The Ministry of Excellence

From North’s Leadership and Discipleship, Part 8: Masters Lead, Journeymen Follow

The church must present a vision of evangelism based on work or service. It then must recruit volunteers who will promise to devote at least a year of their lives to become the most accomplished servants in their circle of fellow workers. It will probably take more than a year. The volunteer must strive to become a representative model of a high-performance master of the field. He must adopt the mentality of the Jesuit who masters Sanskrit in order to gain acceptance by those who respect the mastery of Sanskrit.

The volunteer must be very self-conscious in his effort to master his field. He is doing this not for money — Mammon — but for God. He is not seeking a promotion for the sake of climbing the corporate or professional ladder. He is seeking mastery of a specific area for two specific purposes: (1) to apply the Bible to his field; (2) to use his successes in doing this as a means of evangelism. When he can show that he has mastered the techniques of the field and has improved his performance, then he can come before his peers with this message: Christ made the difference in my life as a practitioner.

The fundamentalist never does this. He presents a different message: Christ has made a difference in my emotional life. A fundamentalist rarely mentions that Christ has made him a more productive worker. There is a good reason: he is not a more productive worker. God no longer hands out skills to His people the way He handed them out to Bezaleel and Aholiab in the wilderness. He gives them the Great Commission and tells them to go, baptizing the nations and discipling them. But fundamentalist evangelism, unlike Jesuit evangelism, is not based on personal self-discipline in a profession. Fundamentalist evangelism targets everyone with the same message; “Jesus is the answer!” To which the non-Christian answers: “To what specific question?” He really means: “How is Jesus the answer to my most pressing questions?” He evaluates the alleged comprehensiveness of Jesus’ alleged answer by the specific performance of the messenger. Rarely is this performance exceptionally good.

Pagans learn from the Christian’s contempt for the standards of the God that he supposedly worships, adores, and obeys.

The Costs of Discipleship

I read Bonhoeffer’s book, The Costs of Discipleship, thirty years ago, and all I remember is that he distinguished cheap grace from free grace. On this point, I agree with him. Free grace is what Jesus Christ personally paid for before He distributed it to His people. He paid a very high price. Cheap grace is that perversion of the doctrine of free grace which says that we need not seek to repay God because we cannot repay Him. But Christ calls us to be perfect, even as His Father in heaven is perfect. We are to strive for perfection even though we cannot achieve it in history. We do not have to achieve it, since Christ achieved it for us. The fact that He achieved it for us is supposed to be our motivation to strive to achieve perfection, not a warrant for third-rate ethics and fourth-rate work.

I can hardly believe that the above actually has to be said… but it does. The perfection of Jesus Christ is to spur us to drive onward to perfection as well, and not be some kind of slacker excuse for our own laziness and insipid failures!

(Christian gasps are heard across the land…)

There is a high cost of discipleship, which Jesus paid. His performance is to be our model. We are to gain such mastery of our jobs and our callings – areas of unique service, usually not paid for by the market — that our work testifies to the reality we proclaim, namely, that Jesus is the answer, for He is the Incarnate Word. We have a written Word to direct us, and the Holy Spirit to guide us. Our self-discipline — our discipleship — never ends.

Christians are to make a consistent effort toward perfection, as part of our rightful and proper worship of Christ the King, the First-born of God’s perfected sons.

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