Rev. Tony Cooke

We just recently conducted a “second generation” In Search of Timothy seminar. This seminar builds on the concepts presented in the book and in the original seminar. One of the principles we cover in this new seminar involves an observation a minister friend recently shared with me about the usage of the words “disciple” and “church” throughout the New Testament. Of course, we know that both of these are good words, but the frequency and ratio with which they are used as the New Testament progresses is very interesting.

In the gospels, the word church appears only 3 times, while disciple (or disciples) appears 242 times. That’s a pretty lop-sided ratio. In the book of Acts, things balance out a bit. Church or churches is used 20 times, while disciple or disciples is used 32 times. There’s a dramatic shift in the other direction, though, when we move into the epistles and the book of Revelation. There, church or churches is used 87 times, and disciple or disciples is not used a single time.

Is there significance in this changing ratio? I think there is. Here is one thought: A person could consider himself to be a disciple (a student, a learner, or pupil) on his own. If a person was stranded alone on a desert island with his Bible, he could learn about Jesus. However, he would still be lacking a spiritual community even though Jesus might be very precious to him.

A person can start out as a disciple of Jesus individually, but the farther he progresses in following the Lord and His teachings, the more he is going to be drawn to and integrated into the church—into vital, inter-dependent relationships with other believers. It’s not that we lose our individual relationship with the Lord; that will always be important. But the farther we go spiritually, the more the emphasis should be on we, not just on me.

Our personal relationship with God will always be vital and foundational, but that relationship will find enrichment, enhancement, and expression through mutually beneficial relationships with others in the Body of Christ. We can always profit from private time with God in prayer and study, but we should avoid excessive isolation from others. Can we know and love God individually? Certainly. But there is something very powerful about what David expressed in Psalm 34:3: “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.”

Michael G. Moriarty expressed concern about the issue of excessive isolation when he said, “In evangelical individualism people think of their personal relationship with God in isolation (‘Just me and Jesus’) and forge their destiny apart from any church authority. While holding relatively low opinions of history, traditions, and the church, they turn to the experiences of self and isolate themselves from their brothers and sisters in the faith. True spirituality is perverted as it becomes a quest for inner stimulation rather than growth in biblical knowledge and the application of truth in community. Healthy Christians do not live in isolation.”

Our heart is to promote partnership in the Body of Christ, and we trust that you are enjoying and benefiting from the kind of teamwork that makes the dream work!