For the last year, I’ve been part of the commission on discipleship convened by the Empowered 21 USA cabinet. Empowered 21 is a movement that is an initiative that is bringing together the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Right now, I’m at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA for Converge 21, a joint conference between Empowered 21 and the Society for Pentecostal Studies. As one of the framers of the manifesto on discipleship, today I debuted the document in a session here at Converge21. I’ve been very much encouraged by the response we got today as our commission looks now to work out these ideas strategically through Empowered 21. Now that we’ve made the document public (though it is still a bit of a work in progress), I wanted to share it with you here:
A Declaration by the Commission on Discipleship
A Commission constituted by the Empowered 21 USA Cabinet
Spirit Empowered Discipleship is a dynamic process of union with Christ, transformation into His image, and participation in His mission to restore all creation (Missio Dei), actualized and evidenced by the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, in the fellowship of the church, and in the experience of scripture.
With keen awareness of the age in which we live and the challenges that face the Christian community, we who sign this declaration do so as members of one of Christianity’s fastest growing movements: the Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition. We speak for ourselves and do not serve as representatives of our denominations, schools or organizations. However, we speak out of our rich and multi-faceted tradition and desire to express what we see to be the heartfelt cries of a worldwide movement that is facing both challenges and opportunities for witness in the twenty-first century.
The purpose of this declaration is to address the urgent need for authentic, Spirit-empowered discipleship in the twenty-first century. We believe discipleship is the central challenge for our movement as we traverse the uncertainties of our time. We say this with respect for those who have paved the way, but we are also keenly aware of the need for radical departure from the business as usual approach to our task. In light of our high calling toward the reconciliation of the world and the beauty of a new creation we offer the following affirmations, assessments, confession and call toward authentic discipleship.
We affirm the faithful witness of anointed teachers, who have labored sacrificially in the Word and in prayer so that Scripture might come to life through Sunday School classes and small groups around the world.
We affirm the richly textured, experiential Spirit-led worship that has not only incited appropriate response to the presence of God, but also deeply initiated our congregations into the reality of daily life with God.
We affirm the sense of community that has been fostered in both small and large Pentecostal gatherings, as it has marked the Spirit’s presence in our midst alongside tongues of fire—as it was in Acts Two.
We affirm the liturgy of testimony that has ordered our worship experiences from the beginning of the movement, the first-person accounts of salvation, sanctification and Spirit baptism. These stories continue to embed the individual stories of the people of God into the broader story of our life together with the saints throughout time and space.
Pentecostals and Charismatics are not immune to cultural influences that emphasize a personal spirituality void of commitment to the core traditions of the Christian faith. As the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement moves further into its second century of existence it is critical that the movement reclaim as its core identity a vision of the Christian life marked by Spirit-filled communities of faith engaged in the ongoing mission of Christ.
Current trends suggest that if we do not achieve this renewal in identity and purpose we will cease to exist as a people marked by the presence of God. In short, we have failed to make of our children and of our converts Spirit-filled disciples of Jesus who can effectively communicate the full-Gospel of Christ to the next generation. This failure flows out of fundamental shifts in our core values and identity.
First, The Pentecostal and Charismatic church has at times lost its eschatological urgency in mission and its longing for the full realization of the reign of Christ. As a result we have distorted our understanding of the Spirit-filled life to center on personal actualization and abundance. This loss has shifted the underlying meaning of the Spirit-filled life from union with the Triune God in His mission toward His creation to one of privatized experiences. The disciples we are making are empty of a sense of call and divine purpose for existence.
Second, the Pentecostal and Charismatic church has lost too much of its sense of existence as a holy, inclusive community. Privatization of religious experience has morphed our worship services into events aimed at personal spiritual enrichment and entertainment rather than occasions to encounter God’s Sovereign, convicting, transforming presence. All too often we gather to feel better about ourselves more than to give glory to our Savior. This move toward emotional indulgences has co-opted the call of God for us to break through barriers that divide us within the Body of Christ.
