Lots of people think that the term “disciple” is a religious term with a very special meaning. The word simply means “follower” or “student.” However Jesus redefined what is involved in being a disciple. He said they would represent Him, and therefore be at the receiving end of whatever people would do to Him.
If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as it loves its own. But I have chosen you out of the world, so you don’t belong to it. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: A servant is not greater than his master. If people did wrong to me, they will do wrong to you, too. And if they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours, too. They will do all this to you on account of me, because they do not know the One who sent me (Jn.15:18-21, NCV)When Jesus chose men to follow Him, according to Mark in the King James Version, the gospel says that He “ordained” them. The concept of “ordination” signifies “placing in order” and that is why people who become clergy are described as having joined “holy orders.”
Who Gives us Our Orders?
When you use the word “order(s)”, the question that needs to be asked first of all is: who is the one who gives the orders? It is especially important to know the answer in the case of Christian ministry.
Jesus said... “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you” (20:21, GNB)On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus had prayed for His disciples.
I sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world. And for their sake I dedicate myself to you, in order that they, too, may be truly dedicated to you. (17:18-19, GNB).Ministry is not something we arrogate ourselves. It is something that places us under orders. We do not decide the terms and conditions. We do not determine the direction and the agenda. We are under orders.
Too often those in ministry forget that the source of our orders is not some human power structure. It is unfortunate that so many think that the holy orders are about submission to human authorities and powers. Sadly the Church has allowed hierarchy to take the Lord’s place in the lives of those in the Church’s service, nay, the Lord’s service.
It is such running interference that has prevented us from hearing the Lord and some people thinking that they can do whatever they want and proclaim whatever they want. Not so. The Lord has already spelt out the agenda.
From what Jesus said about sending His disciples out we need to also understand that He did not think of His disciples as merely representing Him. He indicated that they had the role of replacing Him. They take His place when they take up His ministry. We have been chosen to stand in for Christ. That is a holy responsibility. We cannot go into the ministry lightly. We must tread carefully with a deep sense of awe.
What is the Basis of Our Orders?
During His incarnation, our Lord was under orders. Jesus told His disciples that that was the basis of the orders He gave them: “as the Father sent me, so send I you.”
For the Church there is no other mission than the mission of Jesus, our Lord. It never stopped being His mission. It is not the Church’s mission. We only stand in line with Him to carry on what He started and what still belongs to Him. We take the place He has vacated.
Jesus has set the pattern of our mission. He Himself is the pattern for doing mission. His is the example to be followed. The world’s ideas and methods of doing business are not for us.
We do not have a mission to be relevant. There is, of course, a need to be relevant. The times have changed. The world has gone through many revolutions since the industrial revolution changed it. When the printing press was invented the world moved from a time when learning was done without books, to learning with the aid of books that people could possess individually. Since then, from rote learning we moved to comprehension and thinking outside the box. From doing research and analysis laboriously, today we have moved into the world of quick and easy retrieval of information with the help of computers and the internet. From the world of slow transportation we have moved into the world of rapid transportation. From the world of extremely slow communication, we have moved into the world of instant communication. Indeed, Christian ministers have to be modern and relevant.
But we need to be careful in this matter of being relevant because it does have to do with the world and the age. As Jesus said, we who are His disciples are “in the world” but are “not of the world.”
I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world. Holy Father! Keep them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one just as you and I are one. While I was with them, I kept them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me…And now I am coming to you, and I say these things in the world so that they might have my joy in their hearts in all its fullness. I gave them your message, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but I do ask you to keep them safe from the Evil One. Just as I do not belong to the world, they do not belong to the world (Jn.17:11-16, NRSV)Our notions of being modern and relevant have nothing to do with determining the direction of the work we do and the content of the message we preach. Being relevant has all to do with methodology. But the character, the content and the aim of ministry are not open to amendment by humans and their power structures. The Lord’s orders cannot be changed.
What Are Our Orders?
It is first of all to announce forgiveness—that God in heaven is forgiving. After commissioning them to go, the very first charge that our Lord gave to His disciples was to announce forgiveness (20:22). When people are hurt or attacked they want revenge. When someone has done wrong, people want them punished. People are not forgiving. In an unforgiving world, the gospel is that the Supreme Judge of the highest court of the whole universe, is one who has already handed down both justice and forgiveness for every crime against His glory.
This gospel of forgiveness is one that replaces their image of God. People imagine that God is an angry god. This angry god frightens people. Jesus told people that God is not like that at all. He said that God is “our Father in heaven” (Matt.6:9). Some people have bad experiences with bad fathers. The fact that they didn’t model their fatherhood in God’s likeness doesn’t in any way reduce God’s fatherhood. The existence of counterfeit currency doesn’t devalue genuine currency. In the same way, bad fathers don’t diminish God’s loving fatherhood.
Jesus wanted people to know God personally. He said that He had shared God’s Name with His disciples:
I have made Your Name known to those whom you gave me from the world... I made Your Name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which You have loved me may be in them, and I in them (Jn.17:6,26, NRSV)Dropping names is something people have been doing for a long time. When people drop names they enter the claim that they are close to someone who is powerful and influential. Knowing God’s name is not to be taken lightly. He has prohibited that by command (Ex.20:7). Anyway, it wouldn’t work to drop names with an angel, because the angel knows God, and it wouldn’t work with the Devil because he is against God. Knowing God’s Name is all about knowing God, to have a relationship with God. That is what Jesus came to do, to put us in close relationship with God.
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (Jn14:6, NRSV).What is the Aim of Our Orders?
We have been commanded to bring people to God, to the Lord Jesus Christ. The aim of this charge is not increasing the numbers of our group, nor capturing power in the political arena.
The Lord said that His disciples are to initiate people in a relationship with God and give them instruction so that they will be able to follow Jesus closely.
Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt 28:19-20, NRSV)The followers of Christ have only one aim: to bring Jesus to people and to bring people to Jesus. That’s it: no more, no less.