The following is a summary-essay on what I took away from a class I took at Focus on the Family Institute in the fall of 2001.
The church: Transformed and transforming
Christ established the early church with the intention of it carrying out His legacy after His return to heaven. This is seen in what is known as the Great Commission. Matthew 28:19-20a says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (NKJV trans.). With the Great Commission, Jesus gave the disciples rather vague orders. Their end was clear, but the means by which they were to accomplish the mission were more vague.
A look at the very life of Christ, however, offers significant insight on how the disciples, and we today, should carry out the Great Commission. Jesus clearly laid before his disciples his plan for redeeming the pagan world. He established the premise that people desire to be approved. This principle is known as mimetic desire. With this understanding, Jesus proclaimed that he should be the person from whom approval is sought. The best way to receive the approval of Jesus is to be discipled by him, or those like him, and in turn become like him. The church, or Christian community, should be a collective group of disciples of Jesus. Each should encourage the other as all strive to become more like Jesus. And finally, the community of disciples should live out their Christ-likeness for the pagan world to see so that it can in turn mimic the church and become more like Christ.
Jesus recognized the mimetic desire when he warned against seeking approval in wrong places in Matthew 6. “God will see you,” Jesus said, “and that is all that matters.” Taken a step further, the “law of memesis” says one learns what to want and how to get it from others. Again, Jesus recognized this and warned the disciples to beware of whom they learn from (Matt. 16:5-12).
Knowing humans desire someone to mimic, Jesus proclaimed his life the only worthy of mimetic desire. For, he is the personification of goodness (Heb. 1:1-3). “Follow me,” Jesus says. “Seek my approval.” And the best method for following Christ is to be discipled by Christ.
Jesus lived a very disciplined life. He himself was discipled. This is evident in Luke 2:51-52, where Jesus “went down with them (teachers) to Nazareth, and was subject to them.” He learned from those who were masters of the scriptures and had acquired wisdom through life experiences. Jesus didn’t simply know everything just because he was God incarnate. He was, in fact, fully human and had to develop his spiritual life through deliberate living.
How did Jesus live? He spent time in the scriptures and gained understanding (Luke 2:47, 51-52), he spent time in solitude and fasting (Matt. 4:1-2), he prayed (Matt. 26:36), he served (John 13:12) and he spent time in fellowship with other believers (Matt. 26:20). Discipleship, simply, is learning from Jesus to live one’s life as he would live it if he were that person (Willard, 2000, p. 283). Discipleship can therefore also be known as “Christ-centered memesis.” We are to learn from the master in order to become a master ourselves. Because our master was himself discipled, to be a Christian — a follower or mimic of Christ — means to be a disciple.
Since Christ is no longer physically living on this earth, it is hard to grasp the concept of being mentored by him. That is where a Christ-like mentor comes into play. Paul said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinth. 11:1, NKJV trans.). Christ mentored Paul. Paul in turn mentored many people, including Timothy, who in turn mentored others. An earthly mentor aids a believer in emulating Christ by physically living as Christ would were he in that person’s shoes.
Thus, the church should be a compilation of inter-networked mentors and disciples — not just a collection of believers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted the joy and strength generated by the mere physical presence of other Christians (1954, p. 19). Bonhoeffer also stated, “The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.” The church is absolutely essential to the development and maintenance of disciples.
Not only is the church essential for a healthy community of disciples, but it is also essential for a healthy society. For as the church is composed of transformed people, it is responsible for transforming the world in which it exists. That is the Great Commission. The church must take advantage of the law of memesis and present itself as an authoritative source on what to desire. Its slogan should be, “Follow us as we follow Christ.”
The only way in which the church can have influence on society is to put itself on display. It cannot cower and hide from the world. It must be a fearless organization, confident in the truth it holds. As Paul told the Galatians, “Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (Gal. 5:1, NKJV trans.). Jesus, also, was well aware of the necessity of the church to be proactive in living out the Christian life in full view of the world. He prayed for the church to be in, but not of, the world. To what end? “That the world may believe” (John 17:21, NKJV trans.).
My place in the Divine Conspiracy
More than anything, Family, Church, and Society has driven home the necessity of sound doctrine to reign in my life. The truth has overwhelmingly established itself in my life this semester — spurred by the “radical” lessons of this class and the message of The Divine Conspiracy.
Never before had I questioned the understanding of basic Christian principles such as salvation or the message of the Sermon on the Mount. Those were tenants of the contemporary church. But, that doesn’t make popular interpretations of them correct. The characteristics of today’s church only solidify the proposition it is teaching unsound doctrine. For, if the church was teaching what Christ and the rest of the Bible teaches, it would surely be having a greater impact on the world and be more discernable from the rest of society.
Though the “tension” of the class climate subsided considerably as the lessons shifted from radical to practical, the teachings remained equally convicting. One cannot ignore the call to discipleship. So often, the church leads one to believe Christ-likeness will just happen with time, no strings attached. Where does such teaching originate? The Bible does indeed suggest supernatural intervention by God himself upon conversion. But, equally, if not more, prevalent in scripture is the call to spiritual disciplines. The Christian life is a sanctification process. Radical, life-changing conversions happen, but should not be expected.
What most doctrinal miscues stem from is a loss of telos. We have lost what it means to be faithful. We have abandoned Biblical truths for moral fragments of those truths. The fragments of understanding we have are not in and of themselves wrong ideas. In fact, most are solid Biblical truths such as forgiveness, evangelism, and salvation. But, they indeed are still fragments. They are only part of the big picture. We have lost the full scope of God’s plan for our lives. Because of this, we no longer intend to be the people God intends us to be. We cannot possibly obtain Christ-likeness if we don’t know what Christ was really like.
In light of the profound teachings of this course, I have been convicted on several fronts. First, I need to learn who Jesus is more. I need to be his disciple. I need to know how he would live my life. I need to live, breathe, walk and talk Jesus Christ.
Secondly, I must increase my scriptural knowledge. I want to know how God intends me to live, not how the church intends me to live. This will aid the sanctification process and allow me to piece together the fragments of the church’s teachings.
Third, I need to become a man of spiritual discipline. Along with the intense study of scripture and sound literature mentioned previously, I must devote myself to quiet times, solitude, prayer, fasting, and fellowship. I must tune my ears to Christ’s calling through rigorous spiritual training, just as Christ trained himself.
Along with spiritual disciplines, I am called to be a disciple of a “master” of the faith. I don’t know who my mentor is to be, but I am confident the Lord will reveal this in due time. I want to transition from having faith in Jesus to having the faith of Jesus. This does not happen randomly, by its own doing. It requires stretching and tugging by an external force.
In conclusion, Family, Church, and Society has presented a strong argument for the necessity of the church to be the foundation for societal transformation. And only through being a collection of transformed believers can the church do so. The transformation of believers won’t happen over night, but through a long sanctification process known as salvation, or “getting a life.”