Vision Magazine, no 13, Jan – Feb 1975
Discipleship and Community: Musts for the Church?
By Ron Foulkes
Editor’s Note: Teaching on the subject of discipleship has become a matter of controversy, particularly in America, in these last twelve months. The problem is aggravated by the semantic question of the meaning of the word ‘discipleship’. Traditionally, ‘discipleship’ has been discipleship to Jesus (Luke 9:23; 14:27) but in some current teaching it means discipleship to another person. It is my own opinion that the first usage is the correct Scriptural usage and it is in the way that it is used in this article.
Alan Langstaff’s timely article, ‘Where is the Charismatic Movement going?’, (Vision Magazine, Sept./Oct. 1975) pinpoints Parish renewal as the most pressing need of today. I heartily agree that ‘Charismatic Renewal will have no lasting effect unless it reaches into the life of the local Church.’ But its impact upon the Parish must penetrate more deeply than the froth and bubble stage of hand clapping, tongue-speaking and exuberant worship. Unless Charismatic Christians are prepared to take more seriously the Great Commission of our Lord, the imperative ‘Go ye… to make disciples of all nations.’ (Matt 28:19) and to commit themselves in more radical ways to the communitarian vocation of being the KOINONIA… the life giving maturing fellowship which is Christ’s Body, the Renewal will be short-lived.
The extremes that have arisen in teaching on Discipleship and Community are most unfortunate but equally dangerous are the scathing attacks made by some charismatic leaders in this country concerning these issues. We must be careful lest we throw out the baby with the bathwater simply because of rash generalizations and unwillingness to objectively assess the spiritual truths that God is trying to teach us.
 Vision Magazine, no 13, Jan – Feb 1975
My wife and I visited South America and the U.S.A. last year, with specific objectives — to study the emerging pattern of Renewal in terms of discipleship, community expression and social impact. We visited many fast growing churches which were flowing in the stream of Charismatic Renewal and a number of others in which there was evidence of dramatic growth, although specific charismatic emphases were missing. What was common to all was a strong emphasis upon Discipleship — a commitment of all members to disciplined study of the Word and to action for Christ. Where this emphasis was lacking we saw good things happening, but the church was not being renewed.
Discipleship is not a new fangled notion. The word disciple is similar to the word discipline - it simply means "to be taught", "to be trained", "to be equipped for action". Old Testament prophets had their disciples (e.g. Isa. 8:16); Jesus chose twelve young men to be His disciples and spent three years of His short life equipping them for the responsibilities they were to assume after His ascension. In His final instructions, Jesus commanded His followers "to make disciples" (Matt. 28:19), not for themselves, but for Him. Our task is to help men. to live under the Lordship of Christ, to bring them under His discipline, to nurture them into a living, growing relationship with Christ so that they may, in turn, be equipped to bring others into a similar relationship.
In these days when so much that poses as Christianity is false and superficial, we do well to recall Paul's antidote to falseness and superficiality - his doctrine of Discipleship. He warned the Ephesian Christians they would face attacks from without and subversion from within (Act 20:29-30). He says it will be "by the Word of God's grace" that they will be built up and enabled to stand firm (Act 20:32). In his letter to the Ephesians he gives clear direction as to how this is to be done; it is the task of the apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers to "equip the saints" for the work of the ministry. The word equip, like the word disciple, means "to shape up", "to get ready for action". The instrument by which this is to be accomplished is God's Word — "the flock is to be nurtured upon the Word" (1 Peter 2:2, Heb. 5:12-13); it is the Word which will bring men to maturity in Christ (Col. 1:28). Paul spoke in Ephesus for five hours a day, every day for two years; a total of 3,650 hours. Why? To equip the saints for ministry. It is not surprising that revival followed! Revival, at grass roots level, within the local parish, will occur only when there is the same emphasis upon Discipleship — upon disciplined study of the Word, issuing in active and aggressive evangelism.
