This past week, I spent eight days tracing the steps of Martin Luther on a Reformation 500 tour. As I read, studied, and prepared for the tour over the past year, I focused on the big events and important facts of Luther and the Protestant Reformation. As with any trip like this, you always leave with a better understanding of history and the context in which these events unfolded.
One thing that became clear to me over this past week is Luther’s focus on discipleship. We often have the image of the monk at the Castle Church’s door with a large hammer in one hand and his Ninety-Five Theses in another hand. Perhaps you have the image of Luther burning the papal bull outside of Wittenberg in your mind. In some cases, people hear Luther’s name and immediately they see the scene of 1521 as he gives his passionate “Here I Stand” speech before the Diet of Worms. Have you considered the Luther of knowledge and disciple making?
Luther and Family Worship
Sometimes when you visit statues of historic figures, such as Luther, you will see important scenes depicted in art just below the feet of the person who is put on display. On several occasions this week, I noticed a very important scene of Luther playing a guitar with his family gathered around. It was obviously a scene of family worship.
Before Luther helped spark the Reformation, the homes of people were filled with darkness. After Luther labored to give the people the German Bible in their own tongue—suddenly there was light in the homes of those who believed the gospel. The open Bible had replaced the relics and alters to saints that had been given to them by the Roman Catholic Church. Post tenabras lux—after darkness light!
Luther helped shape the way fathers could lead their family to know God. This was the fruit of not just the Reformation in the abstract, but the Reformation that produced the open Bible in the homes of God’s people. Luther was twenty years of age before he saw his first Bible. He wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case for God’s people in the future.
Luther and the Protestant Worship Service
Just a few blocks away from the Castle Church in Wittenberg was St. Mary’s Church—the location of the first protestant worship service. Often called the town church, it was in St. Mary’s Church that the first true protestant worship service was held following the dark ages of the Roman Catholic Church. Not only did the open Bible in the homes lead to a more fruitful discipleship, so did the open Bible in the pulpit.
The era of the raised pulpit at the front of the auditorium symbolized not just a priority of God’s Word, but the elevated position of God’s Word in the worship of the local church. Luther once said, “The pulpit is the throne of the Word of God.” Rather than viewing the confession as the gate to God’s presence, the people now looked to the Word of God opened and proclaimed from a lofty pulpit as the gate of glory.
From the raised pulpits in church buildings, men of God would place the open Bible on the desk and proclaim the gospel to the people in their own tongue. Gone were the days where people were forced to gather in Catholic cathedrals and listen to the priest mumble through the liturgy in Latin. Suddenly disciples were made through the open preaching of God’s Word in the people’s language.
Furthermore, this led to joyful response of God’s people in song. The darkness of the Roman Catholic Church led to a dark worship liturgy. There was no light. The people held onto a thread of hope as they mindlessly followed the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. As a result—there was no joy. With the open Bible in the church, now the people were singing and lifting their voices to God in songs of worship and praise. In many ways, our weekly worship service is directly connected to the movement of the historic Reformation.
Luther and the University
In many of the cities that Luther visited, lived, or influenced—universities of higher learning were established. Not only would students learn common education, they would be taught theology as well. Ministers could train for the ministry and prepare to preach the gospel. The ability to know God and to pursue formal education was something that Luther was greatly passionate about. He understood that there was a direct connection between the success of the Reformation and the knowledge of God’s people.
Luther would serve as a professor of theology in Wittenberg and often spent time writing extensively in the world of theology in order to engage the minds of people. When Jesus gave his people the command to “go and make disciples of all nations,” that command is not focused on the “professional” missionary alone. The call to make disciples is the call of God’s church. We are to engage people with truth and to help people gain a better understanding of who God is and what he has done for wretched sinners. The work of discipleship begins in the home, is solidified in the church, and today we have many institutions of higher learning where disciples can be strengthened in their faith and prepare for vocational ministry.
Luther had a commitment to discipleship. What about you?
*To the readers of this blog, thank you for your patience as I’ve been away from home for over two weeks. The Thursday article was forced to post today (Friday) due to no Internet service on the flight home. Next week will resume the regular blogging schedule.
Christianity is the pursuit of God. J.I. Packer in his excellent book, Knowing God asks, “What were we made for? Knowing God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God.”  Unfortunately, today’s evangelical church would be quite pleased with religious platitudes, social gatherings, comedy presentations, moving testimonies, and motivational speeches from celebrities in place of a theologically rich sermon that engages the mind and heart with a biblical text. How do we as followers of Christ know God?
