship plays in many churches today. Even with the renewed emphasis, attention, writing, questioning, etc. that has gone on recently in Evangelical circles about the topic, there doesn’t seem to be a reworking of the current model that people operate within.
The current model is aimed primarily at getting people saved. Now don’t hear that I’m saying the being saved isn’t important, because it is. The idea of being “born again” as Jesus coined, is foundational to the Christian life and experience. The issue that many others before and I am reiterating here is that we don’t do so well after that. Sure we have classes and small groups which are important too, but often we leave it at that. Again, not diminishing the value of any of this, but trying to recognize it only addresses a small part of the life of a disciple of Christ.
So we practically leave the Christian life after conversion to Sunday messages and knowledge transfer in a classroom setting. Small groups often look to create more life on life discipleship, but accountability is often low as many fear creating an awkward situation or seen as “being judgy.”
Discipleship and growth is largely left to the individual and their ability to grow as well as discover is applauded but rarely well aided. It also is largely unintentional and often just the case of meeting the right person at the right time to be a Paul or Barnabas to you. Whether it’s Western Culture or something else, we let the individual drive their growth rather than the family and body. If this were a human baby, we would do the most prep and attention to the birth and then leave it to the child’s desire to mature and grow.
This was apparent as I talked to a ministry leader this weekend. They are going to be coming to a currently running outreach to do a few things and said they would only do it if they could “present the Gospel.” I said that was obviously not a problem, but was their plan for those that responded? Not what was the plan immediately but after the experience. He said, “Well, I will invite them to our church and suggest they start attending or attend another church near by. Hopefully then they will plug in and get discipled.”
All the planning is upfront and only hope for afterward. This isn’t unique or unusual.
This leads me to the title of this post. We Wesleyan’s have bought into and have been operating in this model, that is by practical accounts, Calvinist. This would make us practical Calvinists in that a model that is primarily concerned with new birth and leaves everything else as an afterthought matches perfectly with an Eternal Security doctrine. A doctrine that says once you are saved, you are always saved until and after death. That doctrine produces things like a Billy Graham crusade that comes into town and is the highlight as people come to the altar and get saved. (Again, not diminishing the way in which God has worked through my Calvinist brothers and sisters, nor Billy Graham. I also understand that the crusades worked with local churches to try and have them bring new converts into the Body).
The issue is everything becomes not as important as conversion. Why don’t people volunteer for things? Their saved, everything else is optional. Why don’t some people chase after a closer relationship with Christ? Their saved, their ticket is punched and the other stuff is extra credit.
My suggestion is that discipleship and evangelism after new birth are very important, not afterthoughts that are minimally important.
First, Christ’s charge to the Church is to go and make disciples. Not go and simply convert. Go and make disciples. Go and run alongside people as they grow and mature, not simply telling them what they do wrong but encouraging them as they grow in grace and obedience to Christ. When do we see the disciples saying the Sinner’s Prayer and when in their time with Jesus are they “saved?”
Second, this creates an identity crisis within Wesleyan-Arminian circles because we have taught one theology (thought) but focused most of our efforts to a different doctrine (practice). If we believe that salvation can be lost due to disobedience and continuing in sin without repentance, then we have to elevate the post-salvation experience. Not at the expense of the conversion or diminishing it, but instead placing discipleship to be primary in attention, as well.
This is not a small undertaking, but I believe if we want to live out a theology that we say we believe, it is necessary. A tearing the model down to the studs and foundation (Christ), is necessary. Praying and seeking the heart of God about how we would practically live out the theology we believe, as a local community of faith, is necessary. Can we as Wesleyan-Arminians stop being comfortable with simply perfecting our ways to lead someone to Christ and start asking God how to run alongside someone and let him use us in the process of making disciples? Can we stop leaving discipleship to only mean classes and small groups?
If we’re going to say we’re Wesleyan-Arminian in thought, let us think practically what that means, and pray and move in that direction. Otherwise, let’s stop the charade that we don’t believe in Eternal Security. Let us not live a life of confused theological identity.