But in our contemporary world, the problem is always time — how do we find the time needed for the many-sided task of ministry? The key is the communitarian life of believers, which releases men for ministry, and is the most profound and practical visible expression of KOINONIA.
The growth of Christian communities in various overseas Churches, and in some Australian Churches too, is a most significant phenomenon which is normally, but not exclusively, an ancillary of Charismatic Renewal. During our time overseas we were not only impressed, but greatly challenged as we lived and shared with members of Churches where corporate life was expressed through community. These Churches reflected a greater depth of love, and were making a far greater impact upon the total life of the society in which they were set, than any other Churches we have known. As we spoke with leaders of the communities at the Episcopalian Church of the Redeemer, at the Chula Vista Baptist Church, and within the Word of God Community at Ann Arbor, we wondered why we had been so blind as not to see long before, the scriptural significance of the communitarian life. Why should we become excited at Acts 2:4 — the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and agree the experience is valid for today, and yet conveniently ignore
 Vision Magazine, no 13, Jan – Feb 1975
the logical outcome of the experience — the life of community, so faithfully recorded in Acts 2:42-27 and in Acts 4:32-35?
Community, after all, is simply a genuine expression of fellowship ~ a word we have sadly under-rated, speaking too often of "having fellowship over a cup of tea", as though it were a passing phase of relationship! The Hebrew, CHABAR, and its Greek equivalent, KOINONIA, have the meaning — "to bind", "to join together", "to become one". KOINONIA, is derived from KOINOS, meaning — "common" — it suggests giving a share in something to someone and having a share in something with someone. Jude speaks of a "common salvation" (Jude 3), Paul speaks of a "common faith" (Tutus 1:4) and a "common task" (Phil. 4:3).
Christian fellowship is a commitment which implies a two-fold relationship. It is, at the one time, a vertical relationship (the sharing together of Christians in and with Christ), and also a horizontal relationship (the sharing together of Christians in and with Christ). The latter relationship is expressed in the outworking of love — in mutual sympathy and service, in visible demonstrations of unity, and in the pooling of persons and goods as practised in the early Church. The two relationships are inseparable — the vertical is the origin of the horizontal, and the horizontal, in its expression, is a confirmation of the reality of the vertical. John highlights this truth in saying, we are to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34).
In the Greek, the passages from Act 2:44 and Acts 4:32 have a definite article. They speak of the KOINONIA, suggesting that the sharing of material possessions may well be the highest expression, in concrete terms, of this horizontal relationship. In John's first letter this relationship is the major theme. He pleads the cause of KOINONIA (1 John 1:6-7). He affirms that fellowship comes from the top down, and not from the bottom up — it has meaning only as it is ground in the existence and purpose of God and in the shared task that Christ gives to His Church in the world. John implies the pooling of resources, both material and spiritual, and declares that the life God promised is only to be discovered as it is shared (1 John 3:16-17). It is as men are brought together and given to each other by the Holy Spirit, that they find the reality of the faith which is embodied in the shared life of the Church (1 John 3:23-24).
In the light of this, dare we suggest that the community life of the primitive Church was purely experimental; that it could not last? There is no evidence to support this view; rather it seems that what happened after Pentecost was simply an enlarged awareness of the way of life which had distinguished the followers of Jesus from the first. Jesus had inherited from Judaism and from the Greco-Roman culture, an understanding of Community which is not generally recognised today. Platonic thought embraced a philosophy of life in which property rights were held communally — thus the whole community was a family, not because they had a common name, but by virtue of their actions, Jesus, with a rich awareness of this heritage, saw Himself and His disciples as belonging to the family of Israel; He sought to live the life of His Father, Israel's Father, and called upon His disciples to do the same. He and His disciples were the first Christian Community; they shared a common purse, and in living the life of the Father, they recognised the unique relationship into which they were drawn. Indeed, Jesus said it was impossible to glorify the Father in isloation from that relationship (Matt. 5:16).
