DISCIPLESHIP AT THE TURN OF THE AGES
The Episcopal Address
The General Conference, 2000
Following the hallowed tradition of apostolic greeting,
we, your Bishops, called to be your servants for the sake of the Gospel,
greet you in the name of the Triune God, and bring you his blessing of
peace and joy out of the abundance of his grace. From that same grace we
pray you will be gifted with wisdom and courage to do the task of this
We meet at a momentous time, at the turn of the ages,
when one millennium ends and another begins.
We meet in celebration of the 2000th birth
anniversary of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate, Crucified, and Risen Lord!
We meet to make those decisions that will enable the
people called United Methodist to respond in faith, hope, and love to
the challenges of the new millennium.
We meet to make the United Methodist community
multi-diverse yet connectionally and globally one to become keenly
aware that it is indeed a global community living unavoidably in a
globalizing world, which, in faithfulness to John Wesley, it must claim
as its global parish.
We meet to reform ourselves, hoping that in Gods
mercy, God may use us to reform the world.
We meet to be discipled so that in the power of the
Gospel we may make disciples of all nations!
What does all this mean for us as the one General
Conference privileged to be the hinge on which the turn of the millennia
Before we proceed we pause to remember and honor our
fellow-servants in the United Methodist episcopacy who have gone to be
at home with the Lord in the glory of life in his eternal presence. We
name them in the remembrance of Jesus Christ crucified, whom God raised
from the dead, with his promise that he will also raise them and us by
the same resurrection, power and gather us all in a communion of saints
in whose midst the Risen Lord dwells.
Ernest T. Dixon, Jr. 1922-1996
Paul Hardin, Jr. 1903-1996
Oliver Eugene Slater 1916-1997
Lloyd Christ Wicke 1901-1997
Eric Algernon Mitchell 1917-1997
William Ragsdale Cannon 1916-1997
Louis Wesley Schowendgerdt 1926-1998
William Talbot Handy, Jr. 1924-1998
Don Wendell Holter 1905-1999
W. Maynard Sparks 1906-1999
Edward Gonzalez Carroll, Sr. 1910-2000
Those whom we have just named were faithful disciples of
Jesus Christ. And by Gods grace we follow in their train! In "an
endless line of splendor"!
I. WE ARE A DISCIPLED COMMUNITY
The General Conference of 1996 affirmed that the mission
of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. It
did not, however, clarify what this means for us today. What does it
mean to be a disciple? What makes discipleship possible? Is it a latent
possibility in all of us so that given the right conditions it will
inevitably blossom forth like seed coming alive and breaking forth
through the sod? What difference does Christ make in the world through
As the General Conference of 2000, your Bishops suggest
that we think together about the biblical foundations of Christian
discipleship and what it might mean for us today. We may not tell you
something you dont already know. Most Christians think of
discipleship in terms of devotional and ethical practice. What we hope
to do is to place discipleship including its devotional and ethical
dimensions in its eschatological framework!
- The Turn of the Ages
The New Testament tells us that discipleship is made
possible by Trinitarian action. God sent his Son to the world in the
power of his Spirit. The possibility of discipleship comes as a sheer
gift through Jesus Christ, whose coming has made the ages turn.
The coming of Jesus Christ not only ends "this
present evil age," it also inaugurates "the age to
come," which is supposed to happen at the end-time.
The drawing near of Gods reign in Jesus Christ has
brought good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of
sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and the year of the
Lords favor is proclaimed (Lk. 4:18-19, 21; Mt. 11:2-6).
For Paul, with Jesus Christ has come the new Adam, the
new humanity, and the new creation. A new future for all humankind and
the whole cosmos has dawned.
If this opportune moment is seized, it makes all the
difference between a world condemned to die and a life that overcomes
and leaves death behind, a life born out of death, resurrection life!
That opportune time is the acceptable NOW of the day of salvation.
This NOW is the cutting-edge in the turn of the ages. It divides
sharply the one age from the other. In it, one can boldly say, on the
one hand, "No longer," and on the other hand, confidently
claim, "From now on" (2Cor.5:16).
This NOW, however, is not a fleeting moment. It is
solidly anchored in an Event that time cannot make past. Its reality
and meaning withstand the passing of time. Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). The advent of Jesus Christ
crucified, risen, and reigning is always coming, always
irrupting as the NOW of the day of salvation until God himself
completes the good work that he has begun in him (Phil.1:6). This NOW
is mediated by the Holy Spirit Gods immediate life-giving
presence and this presence cannot be made absent by the lapse of
But how does one seize this NOW so that its pregnancy
may come to birth? The answer seems so simple and yet so
In the Synoptics, discipleship is trusting Jesus as
the bearer of the reign of God and responding unreservedly to his call
to follow him, to be with him, to be with others in him, and to be
sent out by him to participate in his mission in the world.
