In England, there has been a debate of sorts as to whether or not “discipleship” fits in the ethos of Anglicanism, and even whether or not it is even truly a Christian notion.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has put discipleship and the formation of disciples front and center, as noted in a recent Lambeth Lecture;
I want to start by saying just two simple sentences about the church. First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ.
Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful, or wonderful decoration – but it’s decoration.
But others disagree.
In an editorial titled “Dissing the D-Word” at the Church Times, Angela Tilby dismissed discipleship as little more than a faddish embrace by current CoE leaderhip of “American-derived Evangelicalism.” and suggests it is an alien concept ill-fitting the Anglican tradition.
Discipleship as a convenient term to ramp up the commitment of the laity sounds alien to Anglican instincts, and it is.
And in another Church Times piece, Linda Woodhead also challenges current initiatives in the CoE championed by the Archbishop by dismissing the focus on discipleship.
Presumably, the reason that the theologically peripheral concept of “discipleship” is made to do so much work in these reports is that “following Jesus” is being used as an analogue for leadership (Jesus and clergy), and followership (laity). Sadly, this helps explain their diminished ecclesiology, with its narrowly clerical and congregational emphases. I kept feeling that they were wanting us to follow the disciples rather than Jesus.
And now, theologian Ian Paul has entered the fray, with a post at his blog Psephizo, in defense of discipleship, claiming it is both biblical and Anglican.
If ‘discipleship’ is not thought of as particularly Anglican, then it certainly needs to be.
He goes on to quote an online comment that he believes gets at the heart of the issue
What if our response (and Angela Tilby’s) was to say at this point – we understand the word ‘discipleship’ but for a variety of thoughtful and theological reasons we don’t use it. We prefer the word ……. for these reasons ……. Can anyone fill in the blanks here?
He also acknowledges that discipleship has long been a focus of the Evangelical wing of the CoE, suggesting that some of the resistance to it is part of the long-standing tensions within different wings of the CoE.
But why should anyone resist discipleship as an important part of the Church of England’s self-understanding? In a recent discussion on the Facebook page of Changing Attitude, someone complained about how the C of E is becoming ‘more evangelical’ and is unclear why this is. If true, I think there is one fairly simple answer: evangelicals have taken the idea of making disciples more seriously than other traditions in the Church.
The dynamics of the Episcopal Church are different of course, but undoubtedly some of these same issues are at play in our communal life as well. What is the place of discipleship in the church?
posted by Jon White