Summary: Christians are commanded to make disciples. The process of discipleship includes: going; baptising; teaching. The responsibility devolves upon each follower of the Christ.

“It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ And Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” [1]

Discipleship is expected to be integral to the daily life of every community of faith. However, the process of discipling is woefully neglected among the churches of our Lord. To be certain, there are churches that take discipling quite seriously; but for the most, discipleship is lost in the rush to gain adherents. Let me say quite clearly for the benefit of all who listen—not every individual in attendance at a service is a disciple. Candidly, not every person in regular attendance is engaged in the process of being discipled. To appropriate a common saying, “Disciples are made, not born.”

The process of discipleship is presented concisely in the words of the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” [MATTHEW 28:19, 20 NET BIBLE]. The command is to “make disciples.” The means by which disciples are made is given with the participles employed—going, baptising and teaching. These three words define the discipling process. Congregations are to be engaged in discipling through going, baptising and teaching. If any one of these activities is neglected, whatever else we may be doing, discipleship cannot take place.

Evangelism and discipleship are conjoined—they cannot be separated. Where evangelism is taking place, discipleship (of necessity) is taking place. Where discipleship is practised, evangelism is being conducted. I am not suggesting that there is no room for learning how to be more efficient or how to be better equipped for doing either evangelism or discipleship, but I am saying that it is not an issue of either/or, rather it is an issue of both/and whenever we are discussing evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism is not complete until we have discipled those coming into the Faith of Christ the Lord; and discipleship means that we are equipping new converts for evangelism. This dual responsibility is evident in the account of some “disciples” whom the missionaries met in the city of Ephesus during the Apostle Paul’s third missionary journey.

THE JOHN THE BAPTIST CULT — Paul met some disciples; but he was cautious about embracing them as followers of the Master. It was necessary to draw them out by asking selected questions. There are some startling truths discovered in this pericope—truths that need to be emphasised so that we understand what the Spirit of God would teach us. These disciples whom Paul met were disciples of John the Baptist. What is surprising about that is that John had been dead for more than a generation. You will remember that John was the Forerunner who blazed the way for Messiah; his ministry was concluded before the crucifixion of Jesus.

Another fact that is important to keep in mind is that John never sought to create disciples that would follow him—John pointed those who heard his message to look to Jesus as Messiah. This should not be taken to mean that John’s baptism was flawed, as is often done. Remember that Jesus received baptism from John. Recall the exchange as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’” Then he consented” [MATTHEW 3:13-15]. The only baptism Jesus received was from John. By this act, the Master put His approval on John and on his ministry.

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