The "Imitation of Christ" in Christian Tradition:
Its Missing Charismatic Emphasis
Jon Ruthven, PhD
While traditional theology and piety has
long promoted an "imitation of Christ" motif among the faithful,
the "imitation" seems restricted to piety and ethics. Interest in
the imitation of Christ's miracles appears as a threat to
traditional Christology, since Christ was understood to perform
miracles as an expression or proof of his deity. The recent trend
toward a more biblical "Spirit Christology" facilitates our
thesis that a central NT theme in Jesus' ministry was that he
presented himself not only as a unique sacrifice for sin and as
an example of piety and ethics, but, quite centrally, as a
normative exemplar of charismatic ministry for others to
replicate. After Part I, a survey of traditional theology and
developments in this area, Part II of this paper examines the NT
and its contemporary traditions of mimesis and its
semantic field, while Part III shows that the NT content
of mimesis requires a remarkably detailed replication of
Jesus' life and ministry, specifically including his ministry of
"signs and wonders."
Popular American culture, with its increasing focus on the
generated a minor fad among teenagers: a "WWJD?" ("What would
Jesus Do?") bracelet, which, while bouncing on the wrists of
video game players and entangling the TV remote, clicking in the
Spice Girls on MTV, seeks to draw its wearers toward an
"imitation of Christ."
The WWJD bracelet expresses this more or less
continuous tradition throughout church history to replicate the
life of Christ, the impulse having deep but somewhat selectively
attended roots in the New Testament itself. The devotional
classics ranging from St. Thomas à Kempis' Imitatio
Christi to Charles Sheldon's In His Steps easily
spring to mind as examples. But this notion of "following Jesus,"
"discipleship," or "spirituality" calls up a historically
conditioned set of restrictions on how far that "imitation" may
be applied. Traditionally, aside from minor movements in the
radical reformation or from certain restorationist groups, we
understand that a replication of Jesus' life is properly
restricted to piety and ethics.
Progress in biblical scholarship over two
millennia has produced little movement on this front. A recent
academic collection of essays, Patterns of Discipleship in the
New Testament continues this tradition without any
serious consideration of extending "discipleship" to any other
areas of emulating Jesus, particularly to the miraculous.
"Discipleship remains limited to "piety and ethics," very much as
is our present notion of "spiritual formation."
Because, in traditional theology, Jesus'
uniqueness as divine was accredited by miracles, few Christians
seriously attempted to replicate that performance in Jesus'
ministry. Within this framework, to attempt to perform miracles
would represent an attempt to promote oneself as divine-an effort
virtually as blasphemous as to claim one's own suffering and
death to be redemptive for sin.
This paper attempts to show that the
elimination of miraculous works from the purview of the
imitatio Christi simply does not derive from scripture and
is not, therefore, normative. Against the traditional, restricted
view of "imitation," the NT contains a strong parenesis
for replicating the life and activities of Jesus in all
areas, including the ministry of the miraculous.
The recent trend toward a more biblical "Spirit
Christology" facilitates our thesis that a central NT theme in
Jesus' ministry was that he is presented not only as a unique
sacrifice for sin, but as a normative exemplar of charismatic
ministry for others to replicate. Hence, in this paper, after
Part I, a survey of traditional theology and developments in this
area, Part II examines the NT and its contemporary expressions of
mimesis (imitation/ replication) and its semantic field,
while Part III shows that the NT content of mimesis
requires a remarkably detailed replication of each stage of
Jesus' life and ministry, specifically including his ministry of
"signs and wonders." This paper represents an exploratory survey
of this issue. It is necessarily brief and incomplete, both in
its scope and supporting evidence.
Early on, the doctrine of Christology found
much of its shape in Greek philosophical apologetics. Since it
was no difficult matter to prove that Jesus was a man, the
overwhelming apologetic emphasis focused on establishing His
divinity, the importance of this being that only God could
redeem from sin. In Christian tradition, then, Jesus
came to be seen principally as the divine savior from sin, whose
nature and mission was utterly and transcendently unique. To
protect this image of Christ, the apologetic impulse tended to
recast the New Testament portrayal of his ministry, particularly
his miracles, into proofs for divinity, a move that had the
effect of distancing the life and actions of Jesus from those of
his mortal followers. Of course Christian tradition is far from
uniform on this, or even on most issues, but for example, St.
Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) expresses some flavor of this
discontinuity when he insisted:
If any man shall say that the one Lord Jesus
Christ was glorified by the Holy Ghost so that he used through
him a power not his own and from him received power against
unclean spirits and power to work miracles before men and shall
not rather confess that it was his own spirit through which he
worked these divine signs let him be an anathema.