In Paul, seizing this NOW is to believe in the God who
raised Jesus Christ from the dead and to be justified by grace through
faith. To be a disciple is to receive the new life that Jesus Christ
gives, to share in his suffering, and to participate in his mission.
It is to be gifted with and bear the fruits of the Spirit. It is to
live a life worthy of our calling in Jesus Christ according to the
Spirit, and to hope for "the freedom of the glory of the children
In John, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to
believe in the one true God and Jesus Christ as the one whom he has
sent. This knowledge, together with life sanctified in its truth,
constitutes eternal life. It is Gods will that the Son should lose
nothing of all that has been given him, and so the Son promises that
he will raise what has been given him on the last day. But those whom
he will raise on the last day he also sends into the world on a
mission of witness and service. As the Father has sent the Son, so the
Son sends his disciples into the world, although they no longer belong
to the world.
WHEN Christ is "offered" for decision as the
ground to stand on in life that "when" becomes precisely
the NOW of salvation!
To stand in the NOW is not a possibility that is
latent in the natural and the human! That NOW is the result of the
turn of the ages under the impact of the advent of Jesus Christ, whose
coming is an action of the Trinitarian God no less!
To stand in this destiny-making NOW and be
encompassed by it is precisely what discipleship is!
Your Bishops dare claim that "the people called
Methodist" stand in this NOW. We are a discipled community. We
stand in Gods grace prevenient, justifying, sanctifying, and
glorifying. We too have felt our hearts strangely warmed and
experienced the renewing power of forgiveness. In repentance and faith
we have sought to live a life worthy of our calling. We ask you to
join your Bishops to claim boldly but humbly that we still stand in
this NOW at the turn of the century, and be ready to carry out the
difference our discipleship must make in our world as it turns to a
Let us consider another aspect of discipleship.
- The Overlap of the Ages.
The ages have turned under the impact of the advent of
the Christ Event. But they have not completely separated. Instead,
they overlap. The old has not completely ended. It continues with
all its tempting attractions. And the new has just begun. In Jesus
Christ, God has confronted the principalities and powers of sin and
death, which dominate the old age; and in Jesus Christ, the decisive
victory has been won. The battle continues but we can live now in the
assurance of Gods triumph, and in the light of Gods ultimate
There is the task hardly begun of establishing
a new life-world with its own distinctive style, norms, and practices
that express and embody the new order of things envisioned by the
world to come that has already dawned!
The overlap of the ages is critical because the
demonic powers of this present age still distort, corrupt, and
destroy, while the saving power of the age to come seeks to overthrow
them, redeem and heal their victims, and establish a new order of
things that promotes life in freedom, justice, and peace. It is within
the overlap of the ages that the life of discipleship has to be lived
We cannot stand in discipleship in the NOW without
standing in the overlap of the ages. All of us are caught inescapably
in the conflict that rages between the demonic and the redemptive.
Consider where we stand today. Slavery and apartheid have been
outlawed, but racism and ethnic cleansing are still with us and we
must rid the world of these demons. Colonialism and totalitarianism
are no longer politically viable options for us, but we still use
power to dominate, violate, and oppress, instead of to liberate, to
enable, and to let be! This overlap is the sitz im leben of
We, your Bishops, ask you to join us in standing
firmly in this overlap and to be on the side of the redemptive against
The direction in which to move is clear. It is to
abandon the ways of the old order and follow the new way of
discipleship. This is already foreshadowed by the way Jesus framed
discipleship in the Sermon on the Mount in terms of " it was said
to those of ancient times... But I say to you" (Mt. 5:21, 27, 31,
There is here a contradiction which must be resolved
in discipleship. Since the ways of the old order are rooted in
"ancient times," they have become tradition. They embody a
way of thinking and a pattern of acting that function as law. And so
they tell what to think and do and what not to think and do. Can one
easily abandon them and put an end to the old order?
Alternatively, the ways of discipleship are not yet
fully in place. They may be imaginatively envisioned but they do not
have the benefit of tested experience, nor the authority of wisdom
crystallized by critical reflection. They entail a new way of thinking
that discerns and motivates rather than depends on the precedence of
the past. And so they are to be envisioned and risked in action. Must
one abandon the certainties of the old in favor of the uncertainties
of the new?
The difficulty is illustrated by the problems faced by
the churches that were established by Paul. Soon after the Galatians
had been found by the Gospel which freed them from powers which by
nature were no gods they reverted to works of the law and the
worship of "the weak and beggarly elemental spirits." This
disappointed Paul deeply and made him fear that his work among them
might have been wasted (4:8-11).
