A Review of ‘Intentional Discipleship and Disciple Making – An Anglican Guide for Christian Life and Formation’

Intentional Discipleship and Disciple Making, which has been edited by John Kafwanka and Mark Oxbrow, is a new report which has been published by the Anglican Consultative Council and is intended to be a major resource document for both the Council itself and the wider Anglican Communion.

As its Preface explains:

‘This book brings together research, experience, and aspirations from theologians and mission leaders around the Anglican Communion. It seeks to stimulate further reflection and presents a foundation for thinking about discipleship and disciple-making as the Church’s primary mandate given by Jesus Christ under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

The book is not complete in itself or in any way, but is offered as a resource to foster what must come naturally as central to the being and character of the Church, not just when it is convenient but in every sphere of the life of all the baptized.’[1]

The book is in two parts.

Part A is called ‘Theological Background.’  After an Introduction which explains what the book is about and the terminology that it uses, this part consists of eight chapters. Chapter 1 provides ‘A Biblical Theology of Disciple-Making’ and chapters 2-8 then look in turn at discipleship in the Early Church, in recent Roman Catholic theology, and in the Orthodox tradition, at the history of ‘Anglican Formation and Discipleship,’ at the Five Marks of Mission, at the relationship between healing and discipleship and at what the Instruments of Communion have had to say about various topics relating to discipleship and the making of disciples.

Part B is called ‘Contemporary Anglican Praxis of Discipleship.’  Following an Introduction, chapters 9-12 consist of a series of case studies of discipleship and disciple making in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas and chapters 13-16 look in turn at what Anglicans are doing to develop discipleship among children and young people, at the place of the Bible, worship, and the sacraments in discipleship, at the Church as ‘eucharistic community,’ and at various initiatives Anglicans are currently engaged in in order to develop discipleship. Finally, chapter 17 concludes the report by making ‘The Case for Intentional Discipleship in the Communion.’

This chapter argues that:

‘Discipleship is the future of the Anglican Communion. It is only as we call each generation anew to a daily walk with God, a living discipleship, that the Anglican Church can grow or even survive. Without new disciples our future is no longer than one generation.

Discipleship is the hope of the Anglican Communion. It is only through calling all Anglicans, and those who will join as new Christians, to a daily following of Christ that we will avoid error, division, and distraction and know the constant renewal of the Spirit that gives hope for eternity.

At a period in its history when the Anglican Communion is experiencing division, decline, and growth (in different regions, but also side by side) and theological challenge, it will not retain its relevance in contemporary society and the Kingdom through discipline, debate, or even discourse alone, but primarily through the deepening of the discipleship of all members in every aspect of their lives, in every place. Discipleship is the lifeblood of the Anglican Communion.’[2]

Because of the importance of fostering discipleship, the chapter further argues that

‘…the need for a Communion-wide period of emphasis on intentional discipleship, intentional equipping of all the baptized members to live out their faith with their gifts and skills in everyday life as Christ’s ambassadors, is both necessary and urgent.

There is need to mobilize and disseminate experience, good practice, and resources, and to promote collaboration and learning from each other, so as to build up the Body of Christ in its witness to Christ’s reconciling love today (and tomorrow)’.[3]

Furthermore, it says:

‘It is important to appreciate that putting emphasis on intentional discipleship will have implications for the whole life of the Church, including its structures, liturgy, prayer and worship, selection and training of ordination candidates, and leadership formation and deployment in general, etc., and it will have to be aligned in accord with this vision.’[4]

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this report?

The report has three strengths

First, it gives a reasonable overview of some key biblical material relating to discipleship; secondly, it provides an overview of what Anglican and other churches have done, and are doing, to encourage growth in discipleship and the making of new disciples; and thirdly, it rightly emphasises that discipleship and the making of disciples is something which the Anglican Communion needs to focus on in line with the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

However, the report also has a number of major weaknesses.