An anonymous commentator on this passage clarifies Cyril's
distinction between Christ and the apostles with respect to
miracles and the anointing of the Spirit.
The apostles worked miracles through the Holy
Ghost but as by a power external to themselves but not so Christ.
When Christ worked wonders through the Holy Ghost he was working
by a power was his own via the Third person of the Holy Trinity,
from whom he never was and never could be separated, ever abiding
with him and the eternal Father as the divine unity.
Obviously, while it is granted here that the Apostles
could and did perform miracles through the power of the Spirit,
it is clear that Jesus' experience with the Spirit is unique and
cannot be replicated precisely, even by his apostles. In fact,
Ambrosiastor (d. 384), somewhat earlier, suggested that the
experience of the Spirit involves a kind of spiritual entropy,
moving from Christ to the Apostles, who, in Jn 14:12 were
promised they alone would perform "greater works." A second,
lower level of spiritual power is described in Jn 20:22, which
denotes an impartation of the Spirit conferring ecclesiastical
power enabling the successive transfer of the Spirit throughout
history via the imposition of hands. Finally, a third level
appears in Acts 2 in which the Spirit was bestowed on the laity
"whence arises the preaching of the church." The specifics of this spiritual
power are murky both in terms of the exegesis as well as the
specific manifestations of the Spirit intended at the lower
levels. He does seem to intend, however, that spiritual power,
over time, diminishes in stages: that the layman of today could
never aspire to the level of charismatic power of Jesus or even
his apostles. Calvin echoes this principle: "How plainly is his
deity shown in miracles! Even though I confess that both the
prophets and the apostles performed miracles equal to and similar
to his, yet in this respect there is the greatest of differences:
they distributed the gifts of God by their ministry, but he
showed forth his own power."
This impulse to protect the uniqueness of Christ,
and by extension, his apostles, nourished the doctrine of
cessationism, which held that miracles and certain spiritual
gifts appeared only to point to the deity of Christ and the
significance of his work. These miracles, perforce, ceased when
the core of Christian doctrine was established.
In this mode, Luther sets the agenda for
subsequent Protestantism with respect to our "imitation" of
Christ. He suggests that while Christ's role involves serving as
an example, his chief mission, "the cardinal doctrine and the
most precious one of the Gospel" [italics mine], is to redeem
us from sin through his work on the cross. "When we possess
Christ through faith as a free gift we should go on and do as he
has done for us, and imitate him in our entire life and
From other passages, we know that Luther limited the imitation of
Christ to traditional acts of piety, suffering and ministry, but
drew the line at miraculous spiritual gifts. Subsequently, scholastic
Protestantism and the deistic Enlightenment overwhelmingly
expressed Christian praxis as a matter of ethics. Hence, with the
restriction of the miraculous to the first century on the one
hand, and the emphasis on Christianity-as-morality that developed
later, the profile of traditional Christian discipleship was
Prominent Evangelical scholars follow this
traditional Protestant line even today. For example, Colin Brown
claims that the programmatic charismatic ministry of Jesus in,
say, Luke 4:18 cannot apply beyond Jesus himself; "no one else
may claim this anointing and this role." Similarly, Hebrews 2:4 "refers to the
ministry of Jesus and the founding of the church. The passage is
not talking about what happens when the gospel is proclaimed in
each and every age." D. A. Carson applies the principle a
step further: "The apostles and other writers of the New
Testament must be viewed as something other than
proto-Christians, models of what other Christians should enjoy
Such modern Evangelical sentiment is threatened
somewhat by an emerging emphasis these days on Spirit
which can be construed in many cases as an expression of the
"anthropocentric turn" widely diffused in theology since the
Enlightenment and generally denying the divine nature of Jesus.
This category of Spirit Christology can nonetheless also be
understood as a turn toward a scriptural emphasis, as Del Colle
argues. It is
possible to affirm the central creedal statements about Jesus
while at the same time retaining biblical emphases with respect
to his Spirit anointing. A variant of this line of Christology
may also be described as "paradigm Christology," reflecting an
emphasis upon human response and replication of Jesus' life and
Arguably, any discussion of Spirit Christology
engages the most attended, developed and dauntingly complex areas
of theology-many areas from which we must prescind in this paper.
However, this theological complexity has not dissuaded countless
numbers of Pentecostal preachers from expressing their intuitive
(or perhaps simply, Biblical) insight that "everything Jesus did
we should do, because he was empowered by the same Holy Ghost we
have"-in other words, a Christology of mimesis. Indeed, we
would argue, something like this expression can be demonstrated
as a key NT theme.