The Christians in Corinth were troubled by issues of
faith and practice in their cultural setting. Paul had to think
creatively to provide theological and pastoral resources to help them
express and embody what it means to live a life worthy of their
calling in Christ Jesus. They were to live out their calling in
interaction with their current world in ways that would express their
freedom from and for it, form their identity in Christ
in it, and claim and transform it in Christ.
In the epochal change we are going through today, are
we any more certain than those early Christians were in deciding
insightfully what is an appropriate lifestyle in the new creation?
Consider where we are today. In a situation of multi-racial and
multi-cultural diversity where traditional community ties do not bind
anymore, how and what kind of community can be formed?
Should our congregations and conferences remain open to struggle for a
more inclusive community or should we adopt a polity that organizes
congregations and conferences based on race, nationality, and culture?
Your Bishops believe that our polity should remain open for more
inclusive fellowship sexually, racially, culturally, and globally.
Will you join us in this affirmation?
In a capitalist economy, were people compete globally
for scarce economic goods and the rich and powerful have the upper
hand, how can a Gospel with a bias for the poor, the weak, and the
outcast and which seeks a more just global social order, operate with
some hope for some measure of success, without its disciples being
martyred, marginalized, or outlawed? Your Bishops believe that the
Christian norm for Christian faith and practice is faithfulness to the
Gospel and not worldly success, and we must continue working for a
more righteous global social order even if we suffer for it in the
struggle! Will you join us in this struggle?
- The Already/Not Yet of the Age to Come.
The Kingdom of God is already at hand and at work. The
age to come has already broken through. Already the crucified Christ
has been raised as the first fruits of those who have died and now
reigns as Lord. Already the ungodly are justified by faith, both those
under and outside the Law. Already they are in Christ and form his
body. Already the Spirit has been poured and shed abroad and the
community of faith may already receive the gift and bear the fruits of
the Spirit. Already a new future has dawned!
Discipleship is actual, responsive, committed
participation in the alreadiness of the advent of the Christ
Event. It is the cutting edge of the difference that Christ makes in
There is no hope for a new future in this present evil
age in which hoping is an illusion coming out of Pandoras Box. All
around us theres evidence that this world is passing away into its
own destruction. We now know that the universe if finite and that the
earth has a limited carrying capacity, although we do not know the
precise absolute limit. Might have we gone beyond this limit? Although
we now know that the amount of energy may remain constant, some of its
forms like fossil energy are non-renewable once exhausted by
human use! We know that the waste we produce can destroy the
ecosystem, and we may have gone so far beyond its repair. Given the
propensity to settle disputes by war and the mass destructiveness of
modern weapons, this earth might still be burned to the extinction of
life! Is not hope caught up in this situation an exercise in futility?
Where is hope against hope to be found?
Hope is to be found in discipleship understood as
standing fast in the NOW of salvation made possible by the turn of the
ages under the impact of the advent of the Christ Event. That NOW has
to do with the salvation of the world, with the church only as a
foretaste of the Glory that is to come!
Giving the world a sure hope for a new future
that is an act of pure grace, and is offered freely to all. That is a
difference which discipleship makes!
The horizons of that hope span the personal, the
social, the historical, the cosmic, and the eternal. The new future
that is hoped for is nothing less than a New Creation, a New Humanity,
a New Heaven, and a New Earth!
What is the content of this vision? John puts it this
way: God is love (1Jn. 4:8). God loves the world with his love, i.e.,
with Gods self, by sending his only Son into the world (Jn. 3:16; 1
Jn.4:9-10). God seeks to perfect that loving in all aspects of his
creation (1 Jn. 2:5; 4:12) until all of Gods self in the fullness
of Gods love and loving fills all things, and so perfects all
things in Gods self as love (cf. 1Cor. 15:24-28).
Gods perfection in the world as love, and the
perfection of love in the world as Gods love that is the vision
of this new hope!
Does this vision of love still shine through brightly
in John Wesleys doctrine of perfection of love in this world? Or
has the doctrine died "the death of a thousand
qualifications" so that it has become a darkened glass that no
longer affords us the people called Methodist a glimpse of the
vision of loves perfection. Your Bishops believe that love is
perfected best in deed though its vision is caught in doctrine. We
have been taking a lead in an initiative for Children and Poverty.
This initiative expresses the messianic hope that a child is a sign of
the dawning of the Kingdom of God (Isa. 9:6; 11:1; Mk. 9:35-37:
10:13-16) and so is harbinger of hope for a new future. It also seeks
to enlist the natural love for children especially those mired in
poverty to care for their well-being. This initiative has
heightened awareness of the misery of children in poverty, mobilized
agencies and networks to improve their plight, and has made our people
see that much more can be done for children in poverty. The Bishops
have extended this initiative through an urgent appeal to save the
children of Africa as the hope of Africa a continent
ravaged by wars and HIV/AIDS and endemic poverty. Your Bishops believe
that this initiative and its appeal must now be extended globally and
become an expression of the global mission of our church. Can we
together carry out this vision of love in hope for the future of
We have been, we still are, and we must become even
more a discipled community. But more than this, we must become a
community that makes disciples of all nations, a community sent in
mission into the world until the end of the age!
