In the book JESUS AMONG FRIENDS AND ENEMIES (edited by Chris Keith and Larry Hurtado) there is a chapter in the friends part titled “Secret Disciples.” David M. Allen presents a thoughtful discussion of two interesting characters in the biblical record: the two Jewish leaders Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Allen suggests the night visit of Nicodemus to Jesus (John 3:2) indicates “someone who is potentially sympathetic to Jesus but unwilling to express that publically” (p.158).  Citing John 19:38, Allen suggests Joseph of Arimathea became a “secret disciple, one who wishes to be associated with Jesus, but seemingly not in public.” (p. 167).

When I first saw the chapter title “Secret Disciples,” and still as I think about it now, I’m not sure a person can be a secret disciple. The terms sounds like a contradiction to me. The purpose of this post is not to criticize what Allen has written. His chapter is carefully researched and written, well worth reading. I want to use his essay to challenge and stimulate our thinking.

The New Testament seems to teach that the very nature of being a disciple means one has declared allegiance to Jesus. For example, in Matthew 10:32 Jesus promised, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used two metaphors to describe His followers that contradict the idea of being a secret disciple. While neither “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) nor “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16) demands a confession as such, it’s not easy to reconcile how a person could be both salt and light as a secret disciple. A Christian’s witness as salt and light does not have to be overt, but both do speak to a disciple’s influence.

One of my favorite New Testament teachings on this subject is in I Peter 3:15b, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The instruction to be prepared to respond when asked about one’s faith suggests the believer’s lifestyle has created interest. Similar to the images of salt and light, living with an obvious hope that others take note of does not have to be overt. But equally important to the instruction of I Peter 3:15b is the manner in which the writer tells us we are to answer. I Peter 3:15c cautions, “But do this with gentleness and respect.” Too often Christians acknowledge Jesus before others and answer questions about their hope and faith without gentleness and respect. With gentleness and respect calls us not to be arrogant, or condescending, or combative, or judgmental.

To be potentially sympathetic to Jesus but unwilling to express that publically, or to wish to be associated with Jesus but not in public, hardly gives a person the opportunity to acknowledge Him, to be the salt of the earth or the light of the world, or to live in such a way that one would be asked the reason for his or her hope.

I have often told the story of a little boy answering the door with his mutt dog when a door to door salesman knocked. Trying to create goodwill, the salesman noted the dog and asked, “What kind of dog is that?” The boy proudly answered, “He’s a police dog.” Puzzled, the salesman remarked, “He doesn’t look like a police dog.” The boy responded, “He’s in the secret service.” There very well may be unique situations when it would be necessary to be a secret disciple; but generally speaking a secret disciple is an oxymoron.

What do you think?

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I was taken back last week by a comment on Facebook in response to an article someone else had posted. Giving his view as a Christian, he suggested we should “attack culture.” I noted “attack” was probably not the best choice of words and he blasted me making it clear culture wasn’t the only thing he was interested in attacking. How should we as Christians relate and speak to culture (or what we usually call “the world”)?

I’m pretty sure “attacking” will not do much to open doors or gain a hearing. I can’t imagine that the tactics of Westboro Baptist Church have resulted in welcoming many unbelievers into the body of Christ. Nor do I have a sense that protesting abortion by screaming “baby killer” leads to much reasoned discussion. Attacking and shouting the Gospel may make those who do it feel like they have stood up for Jesus, but I doubt the response is interest in hearing more about Him.

But to say we should not attack is not to imply we should remain silent. Christians are not called to just fit in and blur the distinction we have as followers of Jesus. Neither are we called to withdraw from the world. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus affirmed His followers were to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” In order to be salt and light we must be in our culture.

Our commitment to the Lord shows up in our words, actions, outlooks, and attitude. It’s this matter of attitude that got my attention last week. Through the years I have been embarrassed as a Christian by the attacking attitude expressed by some believers. But more than that, I am convinced they have done more harm than good for the cause. And I must confess that too many times in my life I have been guilty of displaying the wrong attitude to both unbelievers as well as believers.

I return often to a passage giving instruction about how we should talk with others about the Lord and our faith. In I Peter 3:15 the challenge is given to be ready to give an answer when given the opportunity to talk about our hope. Then the verse concludes, “But do this with gentleness and respect” (NIV). The NLT renders it “in a respectful way” and the Message phrases it “with the utmost courtesy.” And the audience to whom I Peter was first written was to Christians living in a hostile environment.

I love the title and content of a book by Dallas Willard put together after his death by his daughter from his notes and lectures. The main title is powerful enough, “The Allure of Gentleness.” But the sub-title closes the deal for me: “Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus.” Remember Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).

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