A Brethren View of Discipleship.

From the Brethren Encyclopedia, entry by VM Eller:


The case can be made that discipleship is the core concept from which early Brethren thought proceed-ed and around which it was organized. However, the theological content of that thought is expressed more clearly by the German word Nachfolge (a following after) than by the English word discipleship (a learning from). All Brethren distinctive doctrines can be interpreted as outgrowths from and necessary implications of a basic commitment to the following of Jesus.

That Christians are to follow Jesus, rather than simply believe on him, immediately draws Brethrenisrn away from the usual intellectualities of systematic theology, creedalism, and confessionalism, directing it toward matters of life, walk, and character. The New Testament acquires direct authority as the requisite means for Chris-tians to become contemporary with the historical Jesus in order, together with the first disciples, to follow him. The church, with its profound sense of divine communion and fraternal commonality, exists precisely as the caravan of “followers in pilgrimage.” All the elements of Brethren “nonconformity to the world” proceed from the fact that these pilgrims could not follow the world because they were already pledged to follow the Lord. All the distinctives of ethical and social fruitbearing are simply the specifics of what the Brethren have discovered the New Testament to demand of Jesus-followers. And Brethren ‘ordinances are the means by which the community, assembled with its Lord, portrays for itself the source, dynamic, and nature of kingdom discipleship.

Furthermore, this focus upon Nachfolge brings with it a general theological perspective quite different from the churchly theologies that have reigned through most of Christian history. These expound the gospel primarily as a system of personal salvation, the way of the individual soul to its beatitude lying just beyond death. Conversely, the essential context of Nachfolge theology is eschatological Heilsgeschichte, that is, salvation as the world-historical process by which, through Christ, the Lord God, with the following of the faith-community, continually moves his world from its first creation toward its new creation in the kingdom. This view is eminently historical (God is identified much more strongly in his ac-tions moving history to its goal than in plucking individuals out of history and into salvation) and eschatological (oriented toward history’s transcendent end in the kingdom).
This different perspective, which modern scholarship is finding to be much more profoundly biblical than that of classical theology, radically transforms Christian doc-trines, namely:

Theology. God is primarily the Alpha and Omega of history, the one whose will being done on earth as it is in heaven constitutes the coming of his kingdom.

Christology. The Christ of faith is the historical Jesus, the only one who can be followed. His function is as Leader-Lord, as the eschatological agent who has in-augurated the kingdom, who leads his people toward it, and who will come from it in order that where he is, they may be also.

Authority. The mind of that Leader-Lord is the sole authority for his followers; it has been given its normative expression in the New Testament, which thus becomes the rule of faith and practice for his followers.

Hermeneutic. The New Testament can speak this mind of Christ only when his followers use Scripture as a vehicle for becoming contemporaneous with that par-ticular historical person, hearing him and responding to him in the same terms as did the first disciples.

Piety. One can truly follow this Jesus only upon first loving him and putting oneself into his hands in the per-sonal trust of complete dependence.

Eschatology. Eschatology is no longer an appendix to theology or mere speculation regarding the when and how of the events of the end. It is the dynamic of theology as a whole, an action of following the eschatological agent to his eschatological destination, of appropriating the precursions of the kingdom in anticipation of its consummation.

Pneumatology. The coming of the Spirit is an eschato-logical sign and itself an eschatological power in the wake of Jesus, sweeping creation toward its appointed end.Ecciesiology.

Ecclesiology. The church is the caravan-community in eschatological pilgrimage. It is composed of individuals drawn into a body through the power of the Spirit to make common cause in following their Leader-Lord.

Evangelism and Social Concern. Because we cannot know who all and what all ultimately is to be caught up in the eschatological current of Jesus, the church must always be open-handed toward all others, both to grasp their hands in welcome and invitation and to wash their feet in service.

Soteriology. Although personal salvation is in no way denied, it is subordinated as just one aspect of God’s great work of salvation that is to make all things new.

Pistology. “Faith” cannot be simply believing in Jesus. It must be belief acted upon through the venture of a committed and lived following.

Of course, nowhere is this theology stated as explicitly and neatly as here; yet these are themes that, both by statement and by implication, pervade the early Brethren literature. It cannot be said that any of the modern Brethren groupings have done a very good job of maintaining such a full and complete vision of discipleship.


One response to “A Brethren View of Discipleship.”

  1. Great article. Thanks for sharing it.

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