II. WE ARE A DISCIPLING COMMUNITY
- The Purpose of Discipleship.
Being discipled is for the purpose of discipling.
The knowledge of the Father through the Son in the
Spirit is a privilege granted only to discipleship. And so what makes
disciples and comes to be known and experienced through
discipleship is no other than the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ
through the Holy Spirit.
This Gospel is made known to the chosen few for the
sake and on behalf of the many. It is disclosed to the church for
sharing with all of humanity. Gods love in His Son is for the whole
world that is why it is Gospel. This Gospel is entrusted to
discipleship with all its benefits so that it can be shared with the
Moreover, it is precisely the Gospel, which the world sorely
needs and must appropriate in faith, hope, and love if it is to be
saved from perdition none other! Will you join the Bishops in
making a determined effort to share the Gospel with the world?
Although the Gospel is for the world and needed by the
world, the world can appropriate the Gospel only as discipleship
shares it with the world. Discipleship is precisely sharing the
Gospel with the world! This is another difference that Christ
makes in the world through discipleship! What if missionaries did not
come with Spanish conquistadores to share the Gospel in the
Philippines in the 16th century? The Philippines would most
likely be a Muslim instead of a Christian country today! What if
George C. Stull, a Methodist chaplain in the American navy led by
Admiral Dewey, did not hold the first Protestant service in Manila on
August 28, 1898? Protestant Christianity would not have come and
flourished in the Philippines since then!
It is the privilege of knowing the Gospel and its
benefits which the world needs but cannot have, except as it is
offered to and shared with it, which turns the discipled community
into a missionary community! What turns it is not a logical move but a
- Resurrection and the Commissioning to Mission.
The commissioning of the discipled community by the
risen Lord could not have been done before the crucified Jesus was
raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the basis
of the commissioning.
By raising Jesus from the dead, God was in fact
over-ruling and over-turning the unjust verdict that sent Jesus to his
death on the Cross.
At the same time, God was vindicating Jesus Christ in
all that he was and in all that he said and did and died for. It is,
therefore, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ that this present evil
age is terminated, and the coming of the age to come inaugurated. This
is the turn of the ages. Jesus Christ as risen is the first fruits of
the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). With him as risen,
the new creation begins!
After Jesus was risen not before he
inaugurated the apostolic mission by commissioning the discipled
community into the world. The apostolic mission is his own mission
as risen Lord. The risen Lord anoints the discipled community with
the authority and power given him by the Father through his
resurrection. The discipling community goes out into the world clothed
with the mantle of resurrection authority and power (Mt. 28:19-20).
Now it is resurrection authority and power that is effectively at work
in the world, no longer the principalities and powers of his present
evil age! The reign of the age to come has begun!
What does all this make of discipleship which
includes being discipled and discipling the nations? It makes
discipleship the new form of life in the reality of the resurrection!
Discipleship at the turn of the ages is resurrection life!
- Mission and the New Creation.
The new creation begins! It must continue until it is
completely fulfilled in the kingdom of God. The renewal and
transformation of creation from beginning to end is the mission of the
risen and reigning Lord through the Spirit.
And who is the risen Lords earthly agent in this
mission? He has commissioned the discipleship community as his
apostolic agent! Thus, it is the risen and reigning Lord who is
present and at work in and through his commissioned agent, which in
turn represents him in what it says and does.
Discipleship is thus the missionary agency for the
renewal and transformation of creation! It can be this only as a part
of the new creation and subject to its power, which is resurrection
The focus of the mission of discipleship is creation
(cf. Mk. 16:15) which is to be renewed and transformed. The
core-reality of creation, however, is life in its many diverse forms,
the crown of which is human life (cf. Gen. 1:24-31; Jn. 1:3-4).
Creation as a whole includes the conditions and
processes that make life possible and sustain it in its being and
becoming. Life is lived not only in its forms, conditions and
processes but also through its possibilities and anticipations, which
it seeks to realize and enjoy. And so life is rich and
multi-dimensional. It is physical, personal, social, historical,
moral, and cosmic. It even has the promise of becoming eternal as its
But this life in its core and forms, its conditions
and processes, its possibilities and dreams, its multi-dimensionality
and richness in short, the whole of creation has been
distorted and threatened with destruction by evil, sin and death.
