Converts vs. Disciples

During orientation week, Scott Kelley, the Director of Friends of Refugees, stated the organizations mission as this: “To make disciples, not converts.”

Jesus, in Matthew 28, gives his followers the same mission, to “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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.”

The Evangelical mission clings to these words of Jesus. But the Great Commission is often read and interpreted, interestingly enough, this way: “Therefore go and make converts of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…”

Has the church been misinterpreting the Great Commission? Is there a fundamental difference between a “convert” and a “disciple” or is it just a semantics issue?

In my short life, two authors have shaped and molded me as a Christian: C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer addresses this question in his book “The Cost of Discipleship”, a book every Christian needs to read this book at some point in his/her life.

In the book, Bonhoeffer makes a distinction between two ideas of grace that manifests itself in the heart of the church: cheap grace and costly grace. Here is what Bonhoeffer says about each:

“Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner…Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves…Cheap grace is the grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate…for cheap grace [is] the bitterest foe of discipleship, which true discipleship must loathe and detest.”

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him…It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Bonhoeffer goes on further to state that the Evangelical church of his time (Early 20th century) propagates the notion of cheap grace: “[They] poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.” The church seemed to misconstrue Jesus’ Great Commission. They focused on the “baptizing” part of the commission while skipping over the discipleship part.

I believe some members of the body still promulgate cheap grace, a grace void of discipleship. These members of the body replace conversion with discipleship. It almost becomes a competition, “How many can we save this week? On this mission trip? How many can we baptize? How many can we get to rededicate their lives to Christ?” If you take the Apostles as an example, they were under Jesus’ watchful hand for 3 years. We do not know the exact moment the Apostles were justified in their faith. It could have been when they immediately dropped their nets to follow Jesus. It might have happened when they finally recognized and truly believed that Jesus was the Christ. But what we do know is that through their relationship with Jesus, they were being discipled so that they could go and do the same for others around the world. They experienced the essence of costly grace.

I’m thankful to be apart of an organization this summer whose goal is not to proselytize to the refugees. Instead, they build relationships through the love of Christ for the purposes of “making disciples.” The discipleship process takes time. It is messy and even unsuccessful sometimes. But for all the Judas’, a Peter takes root to share the beauty of Christ — the giver and sustainer of costly grace.

One thought on “Converts vs. Disciples

  1. Whoa! I just started reading \”The Cost of Discipleship\” this weekend on a trip to Ohio, and came home to see this post. It's impossible not to be moved by Bonhoeffer's act of martyrdom. I'll be interested to talk to you about the book when I'm done. I'm glad to see you're having a good experience with the camp and that they're not just \”converting\” but inviting to discipleship. Can't wait to hear more.


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