Go Make Learners:

A New Model for Discipleship in the Church

by Robert Brow


The register of baptisms of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Karachi, in the Archdeaconry and Diocese of Lahore, states that on the 16th day of December, in the year of our Lord 1924, a child named Robert Charles Douglas, said to have been born on the 30th of August, 1924, son of David Barrington Brow, Civil Engineer, and his wife Anne Louise Charles Valentine Elisa, was baptized.

I am not clear why this happened. My father abandoned church going in his teens, and apparently never darkened church doors, apart from festive occasions such as weddings and christenings, for forty years. He was eventually converted two years before he died, partly as the result of upsetting arguments with his son in pubs, hotels, hospitals, and in the pages of numerous letters. My mother was sent to a priest to prepare for her first communion as a little girl in a Roman Catholic church in Brussels, but when she asked to go again the next Sunday she was told that she now had gained sufficient religion for her life. From then on, she shared the fierce anticlerical feelings of my grandparents, and only very late in life began to accept her son's calling as an Anglican minister. According to C. S. Lewis's picture of heaven and hell in The Great Divorce I have a feeling she did finally transfer her affection from the Grey City to the Realm of the Bright Spirits, But I can't think how she submitted to the hypocrisy of having me baptized. My parents were married in a registry office, and consistently raised me with a thoroughly secular view of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Admittedly, at the age of fifteen they gave permission for me to be prepared for confirmation by Tim Brooks, the chaplain of Stowe, my English boarding school. Perhaps they assumed that since baptism had done me no harm, confirmation might be an equally useful inoculation against the religion of the British Empire. And sure enough, although the ceremony made some impression on me and I took communion at least two or three times, I was done with all religion for the next eight years. In the army I had to go to two church parades and the wedding of a friend, but I remember refusing even to attend a carol service for conscientious reasons. I did have some discussions with an Anglo-Indian officer, Walter Ward, who belonged to the Plymouth Brethren. When he was posted to another battalion he sent me Christian tracts, which I ridiculed with great amusement, and many years later he confessed that he had finally given up on me as a possible convert to the Christian faith. Another officer, a Roman Catholic, gave me a very logical proof that if there was indeed a God who was interested in us, then we should expect him to communicate with us, and that Jesus Christ was exactly what we would look for in such a communication.

But mostly I won the arguments, and I rejoiced in persuading a fair number to abandon church, going in for the usual uninhibited life of an army officer. In October, 1947 I went to Cambridge University to study economics. I had had five easy, happy years in the Army, in return for which the government was glad to pay my fees and living expenses for another five years of study.

To my horror, right at the outset of my introduction to Cambridge, a student came to my room to persuade me to attend a meeting of the Christian Union to be held on October the 7th in the Junior Common Room of Trinity College. I'm afraid I'm an atheist, and I have no time for Christianity" was my response. But that didn't put the fellow off. 'You have come to this university to study the truth, and you ought at least to find out what the Christian faith is,' he argued. I tried to encourage him to the door, protesting "Yes, yes, but I haven't got time to think about that just now." It was then that he felled me with "I reckon you are dead scared to come to a Christian meeting, aren't you?" I said I wasn't and promised to be there.

I can't remember what was said by the speaker, Norman Anderson, a law professor (who later became director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in the University of London). Afterwards, over coffee in tiny cups, I argued with some of the Christian students, including David Lowe, a mathematician, and David Thomson, a physicist. I remember despising them heartily. Suddenly, I am not clear why, I bolted for my room and kneeled to speak to Jesus Christ. "If you can make anything of me, please get on with it." Next morning I was waiting outside a bookshop at nine o'clock and bought myself a Bible. I didn't even know who Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were.

A day or two later Peter Caswell, an engineering student and the heavy-weight boxer for the university, discovered what had happened, and persuaded me to meet with him every week for an hour of basic Christian instruction. I also attended a weekly Bible study in the college. The first theological book I discovered was Bishop Nygren's Agape and Eros, which shook me to the core and introduced me to a completely new concept of love. Soon I was told that I had become a Christian, had been born again, and therefore had eternal life. In the warm fellowship of the Christian Union I learned, at least in terms of my head knowledge, very rapidly I remember when Peter asked me to come to a prayer group I spent several hours composing a suitable prayer, which I had to discard when I found they all prayed "freely."

