I recently received a call from a research group asking questions about discipleship. I suspected the underlying purpose was for the sake of marketing. I decided to participate, just to see if I could insert something edifying into the conversation. The questions were involved and thorough. The phone conversation took quite some time.
One reason for this research has to do with marketing for the sake of finding a sellable product. Making money would be the objective in this case. Another reason could have to do with trying to find an effective way to enhance the church, an altruistic motive. In summation, we have two reasons: 1. making money, 2. finding an effective way to enhance the church. The two overlap when the need to make a profit intertwines with spiritual ideals. Neither are right because they end up subordinating the Scriptures to the product of man’s wisdom, whether for profit, altruism, or both. As a result, the method of man is glorified rather than the wisdom of God.
God Himself has given the church what is needed for its work and sustenance. Here is a description of God’s objective for the church:
“to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him” (Ephesians 3:10-12).
His wisdom is made known by His people, the church. The apostles of Jesus Christ and the prophets are in the church’s foundation. God used them to establish the scriptures of the New Testament. The church is ruled by Christ. He has accomplished God’s eternal purpose for the sake of the church, and through the church He carries it out. Jesus Christ fuels the life of every member: “we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” This is boldness and access to God, the giver of life and purpose. It is the only way we can realize our own potential and do our work in the church.
The apostle prayed
“that He [God] would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17).
In practical terms, “strengthened with might” is a matter of becoming godlier in all attributes of life; our thinking, perception, self-control, habits, and overall behavior. This fruit of faith comes through trusting God. We either apply ourselves to it, or we do not.
What God gives has no place for religious actuaries. Who can measure your life? The formulas for success are not measured by data accumulation derived from questionnaires. (Data which is then reconstructed into a product and sold for the churches’ success.) These are the devices of man’s wisdom. If there is any accounting, let it be upon each of us individually to examine ourselves in the light of Jesus Christ. The only way we can be assured of the light is to go to the Bible. When we are convicted by the good example in a member of Christ, we learn because the Bible provides the standard of measurement. This is a work of faith for which we are responsible.
To me, it seems that the programs of man appeal to pride. This is done through humiliation, to make the soul feel puny and meager. In order to better do “the work of Christ” one has to buy the product and get with the program. This appeals to our pride; “Is your church growing as it should?” “What can you do to make it better?” “When was the last time you . . . ?” Who are they to ask such questions? If we allow it, these questions can cut at the very heart of what God wants cultivated: humility. Humility is a genuine diminution of our standing before God. Jesus will commend souls such as these:
“Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” (Matthew 25:37-39).
These are not people remunerating their successes. Jesus depicted the faithful as a people concerned about their own adequacy before God. On the other hand, the programs of man tend to offer the promise of a “well done” for the here and now.
The promises of packaged programs are many: increased membership, team development, and effective leadership. Of course, these things are packaged with the name of Jesus and His church, and are constituted as Bible based, Spirit filled, loving, whatever . . . all packaged and prepared for our use. These things do come with a price. What do we lose in the payment? We lose the simplicity and beauty of what God has offered.
On the other hand, the scriptures have a way of humbling us to lift up our heads in hope. They point to high expectations given from our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
“That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height-- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).
These high expectations are humbling because they seem so far beyond us. Yet they are so ennobling because they show how deeply God loves us. It points to what we are becoming through faith, the product of His creation.
Let us not look to man for the hope of what we might fulfill. Let us look to God.
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).