God has ordained that we know him in a very specific manner. First, only through the biblical text can we see God’s revelation of himself to the world. Through creation, we see God’s power on display in a general way. Only through the Word of God do sinners come to see the God of salvation in the way in which he has chosen to reveal himself—through words and sentences and paragraphs. This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit—the work of God in breathing out holy Scripture (see 2 Tim. 3:16 and 2 Pet. 1:21).
Secondly, God has intended to make himself known to us through flesh and blood. We read these powerful words in John’s Gospel:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
We come to know God in a saving way through the Son of God—Jesus Christ who died on the Roman cross to save sinners. Through the substitutionary death of Jesus, we as imperfect and guilty sinners come to know God as redeemed children. The person and work of the Son of God is the unique way in which God has made himself known to the entire world—especially to those who believe (1 Tim. 4:10; Jn. 17:3).
Do you know God?
It is possible to know a god of your own imagination rather than the God of all creation. Many people have crossed off into eternity with a false assurance that they knew God and that he knew them. What a tragic reality we see in Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21-23. The masses of evangelical Christianity in our day crave entertainment and push back against the idea that Christianity involves thinking. James Montgomery Boice stated it well as he called the evangelical culture and era of his day, “mindless times.”
Abraham Kuyper, famously said, “There is not an inch of any sphere of life of which Jesus Christ the Lord does not say, ‘Mine.'” If this is true of every sphere of life, as Kuyper argued, it certainly must be true of our minds. God desires that we know him and worship him with our intellect. That involves reading his Word, meditating upon his character, memorizing his truth, and all of this can find expression in a worship service where the mind is engaged in the singing, Scripture reading, prayers, and preaching. We find these familiar words from the Shema repeated in Mark 12:30:
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Through the pages of Scripture we come to know the voice of God. We come to know his justice for the rebels and his grace for his children. We spend this life getting to know him through his Word and we will spend all eternity knowing him on a much more intimate level as we will dwell in the presence of our God.
Do you know God?
When we come to know God, we do so in very specific ways. As the divine being, God is relational and as created beings created in the image and likeness of God—we too are relational beings. We come to know our God in very specific ways as we see expressed in four biblical analogies.
We know God as a servant knows his King.
Psalm 24:10 — Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!
We know God as a sheep knows his Shepherd.
John 10:27 — My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
We know God as a child knows his Father.
Matthew 6:9 — Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
We know God as a wife knows her Husband.
Hosea 2:16 — And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’
God is not the distant “clock maker god” who assembles the clock with great precision and then stands far off and watches it tick. God is interested in the big picture and the small details of our lives. Just as God has created and named the stars of the sky (Is. 40:26), he has our very hairs numbered and is interested in every detail of our daily life (Matt. 10:30). In short, God knows his children and he has called us to a pursuit of knowing him. This is what the LORD said through his prophet Jeremiah:
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jer. 9:23-24).
J.I. Packer concludes his excellent book, Knowing God, with these words:
From current Christian publications, you might think that the most vital issue for any real or would-be Christian in the world today is church union, or social witness, or dialogue with other Christians and other faiths, or refuting this or that ism, or developing a Christian philosophy and culture, or what have you. But our line of study makes the present-day concentration on these things look like a gigantic conspiracy of misdirection. Of course, it is not that; the issues themselves are real and must be dealt with in their place. But it is tragic that, in paying attention to them, so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was, is, and always will be the true priority for every human being—that is, learning to know God in Christ. 
Do you know God?
- J.I. Packer, Knowing God, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 32.
- Ibid., 279.
Some of the greatest Christian examples in my life are (and were) uneducated. They gave themselves to the study of God through the pages of the Scriptures. What a tremendous example it is for the uneducated factory worker to set before his family the importance of learning the Bible. It’s encouraging to witness the uneducated evangelist who travels to various churches preaching the gospel with no seminary degree but if you pricked him he would bleed Bibline.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Doctrine is not for me, I’m a blue collar kind of guy” as an excuse for not giving himself to study the Bible? The fact is, most of the people to whom the Bible was originally written and addressed were very uneducated. It might shock you to know that most of the people who received the letter to the Ephesian church (likely a circular letter that went to Ephesus and surrounding cities) were not seminary trained apologists. They were not ivory tower theologians. They didn’t find the deep wells of election and the doctrine of regeneration in Ephesians 1-2 as complicated truths cloaked in mystery and only useful for the seminary classroom or moderated debates.
