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My readers know that I am passionate about disciple-making and it pains me when other Christian leaders accuse proponents of full discipleship of being less than zealous of penetrating lostness by saturation evangelism. I am just as zealous of evangelism as I am about the teaching part of the Great Commission. However, I am also against what I call “Constantinian evangelism” which is evangelism without discipleship. Allow me to explain.
CONSTANTINE’S CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY
In the spring of A.D. 311, Constantine and his force of about 40,000 troops marched toward Rome to confront the more numerous forces of Maxentius. In the evening Constantine saw a vision in the sky which was described as a bright cross with the words “By this sign conquer.” According to Constantine’s account, Jesus Christ told him in a dream to take the cross into battle as his standard. Constantine reportedly had his commander to mark every soldier’s shield with the Chi-Rho symbol- thought to be an early Christian sign identifying allegiance to Christ (Christianity Today).
CONSTANTINE SET THE STAGE FOR EVANGELISM WITHOUT DISCIPLESHIP
Stories continue to circulate that Constantine supposedly marched his army through a river for a ritual mass conversion to Christianity or gave them a sprinkling baptism as they marched under a bridge. There is scant evidence that such a mass conversion event occurred. It is well documented in history that Constantine himself remained a superficial Christian at best during the rest of his life. The standard practice of that day for new converts to Christianity was a rigid discipleship course lasting up to three years followed by baptism. Constantine refused any such course of training and even refused baptism until he was close to death.
By his victory at the Milvian Bridge using the Chi-Rho symbol, many soldiers likely adopted the mark in a superstitious way. They accepted the symbol of Christianity while never seeking to really know the Savior Jesus Christ. Thus began what might be called “Constantinian evangelism” or evangelism without discipleship. Constantine may have instituted mass conversion of his military by the use of an indoctrination prayer:
Constantine’s Army Prayer
Emperor Constantine ca 320
We know Thou art God alone;
we recognize in Thee our king.
We call on Thee for aid.
From thee we receive victory,
through thee we are made greater than our enemies.
We recognize thy grace in present blessings
and hope on Thee for the future.
We all beseech Thee, we implore Thee
to preserve our king Constantine
and his pious sons safe and victorious to the end or our days.
In A.D. 303 it was illegal for a soldier in the Roman army to be a Christian; by 416 it was mandatory for a soldier to be a Christian (Adventist Review). The possible use of a prayer for either mass conversion (which converts no no one) or represents compulsory religious conversion by the state should send chills down the spiritual spine of any evangelical Christian. However, it does raise the question for evangelicals: “Do we use what is known as “the sinner’s prayer” in a similar manner?
“Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am truly sorry, and now I want to turn away from my past sinful life toward you. Please forgive me, and help me avoid sinning again. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ died for my sins, was resurrected from the dead, is alive, and hears my prayer. I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life, to rule and reign in my heart from this day forward. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey You, and to do Your will for the rest of my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.” The Sinner’s Prayer
Certainly evangelicals do not approve of or use the sinner’s prayer for state compulsory or mass conversion but the focus on evangelism and baptisms without an equal focus on discipleship raises concern.
INVESTING IN EVANGELISM FUTURES
I am not a proponent of a several year discipleship process before one is accepted as a genuine Christian. However, if only by default, many evangelical Christian leaders today may have unintentionally accepted a powerless form of Christianity—evangelism and conversion without discipleship, i.e. Constantinian evangelism. I am for all evangelistic efforts PLUS discipleship.
Discussions rage about the decline of evangelical churches and much of it centers on the need for more evangelism. However, undiscipled Christians are often poor evangelists. Consider that an original document is printed and then successive photo copies are made from copies of the original. Eventually the document will be unreadable. Undiscipled Christians may be like the illustration and fail to make new disciples. On the other hand, good discipleship of new Christians is an investment into future evangelism and real church growth.
Good discipleship of new Christians is an investment into future evangelism and real church growth.
It is time for the evangelical church to return to making disciples as the Great Commission commands—baptizing AND teaching. Church leaders should connect all discipleship ministries in an intentional process as well as cultivate a church culture where people are motivated to follow through in the growth process. The process must include missional opportunities that encourage hands-on ministry experience. Churches that do this are revitalizing their ability to do effective evangelism, as they create needed sustainability.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT
- When Jesus commands his church to make disciples, to what degree does the responsibility belong to the church and to what degree is it the individual Christian’s responsibility?
- Do you think that some evangelists use “the sinner’s prayer” as Constantine may have used “Constantine’s Army Prayer?”
- What process does your church use to make disciples?
- Does your church focus on evangelism without a viable plan for discipling new believers?
- Does your church take a passive laissez-faire approach to discipling new Christians?
- How may your church improve the discipleship process?
Simple Discipleship Blessings!
Dr. Tom Cocklereece, The Disciplist
The Simple Discipleship blog is read by Christian leaders in over 66 countries. Pray for this ministry as God has enlarged our territory!
Simple Discipleship: How to Make Disciples in the 21stCenturywas published and released by Church Smart Resources in November 2009. It is not a self-published book. To learn more about Simple Discipleship and to order the book, follow the link below:
Dr. Tom Cocklereece is CEO of RENOVA Coaching and Consulting, LLC
He is a pastor, author, professional coach, leadership specialist, and is a member Coach/Teacher/Speaker for the John Maxwell Team
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