Discipling or Cloning?
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Oct. 4 006While living in Texas I was taking a Texas history class at a community college. In writing a paper for class, I mentioned a political figure who was assassinated. I contrasted the pomp and circumstance of his funeral with the plain funeral of the man who killed him and was killed shortly after. I pointed out in my paper that, humanly speaking, the political figure was not any more of a saint than the man who killed him, yet he received greater honor. I then feared that my opinion might cost me a grade. Yet when I got my paper back, the professor had circled where I had written my opinion, and he wrote “Good point!” I got an “A”.

Later I told my friends that maybe the professor was not a big fan of the political figure I referred to. He agreed that that was probably why I got the good grade. Another friend responded, “Your professor may or may not have agreed with your statement. He did not give you an A because he agreed with your thinking. He was just glad to see you thinking!” In other words, my history professor was not trying to clone himself. He was trying to get people to read, study and think for themselves.

In evangelism it is very easy to try to clone people instead of making disciples for Jesus. Sometimes, while telling people to go by the Bible and the Bible only, we are blinded by our own traditions and can’t see to separate our traditions from plain Bible teaching. We end up teaching our view of what the Bible says instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible to others.

2 Timothy 3:16 reads,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

A while back I was working as a Bible worker in a church out in West Texas. A young man from a nearby college would visit our church and attend prayer meetings. We were glad to have him! He would come wearing a t-shirt and shorts. One night after prayer meeting an elder came up to me and said, “You need to talk to that boy and tell him we don’t dress like that for church.” There was only one problem. I couldn’t find anywhere in the Bible where it said you can’t come to church dressed like that. Sure there is counsel that we should wear our best and so forth, but who was I to decide what this young man’s “best” was?

Once a lawyer asked Jesus how to have eternal life. Jesus, while being God, set us an example on how to answer such theological questions. Jesus did not give His personal opinion or philosophy. He directed the man to the Scriptures.

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” Luke 10:25-26 NKJV

Notice Jesus pointed the man to the law in the Scriptures and then asked him how he understood it, instead of telling him how to understand it. Jesus was allowing both the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to do their work. We mustn’t think that people have to think just like we do in order to be led by the Spirit.

In Wesley’s time, as in all ages of the church’s history, men of different gifts performed their appointed work. They did not harmonize upon every point of doctrine, but all were moved by the Spirit of God, and united in the absorbing aim to win souls to Christ.- Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 257.

Did you catch that? They were all led by the Holy Spirit even though they were not thinking exactly like each other.

I have met too many Christians who believe that if you are led by the Spirit that you will think exactly like them, because, of course, they are led by the Spirit. I have heard people say, the Holy Spirit will lead everyone to become vegan because that is what the Holy Spirit led me to become, and so if they are led by the same Spirit they will do the same. But consider this, Jesus was led by the Spirit and never became vegan! He did, however, practice a Bible principle of eating and drinking only to glorify God. See 1 Corinthians 10:31. Jesus followed the Bible principle of eating the best foods available, which were also biblically clean, in His time and place. We are to do the same. In some places that may mean eating vegan. In other places it may not.

We need to be careful not to confuse our personal preferences with biblical truth. While the Bible teaches religious liberty, many think that means they can just follow their personal whims and tastes, instead of real personal convictions of Bible truth. This is why Ellen white wrote,

Ministers who labor in towns and cities to present the truth should not feel content, nor that their work is ended, until those who have accepted the theory of the truth realize indeed the effect of its sanctifying power and are truly converted to God. God would be better pleased to have six truly converted to the truth as the result of their labors than to have sixty make a nominal profession and yet not be thoroughly converted. These ministers should devote less time to preaching sermons and reserve a portion of their strength to visit and pray with those who are interested, giving them godly instruction, to the end that they may “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”  -Testimonies to the Church  Vol. 4, p. 317. 

Consider this,

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. John 16:13 NKJV

 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21 NKJV

Never should the Bible be studied without prayer. Before opening its pages we should ask for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and it will be given.-Ellen White, Steps to Christ, Page 93.

Instead of cloning people to think and act exactly like us, shouldn’t we rather train them to study the Bible and rely upon the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth? When they study the Bible, the same Holy Spirit that moved the writers to write those words thousands of years ago is right there with them to help them understand those words today.

We need to remember that we all are human, and we all have human philosophies and traditions, no matter how biblically sound we think we are. Our job is not to clone people to be exactly like us, but to point them to the Perfect Example which is Jesus. This example is found in the Scriptures.

Ellen White, one of the primary founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, spoke these as her last words to the church body, as she held the Bible extended on her hands:

“I commend unto you this Book.” – W. A. Spicer, Certainties of the Advent Movement, p. 202.

Our church founder’s job was not to do our thinking for us, just as my professor’s job was not to do my thinking for me.

