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Not by our words, but by the way we live

Photo courtesy of Phil Day

The Year of Discipleship is part of the Uniting Church in Queensland's Vision 2020, focusing on the call to form active and accountable disciples of all ages. This month, Geoff Thompson explores how the church is re-claiming this concept.

Jesus once asked his disciples who the people said he was. Apparently some thought he was John the Baptist, some Elijah, some Jeremiah. No doubt there were reasons the people put Jesus into these categories drawn from Israel's history. Yet, the category which most fully defined Jesus eluded them: messiah.

Imagine if someone were to ask our contemporaries who we, today's Christians, were. What categories might be turned up in the answers? Some might say we're "religious"; some "spiritual". Others might describe us as "church-goers".

Still others might resort to terms like "God-botherers" or even "deluded".

Yet the category that might elude our contemporaries would be the one which arguably most fully defines us: disciples of Jesus.

There is much evidence, however, that in recent decades the church has itself been re-claiming this language into its self-understanding. We are, I think, tired of being "religious", being "spiritual" is a bit nebulous, and we don't believe we're "deluded".

To understand ourselves as disciples of Jesus, and to understand our churches as communities of disciples of Jesus, is to be very specific about our identity.

It reminds us of who it is we follow and the kind of life to which we are called: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34).

The teaching and example of Jesus tell us what that means: loving and praying for our enemies, being merciful and forgiving, honouring the poor and homeless, treating all as neighbours, being generous with our possessions, and living for God and God's reign.

According to one of the great modern writers on discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, by living such lives "Christians should give more offence, shock the world far more, than they are doing now".

Perhaps this year of discipleship might be measured by how much we offend and shock our contemporaries by the lives we live, and the quality of Christian communities we form.

Rev Dr Geoff Thompson Principal and Director of Studies – Systematic Theology, Trinity Theological College, Brisbane.

Photo : Photo courtesy of Phil Day