Relational Discipleship as Countercultural Christianity: A Study of Scripture's Teaching on Relational Discipleship as a Response to Contemporary American Culture
Scripture describes a disciple of Christ as one who follows Jesus in faith born of the gospel – that is, a “believer” or a “Christian.” Correspondingly, discipleship is every activity by which the Holy Spirit nurtures the new life of the believer. Scripture does not prescribe specific methods of discipleship, but rather teaches that the Holy Spirit disciples Christians through the Word of God – through the message of law which convicts and cuts, and through the message of grace which comforts and heals. In addition to the church’s public preaching and teaching of this message through its called workers, Scripture instructs all Christians, as members of the body of Christ, to build one another up in faith as they apply God’s Word to each other – a concept I term “relational discipleship.” Such relational discipleship is rooted in Christian community and grounded on three scriptural principles: all Christians are priests of God, the body of Christ exercises mutual care and concern among its members, and relational discipleship grows as the Christian is nurtured in faith. Contemporary American culture, however, is highly individualistic, tends toward compartmentalizing faith, is increasingly embracing digitally-mediated relationships in place of more personal and genuine connection, and promotes a consumeristic attitude toward faith and the Christian community. In this paper, I demonstrate how these cultural characteristics present obstacles to the formation of Christian relationships and the exercise of relational discipleship. I further demonstrate how Christian leaders can mitigate the impact of these cultural barriers by implementing the scriptural principles of relational discipleship through small groups.