Let’s exalt the Scriptures as our church founders did and, even more importantly, as Jesus did. As we study this quarter’s lesson together, let’s ask God to show us the difference between just cloning people to be like us, and making disciples for Jesus.

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Comments

Discipling or Cloning? — 16 Comments

  1. Thanks so much William. I love your post and it is so clear this modern day. It is indeed true that people are rather cloning others than discipling. This sometimes depend on the individual.
    For instance, some people in the church will always listen and believe whatever the preacher or pastor says. In so doing their faith get locked up in the pastor or preacher and are always reluctant to read the bible.
    It therefore calls on us all to develop positive attitudes to our Holy Bibles. We should always read them because with that we'll be led by the Holy Spirit to comprehend it all. Remember also that, the word is the foundation of true revival.

    Like(13)
  2. Hi William, your article touches on something that many of us struggle with; thinking or adapting. Our natural tendencies include measuring ourselves and others by what we've been told (or imagined) is the acceptable standard of Christianity. It can be scary stepping outside of accepted norms, especially related to how we do "church". I'm not referring to our old fights over dress, music, worship styles, etc.
    Reexamining the purpose of why we assemble, what are we accomplishing and if it does what we claim it does compared to the example of Christ, would probably be a conversation worth having. Thanks for your article.

    Like(9)
  3. This was very well written. Your points were words that needed to be heard. I wish and hope that more people get to read this. We often confuse the Holy Spirit with our cultural traditions and views, well too often. Thanks for writing this William, for letting the Holy Spirit use you in such a time like this.

    Like(7)
  4. William I like the idea you present that we should not make people into clones that they should think for themselves. I also believe Ellen White also thought the same way and strongly believed that we should not “lord it over” another person and attempt to make them like us. I can honestly say that I am glad everyone else is not like me. There is no way I will ever tell someone that they ought to be like me because I constantly fail to be Christ like in so many ways. I would much rather say “follow Jesus.”

    While I might not say anything like that Paul did, “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me” (1 Cor 4:15-16 NKJ) and again, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1 NKJV). So how do we integrate things like this into what you have said?

    Like(4)
    • Tyler, I think 1 Cor 11:1 clarifies it: He is asking his converts to imitate him just as far as he imitated Christ. And he was probably better at it than most of us are.

      It doesn't really matter whether we ask our converts to imitate us or not. They will do it anyway. If we set a bad example, they will follow it. Hopefully they will follow a good example as well.

      What I see William addressing is our tendency to think that our way of seeing things is God's way of seeing things - of not allowing the Holy Spirit to work.

      And there's another aspect as well: Too often we pass on our culture, rather than the teachings of Jesus. An example of this was the early missionaries to equatorial Africa considering a black suit and tie mandatory for church attendance. To this day, there are areas of Africa and the South Pacific where a hot suit jacket and tie are considered mandatory for worship. I understand that in Tonga, they will give you a jacket to wear if, as an ignorant tourist, you come to church without one. ;)

      There's nothing in the Bible about wearing suits to church, and an appropriate form of native clothing would have been much more suitable. Likewise there's nothing in the Bible about order of service, music, etc., but some folks seem to feel these things were written in stone, like the Ten Commandments. ;)

      Like(7)
  5. I like the idea of being dependent in my thought as far as the Biblical truth is concerned,
    I am however confused when Tyler Cluthe say something about imitating Paul who eventualy imitate Christ.
    Will it be ok for me to say that when it comes to theories about the truth we must rely deeply on the Bible.
    And when it is physically practiced we rely of what did Jesus do. Will it be ok that theoritical knowledge be put into practice to gain experiencial knowledge. Will this practice be aligned with discipleship?

    Like(0)
  6. Hi! This lesson is very educating. I hope my local church and other churches will start now changing the way we see christianity. Not how most christians do but how the Holy Ghost direct us to do. Our culture and traditions should not be our director but the Holy Ghost should be! (John 16:13)

    Like(2)
  7. Thank you everyone for taking time to read this post and for your thoughtful comments. Tyler, I believe the key to what Paul said is imitate me as I imitate Christ. In other words follow me only when I follow Christ.

    A few years ago an Adventist evangelistic organization was looking to hire me. The man doing the interview told me they were very conservative, and wanted to make sure I was "fit" to represent the organization. He told me "we are vegetarians." I told him "well I eat fish sometimes." He said, "well that's okay so do I." Then he said they were very conservative about entertainment. I told him I go to a ball game every now and then. He said,"that's okay so do I." It didn't take long for me to realize he was making himself the standard! What ever he did I could do because it was "okay" because he did it. But if he didn't do it then it was wrong! I don't believe Paul was setting himself up as the standard like the man who was interviewing me was. I turned down his job offer.

