Disciplemaking is Not For Fact-checkers

Bill Mowry

The fact-checkers met Jesus at every turn. Fact-checkers are religious people whose goal in life is to ensure that we’re obeying God in precise and pure ways. They help us keep the “i”s dotted and the “t”s crossed. 

Fact-checkers are driven by obedience and doctrinal purity, good things to be motivated by. Unfortunately, they sometimes get carried away. In Jesus’ time, they fact-checked people’s obedience to the Law. They believed that true obedience could be precisely measured and one standard was applicable to everyone. Fact-checkers were in the crowds following Jesus.

“Why aren’t your disciples fasting like John’s?” they challenged Jesus (Mark 2:18). When compared to John’s disciples, Jesus’s followers seemed pretty lax in this discipline. They fact-checked this young teacher’s practice of fasting. How did He respond?

“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” he asks (2:19). “Of course not” would be their logical reply. Who fasts in the middle of the party? Using common-sense, Jesus silences the fact-checkers, moving them from a literal form of obedience to a new perspective (2:19-22). But the fact-checkers don’t give up.

“Why aren’t your disciples obeying the Sabbath?” they ask as they observe His followers picking grain to eat for their Saturday meal (2:23-24). Sabbath-keeping was important for the fact-checkers because its observance marked a pious Jew. Sabbath-keeping was finely tuned with specific guidelines on work, eating, and social gatherings. It was easy to fact-check the Sabbath.

Instead of a common sense argument, Jesus counters with an example from the life of David — Israel’s beloved king. “Don’t you remember how David fed his soldiers?” He countered (2:25-26). David fed them with the bread of presence from the house of God. Outrageous! But here it was in the Holy scriptures for all to see (2:25). Then Jesus sets the fact-checkers straight with the right perspective of keeping the Sabbath.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (2:27-28). Jesus puts Sabbath keeping in perspective — the Sabbath is to serve us; we’re not to mechanically and literally keep the Sabbath. And besides, Jesus is Lord over this special day. The fact-checkers are defeated again.

Jesus opens wide the gate of obedience rather than confining it to a narrowly prescribed path. Obedience in the Kingdom is a spacious breadth of action rather than an ever-tightening circle of behavior. It pictures obedience as a heart-driven “Yes I can” rather than a “No you don’t.”

I can live as a fact-checker. I like narrowly prescribed circles, neat lists of do’s and don’ts. These lists help me know how “I’m doing” in my walk with God. Unfortunately,  I soon fall into what my Lutheran friends call “works righteousness.” I assume that keeping a prescribed list — my works — ensures God’s blessing and make me righteous. This didn’t work for the Jewish people (Galatians 3:10-14) and it doesn’t work for me!

There’s another implied advantage to a list. A prescribed list allows me to fact-check how others “are doing” — making sure they’re keeping the same list that I am. I can rank myself above or behind others by checking the list. You can see where this leads us.  Jesus wants to stretch my understanding of obedience, giving me greater allowance on how to obey — more opportunities to say “yes” than to say “no.”

I’m amazed at how few behavior specificities are given in The New Testament. For example, we’re commanded to love our neighbors but what does this look like? When asked this question Jesus tells a story (Luke 10:29-30). While illustrative it doesn’t give precision. Fact-checkers would have a hard time measuring who is loving their neighbor and who isn’t. Jesus has something more in mind that wooden literalism.

Here’s another example. We’re commanded not to be conformed to the world (Romans 12:2). Conforming to the world is a big deal — it marks us as enemies of God (James 4:4)! Yet what does it mean not to be conformed to the world? Principles are given in the Bible but it’s not spelled out in precise detail. Fact-checkers over the centuries have compiled list after list of anti-world behaviors but the list keeps changing over time. Our Lord invites us to wrestle with worldly conformity in the context of where we live — in my attitudes and actions — and then to take action.

Disciplemakers are not fact-checkers nor list-givers. Our goal is to help people invest in their first love — Jesus — and follow the Holy Spirit’s lead in obedience. Disciplemakers help people meditate on the Scriptures with a heart to obey in practical ways. Here’s how it works.

I come along side people to explore the Scriptures in topics like loving your neighbor. “Who is your neighbor?” is the first question. Once we establish our neighborhoods, we then explore how to love people in these neighborhoods. Loving people in suburbia looks different than loving neighbors in an urban apartment building. We ask the Lord to show us creative and practical ways to love our neighbors and then choose an application — a personal step of obedience. Do you see how the world of obedience is an expansive one not a narrow one?

Jesus invites us to a broad highway of possibilities for obedience rather than a narrow route of behaviors.

Disciplemaking is not for fact-checkers. We don’t create prescribed lists of behaviors for disciples to keep nor is our goal for disciples to pass-on these lists for others to keep. Biblical obedience is a wide door of possibilities rather a narrow window of behaviors. Let’s choose the wisdom of Augustine over the life of a fact-checker: “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is beloved.”