Have you considered the life and ministry of John Bunyan? An uneducated man in Bedford England with a grade school education who worked as a tinker (metal worker) was once raised up by God to be a mighty preacher. Not only was he a man who proclaimed the Word, but he was likewise a pastor-theologian. He didn’t stand up in the pulpit and after reading a deep theological truth say, ‘I don’t know that this means.” Instead, he labored in the Bible and studied to rightly proclaim the gospel.
John Owen was a learned man and a great scholar of his day. He was also a contemporary of John Bunyan. When Bunyan would travel to England, if any notice was given at all, upwards of 1,000-1,200 people would gather at 7:00am before work to hear the uneducated metal worker preach the gospel. Owen would often travel 20 or more miles to hear the man himself. When King Charles heard of Owen attending the tinker’s sermons, he asked why he as an educated man would give himself to listening to an uneducated tinker preach? Owen replied, “I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.”
Men can learn to remember statistics of every major sporting event, athlete, and race car driver. Uneducated men can learn to excel in their trade or occupation in life. Uneducated men and women alike can excel at whatever they so desire, but it’s the Bible that is often neglected. We need an army of uneducated blue collar men and women to once again give themselves to the study of the Bible. Another generation is watching and waiting. When we are gone, will our legacy be a building of wood, hay, and stubble or will it be something of eternal value?
I will never forget pastoring a small country church in Kentucky while I was in seminary. The congregation was made up of all blue collar workers and farmers. Not one single professional or highly educated person attended the church. After I issued a challenge to memorize large portions of the Bible, an 80 year old retired farmer approached me. He wanted to accept the challenge. He gave himself to study and read and commit to memory the third chapter of John’s Gospel. After completing it, he stood in the front of the church and recited it in full. I was amazed, humbled, and grateful all at the same time.
Anyone can learn Bible doctrine. In fact, that’s what God intends for all of us—educated and uneducated alike.
Mark 12:30 — And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Whoever said discipleship was easy was misinformed. Paul refers to the work of discipleship as a “struggle” in Colossians 2:1-3. The process of making disciples and discipling disciples is a difficult work, but it’s what Jesus has commissioned us to do. If we give ourselves to teaching athletics, building friendships, or doing service ministry (social work), but we don’t engage in the work of discipleship—we’ve missed our calling as a disciple of Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20). Mark Dever writes:
At the heart of Christianity is God’s desire for a people to display his character. They do this through their obedience to his Word in their relationships with him and with each other. Therefore he sent his Son to call out a people to follow him. And part of following the Son is calling still more people to follow the Son. 
As we examine the work of discipleship, there are many different component parts and aspects—but there are three elements that are central and necessary for true discipleship to happen.
You can build community around almost anything—from coffee to athletics. One foundational necessity for Christian discipleship is biblical theology. In order to lead people to a higher knowledge of God, such knowledge is built upon a firm foundation of the gospel.
This is where many small groups derail themselves in discipleship. They gather over food, have deep and rich conversations, build important relationships—but they don’t have strong teaching and what they do learn in those settings can often be shallow. That’s not the case for all small groups, but that ditch has certainly claimed a massive number of small groups through the years. Theology matters and it’s a necessity to build discipleship relationships on God’s Word in order to see people grow spiritually.
How many older men do you know who claim to have been saved for many years but don’t posses the theological capabilities to disciple someone in the faith? This is far more common than you might think—especially in the Baptist church.
When you read the New Testament, you see that Jesus invested time in people’s lives. He intentionally spent time with disciples, taught them, prayed with them, prayed for them, and modeled a life of holiness before them. Discipleship is hard work because it requires a time investment.
Everyone begins each day with the same number of hours, it’s how those hours are spent that prevent biblical discipleship from taking place. That goes for individual Christians as well as for churches as a whole. In Acts 20:31, Paul described his ministry in Ephesus as consisting of “night and day.” How many churches do you know that seem to be too busy doing everything other than making disciples?
It may seem like an obvious point, but true biblical discipleship requires a willingness on all parties involved. The one who is taking the lead in the process of discipleship as well as the one being discipled—everyone must be willing to engage in the process or it will not happen. Before people can learn anything, they must be willing to learn. Before people can follow Jesus, they must be willing to see His example from the pages of Scripture, hear His Word taught, and watch Christianity modeled in the lives of others.
This is why the church is a necessity. It doesn’t matter if you’re referencing one-to-one discipleship, small group discipleship—call it Sunday school, small groups, grace groups, connection groups, or whatever you like—there must be a willingness on all parties to get involved, learn, talk, pray, and put into action the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You can’t force people into discipleship. You can’t guilt trip people into discipleship. Anything less than a willingness to grow as a disciple of Jesus will lead to a broken model—one that may build friendships but may not end in genuine disciple making.