The entry into churchgoing had its problems. For two or three months it never occurred to me that one was meant to belong to a church. I used to attend a student service late in the evening, but I was busy yacht racing Sunday mornings. Then someone suggested, "Now you are a Christian you ought to join an Anglican, or Baptist, or Methodist, or some established church." I think the idea of having to choose-a denomination was even more upsetting than giving up yacht racing. The first choice seemed to be between a big mixed state church like the Anglicans in England or a denomination of real "born-again believers" like the Baptists or the Plymouth Brethren. During one vacation in Belgium I discussed the claims of the Roman Catholic Church with a cousin, and then went to meet a theology professor at Louvain University. I found that he had been converted through a New Testament given to him at the atheistic Brussels University, and had begun to teach justification by faith and to recommend the study of the Scriptures in French to his students.

Some time during my second year at university I was persuaded by fellow students that I ought to be baptized as a believer. A few days before the date of the next baptismal service in the Baptist church I heard Bishop Marcus Loane of Sydney, Australia, speak at a meeting of the Cranmer Society. He set me firmly in the direction described in this book by convincing me that the principles of baptism in the New Testament were similar to those governing circumcision in the Old Testament. I decided to delay my proposed baptism by immersion, concluding that I had already entered into what my infant baptism had unknowingly signified. But that was not the end, rather it was the beginning of questions regarding baptism and confirmation, the constitution of the church, the pursuit of an ideal denomination, and the nature of the Church's mission throughout the world.

For my final year at Cambridge I moved from economics into the extremely sceptical and critical theological faculty of the university. I then went to train for the Anglican ministry at Tyndale Hall, now renamed Trinity College, Bristol, where most of the students were what I now call "Baptists in Anglican clothing." Night after night into the early hours of the morning we discussed the wickedness of the church of Rome, the errors of the high Anglo-Catholic wing of the church of England, the problems of functioning in a state church, and all the issues of faith, apostasy, church discipline, and missionary outreach-themes which recur through this book.

I then went to India with an Anglican missionary society to work in the Diocese of Lucknow. I had imagined that in my evangelistic work among Hindus and Muslims, problems of church order would not arise. Instead, I found myself ordained by Christopher Robinson, a godly high church Bishop, to be the Anglican staff representative in a theological college which was basically Wesleyan Methodist in doctrine and ethos.

In training ministers for the Indian churches I was strongly influenced by Roland Allen's great book, Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? (first published in 1912), and later by the writings of Donald McGavran, who for many years has led the church growth movement. The ideas that churches may be trusted to find their own direction with the help of the Holy Spirit, and that we must not prevent growth by misguided rigorism, inevitably led me toward the discipleship model discussed in this book.

Meanwhile in language school I met, and married, a nurse working with the Regions Beyond Missionary Union in Raxaul hospital, on the borders of Nepal. Mollie had been raised in Cheam Baptist Church, near London. She did her best to become an Anglican but her spiritual and emotional roots made this impossible. When she was confirmed, we joked that she had become "a confirmed Baptist." It took her eighteen years to feel at home in Anglican services, and we undertook a long denominational pilgrimage together. None of our four children, all born in India, was baptized in infancy. Realizing that Mollie would bear the major responsibility for their spiritual nurture, we felt it would be best for them to be baptized after expressing personal faith and commitment. During our first furlough I did a Master's degree in New Testament Greek studies under Bruce Metzger, at Princeton Theological Seminary, the stronghold of Presbyterianism, and on Sundays we attended Westerley Road Church, an extremely independent congregation.

Our second term in India was mainly devoted to interdenominational work with the Union of Evangelical Students of India. I still functioned as an Anglican minister from time to time, but I was asking more and more questions regarding the whole concept of the ordained ministry and the institutional churches. When we came to Canada we attended a Presbyterian church near our home, but I travelled and spoke in many kinds of churches while I worked as Director of the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship. It was then that I began to find myself in the exciting ferment of the counter-culture among young people, the theological radicalism of the sixties, and the evident importance of the charismatic movement, which was gaining strength. Gradually, some clearer ideas crystallized and were published in The Church: An Organic Picture of its Life and Mission (Eerdmans, 1968, English title Twenty Century Church, Victory Press, 1970).