    Like(4)
    • William, I think that both you and Inge have given a very good way of looking at it. My thinking was more along the line of the immediate context. In thinking of this I was reminded of the text that says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mat 5:48 NKJV). The word “therefore” is an indicator that it is a concluding remark concerning what was said previously which was about loving those that are opposed to us so that instead of being a broad statement concerning perfection in general it is specific to the point being made. So I tend to think of the two times that Paul said “follow me” was concerned with a particular aspect of Christian life that he is discussing rather than Paul’s entire life in general.

      When it comes to Ellen White she had a lot to say on the matter. For instance:

      Many of our people are in danger of trying to exercise a controlling power upon others and of bringing oppression upon their fellow men. There is danger that those who are entrusted with responsibilities will acknowledge but one power, the power of an unsanctified will. Some have exercised this power unscrupulously and have caused great discomfiture to those whom the Lord is using. One of the greatest curses in our world (and it is seen in churches and in society everywhere) is the love of supremacy. Men become absorbed in seeking to secure power and popularity. This spirit has manifested itself in the ranks of Sabbathkeepers, to our grief and shame. But spiritual success comes only to those who have learned meekness and lowliness in the school of Christ. (6 Testimonies. p 397.1)

      Then there is an entire letter from her on the subject which can be found here. She also has a lot to say throughout the book “Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers.” In short her counsel seems to be fully in line with Mat 20:25-28.

      Like(3)
      • Tyler,
        Looking at the context there is probably more to the question than just whether or not Paul imitates Christ, necessary though it is. Paul appeared to use parental language and relate to the brethren then based on a developmental cycle, that is from birth (1 Corinthians 4:15, 16) through to maturity. Paul referred to some new converts as babies, who were dependent on nursing, and required much instruction and example (1 Corinthians 3:1, 2).

        As believers matured spiritually they would be better equipped to exercise independent (really dependent on the Holy Spirit) thought. So it seemed acceptable to 'tell' or 'model' the Gospel to spiritual babies, "who do not know their right hand from their left," initially, but to 'allow' the more mature to "walk worthy of their calling" (Ephesians 4:1, 2).

        Paul's love and concern for the brethren did not allow him to simply introduce them to Christ, and leave them to work out things for themselves. This is no more cloning than training up a child, recognizing the stages of development.

        The ultimate ideal is to look directly to Christ, which is what Paul did. In this there is an acceptable 'cloning,' that we should become like Christ. O to be a clone, to be stamped with the image of God, to be just like our Father.

        Like(1)
  8. [Moderator note: please use first and last names when commenting on this site. Thanks!]

    Thanks so much for this post. It also reminds me as a parent that I should not clone my kids. That I should develop thinkers. They will certainly question why I give certain instructions and I should allow the Holy Spirit to guide them in the truth and not tradition.

    Like(1)
  9. Roxann, You make a very valid point. I have seen parents drive their kids totally away from God altogether just because they did not have the same theology they had, or went to a more contemporary worship service. I have my convictions and standards, but I have to leave room for others to have theirs too lest I turn them away from God altogether. Even if our kids are going to the wrong church, so long as they go they are in a better place to be reached then if we chased them away altogether. And fact is, my life and theology are not perfect either, and I have a lot of growing to do as well, so why would I want kids to be imperfect the same way that I am imperfect? If I am cloning kids to be like me then I am using a faulty mold!

    Like(2)
  10. Well said. Unfortunately we all struggle to keep our eyes on Jesus and not on others. The more we focus on him the less we will be judgmental and the more we will treat others just like Christ would.

    Like(2)
  11. While, we should not call others to think or act like ourselves, we should bear in mind that we are called to be the salt of the world and also to be the light bearers to the dying world.

    As such our examples and lifestyle is an epsitle to the masses within our sphere of influence. precation is therefore necessary as we make disciples of Christ Jesus.

    I like your contribution, Bro William.

    Happy new year.

    Like(0)
  12. I like how Paul addresses this subject to the Philippians: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:...Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life;".

    If we simply hold forth the word of life, those "other sheep not of this fold" will hear His voice and follow Him. Yes, our lives must reveal this word in every respect that we understand it, but our "holding forth" must be the word of life, and not some misunderstanding of it. This can only happen if our lives are possessed by the Spirit of that same Word. No Oil, no Light, and without this Oil, our light will be darkness and we will inevitably work to make clones.

    Like(2)
  13. Reading the article and the comments made on this page have really opened my eyes. So many times I have been guilty of "hammering" out my theology on people at the cost of loving them.

    13 I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. 2 I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains—but if I have no love, I am nothing. 3 I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burned[a]—but if I have no love, this does me no good.

    4 Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; 5 love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; 6 love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. 7 Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.

    8 Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. 9 For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; 10 but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear.

    11 When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I am an adult, I have no more use for childish ways. 12 What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete—as complete as God's knowledge of me.

    13 Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.

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