World Vision and Being a Disciple

This week, as the World Vision kerffufel was unfolding, I saw a phrase from Denny Burk that caught my eye. He concluded from his survey of scripture:

Thus it is impossible to be a “follower of Christ” while endorsing or participating in a same-sex marriage.

The idea of being a follower of Christ caught my attention. Immediately I began to think of this in terms of discipleship. And I slowly began to see that it might truly be impossible to be a disciple and continue to support an agency that allows for homosexual marriage as it brings relief to needy children.

What does it look like to be a disciple? Three stories run almost back to back, demonstrating what being a disciple might look like in such a situation.

In Mark 9, Jesus has just predicted his death (vv. 30-32). Not understanding what Jesus was saying, what kind of Messiah they were following, the disciples rambled off on their own conversation.

An embarrassing conversation.

A conversation about which of them is greatest.

Not seeing the crucified messiah before them, they did not see the mirror of the Cruficied that was showing them what the life of following must entail.

And so Jesus had to show them. The kingdom of God is not like they think it is. “Being first,” says Jesus, “entails being last, and servant of all.”

Jesus then takes a child: the low person on the ancient totem pole of social hierarchy. His words are stunning: “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me isn’t welcoming me but God, who sent me.”

To reject World Vision is to play the part of the disciples: to place ourselves in the place of being rebuked by Jesus for pursuing greatness through power. To find ourselves rejecting the Jesus who is in the child for the sake of our own attempts to build the kingdom of God in our own image.

The story continues.

John hopes to clarify that the disciples as a group provide the boundary markers, protecting the name of Jesus, and the kingdom it brings.

“Teacher!” says John. (BTW: in Mark, if you want to find someone who doesn’t know what’s going on, look for the person who calls Jesus “teacher.”) “We saw someone casting out demons in your name, but we forbid him because he doesn’t follow us.”

To be a disciple is to think that our group circumscribes the sphere where God’s blessings are known. Clearly if you’re not with us, you cannot truly be a follower of Jesus.



Jesus says, “Don’t stop him! … Whoever isn’t against us is for us.”

To pull out of supporting an organization that is doing the work of God in the name of Jesus because they do not follow us in the particular way that we are following Jesus–this is to play the role of the disciples.

And the disciples are rebuked by Jesus for placing themselves at the center of the kingdom of God, remaking its upside down nature after their own image.

In the wake of these two rebukes, the third story is all the more shocking.

It’s only 20 verses later. In Mark 10.

The people are bringing children to Jesus for him to bless them (Mark 10:13-16). The children. The ones about whom Jesus has said, “If you receive one of these, you receive me, which isn’t receiving me, but the One who sent me.”

The disciples, the ones who were just rebuked for thinking that they form the wall of partition between Jesus and the world, they hindered the children.

The disciples missed their chance.

In striving to protect Jesus, they refused to embrace the children.

They missed Jesus.

And they placed themselves in the mortal danger of causing one of the little ones to stumble (that’s at the end of ch. 9).

Withdrawing from support of World Vision in order to faithfully follow Jesus, in order to keep those children from the mercy being offered in the name of Jesus, this might truly be the only way to be a disciple.

Because being a disciple looks like playing power games that blind us to the upside down nature of the kingdom of God.

Because being a disciple looks like establishing our own Jesus-follower bona fides while spurning the notion that Jesus is present in the children standing in front of us, coming through us to find the blessing of Christ.

The roller coaster of the week gone by will be forgotten by most of us in a few weeks time. But what it managed to do for a brief instant was lay bare the tendency that resides deep within us.

It laid bear the rut that is easiest to fall into for those of us who follow Jesus most closely.

It is the danger of being a disciple. It is the danger of being of the company of disciples who fail to see that the cross changes everything.

It is to bring ourselves under the words of Jesus’ rebuke.

It is to be sent out from the presence of Jesus with the calling to relearn to find him: not in the world circumscribed by people like ourselves, but in the face of the child who comes to us in order to find Jesus.

