By P.J. Casebolt
“The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master . . .” (Matt. 10:24,25).
In its Bible usage, the term disciple is easily defined, both in the original language and in English. A disciple is a learner, a pupil, a follower. Jesus said that a disciple who continued in his word would be a disciple “indeed” (Jn. 8:31). While all of the Lord’s disciples forsook him at one time or another in their lives (cf. Matt. 26:56), they later learned the full significance of a disciple being “as his master.”
While most references to disciples in the New Testament are to Christ’s disciples, there are other kinds of disciples. John the Baptist had disciples, but he taught his pupils to follow Christ (Jn. 1:35-37). But the Pharisees also had disciples (Mk. 2:18), and Paul warned the elders of Ephesus, “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30).
In history, many teachers have recruited disciples in social, political, and religious philosophies. But in all instances there has been the unmistakable relationship between the master and those who embrace his discipline, or instruction. Some of the more recent examples are Jim Jones and David Koresh, and their fanatical, suicidal disciples. But whether discipleship includes temporary or eternal consequences (or both), we need to take a close look at this principle.
We all have access to a history of the Lord’s church, both by inspired (the Bible), and uninspired (secular) accounts. But some of us are old enough to have seen some of that history unfold in our brief but often memorable view of events which have troubled the body of Christ. And in nearly every instance, there was the teacher/disciple principle at the root or at the center of those controversies which has adversely affected the peace and unity of God’s people.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, some of us began to come in contact with the doctrines that the church and kingdom were two separate entities, established at different times. Out of these subversive doctrines grew the “A.D. 70 Doc-trine” that Christ returned the second time at the destruction of Jerusalem.
We knew who the preachers were that advocated these false theories, but it was next to impossible to get them to define their position clearly, or to make a public proclamation of their real beliefs. When one was asked why he did not teach his doctrine publicly, he said that the brethren were not yet educated sufficiently to permit a public declaration of the doctrine.
While continuing to promote their heresies privately, these preachers enjoyed the fellowship and respectability of many congregations, and played the martyr complex for all it was worth. They were being “misunderstood, falsely accused, and persecuted” by preachers who had some ulterior motive. By the time these false teachers and their disciples were identified, the damage was done, and the body of Christ divided. And to my knowledge, not one of those false teachers of their disciples ever acknowledged his subversive methods of using “sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14).
After advocating the “no Bible class/no located preacher” position along with its attendant satellite inconsistencies and consequences, an-other preacher began to pursue a course which brought him even more disciples than had his former doctrine (discipline). And many of his disciples, like sheep, followed him from the one extreme to the other without missing a bleat or batting an eye.
This teacher became the champion of “unity in diversity,” fellowshipping false religious doctrines and groups, and was always looked upon as a persecuted martyr by his disciples. And those who endeavored to get this malignant cancer out in the open and identify it for what it was were made out to be the bad guys.
As other disciples began to emulate their master, the same scenario/pattern developed time and again. The masters maintained their persecuted, martyr complex, generally were aloof to any “personal attacks” which were beneath their dignity, and let their loyal disciples do their dirty work and parrot their press releases. The disciples said that their mentors were being falsely accused, misunderstood, and even conceded in the face of undeniable evidence that their leaders were at times ambiguous, nebulous, or unwise in some of their proclamation.
I know some of these things to be facts, for I was working with a congregation which supported a preacher which allied himself with another preacher, who was admittedly a disciple of the original master of the “unity in diversity” doctrine. When I wrote to the preacher who was being supported, he refused to answer my questions, but sent an emissary to speak for him. The emissary disciple gave nebulous, ambiguous answers, and even conceded that his mentor was “nebulous” in some of his statements. Yet, the preacher making these hard-to-understand declarations of his positions had a college degree in English and was an assistant professor of English at a prominent university.
There are some things which no man can know. Peter said that there were some of Paul’s writings “which are . . . hard to be understood” (2 Pet. 3:16). It may be harder for some of us to state our positions clearly than it is for others to define their positions. But sometimes a position is hard to understand because the one stating his position is doing his best not to say what his real position is.
Evidence of this last observation is seen in the fact that after a teacher decides the time is ripe to declare his position openly, he has no trouble whatever in stating that position clearly. And his disciples sound like the Lord’s disciples when they said, “Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb” (Jn. 16:29). And lest any-one attempt to divert attention from the real issue, let me plainly declare as a disciple of Christ that I have no complaint whatever with what Christ taught or the way he taught it, and I gladly accept whatever consequences that position may bring.
There is another facet of the disciple/ master principle which we need to consider. Not only do we share in any glory which is attributed to our masters, we must also accept any reproach which is directed toward a master and his disciple. And remember too, that “if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14).
In some social or political philosophies, it may make little or no difference what we believe or why we believe it. Even in religious matters, some things may fall in the realm of personal opinion or conviction, but Romans 14 would have to be as long as the rest of the Bible to admit all positions which supposedly fall into this category.
In matters which are clearly and purely doctrinal, we have two courses open to us as disciples. We can either accept the doctrine/practice, the “master” with whom it originates, and whatever consequences that may bring. Or, we can renounce the doctrine, disassociate ourselves from it and those who propagate it, and accept what-ever consequences that course may bring.
But remember another Bible principle taught by our Master: “No man can serve two masters.”
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 24, p. 16-17
December 15, 1994