Jesus clearly willed for His followers the same communitarian life. The concept of KOINONIA, in its deepest expression, was central to His message (Matt. 4:22, 23:37-38). It is not surprising then, that in the early Church, Community became the norm of the Christian life; it was called VITA APOSTOLICA, "The Apostolic Life". Ample evidence exists in the writings of the early Church, in "The
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Didache", in the writings of Tertullian, and Irenaeus, to confirm that the life of Community continued as the norm of Church life at least until the Edict of Milan (312 A.D.), when Constantine, by making Christianity a state religion, allowed it to become fashionable and less genuine. Commenting upon the decline of spiritual vitality, Thomas Aquinas (C13th.) declared, "Sin has made the division of goods necessary, but they ought to be for common use ... the possession of all things in common, and uniform freedom, are matters of natural law, a law that has not been changed".
We have often grown excited when reading the words, "The Lord added daily to the Church such as were being saved" (Acts 2:47). Could it be that this significant growth was in direct proportion to the commitment of its members to the communitarian ideal?
Evidence strongly supports this, and not only that drawn from the first few centuries of Christendom, but also from the religious awakenings of more recent times. Methodists have long gloried in their "connexional spirit"; we say it is one of our greatest strengths, but we have lost sight of its origin. It's almost breathtaking to realise that the "connexional principle" sprang from the communitarian vocation of the early Methodists, who pooled persons and resources for the sake of the Gospel, thus enabling the release of men for ministry, a factor of vital importance in the resurgence of spiritual life and the social consciousness which followed.
For too long, we have allowed our religious efforts to revolve around minister-centred Churches, but with the increasing pressures facing us today, such Churches are doomed to fail. We may rally the laity, but the laity cannot cope if individuals are acting independantly and giving only small parcels of spare time. God is challenging us to allow ourselves to be drawn together into integrated communities — into KOINONIAS raised up by the Spirit, each comprising believers having differing offices and charisms, who share together as brothers and sisters in the Lord, some supporting, others devoting themselves to full-time ministry for Christ and His kingdom.
This pattern of ministry, which becomes possible through Community, has greater flexibility, and enables us to function according to the spiritual principles of John 15 - our "abiding in Christ" is no longer a personal and mystical thing, but an abiding together, being the Body in the Pauline sense (1 Cor. 12:12), integrated one with another and always ready and willing to support each other, so that the Church may accept with greater seriousness our Lord's commission to "Go ... and make disciples (Matt. 28:19).
As we dare to rediscover our communitarian vocation, the VITA APOSTOLICA, will be restored to us, and this will make possible the kind of Church we affirm in the Creeds - "One holy, catholic and apostolic Church." Are we prepared to pay the price, to cease counting the cost and to allow the Holy Spirit to bring us into a new experience of the shared life? It is good to hold shares together in the Gospel, but let's remember we hold them, not by virtue of the Christ we possess, but because of the One who possesses us. His life is a shared life; the supreme example of what ours should be!
Rev. Ron Foulkes is Superintendent Minister of the Morwell Methodist Circuit and Director of the Morwell "Life Centre" — an outreach arm of the Church, which sponsors a Residential Drop-in Centre, a Coffee House Ministry and spearheads groups such as "Christ's Crusaders" Motor Cycle Club. The Centre is a popular venue for District Conferences, Festivals and Meetings with emphasis upon Renewal. Church Members are largely committed to a programme of Discipleship training, equipping them as a Body for service. The present full-time staff of six are largely supported by the "Community of the Living Word" — a voluntary association of Christians drawn together in commitment to one another, and who are pooling their resources in support of these and other anticipated full-time ministries.
Mr. Foulkes, who travelled overseas last year, visiting New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and
 Vision Magazine, no 13, Jan – Feb 1975
the U.S.A., has made a careful study of Christian Discipleship and the resurgence of Christian Community life, which he sees as having great significance for the future Church, as a means of providing the resources for evangelising and enabling the Christian to grapple more seriously with the social issues of our time.