Exciting and dynamic! More than 43,000 new members had been added to the church in the previous year. What rejoicing in the glad news of baptisms with such an abundant inflow of new members that equaled a completely new conference.
Unfortunately, however, the statistical report of great membership growth was not matched by other measurable faithfulness factors such as worship attendance or church finances. For the year following all these new accessions, per capita tithe income had not increased by one penny in the same territory.
When I queried this disparity of statistics, one leader suggested that it is unfair to evaluate their weak economy in comparison to a “healthy Western economy.” My response remains, “Ten percent of even a very weak economy stays at ten percent. God does not ask for tithe of a United States dollar; He asks for faithfulness in tithing the currency of wherever believers live.”
George Gallup observes, “Many Americans belong to the not quite Christian category: . . . They want the fruits or reward of faith, but seem to dodge the responsibilities and obligations. They say that they are Christian but often without a visible connection to a congregation or religious fellowship. The major challenge appears to be . . . how to guide men and women into becoming mature Christian personalities.”1
Discipleship, then, involves the whole process of initial instruction (pre-baptism), welcoming the new member into the community (at baptism, for Adventists), and teaching them to observe all things (post-baptism).
The ongoing discussion, of course, is “How much and what type of instruction is to precede baptism?” Peter Wagner ably addresses this issue of pre-baptismal instruction versus post baptismal development in an excellent chapter titled, “The Gospel, Conversion, and Ethical Awareness,” in his book, Church Growth and the Whole Gospel.
“There is some risk in keeping the ethical content of discipling to a minimum in preaching free grace. But to me there seems a greater risk in prematurely trying to uproot the tares and destroying some of the wheat in the process. I know of many evangelists who do not insist, as a prerequisite to salvation, that unbelievers agree to tithe their income. But after they become Christians they learn that their new Lord expects them to tithe their income. This is not bothersome to the average Christian. Initial repentance and conversion means turning to ‘Christ as the Lord of life, and when, over a lifetime of discipleship, the Lord speaks and brings new requirements to their attention, they are cordially accepted. Taking the step of tithing is an advance in Christian obedience, more a part of perfecting than of discipling.’ ”2
This perfecting role becomes the privilege and duty of the church. “A perfecting which lifts educational attainments, increases earning ability, heightens conscience as to social justice, and decreases concern to win kindred to eternal life, betrays the Gospel. High secular and cultural attainments must not be mistaken for dedication to Christ.”3
When does this perfecting role occur in the life of the new believer? “Undisciplined pagan multitudes must be ‘added to the Lord’ before they can be perfected. The church exists not for herself but for the world. She has been saved in order to save others. She always has a twofold task: winning men to Christ and growing in grace. While these tasks overlap, they are distinct.”4
An “instruction in righteousness” exists as necessary to post-baptism as surely as there are essentials that need to be accepted and believed prior to baptism. George Hunter offers these conclusions from a study of about four thousand converts in India: “Their post-baptismal training was more influential in whether they remained and grew in the Christian community than even the motives which originally attracted them to Christianity.”5
And fellowship with the community of believers will have its impact. Information may be imperfectly communicated, but in the long run what is caught by association with fellow believers may be more important than what is taught as far as discipleship is concerned. This “teaching” cannot be limited to merely intellectual knowledge, but must be implemented into the life. This describes applied theology—applied in the daily Christian walk.
Bill Hull says that the Greek word for disciple—mathetes—means learner, pupil, someone who learns by following. “The word implies an intellectual process that directly affects the lifestyle of a person.”6 It also anticipates a growing in faith—a completion, sanctifying process by which not-quite Christians become functioning disciples within the body. Juan Carlos Ortiz points out that this application of discipleship must be conveyed by more than intellectual instruction. “In a discipleship relationship I do not teach the other person to know what I know, rather I teach him to become what I am. Discipleship then is not a communication of knowledge but a communication of life and spirit.”7
1 George Gallup Jr, and David Poling, The Search for America’s Faith (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 42, 43.
2 C. Peter Wagner, Church Growth and the Whole Gospel (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), 140.
5 George G. Hunter III, The Contagious Congregation: Frontiers in Evangelism and Church Growth (Nashville: Abingdon, 1979), 143.
6 Bill Hull, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1978), 10.
7 Michael Harper, Let My People Grow (Plainfi eld, NJ: Logos International, 1977), 152.