As I was reading something from the Gospels the other day it occurred to me that Jesus’ first disciples started following him long before they recognized his divinity or developed anything like a theology of incarnation or Trinity. They were disciples before they were worshipers, technically speaking.
We normally think of things the other way around, it seems to me. Typically we see the first step as “belief,” specifically, belief in certain facts: that I am a sinner, that I cannot save myself, that Jesus is fully God and fully man, etc. First (we think) people must worship Jesus as Savior and God, get a few theological facts straight, and then we can start talking about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We don’t seem to talk much about following Jesus until people have “crossed the line” of becoming a worshiper of Jesus.
But the disciples didn’t seem to have any inkling of worshiping Jesus when they first started following him with the intent of learning to do and be what he did and was. For example, when did Peter “cross the line” of faith? Was it when he confessed his sinfulness after the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11), after his confession that Jesus was the Messiah (Matt 16:13-18), after his betrayal and repentance (Matt 26:69-75), or at his reinstatement (John 21:15-19)? Who knows? And does it matter, really? Peter was on a journey of discovering who Jesus was as he followed Jesus and learned to do what he did.
Couldn’t this be an appropriate path of Christian discipleship today? People are fascinated and intrigued by Jesus. Why not call them into small communities of intentional learning, where we follow Jesus together, whether or not everyone in the group would self-identify as a Christian? Who knows what might happen along the way.
What do you think are the implications for the way we draw people toward Jesus in post-Christendom cultures? Perhaps we ought to call people to becoming disciples of Jesus before asking them to “cross the line” of believing the Apostles’ Creed or worshiping him as God. Perhaps in that journey of being with Jesus to learn from Jesus how to be like Jesus they would come to faith and worship, just like the earliest disciples did.
Maybe evangelism in post-Christendom contexts needs to look less like asking people to accept a theory of atonement and more like inviting people to follow Jesus in God’s mission of renewing all things. Perhaps in that journey people would discover the truth of who they are and who Jesus is in a more visceral, embodied, practical way.
What do you think? Is this too radical? Not radical enough? Has anyone tried anything like this? Any stories to tell?