The mimesis ("imitation") theme is
extraordinarily large in the New Testament. While Louw-Nida lists
only 5 words in this immediate family, some 42 words or word
groups appear in the semantic field, "Guide, Discipline, Follow,"
26 expressions for "teach" or "instruct" and comprising a
sizeable number of references to such activities as repeating,
following, obeying, instructing. Moreover, the extensive field of
"knowing" words contains a strong Semitic overtone of "knowing by
interaction with someone" as opposed to knowing by detached
observation or deriving knowledge from abstract principles.
It is impossible to survey the multitude of
variations in the above fields to make our point that Jesus
expressed the clear intention that his mission was to be
replicated exactly by his followers, irrespective of their place
in succeeding generations. This intention can be shown by an
examination of Jesus' cultural and religious background,
particularly the terms, "rabbi," "disciple" and "follow[er]," his
explicit statements about the nature of his ministry's continuity
in his followers, as well as the disciples' expectations of those
who would follow them.
While an examination of Jesus' historical
and cultural background with respect to the teacher-disciple
relationship represents no necessary proof as to the nature of
the relationship between Jesus and his disciples, it is
nonetheless instructive to note that in general in the Greek
world, the teacher-student relationship "is predominantly
characterized by the concept of mimesis. Teachers and
students are bound together by a certain teaching and
practice of life, and the student is recognizable in his
imitation of the teachings and life of the teacher"
Closer to Jesus' experience, Josephus offers a
similar goal for all young Jews: "[The Law] orders that they
shall be taught to read and shall learn both the laws and the
deeds of their forefathers, in order that they may imitate the
latter, and being grounded in the former, may neither transgress
nor have any excuse for being ignorant of them."
Even more relevantly, the Palestinian
rabbi-student relationship reflects a similar pattern. Ben Sirach (d.
ca. 175 BC) cites the goal of a rabbi is to train his
student to such an extent that "When his father [teacher] dies,
it is as though he is not dead. For he leaves behind him one like
a humorous extreme, Rabbi Akiva (d. 135), followed his mentor, R.
Joshua into the privy, during which time Akiva claimed to have
"learned three good habits." He defended his action: "I
considered everything a part of the Torah and I needed to
In the Gospels and Acts the followers of Jesus
are called "disciples" (mathetai) some 67 times in
Matthew, 44 in Mark, 34 in Luke and 73 times in John. This does
not include numerous references to disciples of others, such as
John the Baptist or the Pharisees. In Acts the term, including
one feminine form applied to Tabitha (9:36), appears 29 times,
generally to believers in Jesus. The verb form
(matheteuo-"to become a disciple") appears three times in
Matthew and once in Acts.
The word, "follow" in its noun and verb forms
appear some 14 times as disciples of Jesus in the Gospels, and
once as a participle in Rev 14:4 of the 144,000 "who follow the
Lamb wherever he goes." It is interesting, here that these terms,
"disciple" and "follow" apply both to the disciples of the
earthly Jesus, and also to Christians in general.
In the Gospels, Jesus clearly stakes out a
claim for his status as "teacher/rabbi" in the face of potential
competing claims among his own followers. For example, in the
context of rabbinic pride and intellectualism run amok (Mt 23),
Jesus makes a triptych of demands, focusing on his authority as
But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you
have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call
anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in
heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one
Teacher, the Christ (vss. 8-10).
Jesus is frequently described in the Gospels as "rabbi"-a
term ranging in meanings from respect ("Sir") to a more formal
term of "teacher/role model." It is clear, however, from a variety
of statements that the relationship of Jesus to his disciples
rested upon the latter notion. For example, in Lk 6:40 Jesus
affirms the traditional rabbinic notion that "a pupil
[talmid?] is not above his teacher [rabbi?], but
everyone [each, in every case, without exception], after he has
been fully trained [katertismenos], will be like his
teacher" [emphasis mine]. The expression "not above," in view
of the contrasting parallel in the second part of the verse, here
suggests that the pupil normatively does not deviate from
anything the teacher does. In the Gospel of John this
pattern of rigidity in replicating Jesus' life is repeated in
13:34; 17:18,23; and 20:21, using the conceptual formula, "As I .
. . so you." In 13:15 Jesus states, "For I gave you an
example that you also should do as [kathos]
I did" [italics mine]. The continuation and replication of
Jesus' mission in his disciples is explicit in Jn 20:21, "As
[kathos] the Father has sent me, I also send you." The
English translation, "as," for kathos, implies a sense of
rough equivalence, expressing similarity, but necessarily
not being the same, as in its synonym, "like." By
contrast, the Greek, kathos is a word that carries the
stronger sense of "exactly as," or, "to the exact same degree and
Hence, in both these verses, the specific, exact duplication of
Jesus' mission is intended. The significance of all this is that,
in Palestinian Jewish tradition contemporary with Jesus, as well
as in the NT itself, no detail of a teacher's life is to be
either ignored or left unreplicated.