Thus, to redeem life requires nothing less than the renewal and
transformation of creation.
The raising of the crucified Christ makes him "a
life-giving spirit" so that through him life is justified,
sanctified, and glorified into eternal life that is what the new
creation is about (1 Cor. 15:45; Rom. 5:17-21; 6:22-23).
The mission of resurrection discipleship as the agent
of the new creation is quite simply to live by this truth and
"confess" it in the midst of unbelief in a world that lives
by so much that is empty and is ironically dying imperceptibly.
Living by the truth of the resurrection and confessing
it always take place in a world that is hostile with unbelief. But
unbelief is not the absence of belief. On the contrary, it is
believing too passionately in what is not worth believing ultimately
because it falls short of the fullness of truth and does not fulfill
life in its abundance. Unbelief is idolatrous belief!
To confess the truth of the resurrection and to
live by it so that in Gods mercy a hostile world may hear and see
and believe and so be renewed and transformed that is a difference
that discipleship makes (Rom. 10:8-17)
I visited an elderly woman one Sunday evening. She was
dying but her mind was clear. When she found out I am the bishop, she
said, "Oh, I apologize for not going to church this morning, but
I sent my offering." Then she called her son who happened to
be the conference lay leader and enjoined him to care for the work
of the church. Her daughter said to me," I hesitated to show
mother what shed wear in her wake. But this morning when I sensed
that the end is near, I showed it to her. When she saw the dress, she
said, "Oh, it is beautiful. But my Father will give me a dress
more beautiful than that." That was her way of saying: "The
perishable would put on the imperishable, the mortal would put on the
immortal." When I was leaving, I shook her hand and felt the
strength of her grip. So I joked with her and said, "Grandma, you
are still very strong. You will live up to a hundred years." Then
she called her son and asked, "how soon is that?" Her son
replied, "It will be another six years." Then she said,
"Oh, that is too long, I am going home." The following
morning she was gone! Putting on the imperishable and knowing that
one is coming home at the end of the day that is a difference that
the risen Lord makes!
Discipleship as agent is sent and so it must go. This
sending and going constitute its movement. It is sent from seeing the
risen Lord into the world of darkness (Mt. 28:17, 19;Jn. 20:20-21). It
is sent from the NOW at the turn and overlap of the ages into this
present evil age. It is sent from new creation, which count for
everything, to circumcision and uncircumcision, which count for
nothing! While it is no longer of the world, it is nevertheless sent
Is there not something odd or curious about this? Why
would one who has seen the light return to the world of darkness? Is
not the desire to remain in the glow of transfiguration a temptation
to discipleship (MK. 9:2-5)?
Moreover, this movement of sending and going entails
that resurrection discipleship must take on the form of the world that
is passing away if it is to be an effective agent for redeeming the
world from its fate and transform it into its rightful destiny in
Missional solidarity with the world entails a form of
suffering what may be called "discipleship suffering"
which is inescapable. This suffering patterned after the
"descent" and "ascent" of the Christ is the
way discipleship shares in and "completes" the suffering of
Christ. This is the suffering of self-denial for the sake of the
Gospel. This is the cross that discipleship bears as it seeks to bring
about the rebirth of a dying world.
Again, it may be asked: why would anyone go through
this form of missional vicarious suffering? The only profoundly
adequate answer seems to be: this is quite simply the way of
discipleship, and it cannot be avoided if one is to participate in the
apostolic mission of the crucified and risen Christ!
The early Protestant missionaries who came to the
Philippines risked this form of suffering. Some were young and fresh
from college or seminary. Some were newly married. They were healthy
and full of life. They came committed to serve the Gospel in a land
whose people and culture were strange and whose climate and life
conditions were inhospitable to them. Within three years their health
was gone. They were sick of pneumonia, malaria or tuberculosis, or
amoebic dysentery. They pleaded to go home for treatment with the
intention of returning. Because they shared in the suffering of
Christ, Protestant Christianity is flourishing today in the
Philippines! What would be our way of sharing in the suffering of
Christ today? Will consuming less so that others might have a little
bit more be a form of sharing in the suffering of Christ today? A
widow was being admired for raising seven children and sending them
through college. "How did you do it?" asked the admirer. She
replied, " I learned to live on less because I had so much more
to live for." Are we prepared to risk this form of suffering?
Will you join your Bishops in bearing the cross of discipleship?
- Mission as Discipling the Nations.
The mission to which discipleship has been
commissioned is "to make disciples of all nations." The
phrase "all nations" refers to all peoples who must be
For one thing, people are no doubt to be understood as
Gods creation whom God has gifted with life and all its
possibilities. Moreover, God has created them in his image so that
they may reflect or mirror Gods reality in all of creation. If
human life is the crown of Gods creative activity, then human
beings reflect the dignity and power of God as Creator. And so
reflecting his reality, human beings are good!
