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Rote Discipleship Is Spiritual Window-Dressing


Part of the Great Commission Jesus gave His church of going into all the world and making disciples, is the assignment to, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you …” (Mt. 28:20a).

We don’t have a very good track record of doing what Jesus told us to do. When we try, we often settle for limited, rote teaching, thinking if a new disciple can parrot back what they’re told, they’ve learned.


They’ve just learned to parrot, not to understand.

Kind of like this story from Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the book, Reminiscences:

    • The first section was studying the time-space relationship later formulated by Einstein as his Theory of Relativity. The text was complex and, being unable to comprehend it, I committed the pages to memory. When I was called upon to recite, I solemnly reeled off almost word for word what the book said. Our instructor, Colonel Fieberger, looked at me somewhat quizzically and asked, “Do you understand this theory?”

It was a bad moment for me, but I did not hesitate in replying, “No, sir.” You could have heard a pin drop. I braced myself and waited.

And then the slow words of the professor: “Neither do I, Mr. MacArthur. Section dismissed.”

An accumulation of knowledge without understanding is an empty accomplishment; but teaching someone to the degree they gain understanding and even wisdom, that is deeply life-changing!

For example. let’s take just two lines of scripture that help us understand why and how we human beings exist:

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)

For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” (Acts 17:28)

Our lives can be deeply changed and satisfied by plumbing the depths of what is taught in just those two sentences of scripture. But for that to happen, we can’t settle for the spiritual window-dressing of rote discipleship; rather, we must strive for understanding from the knowledge we gain from God’s Word, and the wise application of it.

At the earliest stages of discipleship, a little rote learning, such as learning the books of the Bible in order, can be beneficial, but certainly not sufficient. Are you settling for a rote-level discipleship? Are you growing in knowledge and understanding from the Word of God? If you’re a Bible teacher or discipler of other Christians, do you teach for understanding?

This article originally appeared here and is used by permission.