Given early Pentecostals viewed Pentecost as the breaking of barriers, they addressed race, gender and ethnic concerns. Once derided for such integration, we are now more segregated than ever. Our segregation also includes social, economic, and generational divisions.
Third, the Pentecostal/Charismatic church has followed the pattern of other Christian movements away from the Scriptures and sound doctrine. Our people are Biblically and theologically illiterate. Once known as “People of the Book” who craved sound doctrine, we have come to be derided as those gather around teachers “having itching ears.”
Fourth, the Pentecostal/Charismatic church has become self-serving and void of a sense shared mission and personal holy vocation. Though we celebrate the availability of the Spirit for “all flesh” and subsequent equalization, we often fall prey to a compartmentalized or dichotomized theology of vocation. The Spirit as the great equalizer creates the possibility of the priesthood and prophethood of all believers and thereby should enable all of our lives, for church ministry to family life, from jobs and careers to our engagement of communities, local and global.
We confess that we have adopted the values of a culture of narcissism,consumerism, materialism that promotes self-gratification as the supreme end of life. We have failed to disciple believers to be ministers of the cross. We have turned a deaf ear to the call of Jesus: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
We confess that we have failed to honor the Bible as Spirit-Word, a living reality that is God’s very presence with us. Instead, we have adopted fundamentalist approaches to the Bible. These approaches, while emphasizing the truth of the Word, fail to honor the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the text and in the community that reads the text.
We confess that like David attempting to wear Saul’s armor, we have adopted generic discipleship curriculum, believing that the addition of lessons on the Holy Spirit would make the curriculum “Spirit Empowered.” In doing so, we have failed to teach our children and our grand children the contours of a Spirit-filled life.
We confess that we have failed to honor the disciplines necessary for authentic discipleship. At times, we have become satisfied with little or no transformation. On other occasions, we have overzealously sought miraculous intervention as a short cut rather than develop practices rooted in Scripture and observable by previous generations to posture us for transformation.
We have failed to cultivate the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit in both corporate and individual existence. We have not born witness to the dynamic, activating experience of Spirit baptism to our children, nor the holiness of heart and life that this experience demands. As a result, we have given the next generation an impoverished understanding of the Spirit-filled life.
We confess that we have failed to incorporate our children into our worshipping communities. By needlessly segregating them we have removed children from the life of the churches, the gifts of the Spirit and testimonies of previous generations. We have also kept the gifts of children away from the adult community, and in doing so, impoverished our corporate life.
We confess that we have focused on the maintaining of established programs at the expense of authentic missional discipleship. We have failed to distinguish between the mission of the church and the programs of the church. We have thus failed to create new structures necessary to implement mission in a post modern world.
The Call toward Authentic Discipleship
We commit ourselves to cultivate a cruciform culture, making disciples who will share in the cross of Jesus so they might participate fully in the resurrection power of Jesus.
We commit ourselves to recapture the Bible as Spirit-Word, embracing the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the text and in the community that reads the text. We will allow the Word to lay claim on us as experiential reality, rather than laying claim on the Word as if it is ours to control.
We commit ourselves to the pursuit of God’s empowering presence in Spirit Baptism and to the full scope of the Spirit Empowered Life so that our dynamic belief in the Spirit of God might inform and shape our discipleship process and resources.
We commit ourselves to the ancient disciplines/practices of the Church that make gradual but lasting transformation into Christ-likeness both possible and sustainable. We commit ourselves to both the experience of God’s presence and the long participatory process of spiritual formation.
We commit ourselves to cultivate both the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, respectively. We commit ourselves to bear witness to the dynamic, activating experience of Spirit baptism to our children, and the holiness of heart and life that this experience demands. We commit ourselves to give the next generation a fully-orbed understanding of the Spirit-filled life.
We commit ourselves to integrate children fully into our worshipping communities, embracing the continuity of the story of God across the generations. We commit ourselves to be our *grandmother’s Church and our great grandmother’s Church, a Church that brings reconciliation between the young and old.
We commit ourselves to authentic missional discipleship, not mere discipleship programs.
Originally posted on March 1, 2012 at Jonathan Martin’s blog.