Moreover, human beings are all sinners who have fallen
short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and thus are subject to the
wrath of God. The life gifted them by God has become distorted and can
only reflect the glory of God as through a mirror darkly. Since they
no longer fulfill Gods purpose for them, they are threatened by the
death with which they are condemned. They face a future without hope!
And finally, God proves his love in that while human
beings are still sinners, Christ at the right time died for them, and
thus are reconciled to God. Having been reconciled, they will be saved
by his life, i.e., his resurrection life (Rom.5:6-11). Upon them the
ends of the ages have turned. The NOW of the day of salvation has
come. The new creation has begun. The power to make disciples already
reigns. And so human beings can be discipled! And those who will
disciple them have been discipled themselves; they demonstrate the
reality of discipleship.
To disciple nations is to renew and transform the
life-giving elements that have been distorted by evil ad sin. Instead
of culturing death, they will then nurture life in all its manifold
abundance, which is what they are meant to be and do in the first
Discipling the nations is discipling human
communities! Reforming the nations an historic mission of the
people called Methodist is an essential element in making
disciples of all nations.
Discipling the nations entails "baptizing"
them. If one is baptized into Christs death, he or she is also
"united in a resurrection like his" so that one "might
walk in newness of life" (6:4-5). To live out of ones baptism
is to be "alive to God in Christ Jesus" (6:10-11).
To be alive to God in baptism, in the NOW of the day
of salvation, is to be "taught" in the ways of Jesus Christ.
Being taught is being formed into Christ by the Spirit, so that one
becomes a transforming agent of the new creation!
The journey of discipleship is not easy, but there is
one who promises to accompany this journey, not to make it easy, but
to help complete it, no matter how difficult it may be. And that one
is the presence of the risen reigning Lord through his spirit.
The Spirit makes it possible to make a difference in
Christ because he is the guarantee that the good work begun in Jesus
Christ will indeed be finally fulfilled! As we continue our journey in
discipleship into our globalizing world of today, on whom else may we
III. DISCIPLESHIP IS AN ALTERNATIVE LIFE-STYLE
1. Being Different as Making a Difference.
What we have done so far on our reading of the New
Testament is to show that our journey in Christian discipleship is
shaped, motivated, and empowered eschatologically.
What this amounts to is that it makes Christian
existence different from, and an alternative to, any and all kinds of
life-style. Life-style means a distinctive configuring of beliefs and
practices for dealing with and living in the world. Being formed to
be different so that one can make a difference in the way things
are that is what Christian discipleship is all about!
The test of discipleship is the way it is different
from and is an alternative to the life-styles available in the
world. If the life-style of Christian existence is so similar to, and
can be confused with, the prevailing life-style of a culture, then
discipleship has lost its "saltiness" and is good for
nothing (Mt. 5:14-15). This is the danger faced by Christian
discipleship in Western culture, especially in United Methodism which
is too closely identified with the mainstream of American culture.
Alternatively, if Christian existence is so different
from the ways of a people and is regarded as an intolerable
"alien" and cannot be an alternative life-world, then it no
longer "gives light (Mt. 5:14-15). This is the peril faced by
Christian discipleship in cultures shaped and dominated by religions
other than Christianity.
The problem of Christian existence then is how to be
both "salt" and "light" in any given culture! This
was basically the issue faced by the early Christian community in
Corinth which was struggling to develop a life-style that was an
alternative to Jewish and Gentile life-styles. Pauls advice to them
may help us in our search for a style of life that is an alternative
to a flatly secular or a religiously world-denying life-world.
Paul admonishes the Corinthian Christians "not to
desire evil" as some of the Israelites in their journey in the
wilderness did. An example of a specific form of evil to be shunned is
idolatry, especially when associated with a sexually promiscuous
culture (1 Cor. 10:7, 14; cf. Ex. 32:4, 6). Does this ring a bell with
Another piece of advice that Paul gives is for the
Corinthian Christians to adopt the attitude and practice of
"having... as though not having" with respect to the
institutions and values of a culture (1 Cor. 7:29-31). This general
advice covers the following:
- "having wives" which by extension includes
"having husbands" and thus entails gender, sexuality,
marriage, and family life;
- "mourning" which refers to the causes and forms of
mourning and this includes diseases, misfortune, broken relations,
- "rejoicing" which includes reasons and occasions for
rejoicing, such as play, festival, good fortune, success;
- "buying and possessing which covers the whole of
- "dealing with the world" which means knowing it and
behaving towards it in a variety of ways.
