[Solid discussion but I will now skip to end]
A few weeks ago, Linda Woodhead suggested in the Church Times that discipleship was a ‘theologically peripheral concept’, and the following week Angela Tilby dismissed the ‘d-word’ as ‘sectarian vocabulary that…shows the influence of American-derived Evangelicalism on the Church’s current leadership.’ The short discussions in each place actually raise not one but three, inter-related, questions:
1. Is ‘discipleship’ Anglican?
2. Is ‘discipleship’ biblical?
3. Is the Church of England biblical?…
On the first question, Tilby is certainly right to note that the ‘d-word’ is being used quite a lot at the moment. In his excellent Lambeth Lecture on evangelism, Justin Welby put the making of disciples central to the purpose of the church:
I want to start by saying just two simple sentences about the church. First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ. Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration. Some of it may be very necessary, useful, or wonderful decoration – but it’s decoration.
But why should anyone resist discipleship as an important part of the Church of England’s self-understanding? In a recent discussion on the Facebook page of Changing Attitude, someone complained about how the C of E is becoming ‘more evangelical’ and is unclear why this is. If true, I think there is one fairly simple answer: evangelicals have taken the idea of making disciples more seriously than other traditions in the Church. As Justin Welby comments, the idea of making disciples is not a reaction to falling attendances or a simply a means to refill the pews. Rather,
Witness and evangelism are expressions of the overflow of the love and joy of the grace of God into our lives, and the life of His whole Church and His whole world.
But empty pews won’t be filled without it. So if discipleship is biblical, and making disciples isn’t very Anglican, it is perhaps just at this moment that the Church of England needs to become a little more biblical again.