The work of discipleship is not one thing the church does—it’s what the church does. It requires theology, time, and willing people. Without theology—it’s friendship. Without time—it can’t work. Without willing people—it will never work.
- Mark Dever, Discipling, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), Introduction.
The work of parenting is tough. The labor is long and the discouragement is constant, but the joys of parenting outweigh all of it. I’m certain that all parents experience joys in their relationship with their children, but as a Christian parent we approach the work of parenting through a different lens. Being a parent is far more than building relationships with our children. It is the duty of Christian parents to go beyond building your child’s athletic resume or teaching your child a trade. We have a much larger task and responsibility. Parenting is the work of discipleship.
Parenting is the Task of Making Disciples
Jesus’ Great Commission to His followers involved going and making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). Before going to the nations, they were to begin that work in Jerusalem. We see them engaging unbelievers with the gospel at Pentecost in Acts 2. From there, they would then go beyond the borders of Jerusalem eventually spreading the gospel to the entire world.
Before we go beyond the borders of our own homes to share the gospel with neighbors, co-workers, extended family, friends, and even short term mission trips overseas—we must begin the work of making disciples in our own home with our own children. Making disciples is the commission, but how is that accomplished? It’s certainly more than getting decisions. It’s far more than having someone repeat a prayer. It’s much more involved than walking through a gospel tract one time and calling for a child to follow Christ by faith. Making a disciple is a hard task because it’s an impossible task.
Paul was sent out by God to open blind eyes (Acts 26:18). That’s an impossible task—something only God is capable of doing. However, Paul was sent to preach the gospel and convince sinners of their need of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. It would be through that labor that God would perform the miracle of conversion in the hearts of rebel sinners. The same thing is true regarding parenting. We have the responsibility of disciple-making, but only God has the power to open the blind eyes of our children and bring them to faith in Jesus.
The greatest opportunities that Christian parents will have with their children will be during the early days when their children live in their home. Once they leave home, the influence and opportunity of the parent drastically decreases. Maximize your opportunities for disciple making by implementing family worship time where you read through the Bible and pray together on a regular basis. Make the gospel a higher priority in your home than sports.
Parenting is the Task of Discipling Disciples
After a person is converted, the work of discipleship intensifies. Going beyond making a disciple to discipling a disciple is hard work. This is the business of the church, and it’s likewise the business of the Christian home. Jonathan Edwards was one of the great pillars and voices of the Great Awakening in American history. Yet, he was fired from his church for his position on the Lord’s Supper as he took a more biblical and conservative position than his grandfather—the former pastor. In his farewell sermon, Edwards pointed to the home as central for discipleship. He said:
We have had great disputes how the church ought to be regulated; and indeed the subject of these disputes was of great importance: but the due regulation of your families is of no less, and, in some respects, of much greater importance. Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by his rules. And family education and order are some of the chief means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove in effectual. If these are duly maintained, all the means of grace will be likely to prosper and be successful. 
If your children were interviewed and asked what the greatest priority is in your home, how would they answer? Would it be sports? Would it be recreation? Would it be something other than the gospel of Jesus? Once again, we must be reminded that faithful discipleship goes far beyond the realm of getting decisions. If your children are disciples of Jesus, help them learn. A disciple is a learner, and your children need to learn more about God on a daily basis. Parents need to learn too, so the work of discipleship allows for parents to learn and teach—and this ebb and flow of gospel-centered learning is key to discipling disciples.
As a Christian father who is working to make disciples and disciple disciples in my home—I consistently face challenges of time management. When do we do our catechism questions during a busy baseball season? When life is crazy busy and you add sports commitments on top of that—things can get out of balance in a hurry. It’s essential to minimize the schedule when possible in order to make the gospel shine in the home in a far brighter way than the other things of this world.
One reminder that all Christian parents should revisit on a regular basis is the idea that parenting is not easy—especially if you take the responsibility seriously. Discipling disciples is the work of shaping worldviews, challenging false ideologies, redirecting passions, rebuking sin, encouraging sinners, and leading children to the throne of grace for help and strength. Paul Tripp writes, “You are parenting a worshiper, so it’s important to remember that what rules your child’s heart will control his behavior.”  Remember, what your children see on your television, listen to on your Wi-Fi, and view on YouTube in your home matters. It’s shaping their heart. It’s ultimately your duty to shepherd the heart of your children, so think earnestly about how you’re overseeing and parenting your children in these areas. Freedom to use the Internet is not a right in your home—it’s a privilege.
