Discipleship, News

Salvation and Discipleship: A privilege and a challenge

METHODIST MESSAGE (MM) IS HONOURED TO HAVE THE REV DR DAVID LOWES WATSON, OUR SPEAKER AT THIS YEAR’S ALDERSGATE SG 2014 CONVENTION, GIVE US A PREVIEW ON “SALVATION AND DISCIPLESHIP”, THE SECOND OF HIS THREE LECTURES THIS COMING MAY. A PREVIEW OF HIS FIRST LECTURE, “BORN OF THE SPIRIT”, WAS PUBLISHED IN THE MARCH 2014 ISSUE OF MM, WHILE THE MAY ISSUE WILL CARRY THE PREVIEW OF HIS THIRD LECTURE: “ANOINTED BY THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD”.

Dr Watson writes
Salvation and Discipleship:
A privilege and a challenge

…“Come, sinners, to the gospel feast, let every soul be Jesus’ guest. Ye need not one be left behind, for God hath bidden all mankind.”

We need to make a clear distinction between salvation and discipleship, since both words are often misunderstood in the mission and ministry of the church. This becomes apparent if we read Luke 14:25-33 where Jesus talks about the cost of discipleship, and then compare these verses with how we welcome people into church membership.

If we were to make these words of Jesus the condition of church membership, not only would we have very few people joining the church, we would also lose most of the members we already have. So instead we tend to blend salvation and discipleship, resulting in a misuse of both words.

To resolve the confusion we simply need to note that the ministry of Jesus had two tracks: for the people, and for his disciples.

First, the people – who came to Jesus in their hundreds and sometimes thousands. He welcomed them, taught them, fed them, healed them, played with their children, and loved them. All of this was offered unconditionally, grace upon grace. By contrast, his call to discipleship was blunt, even harsh, and it always carried the word “if”. IF you want to be my disciple, then count the cost, take up the cross, and follow me.

We need to make this distinction much more clearly in our congregations. The message of salvation in and through Jesus Christ is offered to everyone. As Charles Wesley put it: “Come, sinners, to the gospel feast, let every soul be Jesus’ guest. Ye need not one be left behind, for God hath bidden all mankind.”

But Jesus did not call everyone to be his disciple, and when he did he made clear that accepting the call would be costly. There were those who were not ready to count the cost, and Jesus did not condemn them for not being ready; nor should we. We must welcome everyone and offer them the grace of Christ, which most congregations do very well, but we should not expect all of our members to be ready for discipleship.

This clarification could greatly strengthen pastoral leadership in the church, both clergy and laity. It affirms the call to costly discipleship, but does not devalue church membership which is also a means of grace, just as it was for the people who came to him two thousand years ago to be fed and taught and healed and loved.

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The Rev Dr David Lowes Watson is an eminent Wesleyan scholar, author and Methodist minister of the Tennessee Conference, The United Methodist Church.

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