In the early church Christians went through a rigorous discipleship process (notice the connection between disciple and discipline). Once you became a Christian you went through a three year boot camp. You were called a catechumen, derived from the Greek katechein, meaning “to teach” or instruct.” For three years your theology was shaped and scrutinized by superiors in the church. Did you get that? Three years. During this time your superior(s) mentored you through the faith. We see this illustrated in ancient church documents such as the Apostolic Traditions, the Apostolic Constitutions, the Canons of Hippolytus, and the Testamentum Domini. The church would not accept a new convert to the faith without this rigorous discipleship process. They took serious Christ’s command to “make disciples.”
From the Didascalia Apostolorum we read, “When the heathen desire and promise to repent, saying ‘We believe,’ we receive them into the congregation so that they may hear the word, but do not receive them into communion until the receive the seal and are fully initiated” (2.39).
This initiation did not come for three full years. Why? For two reasons. 1) The early church did not assume that a profession of faith was sincere, having seen many who once professed and then turned away either in doctrine or in practice. 2) They wanted to ensure the health and stability of the new converts belief.
Cyril of Jerusalem reflects on the importance of theological stability: “Let me compare the catechizing to a building. Unless we methodically bind and joint the whole structure together, we shall have leaks and dry rot, and all our previous exertions will be wasted” (Prochatechesis 11). This training provided a fail-safe that Christianity would be represented correctly and that the “believers” would truly believe, knowing what they were getting themselves into. In other words, they gave them an opportunity not to believe so that they might truly believe.
This process may seem extreme to us today, but consider where we are at. Once one becomes a Christian, the most they normally receive is a four week membership class that deals less with theology and more with church polity. But for the most part they don’t even get this. We tell them to ask Christ into their heart then we send them on their way with our blessing. In reality, we don’t know what has been created. At best, we have just placed a new born baby on the streets telling them to be filled and happy.
Is it any wonder that the church has such an epidemic for theological integrity? Should we really expect any different?
Who are we accountable to for our beliefs? When we get a wild hair about some theological issue, where do we turn? Better, where does this wild hair come from and who gave us the right to have a wild hair? “Wild.” Look it up in the dictionary and you will see that it means “undisciplined, unruly, or lawless.”
We need serious theological training. We need discipline. We need to be humiliated theologically. We need to know that we cannot do whatever we want with Christian belief and expect there to be so many lab rats available. If you have not been trained theologically, you need to be. This does not mean that you have read a book or two on theology, but you need to be in some sort of program that systematically, from beginning to end, takes you through the Christian faith, teaching you not only what to think and believe, but how to think and believe. We all need to be critiqued, disciplined, and humbled. We need more spiritual black eyes. We also need to be prepared to do the same with others.
Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
Proverbs 13:10 By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.
Proverbs 19:20 Listen to counsel and accept discipline, That you may be wise the rest of your days.
Proverbs 6:23 For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.
Proverbs 13:18 Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, But he who regards reproof will be honored.
Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.