Perhaps you need to take a season off from sports. Has it become an idol in your heart? Are you fearful of your child not getting that coveted scholarship? If you disciple your child to love athletics more than God, that’s not proper discipleship. This could be said for a variety of other commitments—including academics, business trades, and video games. Depending on the ages of your children, there will be different challenges to face in the work of discipleship. I’m still learning to balance things as I seek to become a better parent each day—I hope you will take your calling seriously.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 — Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (ESV)
For further help and reading:
- Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. I, p. ccvi.
- Paul Tripp, Parenting, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), principle heading for chapter 11 titled, “False Gods.”
What is a disciple? Many people claim to be Christians, but what exactly does that mean? The first time the title, “Christian” was used it was in the context of opposition and used in a derisive manner (Acts 11:26). What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? In short, to be a disciple or a follower of Christ means to be a person who learns from Him and seeks to obey Him. Mark Dever explains:
What is a disciple? A disciples is a follower. You can do that by following someone’s teaching from afar, like someone might say he follows the teaching and example of Gandhi. And being a disciple of Christ means at least that much. A disciple of Jesus follows in Jesus’s steps, doing as Jesus taught and lived. But it means more than that. Following Jesus first means that you have entered into a personal, saving relationship with him. You have been “united with Christ,” as the Bible puts it (Phil. 2:1, NIV). You have been united through the new covenant in his blood. Through his death and resurrection, all the guilt of sin that is yours becomes his, and all the righteousness that is his becomes yours. 
Discipleship Explained from the Pulpit
The pulpit is the best training ground for making disciples. Through a healthy and balanced preaching ministry, the subject of discipleship will be addressed in a careful way through biblical exposition. Unfortunately, many churches become unbalanced in their approach to preaching and teaching the Bible. Some churches are known for their evangelism and missions while other churches are known for their emphasis upon discipleship. Which one is correct? The answer is that neither approach is accurate. Both discipleship and missions are necessary in the life of the local church—like two wings on an airplane, and without one or the other the plane will go down.
As the Word of God is expounded on a weekly basis, the subject of discipleship will be covered in texts such as Matthew 28:18-20 and all through the book of Acts and the epistles. The work of the church is discipleship. Before one can engage in missions, a person must be a disciple of Jesus and learn how to make disciples as commissioned by Jesus. If you get the cart before the horse or if you head off down the trail without the horse—it will spell disaster in your mission. It’s essential to know what discipleship is before you move on to engage in making disciples.
Discipleship Modeled by Biblical Preaching
The way in which the Bible is handled on a week-by-week basis in the pulpit will go a long way in teaching the congregation how to read and study the Bible. It’s like a pastor who teaches a congregation to be zealous about missions, but he never goes out and shares the gospel outside of a classroom or pulpit setting. How much evangelism do you think his congregation will effectively engage in? The pastor who teaches his congregation to rightly handle the Bible and to study the Bible in the proper context through a literal, historical, and grammatical approach will never see his congregation follow that method if he doesn’t employ it in his preaching.
The reason so many Christians embrace a loose hermeneutic and an allegorical method of interpretation is because they have witnessed that type of preaching from the pulpit for so many years. If a father should not parent by saying to his son, “Do as I say and not as I do,” the pastor should not preach sermons by one method and expect the congregation to follow a different approach to Bible study. Preaching stands at the core of biblical discipleship.
Discipleship Happens Through Gospel Preaching
Discipleship is not centered on models, methods, marketing, and strategies. Disciples are made and strengthened through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anyone can gather and engage in conversation about life, politics, parenting, and sports over coffee. Only through the gospel of Jesus Christ can true disciples be made and cultivated for the glory of God. How can we know about God’s expectation regarding holiness if people are merely talking about sports and the weather?
Today, the church is filled with hundreds of people who once upon a time called on Jesus’ name for salvation, but they’re not really interested in being a learner of Jesus. Instead, they want the benefits of Jesus without the rigors of being a student of Jesus. They want the joys of being a disciple without the work. John Calvin once said, “Something must be said about those who want to be called Christians but possess nothing of Christ except the title and appearance. They arrogantly glory in His holy name. But only those who have gained a true knowledge of Christ form the Word of the gospel have a relationship with Him.” 
Are you a true disciple of Jesus? Are you learning a proper discipleship model from the pulpit in your local church?
- Mark Dever, Discipling, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 35.
- John Calvin, A Little Book on the Christian Life, (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2017), 11.