These are institutionalized values and practices that
one needs and must have. But now since "the appointed time has
grown short," and "the form of this world is passing
away," their necessity and value have been relativized. One must
not care for them and possess them as absolutely important. Something
genuinely ultimate has arrived, namely, "the affairs of the
Lord." The right ordering of things is that of "unhindered
devotion to the Lord" (1Cor. 7:35).
Finally, Paul gives a comprehensive instruction that
seems contrary to the one just mentioned above. Paul says to the
Corinthians: "So let no one boast about human leaders. For all
things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or
life or death or the present or the future all belong to you, and
you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God" (1 Cor. 3:21-23;
cf. Rom. 8:38-39).
As all things belong to God, so all things also belong
to Christ, including the Christian community since it cannot now
belong to itself because it has been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20;
Because Christians have been freed from sin and now
belong to Christ in discipleship, they are free for the world as
belonging to them and so must claim it as their in Christ.
It is not the "wisdom of this age" that
confers the right to own all things, but Gods love for all things
in Christ who gives them to discipleship as belonging to it and
confers to it the right to claim them.
It is precisely the claiming of all things for their
transformation in Christ that constitutes the mission of discipleship
as the agent of the new creation. Traditionally we have claimed
peoples for salvation in Christ through our mission of "spreading
Scriptural holiness." We have also claimed societies and their
institutions and structures for Christ through our mission of
"reforming the nation." We must continue both aspects of our
historic mission more faithfully. But now claiming "all things in
Christ" includes not only peoples and societies but all of
creation as Gods in Christ. We are implicated in the modern effort
of altering creation into "nature" as the object of human
knowing, manipulation, distortion, and destruction through science,
technology, and a style of life whose consumption of goods and
services knows no limit. We must reclaim nature as Gods creation,
as the theater of his glory, as having the right to preserve it in its
being and integrity and to fulfill Gods purpose for it in the new
order of things which the New
Testament calls "the new creation" without
denigrating the human benefit from it! May we add this concern to our
mission as agent of the new creation and join hands to carry it out?
Is not discipleship the stewardship of all creation?
Three elemental factors are essential to the
life-style of Christian discipleship: First, the renouncing of evil
and sin. Second, dealing with the world but not taking it as an
"ultimate concern". And third, claiming all things in Christ
Configured together in Christ through the power of the
Spirit, these three factors constitute the life of discipleship as an
alternative to any life-style that may be available in the world. Will
you join your Bishops in living this life-style?
IV. DISCIPLESHIP IS FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE
How does discipleship work as an alternative way of life
in the world? Perhaps, the best answer in a nutshell is in Pauls
formula-like phrase, "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6;
cf. 1 Cor. 12:31b-13:1-3; Eph. 4:15). To show the sense and direction in
which love makes a difference, let us look at how this plays out in
three major global issues: freedom, justice, and community.
- Freedom Governed by Love.
A most important and exciting event in modern history
has been the discovery that freedom is the defining essence of human
dignity. This discovery has unleashed various revolutionary movements
to secure liberty by overthrowing all forms of oppression. A
characteristic understanding of freedom drives these movements: it is
freedom from and so freedom means liberation.
The idea of freedom as liberation resonates with many
metaphors used to convey the idea of salvation: to redeem, to ransom,
to rescue, and to make room.
However, Gods love for us in Christ is the source
of the freedom that defines our dignity as human beings. Love is the
source of freedom that dignifies.
Merely being free does not define our dignity; being
free as the expression of love does! It is undignified of us to use
our freedom to oppress, to exploit, to despise, to harm, to violate
another. But do we fully express our dignity when we only freely
"pursue our own good in our own way so long as we do not deprive
others or impede their efforts to obtain it?" (J.S. Mill, On
Liberty, 1859; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985,p.72).
Still more is demanded by human dignity as love
expressed in freedom for freedom. Paul tells the Galatians, since
"you were called to freedom... do not use your freedom in
self-indulgence" (Gal. 5:13). And he goes on to say: "Use
your freedom as an opportunity through love to become slaves to one
another by loving one another as your neighbors" (Gal. 5:13-14).
The right way to express love is to freely and
actively do the good that benefits another. This requires more than
merely respecting the others rights. It demands more than simply
pursuing ones own good in ones own way. It demands doing the
good that overcomes evil and so leads to freedom!
Here we have in a nutshell the difference that love
makes with respect to freedom! Making that difference is the task of
discipleship! Will you join your Bishops in making that difference?
But how may this be done to the other not just as an individual but as
an individual but as a community?
2. Justice is the Form of Love in Community
And so we come to the issue of how love is expressed
in freedom for the good of the community. The Christian solution to
this problem is love forming the community in righteousness.
Justice is the form of love in ordering community.
