Disciple Making

This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality for the month of February. MennoNerds is exploring through this event Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what it means concerning participation in the mission of God.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[1]

To the proto-Anabaptists, the passages of scripture that relate to the Great Commission (Matthew 28; Mark 16) were most significant verses, no “words of the master were given more serious attention by His Anabaptist followers than the Great Commission.”[2] The Anabaptists understand that faith should work and evidence in the individual’s lives thus “the Great Commission was fundamental to individual witness and to the ordered community of believers as well. The proof text appeared repeatedly in Anabaptist sermons and apologetic writing.”[3] No “texts appear more frequently than the above in the confessions of faith and court testimonies of the Anabaptists, and none show more clearly the degree to which Anabaptism was different in conviction and type from the intact and stable ways of magisterial Protestantism.”[4]

While Protestantism was “intact and stable” in the sense that that their missionary spirit was lacking because of their system of maintaining the population of the church through births and infant baptism the Anabaptists saw things differently regarding their origin and purpose.B

The Anabaptists saw their community as forming and taking shape by means of the Holy Spirit, this same Holy Spirit not only gathered them but also compelled them to go forth; the Spirit of God not only had fashioned new a being but also gave birth to the evangelical Täufer (Anabaptist).

They pretty much framed their evangelism and disciple making method on the words of the Great Commission. In their estimation, the emphasis was on teaching prior to baptism. This was very controversial at that time for the reason that the norm was pedobaptism. To Rome and Protestantism to teach an individual the aspects of the gospel and the rudimentary elements of the Christian faith was impossible simply for the reason that an infant lacked the intellectual capacity to comprehend not to mention obey which was something most adults could not do. However since the Anabaptists held to disciples’ baptism their interpretation of the passage was not difficult to fathom and apply.

It must be noted that this controversial interpretation did not originate with the Anabaptists; it actually became known with one of their foremost influences. That individual was Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 –1536), commonly known as Erasmus, the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online states:

German Anabaptism also shows no small degree of influence by Erasmus, especially among the leaders on the Lower Rhine . . . . Erasmus offered so much that was in accord with Anabaptist teaching, that he was suspected not only of promoting their cause, but even of being one of them . . . In designating the Bible as the sole source of Christian truth, in promoting the use of the Bible in the vernacular, in stressing that “Christianity is essentially a life of discipleship of Christ,” he expressed common Anabaptist demands.[5]

The emphasis was on “teaching”, it preceded baptism, and it was the means to make disciples. Prior to the inception of the first Anabaptist congregation, one of the co-founders of Anabaptism wrote in December of 1524 following his quotation of Mathew 28; Mark 16; and the 10th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:

From which words one can clearly see how the apostles understood the command of Christ from Matthew, as related above, namely, that as they went forth they should teach all nations, that to Christ is given all power in heaven and in earth, and that forgiveness of sins in his name should be given to everyone who, believing on his name, should do righteous works from a changed heart. After the receiving of this teaching and the descent of the Holy Spirit, which was evidenced to those who had heard the word of Peter by the speaking in tongues, they were thereafter poured over with water, meaning that just as they also were poured over with water externally to signify for the inner cleansing and dying to sin.[6]

This interpretation harmonizes with Erasmus’ famed paraphrases compiled from Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles. Erasmus wrote:

After you have taught them these things, and they believe what you have taught them, have repented their previous lives and are ready to embrace the doctrine of the gospel [in their life], then immerse them in water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, so that by this holy sign they may believe that they have been delivered freely through the benefit of my death from the filthiness of all their sins and now belong to the number of God’s children.[7]

While the mode of baptism differ, the overall thinking parallels, namely that teaching consisting of the fundamental elements of Christianity should precede baptism. Evidence of regeneration manifested in good works should already be present in the candidate’s life prior to baptism as well. One of those indicators of authentic faith is their desire to obey the Lord Jesus’ Great Commission. That being to make disciples in the same fashion that they were carried through the initiation. Obedience should be one of those elementary principles instilled in the candidate and to the Anabaptists going out preaching, teaching and making disciples was one of the foremost things communicated.

From all this we see that preparation and investment is the key to disciple making. The Christian must not feel that it is not their place to evangelize or at the very most invite an unbeliever to their church so the pastor can evangelize the person from the pulpit. This was the folly of the Magisterial Reformers.[8] Every Christian is a minister and has an obligation to make disciples. Jesus said that the two most essential commandments were ““The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these”” (Mark 12:28-31NIV).

Therefore, if we are to love our neighbor to such an extremely personal degree then a genuine believer will invest the time in personally proclaiming to them the gospel, if they show interest the believer will teach them the finer rudimentary points of the Christian faith. They will also prepare them for baptism and finally in listing but not importance emphasize obedience manifested in good works, the chief being making disciples.

[2] Franklin Hamlin Littell, The Anabaptist View of the Church: A Study in the Origins of Sectarian Protestantism, Dissent and Nonconformity 11 (Paris, Ark: Baptist Standard Bearer, 2001), 110.

[3] Ibid., 111.

[4] Ibid., 109.

[6] Felix Manz, Petition of Defense (1524), quoted in Abraham Friesen, “Acts 10: The Baptism of Cornelius as Interpreted by Thomas Müntzer and Felix Manz”, Mennonite Quarterly Review 64, no. 1 (January 1, 1990): 7.

[7] Desiderius Erasmus, “Paraphrases of the New Testament,” in Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami Opera Omnia (1706; repr. Hildesheim, Leiden: Brill, 1962), 7:146, quoted in Abraham Friesen, Erasmus, the Anabaptists, and the Great Commission (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1998), 50-51.

[8] Rick Warren, “The Anabaptists and the Great Commission: The Effect of the Radical Reformers on Church Planting,” in The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists, Restoring New Testament Christianity: Essays in Honor of Paige Patterson (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013), 85-86.



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