Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you
What is a disciple? The American Heritage Dictionary gives this definition:
1. a. One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.
b. An active adherent, as of a movement or philosophy.
A disciple is more than just a convert. And we cant’ “make’” converts, right? That’s supposed to be in the Holy Spirit’s job description, not ours.
So how were Jesus’ disciples to go about making more disciples? Through baptism? No, that would only be a sign that someone is ready for discipleship, ready to learn how to follow Jesus. There was more to this than just compelling people to make a decision for a new belief, a new religion. The disciple makers must be engaged in teaching everything that Jesus had commanded them. But what did Jesus command them?
He taught them a lot. More than could be summed up in an altar call, I would imagine. But if we had to sum up what Jesus taught (and how he lived his life) we might remember the short answer he gave to this curious fellow:
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Earlier Jesus gave an even shorter answer, this time leaving God out of the equation (or did he?):
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Which to me, doesn’t sound an awful like like the proselytizing (some call it evangelizing) that we often do. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any Jews, Hindus, Muslims or Algonquians trying to ram their beliefs down my throat (which has never happened to me, by the way) – why should I do that unto them? How do I feel, when someone tells me that my faith, the most important part of my life, is a lie, that I am living a lie, that my faith has nothing to do with God and that God will punish me for it? How can I not be insulted? How likely am I going to be attracted to them, to their beliefs, if their beliefs encourage rudeness and contempt?
When it comes to explaining faith, any faith, words are rarely adequate yet they are often way too much. We resort to using religio-speech, Christian cliché’s and simplistic rhetorical extremes. Some stoop to spiritual demagoguery, playing on the fears of people in the hope of persuading them. We insist that we must warn others of the danger of not being a Christian yet demonstrate little in our lives that might compel someone to follow us, much less the one we claim to follow. Too often, as Jesus points out, our lives reveal the lie of our own alleged faith in God. Too often it is obvious that, in spite of what we preach – no, because of what we preach – we are living lies.
Sure, Jesus used words. And if only we could communicate like he did. In the Gospels he rarely came across as unambiguously certain as a Glen Beck, Al Gore or John Piper. He taught with parable and simile, appeared to avoid bombastic preaching and reserved his ire for the religious elite. But even so, Jesus needed more than words to get his point across.
What makes us think that we can do better than he did?