Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Over Eight Years Later: Signs of ICOC Reversion, Part 2

This is the second of three posts commenting on recent articles on Disciples Today concerning the reversion of the ICOC to a state before Kip McKean was dismissed from the organization. The second article is entitled The Joys of a Discipling Relationship, written by Ross Lippencott, a campus student who was "converted post-2003" in his own words. The first paragraph provides a concerning summary of the article:
"I was not growing because I did not have a Paul in my life. I did not have someone to teach me, to train me, to correct me, to rebuke me, to love me, to guide me, to help develop the character of Jesus in me - to get in there and encourage as well as to say the hard things that no one else could."
The traditional, authoritarian, hierarchical model of discipling in the ICOC has been well-documented. A top-down system of control is established in each congregation from a Lead Evangelist or Lead Elder and each congregation's leadership is discipled in a top-down form from more influential churches to less influential ones. One of the key reforms called for by the Henry Kriete Letter was to reform the discipling system:
"We have assumed, wrongly, that the sheep are stupid. We have trained them to depend on men, on us in fact, and not on Christ. 'Did you get advice' for the most part means 'Did you get permission.' Yes of course, they are vulnerable and open to attack, but they are not stupid. It is we who have been stupid, Biblically and spiritually. Should we not assume, rather, that a true, Spirit-filled Christian desires to please God, not to rebel? Ezekiel 36: 'I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws'.

Through our discipleship partner theology, we have attempted, like modern-day Pharisees, to put a hedge around God's law. In trying to protect or control the Christians, we have routinely violated their liberty in Christ. We have not trusted disciples to live by their own convictions and decisions (and mistakes), and have fostered in them an unhealthy dependence, rather than freedom to grow and mature. Many of our discipling guidelines are nothing more than 'rules taught by men', condemned by Jesus as burdensome and legalistic. No control mechanisms, or traditions of men, or rules and culturally accepted regulations will keep anyone faithful who does not want to be faithful in their heart. But they will create rebellion and criticalness among sincere and liberated Christians. We did not become new creations to be controlled by men; rather, 'it is for freedom Christ has set us free'"
In light of Henry's call, Ross's descriptions of discipling indicate that Henry's truthful insights have been ignored.
"'That was it!' I had realized. I was not growing because I did not have a Paul in my life. I did not have someone to teach me, to train me, to correct me, to rebuke me, to love me, to guide me, to help develop the character of Jesus in me - to get in there and encourage as well as to say the hard things that no one else could"
Healthy Christian relationships when it comes to teaching can be classified in three ways relative to an individual believer: student-teacher, peer-peer, and teacher-student. Ross's article only describes one of these aspects: student-teacher. He needs a Paul in his life to teach him as his student. He doesn't need peers like Barnabas and Silas. And he doesn't need students like Timothy that he can teach, although he will likely become a Paul himself some day. With the focus on only the necessity of the teacher, the groundwork is laid for a repeat of the authoritarian abuses of the past.

Sadly, Ross has no frame of reference of this kind of discipling:
"As someone who was converted post-2003, I never had an assigned 'discipling partner' and quite frankly - because of my limited understanding - the term 'discipling partner' had a negative connotation. However, the way Nilson had described his relationship with Troy sounded very different from everything I had associated with 'discipling' in the past. To be honest, they sounded a lot like... well ... friends. To be honest, I needed a friend."
Ross got his friend - and friends are a blessing from God! - but Ross has no idea about the evolution of the optional prayer partner back in the Crossroads Campus Ministry days of the late 1960's to discipling partners to mandatory discipling partners to mandatory assigned discipling partners that can change at the blink of an eye due to the whims of the leadership.

Again, as was shown in the last commentary on Joseph Porter, the lack of the role of the Holy Spirit in Ross's life is disturbing. For a healthy believer needs both need the relationships in a healthy community of Christians and the Holy Spirit to be taught (John 14:26), trained in divine wisdom (1 Cor 2:6-16), corrected and rebuked (John 16:8), loved both individually (Romans 5:5) and collectively through the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:3), guided into all divine truth (John 16:13-15), transformed to the very image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18), encourage (Acts 9:31), and speak with Spirit-taught words (1 Corinthians 2:13).

Ross is "young and still learning". Let's pray that now as a Youth and Family and Worship Minister can learn to throw off this one-way model of discipling that has failed in the past before he and his hearers are irrevocably damaged.

This is the second of three related commentaries. The third one will be posted soon.

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