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Discipleship fundamentally entails a set of disciplines, habits, and practices that are undertaken as regular, concrete, daily practices; such daily disciplines are neither greatly exciting nor immediately productive, but like the acquiring of any new competence, discipleship requires such a regimen — not unlike the learning of a new language by practicing the paradigm of verbs; not unlike the learning of piano by practicing the scales; not unlike the maintenance of good health by the tenacity of jogging; not unlike every intentional habit that makes new dimensions of life possible. The church is a community engaged in disciplines that make following the master-teacher possible and sustainable.

How shall we speak of such workable disciplines? We may begin with the constants of the early church in the book of Acts: “They devoted

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themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

The four disciplines of the early church are undertaken immediately upon baptismal entry into the alternative community; they become the basis for the startling missional activity in the narratives that follow. Thus the disciplines stand exactly between the entry of baptism and the mounting of mission. The practices are:

Teaching: instruction into the tradition. We know from 1 Corinthians 11 and 15 that, according to Paul, the tradition to be learned and transmitted concerns especially the practices of the Eucharist and the most succinct assertion of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. A baptized church is a studying church. Fellowship. The church is a face-to-face community of people who are together for good stretches of life, for whom company with other believers is enjoyable and important. The pragmatic reason for this practice is that resistance and alternative are not possible alone, a point long known in the twelve-step programs. Breaking of bread. Nothing is so elemental as solidarity in eating, where we are bodily engaged with each other. Prayer. Prayer is the regular communal act of ceding one’s own life and our common life over to the real subject of the “news.” We may imagine, further, that these prayers of the church include table prayers, the church’s most intimate practice of creation theology wherein we marvel at the inscrutable production of bread, a gift freely given to us.

A second version of early church discipline is “prayer and fasting” (see Mark 9:29, marginal note). According to some manuscript traditions, fasting is a precondition of the power to heal and transform. Fasting is essentially an alien notion in much of the Reformed

Chilcote, P. W., & Warner, L. C. (Eds.). (2008). The study of evangelism : Exploring a missional practice of the church. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Created from amridge on 2022-10-21 04:02:18.

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tradition, because we shun visible spiritual practices and because we affirm the goodness of life. If, however, we think of fasting as breaking the vicious addictive cycles of loyalty to a consumer society, then we will certainly recognize prominent forms of addiction — notably television — that may admit of disciplined disengagement.

To these I would add that in current discussion, the recovery of Sabbath as a day of disengagement from the power of production and consumption may be important. I have noted of late connections made by Jewish scholars between Sabbath and stewardship, Sabbath as relinquishment of control over my life and stewardship as a recognition that life is not our own.

The most characteristic neighbor practices of the Christian life are to be understood as acutely countercultural, especially generosity, compassion, and forgiveness. The daily commitment to such practices is grounded, I have no doubt, in study, prayer, and fellowship. The practices themselves, however, are profoundly countercultural in a society that is deeply lacking in the elemental ingredients of common humanness. These practices significantly challenge the dominant assumptions in our culture.

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