Jesus Christ commanded us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:19–20).
DISCIPLE Bible Study was designed by Methodist pastors in the United States to help participants fulfil this Great Commission, first for them to become disciples of Jesus, and then to go on to make disciples for Christ. God has truly been with us throughout the past 30 years as He worked through His faithful servants to bring DISCIPLE from the US to Singapore in 1991, and from Singapore to the rest of Asia-Pacific, including East Malaysia, West Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia.
On 4 Nov 2021, about 120 persons gathered at Faith Methodist Church and 300 from local and overseas churches joined us online to thank and praise God for His faithfulness for the last 30 years.
Life Transformation is the key focus of DISCIPLE
“The word, ‘Disciple’, (Greek: mathetes) occurs at least 230 times in the Gospels and 28 times in Acts. Hence, we cannot escape the biblical teaching that to be a Christian is to be a disciple of Christ,” said Rev Stanley Chua, the President of Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC).
He said: “When discipleship is absent in a Christian life, Christians will tend to live lives that are fundamentally no different than that of non-Christians. As a result, they would be ineffective witnesses for Christ.
“The hope of DISCIPLE Bible Study is that as we study the Bible, not only will be gain more knowledge about our faith, but more importantly, all of us might be transformed to be more and more like Christ, our Lord and Master. Merely reading and studying the Bible will not do us much good unless we are seeking not only to know Jesus but to have a personal relationship with him. This is the key to transformation in a Christian life.”
DISCIPLE and Christian Conferencing In Wesleyan Discipleship
Rev Dr Edwin Tay, Principal of Trinity Theological College (TTC), then took the audience through Christian Conferencing, which is the means of grace that was critical in the expansion of early Methodism but which has become one of the most neglected of our spiritual disciplines.
According to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, “means of grace are ‘outward signs, words, actions ordained of God, and appointed for this end—to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace’.”
The key section on the means of grace begins with the following question: “Do
you use all the means of grace yourself, and enforce the use of them on all persons?” This is followed by a list of the means of grade under the headings, “Instituted” and “Prudential”.
Christian conferencing is listed under Instituted means of grace, together with
prayer (private and corporate); reading, hearing and meditating on Holy Scripture (what Wesley calls “searching the Scriptures”); the Lord’s Supper and Fasting.
“The implication is clear: These are practices which are commanded in Scripture and meant for all Christians. John Wesley thus expected all Methodists to practise Christian Conference regularly,” said Rev Tay. And the conferencing must be “a particular kind of conversation that is intentional”, “acknowledges the presence of God” and “ministers grace to one another. It actually aims at growing the life of God in the soul of men”.
Rev Tay continued: “Christian conferencing is important because it is concerned with inward (“the true state of our souls”) and outward holiness (‘words’ and ‘deeds’). But it is also difficult because it demands truthfulness and authenticity in conversation in the face of our human weakness and sinfulness. We would try to hide the true state of our soul.”
Having gone through DISCIPLE in his teenage years, Rev Tay concluded that the kind of questions raised in DISCIPLE Bible Study would facilitate conversations on the state of the soul.
Forging Spiritual Friendships through DISCIPLE
Rev Dr Goh Nai Lat, President of the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC), then spoke on forging spiritual friendships.
“Following the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Christian believers must first self-identify as disciples of Jesus Christ before they can make disciples for Christ,” he said.
In his understanding, “the difference between a believer and a disciple lies in this—to be a believer emphasises faith, while being a disciple lies in action. […] The intention of the DISCIPLE course is to marry the two—faith and action. From faith in ‘The Bible Teaching’ to the important action we must take in the ‘Marks of Discipleship’. And from ‘Our Human Condition’ to the act of mutual prayer and accountability,” said Rev Goh. (“The Bible Teaching”, “Marks of Discipleship” and “Our Human Condition” are all key features of DISCIPLE 1.)
According to Rev Goh, DISCIPLE can help people to become disciples for Christ through the use of God-given means of grace and the forging of spiritual friendships.
“John Wesley knew that people needed God’s grace, and was, at the same time, aware of the frailty of human nature—its resistance to grace, lack of discipline and the brokenness of the old self,” said Rev Goh. “He thus introduced the framework for mutual accountability through the formation of classes, bands and societies. Basically, it is a small group which functions within a covenant, with everyone watching over one another in love. The small group is the essence of the Methodist movement, and the particular attention that John Wesley gave to the groups was the key to its success.”
The Design Philosophy behind DISCIPLE is to use the means of grace in a covenant group to bring about renewal of life, he said.
Citing John 15:12–21, Rev Goh said it reflects a picture of intimacy and companionship. “There are three levels of Disciples in the Early Church: Servant (First level); Children (Second level); and Friend (Third level). The disciples who laid down their lives for Jesus as Jesus laid down his life for his friends were known as friends of Jesus.”
“To be a disciple of Christ, we need God’s grace, and God has already prepared the means through which we can receive his grace. As for the path of discipleship, we need companions—spiritual friendships that give us strength and satisfaction in our heavenward journey.”
DISCIPLE 30th anniversary book, logo and T-shirt
In conjunction with the 30th Anniversary Thanksgiving Celebration, Disciple Agency also published a DISCIPLE Commemorative Book, Our Sacred Garden, which was launched by Bishop Dr Gordon Wong. The bilingual book contains Insights on Discipleship as well as articles on important aspects of Wesleyan Discipleship written by our Bishop, Presidents of the three Annual Conferences and Methodist lecturers from Trinity Theological College.
The book also traces the 30-year journey of DISCIPLE in Singapore where we witnessed the amazing work of God and His walk with many faithful servants across time and space. Finally, the book also includes many inspiring testimonies of CAC, ETAC and TRAC members whose lives have been duly transformed through DISCIPLE.
A logo design competition was organised for this special occasion, and with it a 30th Anniversary t-shirt, and the winning logo was created by Mr Wong Joon Kim from Toa Payoh Methodist Church.
We remember, thank and glorify God for His goodness and faithfulness. Well wishes were received from our partners in Sarawak, West Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia and Taiwan. Bishop Richard Wilke, the founder of the DISCIPLE Bible Study, also sent us his recorded greetings from the United States, and Mrs Wini Grizzle, one of our early trainers, sent us a beautiful bouquet of 30 roses.
DISCPLE 30TH ANNIVERSARY BOOK
You may obtain a copy of the DISCIPLE 30th Anniversary Book by giving a love gift of $30 (or more) to Disciple Agency. The Book has been fully sponsored. So every single cent that you give will go towards the development of DISCIPLE in Singapore and the region, including the DISCIPLE digitalisation project. To order, go to https://tinyurl.com/DISCIPLE30thOrderForm or scan the QR code.
Alvin Tay is a DA Exco member and DISCIPLE 30th Anniversary Task Force Chairman. He and his family worship at Wesley Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of DISCIPLE