Saturday, August 21, 2010

John 3 (part 5): Discipleship - how Jesus rocked the college boat

The easiest way to find God's message in the Bible is to find where its message purposely contrasts with its own culture. Jesus' brand of discipleship was counter cultural in a few very specific ways.

1) Normally a great rabbi or philosopher would only accept a few disciples who were the best of the best, and only males. It was much harder than getting into our version of college, or grad school. It was more like applying to be a Ph.D. candidate under a specific scholar. In contrast, Jesus had open enrollment for anyone (John 6:37), even women (Luke 10:38-42). Image if Harvard suddenly would not turn anyone down. Is it any wonder why masses flocked to Jesus, and why they had the reputation of being uneducated and sinners, or why other rabbis might have been felt angry about it.

2) Normally it was the responsibility of the disciple to pursue a rabbi and request to be someone's disciple. There are some that we find doing this, like the man who has the legion of demons cast out of him. What is unusual is that Jesus often scouts and recruits his disciples (Mathew 11:28). The "come follow me" statement seems wholly unique. 

3) Most disciples were committed to their rabbi's teaching. Instead, Jesus disciple's were committed directly to him. This is because of the unique content of Jesus' teaching, which concerned who he was, namely Messiah. Normally the death of a rabbi while sad, would not devastate his disciples, because they could take comfort in carrying on his teachings. But Jesus' death is earth shattering for his disciples. Without him, all their commitment and learning and hope was in vain.

4) Most disciples saw discipleship as a temporary stage, after which they would become an expert and rabbi themselves. Jesus teaches his disciples that they are never greater than their teacher (John 15:20) and they are not to be called father or master by their disciples (Mathew 23:9-10). The greatest calling they can ever aspire to attain is to merely be a disciple of Jesus forever. In fact in the New Testament the word disciple is more closely associated with being a slave or servant than the rabbis would have thought of it.

The Greek word for education was 'paideia' which when translated into Latin became 'humanitas' from where our liberal arts colleges get the designation of certain courses as the 'humanities'. Thus the discipleship of the ancient world directly corresponds to today's college system. The similarities between the two are striking still today. A young man or woman leaves everything, his family and home and commits to the disciplines of an institution of teachers at great personal expense. 

All of this leads to some interesting questions for admissions departments of Christian schools. 1) How can any Christian school discriminate based on age, gender, or ethnicity? Yet it was not until 2000 that Bob Jones University would admit interracial couples and had to be told by the government to do so for 30 years before they did. 2) If a Christian school only wants to admit Christians, rather than screening applicants for a prior commitment to Christ, why not ask applicants to commit to Christ in being admitted to the school? It also makes me wonder why Christian education at most local churches is optional rather than required, and why discipleship at churches doesn't resemble our college system in some way. The down side of our college system that it is almost totally information centered. This often leaves students at Christian colleges with little real discipleship in life, morality, and God. Obviously there is too much distance between the academy and the church, and each expects the other to do the job of discipleship. Is there not some middle ground?

Who's job do you think it is to make Christian disciples? Christian colleges or local churches? Does one do it better in your experience? Should both be involved in the same way or in different ways? Should we expect people to do more before they have a right to be called disciples?

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