I then went back to study modern linguistic philosophy at the University of Toronto for four years, and taught, part time, at York University. I became convinced that Wittgenstein's method of using language games to tackle philosophical difficulties would be important in theology. Obviously this book and most of my sermon construction and teaching has been influenced by Wittgenstein in ways that I am not even aware of. The pursuit of clarity and simplicity, the reasons for the whole atmosphere that surrounds theological terms, the importance of models and what Wittgenstein called 'grammar"-all these now seem to me to supply a fresh understanding and illumination of Christian faith and practice which I never found in traditional theology.

In 1970 our family began to attend Little Trinity Anglican church in downtown Toronto. Under Harry Robinson's leadership there had grown a surprising blend of traditional Prayer Book worship with a freedom for individuals to do their own thing in the unity of a very diverse body of people. For the first time Mollie felt at home in Anglican worship, and I began to feel I might be able to function without hypocrisy as a minister. Those were the days of the Jesus movement among young people, and of exciting renewal in the Roman Catholic church. Somehow it seemed that perhaps new bottles could be provided for the new wine of the Holy Spirit. I finally felt ready for my first attempt at being rector of an Anglican parish, and we spent four very happy years in a country parish miles east of Toronto.

During the last two years there, David Sissmore was my associate in the work among the six churches of Cavan and Manvers. Every Monday morning we spent time discussing our ministry and studying the Bible together. Again and again we focused on baptism as the key to the problems at issue, and David insisted that a book needed to be written. The Diocese of Toronto was at that time involved in a decision to drop confirmation as a requirement for taking communion. Gradually we moved toward a conviction that our children had a right to be with us as part of the family of Christians at the communion table. John Hill was active in the Doctrine and Worship Committee and gave me much valuable criticism and suggestions as I began to write.

The first draft was completed just before I rejoined Harry Robinson as his associate at Little Trinity, where Mollie and I had finally felt so much at home five years before. As I welcomed further criticism, a complete rewriting of most of the chapters seemed necessary. Roger Beckwith of Latimer House, Oxford, conveyed valuable encouragement and made practical suggestions. Many changes occurred as Harry and I discussed specific pastoral problems in the parish. He had been using a similar model of church life for twelve years, and now the book and the preaching connected with it sharpened the radical nature of the ideas at issue.

One of my difficulties was that when I asked for reactions to the proposed discipleship model of the church there was a surprising amount of hostility. I had hoped for reasoned criticism from the Scriptures, but most of what I heard was, "This is not what we believe: Why do you want to rock the boat?" As I realized how upsetting the ideas were to so many, I had to fight my own doubts. I kept reading and rereading my Greek New Testament, studying every verse that seemed relevant, to check the validity of the model. More and more its elegance, practicality, and clarifying power gripped me. If I was wrong, somebody would have to come up with a better model. Meanwhile I found great joy and freedom in using the model when speaking to new Christians, explaining baptism and baptizing, and in the context of many pastoral problems.

Meanwhile the huge changes in the Roman Catholic church and the waves of renewal rippling out from the charismatic movement encouraged me to feel that perhaps, before our own eyes, a great reformation of the doctrine of the church was taking place. Perhaps a new model, even by means of adverse reaction against it, might help us to think through and understand how Jesus Christ is building his Church.

For the past two years I have been Rector of St. James, a downtown parish church next door to Queen's University in Kingston. From the beginning I was able to outline my purpose and style of church life according to the model set out in this book. The invitation card which was given to students in the registration lines explained that in our church, "located right on campus at Barrie and Union Streets, we welcome learners, doubters, and those who wonder whether life has any meaning at all." I don't suppose that at first sight, a Sunday morning congregation of two hundred at the main service would look much different from many other typical Anglican churches m Canada. I suppose the difference lies in myself. For the first time in my twenty-five years as an ordained minister I can feel confident in explaining exactly what I am to do in relation to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and the early apostolic churches that mushroomed after his death and resurrection.

In writing this book it seemed best to state clearly the Anglican context of my ministry. The reader can make some allowances for my terminology and bias. Hopefully the arguments from Scripture will prove useful to members of other denominations in considering the discipleship model which I have proposed. Christians of all traditions should be warned that many Anglicans would disagree with my presentation, but of course there would be no point in presenting something about which everybody agrees already! The book is deliberately controversial. I hope it will at least lift the discussion of baptism out of the present confusion and into a new framework.

Chapter 1...