Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Disciples and Converts

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a friend about the "Great Commission" -- that phrase is the common jargon for Yeshua's instruction in Matthew 28:18-20 to "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you..."

The conversation focused on how this commandment is about making disciples. This was a very specific concept in first-century Judaism, which Yeshua modeled with his disciples.

A disciple is someone dedicated to changing his life by following someone and learning from them. A person can be Yeshua's disciple if he or she follows and learns from Yeshua's established teaching and Yeshua's active guidance.

Key to this dynamic is that Yeshua has risen, and communicates with us. Whether a believer receives words, images, dreams, or even scriptural verse references (or any combination of these) the fact remains that you cannot be the disciple of a dead person. In other words, you must be the disciple of a living person; there is no such thing as being the disciple of someone's teaching or legacy.

Messianic Judaism is quite focused on this disciple-making. Congregational life is built around helping people follow and learn from Yeshua.

In contrast, the Great Commission is usually interpreted by the Gentile Church to be about making converts. It is easier to make converts than disciples, because less commitment is requested and no interaction with God is required.

Yeshua routinely chased away potential converts who did not have the potential to become disciples. He thinned the crowd by saying difficult things (see John 8:30-59, Luke 14:25-35, and John 6:48-71) .

A person can be a convert to a system of ideas. It is possible to have many wrong ideas about the Messiah and make converts to that system of wrong ideas. But Yeshua has no false or heretical disciples: if people really meet Yeshua, and communicate with him, then they are following him and not a system of ideas; in time he will correct any wrong ideas they have.

Messianic Jewish congregations tend to reject the entire mindset of "convert". Instead they establishes two things: (1) Yeshua is Jewish and his disciples can be Jewish (2) we are those of his disciples who are living a Jewish lifestyle.

It is not that a Messianic Jewish congregation tries to "skip a step" -- there is no step! A person does not need to become a convert to a system of ideas to become the disciple of a person. Yeshua wants people to follow him and to start ASAP. An incredible diversity of thought and ideas exist in Messianic Jewish conregations because we are not groups of people who before coming together converted to similar systems of ideas about theology, morals, politics, etc.