In modern Christianity, our beliefs trump our behavior. We are so consumed with our systematic theologies and doctrinal critique and defense, we lose sight of how we show up as Christ followers. This dualism is embedded in our identity: believers vs. disciples of Christ.
Believers of Christ
As believers, our theology of Christ is supreme. We can articulate what and why we believe a certain doctrine of Christ and boldly critique other doctrinal streams. We can make advanced apologetic arguments that make our beliefs impenetrable to counter argument. We can argue why Christianity is better than other religions. We can present a 3 step evangelistic formula for conversion.
In doing all of this we can lack love. Our theological astuteness comes with intellectual pride, denominational arrogance and an aloofness that denies the mystery of our faith. We do not have the humility to recognize that we don’t have all the answers; neither are we called to defend God and the person of Christ at every turn, especially when we cannot make sense of the paradox of belief and behaviour in fellow Christians.
Disciples of Christ
Or identity as Disciples calls us from our heads to our hearts and hands and feet.
Discipleship is personal. It’s commitment to and following of a person. You cannot be a disciple of a movement, a cult or a religious system. A disciple follows a person. We who are Christians are Christ followers. Like the first disciples of Jesus, we respond to His call. Our following is not first and foremost an intellectual, theological act. It is simply an act of obedience to a call greater than our imagination.
Discipleship is communal. When we become disciples of Christ through our public declaration in baptism, we immediately become joined with a community of believers. People we didn’t choose to be with; who Christ has chosen. We suddenly become included in a global community of diverse nations, people groups, language, cultures, gender and sexual orientations. Discipleship is learning to live in our local and global communities in all our diverse messiness.
This community is not a random group but is called the family of God. There is an intimacy of relationship. Added to this is the mystery that we are in communion not only with those on earth but also disciples and angelic beings that are in the heavens. Our communion is eternal.
For Disciples, what we believe is not separate from how we behave. The early disciples did not have volumes of systematic theology to make sense of Christ and his doctrines. They only had access to Him as the Living Word revealed by God to simple, unschooled fisherman. They learned what it is to believe in Christ through experiencing how he behaved and in obedience to the behaviour he expected of them – as His disciples.
Ironically, the learned teachers, Rabbis, scribes and Pharisees – the intelligentsia of the day was who Christ reserved his harshest criticism for. At every turn, he challenged their self righteousness grounded in their biblical theology. Jesus did not write any books on doctrine. He priorities what was important – that a small group of disciples experience Him and what his teachings of the new kingdom meant in practice. An experience grounded in love. Nowhere is Jesus espousing theologies of hellfire and the afterlife above love and grace.
He came to revolutionize not only our false thinking but to manifest a new way of living – of being. He came as the awaited the Jewish Messiah; unrecognized because He did not conform to the beliefs they had of how the messiah would show up.
Christ life was a radical life: challenging the economic and political system of the time; challenging pharisaical prescriptions that placed burdens on people; breaking barriers of exclusion in race, gender, social class and religiosity; reframing power and privilege; reclaiming justice for the poor and marginalized. In this new Kingdom the ones that mattered more were the poor, marginalized and persecuted. He came not as dictator imposing a new set of beliefs and enlightened teachings and doctrines. He came as a servant-leader, showing a new way that was possible but also costly.
Christ’s crucifixion shows the cost of discipleship. Sadly the crucifixion of Christ is romanticized in enlightenment art hanging in world galleries become a myth for many. His mission was not popular heroism. In reality, His crucifixion was an unjust, malicious, cruel and violent experience. There is nothing heroic in seeing a just man being crucified. Our theologies of salvation strip away the human indignity and trauma of the event for his disciples, his mother and family in our detached arguments of how his death satisfied the grand salvation purpose. We turn God the Father into a clinically detached and narcissistic parent who self righteously watches his grand plan play out – his child a victim pawn.
If our faith was based only on doctrinal belief, Christianity would have been extinguished by now like the beliefs in the invincible Great Roman Empire. Discipleship connects with something deeper that informs our beliefs and still remains a mystery – lest we become arrogant in our knowing and replay our first sin as in the Edenic Garden.
Paraphrasing the words of Christ – His disciples will be known not by their beliefs but by their fruit (behaviour). Woe unto us who like the cursed fig tree, having the form of faith with strong trunks of solid belief yet unable to provide sustenance for the weary traveler of faith.
It’s easier to belief than to behave. Behaving as disciples of Christ is no walk in the park. Jesus’ call to action is a radical, life changing and costly. This is why we cannot do this on our own. Any independent faith walk is doomed to fail!