Like everything else, Christian discipleship is for him (God), through him, and to him (Romans 11:36). But Star Wars may be having a draining, and unfortunately prideful, effect on how Christians go about making disciples.
What’s the Context?
The Star Wars films are an iconic story of good overcoming evil, and though there are many characters and storylines running through the movies the role that the Jedi play in them are front and center. The Jedi, with all their neat toys and abilities, are individuals that are uniquely gifted to discern and manipulate “the force” – the power that holds all things together. Jedi Knights develop more Jedi by bringing up new and identified younger individuals who also have this special force-sensitivity, known as Padawans, through intense and deliberate relational and experiential teaching. We will call this the Master-Learner dynamic. The Masters teach everything they know to the Padawan over years with the hopes that the Padawan will one day be able to don the title of Jedi like his Master. In this, there is no room for the Padawan to contradict his Master, and must remain in submission to everything that the Master asks of him. Though the Padawan can become a Jedi like his Master in the form of title, we see in the movies that the distinct Master-Learner dynamic is still very much in place even when titles no longer seem to be distinguishable. For instance, one Master-Learner chain looks like this: Yoda>Qui-Gon Jinn>Obi-Wan Kenobi>Anakin Skywalker. In this chain, Yoda is seen as the superior authority even when others are of the same title.
In a way, most of this can find a mirror of sorts in Christian discipleship; however, I think that fidelity to this “model” of discipleship will do more damage than good when we think the “Master” of the relationship is any other created man (contemporary or otherwise).
What Does The Bible Tell Us?
While Christian discipleship takes many forms, and there is not one specifically correct way to do it, we can learn a lot from the example of Jesus’ relationship with his disciples as described in the four gospel accounts of the Bible – the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus does several things of note. He formally summons his disciples (Matthew 4:18-2), shares his life with them (all four gospel accounts), teaches them (Matthew 5:1-2, Luke 6:20), rebukes them (Matthew 16:23, Mark 8:33), and sacrifices himself for them (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45) among other things. However, while trying to emulate Jesus’ example of discipleship, we must remember one very important thing: we are not Jesus.
The Great Commission to us from Jesus tells us to go and make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). So this says that we are to – by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit – make disciples that love, cherish, and follow Jesus. We are not to make the name of any man famous by the number of followers he amasses, but instead glorify the name of Christ by making disciples of him. No man, however morally upright, can save a person. The only salvation for man belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8, Jonah 2:9), so our discipleship should reflect the humility of having been saved by the same grace that saved those people we are teaching to observe all that Jesus commanded of us.
Don’t get me wrong, because we are all gifted differently by God there will be some that are natural leaders – this will manifest itself in our discipleship relationships, and God is going to use that gift to glorify himself. But he will also use that gift to edify the body of Christ. For this to happen, the leader must be rooted in the grace of Christ that saved him/her. This will create godly leadership that is marked by its grounding in humble repentance and submission to Jesus, not self-righteous lordship.
How Does That Look?
All of us have sinned (Romans 3:23) and if we have placed our faith in Jesus, then our salvation was no more or less costly than that of our brother or sister. No man or woman is above another in that regard. Paul says that he is happy that he has baptized so few people so that no one can find a reason to boast about their being baptized by him (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). He is saying that he wants no one to think differently of themselves because they were – or were not – baptized by him because that is not the point. The point is that they are new creations that have been established, and will be sustained, by Christ.
Paul’s appeal is to those new Christians that are boasting of their identity in the man that they are claiming to be a disciple of (e.g.; Paul, Apollos, Cephas). He is saying that they are all disciples of Christ, so regardless of who it is that they learned from they are all established by Jesus so there should be no divisions. In a sense Paul is talking out of the discipleship tree (from the trunk – himself – to the branches). However, this corrective speech can come from the branches to the trunk with just as much validity, but is sometimes not always heard as easily. This is where the Master-Learner dynamic is now completely thrown off. If the trunk is forgetting where its roots lie – in God’s grace – and its ultimate reason for being, then it will fail to nourish the branches and ultimately die from lack of proper grounding. This post is meant to urge the tree trunks (myself included) to mind their roots!
Too often in our discipleship we are either boasting in our ability to lead, or the lineage we have come from (e.g., how many we have led and their subsequent successes or the trunk we are a branch of). This is common in the world. In academia, if I went to college and learned from the foremost authority in my field then I can boast of the specific knowledge that I have because of the individual that taught me. We can draw the same conclusions from arts, to trade, and everything in between. However, when it comes to true discipleship we cannot boast in anything but Christ (Galatians 6:14) – nor should we. All that we need to know about God to live a proper life has been revealed to us in Scripture. So in a community of believers, being a people of the word, living our lives changed by the truth of the gospel, and inviting each other in to that dynamic relationship, the only Master we can boast in for our identity, understanding, and salvation is Christ himself.
True discipleship between brothers and sisters in Christ is a mutual submission to God. Though some are most certainly farther along in the process of sanctification (being made like Jesus) this does not change our establishment in grace. Though the directionality of discipleship often runs from more to less experienced – as we might expect to see in anything else – all of us should be aware of the times it will come back the other way. We should be prepared to humble ourselves and receive correction, rebuke, and instruction from places we might not be expecting to find it. We should be quick to listen when someone we led to Christ, or directed in discipleship, teaches us. We should not see it as a blow to our pride, but instead find it to be a reason to bring much glory to God.
The wrestle with our pride is real, and should be acknowledged. The internal struggle might look a bit like this: “Are you really going to give advice to me? Am I not the one that taught you most of this?” These arguments seem reasonable from a worldly viewpoint, but as Christians we must remember that God had a very similar one-way conversation with Job (Job 38-41). The important difference is that this was the one true, sovereign, and almighty God – the nourishing soil in which our roots lie – speaking to dust and ashes Job… not fallible man speaking to equally fallible man. This should remind us, yet again, that we are not God and we are not making disciples of us but of Jesus. We are all on an even playing field when it comes to grace, and we should treat our brothers and sisters as such. Both how we disciple others and how we are discipled by others beg to be seen in light of that wondrous grace of God through Jesus Christ.
So where does that leave us? Going back to Star Wars, we are left outside of the Master-Learner dynamic as it specifically pertains to our discipleship of one another. It shows us that God is both the “force” that holds all things together, and the Master we are all learners from. We are disciples of Jesus Christ, and as we bend our knee in loyalty we do so side by side with our brothers and sisters from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Revelation 7:9-10). All of the laborers – from the first hour to the eleventh – gathered around the throne of grace bringing praise, glory, and honor to our King.