Friday, January 11, 2008

Is One-to-one Discipleship Wrong?

"I'll give you $100 if you can find a single example in the New Testament of Jesus meeting one-on-one with a disciple." A crisp $100 bill, folded slightly, stood defiantly on the speaker's podium.

Needless to say, ol' Ben Franklin had no takers. I guess that settles it, right? The implication is clear: One-to-one discipleship is unbiblical. Wow. That's a big pill for your average Campus Crusader to choke down. And yet the proof, or lack thereof, was staring up at us directly from the pages of the Gospels.

Fortunately for lovers of one-to-one discipleship, there are some serious errors in our speaker's logic. I will highlight two of them.

First, there is a big difference between something's being unbiblical and something's not being in the Bible. To see this, we need to get clear on the term 'unbiblical.' When we say that some practice or claim is "unbiblical," what we generally mean is that it is contrary to the teaching of Scripture. (This is the sense in which the speaker used the term.) For instance, we would say that the proposition, "God is a giant turtle" is unbiblical.

Now when we understand "unbiblical" this way, it is true that if a claim is unbiblical, it will not be found in the Bible (setting aside interpretive issues). This holds for our assertion about divine turtleness.

But is the following also true: If a claim is not in the Bible, then it is unbiblical? Absolutely not. The examples abound. Consider any true proposition about mathematics, physics, logic, or Hebrew grammar, for that matter. There are infinitely many true claims that are not found in the Bible, in either implicit or explicit form, and yet are not contrary to the teaching of the Bible. Thus, we can conclude that "not in the Bible" is not equivalent to "unbiblical." (For more on this idea, see this recent post.)

But wait! Even if one-to-one discipleship isn't strictly unbiblical, we are still faced with the uncomfortable fact that Jesus never did it. Or did he? Here lies the second error in our speaker's logic. If the New Testament doesn't record that Jesus did X, it doesn't follow that Jesus never did X. For instance, I'm not aware of any reference to Jesus' having a bowel movement. Now our speaker might reply that if the Gospel writers didn't mention Jesus' doing X (like having a bowel movement), it probably wasn't something important enough for us to know about. Thus, if one-to-one discipleship wasn't mentioned, either Jesus didn't do it, or it's significance must be on par with that of bowel movements. Fair enough. But all I wanted to show is that the argument from silence ("not in the Bible") won't work in the case of discipleship methodologies.

One additional point should be mentioned here. If someone makes a claim like, "If Jesus didn't do (insert ministry practice), then neither should we," then in order to be consistent, he'll have to abandon every practice that fails his test. This would seem to rule out a host of activities that we take for granted: instrumental worship, printed materials, the officiating of weddings and funerals, (speaking in tongues?), the public solicitation of offerings, etc. It could also be argued, on this basis, that ministers shouldn't marry, have children, or buy homes.

So, if our speaker really wants to discourage his hearers from continuing this dubious practice, it isn't enough to show that Jesus didn't do it; neither is it enough to show that it isn't found in the Bible. What he needs to show is that it is somehow contrary to the teaching of Scipture, and I doubt this can be done. I'm not necessarily advocating one-to-one discipleship, but I certainly don't think it is unbiblical.


Anonymous Curtis said...


Good points on one-on-one discipleship. I have been a big advocate for this type of ministry for a few years now. Fact is, Jesus had a whole movement to start from scratch. He did it with 12 guys (including 3 in an 'inner circle'). There may not have been a lot of one-on-one interaction as all 12 were usually around, but we do see that Paul seems to have done one-on-one discipleship with Timothy and Titus.

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Josh said...

This is a perfect example of what Moreland was talking about in his ETS paper. Sadly, I've heard this line of reasoning used a lot in the past. I recently heard a preacher say that it was a sin to have a drumset in a church because we don't find drums being used in the NT. It took everything I had not to jump up and say, "Well you don't find pianos and organs in there either!" Oh well...

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Kyle said...

I think the important question to ask here is why did the word "Discipleship" or just "disciple" drop out from usage after the gospels. I believe it is only used once after the 4 gospels.

"Discipleship" as I understand it at least, is a relationship between a person or people and Jesus. So one to one discipleship, with another person, is, to me at least, biblically suspect.

Now, is it wrong to meet with someone one on one, mentor them, teach them, etc., no, of course not. But I think that this is more than mere semantics. I think it is important to know that we aren't making disciples of ourselves, but need to be within a community of people who are pointing each other to Jesus. The worry with one on one discipleship is that we often tend to make disciples of ourselves, and that is always problematic.

6:56 PM  

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