First, it fails to explore the theological framework within which discipleship takes place. From a biblical perspective discipleship has to be understood within a framework of election, faith, baptism, sanctification and glorification and the report fails to even note, let alone consider, this framework.

Secondly, it fails to give any overall account of how the basic elements of what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ fit together. It gives us lots of different bits of the picture, but it never pulls these together into a coherent whole.

Thirdly, it lacks any critical analysis of the material it considers.  We are given lots of brief snapshots of different aspects of what churches have done and are doing in the area of encouraging discipleship and discipleship making, but there is no consideration in the report of the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches that are surveyed and there is no reflection on what we can learn from them.

Fourthly, all this means that all the report really gives us is an exhortation to take discipleship and the making of disciples more seriously. What it does not provide is any additional resources to help with this task.

If the Anglican Communion is to make discipleship and the making of disciples central to its life, a better way forward than this report would be the development of Communion wide resources in this area using the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer as a basis.  This catechism is short, biblically based and contains all the basic element of Christian discipleship within a clear overall theological framework in which the Christian life is viewed as a response to the prevenient grace of God which is made possible by the assistance of God asked for in prayer.  Using the catechism as a basis would provide a clear agreed base line for the development of Christian discipleship that could then be applied in specific local contexts. [5]

The Communion would also be well advised to make use of To Be a Christian, the important new catechetical material produced by the Anglican Church in North America.  As its introduction explains:

‘This catechism (a text used for instruction of Christian disciples) is designed as a resource manual for the renewal of Anglican catechetical practice. It presents the essential building blocks of classic catechetical instruction: the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue). To these is added an initial section especially intended for those with no prior knowledge of the Gospel. Each section is presented in the question-and-answer form that became standard in the sixteenth-century because of its proven effectiveness. Each section is also set out with its practical implications, together with biblical references.’[6]

As it goes on to say:

‘In one respect, this catechism breaks new ground for Anglicans. The historic Catechism in the English Book of Common Prayer is brief, and specifically designed to prepare young people for confirmation and church membership. However, this present work is intended as a more comprehensive catechetical tool for all adult (or near-adult) inquirers, and for all Christians seeking deeper grounding in the full reality of Christian faith and life.

As such, this catechism attempts to be a missional means by which God may bring about both conversion to Christ and formation in Christ (or regeneration and sanctification, to use older words). This vision of comprehensive usefulness has been before the minds of the writing team from the beginning.’[7]

Because of its length and the detail of its contents To Be a Christian is not a replacement for the BCP catechism as a basic tool for Christian catechesis. However, it is an extremely important resource for those seeking additional, more advanced, catechetical material.

One final point to note in relation to Intentional Discipleship and Disciple Making is that a concern for a fresh emphasis on Christian discipleship cannot be separated from the current debate within the Anglican Communion about human sexuality. The Communion cannot decide to agree to disagree about sexuality and focus on discipleship instead.  This is because in the Bible, and in the orthodox Christian tradition building on the Bible, right sexual practice, consisting of sexual abstinence outside heterosexual marriage and sexual faithfulness within it, has always been seen as an integral part of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. This being the case the acceptance and advocacy of alternative patterns of sexual conduct in parts of the Anglican Communion has to be seen as inimical to Christian discipleship and rejected as such. To be serious about discipleship means being serious about sexual holiness and rejecting all forms of behaviour incompatible with it.

Martin Davie 5.4.16

[1]               Intentional Discipleship and Disciple Making, London: ACC, 2016, p.xii.

[2]               Ibid, p.127.

[3]               Ibid, pp.130-131

[4]               Ibid, p.131.

[5]               For an introduction to the Catechism see Martin Davie, Instruction in the Way of the Lord – A Guide to the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer, London: Latimer Trust, 2014.

[6]               The Anglican Church in North America, To Be A Christian, p.3 text at Anglican Church in North America http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/catechism

[7]               Ibid, p.4.

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