Today there are cries for justice from persons within
societies and from societies the world over! If there is justice at
all, it is only in fragments as relics of societies that have had
their day (Alasdair MacIntyre). Today societies are being drawn into
global interaction and hopefully into global community. And so there
is need for justice on a global scale that would form humanity into a
global community. But is this forthcoming? So far, in response to the
cries for justice, we only have theories of justice whose deficiencies
are sharply disclosed as they seek to structure communities torn apart
How does faith working through love make for justice?
Justice as right relationships (righteousness) is what
orders a community well and it is what love seeks to achieve. Love
does this when it establishes right relations, respects rights,
motivates good deeds and right action, legislates just laws, produces
and distributes goods and services fairly, including the special care
of the widow, the orphan, the alien, the outcast or marginalized, and
promotes the values, processes, and structures that make for wholeness
and community. When love succeeds in caring for the victim of
injustice and rectifies the wrong and restores order in any measure,
to that degree, justice is served. When slavery is outlawed, that is a
measure of justice. When apartheid is abolished, that is justice. When
colonies are freed, that is justice. When labor can bargain for its
welfare, that is justice. When the playing field is leveled and fair
competition takes place, that is justice. When the poor are enabled to
compete for their well-being and succeed, that is justice! Need we say
more? Will you join your Bishops in the struggle for justice in any
measure and in any form as the ordering expression of love?
Love not only creates right relations and heals them
when broken. Love also releases the energies and potentialities of the
parties in relationship and moves them toward their fulfillment in a
whole that unites all things and peoples and fulfills their destiny.
In the end, when love is fulfilled in justice, the
distinction we make between them evaporates, for now they coincide. Justice
saves and love is just. God is just in his loving and saving in
his justice. There is now only the harmony and the peace that
Love envisioning justice as the right ordering of
community is a task of discipleship. May we join hands in carrying out
What sort of community is ordered by justice as
envisioned by love?
- Love Makes Community All-Inclusive.
The community of love is not only free and just but
also all-inclusive. Normally, community is built through what is
shared in common, such as common humanity, race, culture, language,
values, tradition, etc. What is shared in common is what unifies, and
unity is the bond of community. Moral norms and standards reflect
moral consensus and they are used to evaluate or judge what deviates
from or violates the common.
But from the perspective of faith working through
love, it appears that community based on what is common or shared in
common is not large or inclusive enough, because it excludes what it
judges to be different from what it holds as common. It uses it own
norms and standards to determine what is different. It would still be
morally just if the result of the evaluation is to acknowledge and
respect difference. But sometimes the evaluation goes so far as to
exclude the genuinely different from community. The common that
makes for community not only unites, it also divides from, and
excludes out, the genuinely different! Your Bishops suggest that
we must now include the genuinely different as an essential factor in
a more-inclusive community.
There are many forms of genuine difference that we
must take into account, such as sexuality, race, ethnicity, culture,
ideology. We must acknowledge the real difference they represent and
include them in a more inclusive community. In a globalizing world
real differences will unavoidably come into close encounter. This is
already happening among the people called Methodist whose
congregations aim at deliberately becoming more multi-racial and
multi-cultural. From the perspective of discipleship, do we have a
choice except to create a larger and more inclusive community, one
that is built on both the common and the different and encompassing
the whole globe? And is there a way to do this other than by faith
working through love? Is not God One-in-Three and Three-in-One? Is not
God the One in the Many and the Many in the One! And is not love the
bond that unites the One and the Many? Is this not our vision of a
more inclusive community? Will you join your Bishops in realizing this
vision no matter how difficult in may be?
To conclude: Your Bishops believe that the making of
people as disciples of the Crucified and Risen Lord and forming them
into a community of discipleship is the most radically significant event
that can happen to humanity and to the world. We have seen that it is
only possible at the turn of the ages in Jesus Christ. In relation to
God its significance is that discipleship through the Spirit unites
people to Christ who is the Son of God and so are made to participate
through the same Spirit in the Sons filial relationship to the
Father. Discipleship makes people the children of God, and if children,
then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17), and
so they can cry "Abba! Father." Discipleship is life in the
sphere of the love of the Trinitarian God!
In relation to the world, discipleship is the only
alternative lifestyle in the world that has a future in the Kingdom of
God. The turn of the ages provides a temporal standing ground for
discipleship in the NOW of the day of salvation. From this NOW
discipleship moves in mission into the world to make a difference in the
way people live in freedom, justice, and community in the sure hope that
in the end God shall be all in all! The church as the discipled
community embodies the grace of God in Christ through the Spirit and so
it is the means of grace in the world. Is it any wonder then that the
making of disciples is our mission? If so, let us get on with it. And
may God bless us all.
For the Council of Bishops,
Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil, Presenter
Bishop Robert Morgan, President
Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader, Secretary