19 thoughts on “World Vision and Being a Disciple”

  1. Very thoughtful and imaginative discussion of what kind of disciple Jesus really seeks.

    I think Rich Stearns and the board were on the right track initially when they were thinking ecumenically and ecclesiologically. Their capitulation notwithstanding, I still think our argument with traditionalists in the wake of World Vision is not so much doctrinal and theological, but ecumenical and ecclesiological. On what grounds do they declare that vast swaths of the Christian family (and 27% of their own people, according to polls) are outside Christ?

    The next excommunitweet could be for you. “@___[Neo-Calvinist Elite]___: Farewell, Daniel Kirk. Farewell, Fuller.”

    Wouldn’t surprise me.

    Be well.

  2. I have to tell you, not only is this a great response to the World Vision issue, it’s really excellent exegesis. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the disciples in quite this light. That they were clueless is obvious. But what exactly they were clueless about was really vague beyond “not understanding Jesus.” Thanks for thinking through the details for us!

      1. Mike, I’m not sure what you’re referring to?

        My hunch, though, is that you’ve got it backward. It is typically the religious leaders who come with the religiously correct answer only to have their categories blown up by Jesus’ response. “Who is my neighbor?” “What kid do I have to show mercy to?”

        1. Daniel,

          I think it is you who have it backwards, and this is the very point I was making.

          World Vision broke faith with its donors (to give a cup of cold water to the neediest in the name of Christ) and thus put those children at risk. You should therefore be directing your criticism to World Vision’s leaders instead of delegitimizing the valid concerns of World Vision donors. If World Vision really cares about the children, they should offer to transfer to support to other Christian relief organizations who do not sway in the winds of cultural adaptions to sin.

          You seem utterly insensitive to, much less sympathetic to, people who have donated their money to an organization precisely because it promised not merely to give a cup of cold water to the little ones, but to do so in the name of the Lord. In an age when donors seem to want to put their name on every gift they give, I’d think you’d show a little more apprec iation for those who only want the Lord’s name on what they give.

  3. You speak as if World Vision is the only group ministering to children in Jesus’ name. You also speak as if one merely names the name of Christ that automatically makes them a disciple. Possibly you’ve read:

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

    Sound exegesis? I think not.

  4. Sure but the problem here is that no-one was proposing ‘spurning the notion that Jesus is present in the children standing in front of us.’ Oh except all those straw-man evangelicals created by liberal critics.

    WV is not the only relief agency. The concern, right or wrong, was to provide good spiritual food alongside material food–through another agency if necessary.

    1. No one is saying or assuming that WV is the only relief agency. I am assuming, however, that it is no comfort to the children whose support is being ditched that folks are taking their money to some other kid whose agency is more theologically in line with the donor’s views.

      Was it o.k. for the disciples to block those particular kids from coming to Jesus as long as they had others in mind whom they were intending to allow? Did Jesus stand his ground when the woman with the incorrect theology and lineage tried to serve as the mediator for her daughter’s healing? Does the Good Samaritan story leave us praising adherence to our own notions of who the insiders are that qualify as “neighbor” whom we must love?

  5. Daniel,

    You seem to be dodging the fundamental issue, for the whole argument turns on whether or not homosexuality is a sin.

    Unless you are willing to declare yourself unequivocally on this point, you will not be able to articulate a position which is clearly understood by either side.

    If homosexuality is not a sin, then the argument of your original post stands. However, if homosexuality is a sin, then you have completely ignored the dilemma of conscience that has been forced of many of World Vision’s faithful donors. It is no small thing to the Lord’s people for His name to be compromised by the approval of sin.

  6. Of course the massive hole in your argument is that the little children were called to come TOWARD Christ and His teachings and WV chose to move AWAY from His teachings. I think it would be harder to judge people in the proper context of this situation.

    If your point is that we should support any organization that feeds children then just state it. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see full bellies.

    Personally, I am glad I sponsor children through Compassion and will continue to advocate for them since I am hoping to accomplish full bellies and redeemed souls.

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