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Is Discipleship Anglican (continued)?

Is Discipleship Anglican (continued)?

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


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Bro David

My experience with Disipleship in an evengelical church setting is a program of submitting your formation as a Christian into the hands of a designated fellow Christian who acts as a mentor, similar to a sponsor in a 12 step program. You answer to this person with regard to every aspect of your life. It can become dangerously cult-like in the program’s expectations to your obedience in following this mentor. I’m not sure there is much that is Anglican in that.

Philip Snyder

My Experience with Discipleship has been at the hands of my Spiritual Director and at the hands of various bishops, priests, and deacons as well as my father. It was not coercive nor cult like.

You can think of a Spiritual Director as a mentor and the rule usually is that you do what your Spiritual Director tells you to do. You only share with him/her what you want to and, as trust develops, you share more.

We are not forced to follow any one model of “Discipling” (I dislike that word, but it is what many evangelicals I know call it). The Anglican Model of Discipleship should be based in the catholic tradition – just as the Anglican Liturgy is. That generally means some form of spiritual director, self-directed reading, disciplined prayer life and work in ministry. The key to discipleship is discipline. (Note that the two words are very similar.)

Philip Snyder

Exactly. That’s why I said that “discipleship” has become a buzzword. There can be a certain amount of “canned” process (such as a “Catechism Class” where a base of information is presented. After that there are as many ways to “make disciples” or to deepen discipleship as there are disciples.

Just because US Evangelicals (as opposed to Evangelical Anglicans) have one way of doing discipleship does not mean that it is the only way to do it or that Anglicans cannot have a different model of Discipleship.

US Evangelicals don’t get to define our terms for us and Anglicans have been making disciples for much longer that US Evangelicals.

Read my earlier definition of “Discipleship”

Bro David

You are describing an ad hoc “discipleship” set up by you for yourself, which is really individual spiritual formation. You are not describing the organized congregational programs of many evangelical churches.

Philip Snyder

Defining “Discipleship” is the problem. It has become a buzzword like “mission” or “outward focus.”

Having said that, let me attempt a working definition. Discipleship is a lifelong process of becoming a more dedicated and devoted student/apprentice of Jesus Christ. It entails prayer, study of the Holy Scriptures, Theology, and the Christian Life, as well as work in ministry.

Discipleship is essential to being a Christian. Since I believe that Anglicanism is Christian (and the best expression of Christianity), then Discipleship is Anglican.

Cynthia Katsarelis

I just don’t know what Welby, or anyone else, means when they say “discipleship.” Are they simply referring to signing up more members? Or do they mean more people following Christ to actually feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the prisoner, and generally bring the Good News to the poor and oppressed?

Anand Gnanadesikan

You draw a legimate contrast (one that is threaded all through the Bible) that worshipping with one’s lips is not the same as loving God with heart, mind, soul and strength.

But it is important to recognize that worship can in fact encourage people to do the work of the Gospel- giving God praise with our lips may be a *step* towards giving Him authority over our hearts. Which may be part of why conservative churchgoing Christians (at least in the US) are more likely to give to the poor and less likely to abuse their spouses than are liberal churchgoing Christians. But it’s also important to recognize, as Scripture makes abundantly clear, that the connection is not automatic!

Anand Gnanadesikan

Of course the Anglican tradition is skeptical of discipleship… throughout the history Church of England encouraging folks to follow Christ *first* meant risking that they wouldn’t be good little obedient supporters of the crown and upholders of the status quo. Which was a big part of the raison d’etre of the Anglican Church, whether we like it or not.

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