Deep transformation (discipleship)

This post continues an exploration of Deep Church Rising by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry. For other posts in the series, click a number: 123456, 7, 9

Already in this series we've looked at what Walker and Parry say about a return to deep church (the apostolic tradition), calling for the recapturing of deep faith, deep worship and deep living, Now we'll look at their call to deep transformation, which means recapturing the practice of discipleship (catechesis). They point out that this practice is life-transforming when it is gospel-focused and worship-centered, and includes (among other factors) corporate prayer, theology, holiness and mission. Below is a synopsis of these points.
Leonardo DaVinci's Last Supper 
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons


At the heart of Christian discipleship in the apostolic tradition is the story of Jesus (the gospel), which is about transformation, not mere information. This transformation is individual and communal as together, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we are conformed to Christ. For that transformation to occur in churches with consistency, they must face the harsh reality that we are living today in a mass media-driven, consumeristic world that focuses "on shaping us to its values, beliefs, priorities and practices" (p. 130). As followers of Jesus, we must ask: What are we being formed into? If not into Christ's image, then we must take steps to restore discipleship (catechesis) to the place of prominence it had in the early church:
According to the third-century Apostolic Tradition, catechesis was a journey that lasted for three years.... [it] functioned as a kind of decompression chamber that took those seeking entry into the church on a transformative journey, climaxing in baptism and full entry into the Christian community (pp. 133-134). 


Sadly, the emphasis on catechesis in the apostolic tradition was largely lost as the culture was progressively "Christianized." As we move toward recovering that emphasis in our day, it's vital to understand that discipleship is not just about acquiring right beliefs and moral practices. It's fundamentally about participating in Jesus' own, on-going worship of the Father, in the Spirit. As Walker and Parry note, this deep worship, which is whole-life worship, is at the center of discipleship that is transformational. It is, according to the authors...
...the activity in which all our skills [i.e. all other aspects of discipleship] are ordered. As Christians, our worship is our morality for it is in worship we find ourselves engrafted into the story of God. It is in worship that we acquire the skills to acknowledge who we are---sinners.... Worship is a learned set of practices and they are formative practices. So a fundamental part of catechesis must be to teach people to engage in worship. Such learning cannot simply be didactic---teaching about good worship---but must also be a regular, engaged participation in communal worship... [which is] not merely about praise and adoration... but also penitence, confession, lament, supplication, thanksgiving, silent contemplation, and attentive listening (p. 135).

Corporate prayer

Deep worship, which is fundamental to discipleship, includes prayer both privately and corporately. Walker and Parry emphasize corporate prayer, recommending that churches recite aloud the ancient prayers of the church. This suggestion might make some free church Protestants a bit uncomfortable, fearing "vain repetition." However, that viewpoint belies a lack of awareness concerning the transformative power of praying prayers that have been carefully crafted for corporate worship down through Christian history. First and foremost, of course, is The Lord's Prayer, which Jesus gave his disciples to recite together. Corporate prayer is part of the holistic worship that engages not only the mind but also the body. Whereas modernity tends to focus on the cerebral, pre-modern apostolic tradition understood that "to change the posture can re-poise the heart" (p. 136).


Transformative discipleship, of which deep worship is central, also includes learning and embracing the core theology of the historic, apostolic Christian faith. According to the authors, "What a deep church needs today is a theology of Christian basics" (p. 137). They are not alone in calling for this theological return---it is what this blog advocates and is not about merely gaining head-knowledge, but about embracing the Trinitarian theology of the early church in such a way that it shapes worship, beliefs and practices---our whole lives. An excellent way to regularly celebrate and thus emphasize in worship the theology of the apostolic church is to recite together the Apostle's creed or the Nicene creed. Both of these creeds are fully grounded in incarnational, Trinitarian theology.

Bible reading

Transformative discipleship also includes reading the Bible well together:
First and foremost this is learning to understand the broad sweep of the biblical story---from creation through fall and redemption to new creation, from Genesis to Revelation. It is learning to understand one's own life in relation to that story. In this way we see the book as a whole--=a grand narrative---and not simply the compilation of timeless, blessed thoughts (p. 137).
To read the Bible well is to read it "in the light of the rule of faith," which as we've noted already in this series is the gospel-focused apostolic tradition, which is under-girded and shaped by the ancient incarnational Trinitarian theology advocated in this blog.


Note that Christ-centered, gospel-focused discipleship leads to true holiness, which is not merely about the absence  of something (such as bad behavior), but about the real, life-transforming, positive presence of Jesus. True holiness is about sharing with Jesus, by the Spirit, a pattern of living that is...
... shaped by the cruciform narrative of God in Christ. [This sort of] holiness is not dry and stuffy but beautiful. Conforming our lives to the pattern of Christ is a work of the Holy Spirit but it is a divine work that we are called to co-operate with, in community... Becoming more like Jesus involves the formative practices of worship, of studying Scripture prayerfully, and of intentionally developing new patterns of speaking and acting (p. 138). 
As the Spirit forms believers through these gospel-focused beliefs and practices, they are equipped to accurately "interpret" the culture, viewing it through the "lens" of the story of Jesus:
Christians need to be taught how to see with subversive gospel eyes: to discern the values that underlie various social, cultural, economic, and political institutions and practices, to be able to deconstruct adverts, interpret pop culture, question the unquestionable assumptions underlying the world as given... This is a difficult lifelong process of discernment and communal self-reflection, for there is nothing so hard to see as one's own unquestioned self-reflections (p. 139).


Among other aspects of transformative discipleship, Walker and Parry emphasize the importance of leading followers of Jesus to engage in "God's mission for the sake of the world." Indeed, the church exists... serve as the body of Christ to and for the world. So while "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" [the] church is called to proclaim, "Be reconciled to God." [The] church is called to work in the world so that God's kingdom may come to earth as in heaven. And mission is as broad as God' work in restoring creation. It includes evangelism, but far exceeds it... Catechesis is where people are introduced to the breadth of God's mission, the work of the Spirit-filled church in being a medium of that mission and the multiple ways in which the church can fulfill it. It is also the place in which individuals are encouraged to start participating in God's mission in exploratory ways" (p. 140).
The authors have much more to say about the purpose and practice of transformative discipleship (catechesis), I urge you to read the book on this point alone. Next time we'll end this series looking at what Walker and Parry say about deep church being a "Eucharistic community." Stay tuned.

Note: for a previous post on the topic of discipleship, click here.