THE STATE OF DISCIPLESHIP IN AMERICA
What has happened to discipleship in the churches of America? If discipleship is the primary commission given to the church (Matt. 28:19-20), why is there such confusion and misdirection within the modern church? I believe it’s possible to trace the faltering of discipleship to the neglect of the Word of God. There has been a surge of evangelical Christians who seem to hold the view that the intellect plays no part in the Christian’s relationship to God, but that rather the emotions and experience of a person are the defining factors in our relationship to God. The argument is that doctrine is over-rated and that Christians need to focus less on studying the Bible and more on experiencing God and just loving Him.
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE?
The problem, however, is that it is impossible to separate love for God from a knowledge of God. To try to love God, with no emphasis on knowing God, will lead to mindless emotionalism — warm fuzzy feelings, but with no substance. It is not possible to truly love anyone without truly knowing them. One can be attracted to, or have emotional passion for someone. But without knowledge, that is having a crush on someone, not truly loving someone.
For a Christian to truly love God, he must know who God is (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:1-2; Ps. 119:18; Matt. 4:4; John 12:48; Rom. 15:4; Eph. 3:14-19; 1 Tim. 4:13). In fact, the Bible is explicit that to be a disciple, one must know God through His Word (John 8:31). Discipleship is lacking in modern churches because of a deficiency in a knowledge of who and what God is. Al Mohler decries this biblical illiteracy in America this way, “Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge.”
The reverse, however, is also true. This anti-intellectual emotionalism arose as a result of a push against an over-intellectualized faith — which was also wrong. Some have emphasized too strongly — or rather, too exclusively — the intellectual aspect of knowing God, and separated studying Scripture from having a personal relationship with Christ. This too can be dangerous, as it can make Jesus more of a concept than a person.
Some circles, especially of doctrinal churches, can so over-intellectualize their faith that emotion becomes viewed as only a cumbersome weight that constantly clouds one’s judgment. It is possible to become so infatuated with the idea of knowledge for the sake of knowledge that people can begin to believe that they do not need to pray because they have a doctrine that tells them what to do, or that they do not need to go to church because they need only more knowledge of Scripture, rather than deeper relationships with other believers. This too is a perilous error. However, the point still remains that an over-compensation for this intellectual faith will result in an emotionalistic, ignorant Christianity.
For a disciple to truly love God, he must truly know who God is.