One could argue, however, that the disciples'
relationship with Jesus was unique and not to be replicated in
further generations of Christians. Indeed, this is explicit in
the cessationist tradition when it comes to replicating Jesus'
ministry of signs and wonders. If we put aside the miracle aspect
of discipleship, however, it is generally understood in
Christendom that the Gospels and Acts seem to present the
disciples of Jesus as surrogates for the reader. In fact this is
explicit throughout the New Testament: subsequent generations of
Christians are normatively to be disciples of the disciples even
as Christians are followers of Christ.
When we move into the epistles, the
discipleship theme is every bit as strong as in the Gospels and
Acts: only the vocabulary has changed. Outside the narrative
documents it appears that the terms "disciple" and "follower" are
replaced with specific exhortations to live out the Christian
life: to "walk" in the "way" of Christ, or "put on" or be "in
Christ" in some sense. There is a consciousness of the presence
of the promised Spirit, who is virtually equated with the
presence of Jesus, e.g., 2 Cor 3:17, cf. Jn 14:17-18, 28;
16:16. In this, discipleship is advanced toward an even more
intimate awareness of the rabbi, Jesus, who will empower them and
guide them into all truth.
Discipleship, however, moves to a third, fourth
and even a fifth generation in the NT. Paul can require of his
readers, for example, "Imitate me even as [kathos-to the
same degree and extent that] I imitate Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). Four
other times he exhorts churches to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16; Phil
3:17; 2 Th 3:7,9, cf. Gal 4:12 and Phil 4:9).
In 1 Cor 4:15-17 Paul says that he became the
Corinthians' "'father' through the Gospel." This obviously means
something more than progenitor, or "father" of a new religion,
but rather retains the more technical meaning of "rabbi/teacher."
Proof of this is the remainder of the verse: "I exhort you to
become imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you
Timothy, who is my son [talmid] whom I love [an
echo of Jesus' baptism?] . . . who will remind you of
my ways [hodous=derakim]." The term
"ways" is a Semitism that refers to the whole characteristic
pattern of life. Here, then, we implicitly have three
generations of imitators described: Jesus, Paul, Timothy/the
Similarly, 1 Th 1:5-6 displays the pattern of
imitation, not only to the third generation, but also to the
fourth! Not only could the believers observe the type of people
Paul and his companions were as they presented the Gospel, but
the Thessalonians "became imitators of us and of the Lord . . .
so as (hoste-"for this reason") to become a pattern to all
those in Macedonia and in Achaia." In other words the explicit
reason the Thessalonians became imitators of Paul, was that they,
themselves, become exemplars for others to imitate in exactly the
A further pattern evolves in 2 Tm 2:1-2 where
Paul addresses Timothy as "my son" and encourages him to
perpetuate the process of replication to the fifth
generation! "And the things which you have heard me say in the
presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also
be qualified to teach others also." It is important to note that
while the "teaching" here is verbal, it is directed toward
spiritual empowerment and action, as is suggested from the
previous verse and as we shall see in the next section.
Part II has just reviewed the nature of
discipleship as mimesis in the NT setting, let us now in
Part III briefly examine its content of discipleship: What does the
NT emphasize that a disciple was expected to do when he
imitated the life of his teacher/rabbi?
Let us step back for a moment and view the big
picture of the content of NT discipleship by asking five
simple questions: 1) What is it that the NT says that Jesus came
to do? 2) When ministering, what does he actually spend his time
doing? 3) What does Jesus tell his disciples to do? 4) What is it
that they actually spend their time doing? Finally, 5) what is
the reader of the NT (the "disciple of the disciples") expected
1) Frequently, when the New Testament writers
condense his ministry into a sentence or two they show Jesus in
opposition to the reign of the devil which appeared as demonic
possession, sickness, the disruption of nature, or sin: it was
"for this purpose that Jesus appeared, to destroy the works of
the Devil" (1 Jn 3:8). Peter spelled out the result of Jesus'
baptism and gave a summary of Jesus' mission on earth: "God
anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, . . .
he went around doing good and healing all who were under the
power of the devil, because God was with him" (Acts 10:38). Both
of these verses confirm the programmatic statement about Jesus
mission in Lk 4:18.
2) Summary statements about Jesus' mission
abound throughout the text of the Gospels with references to
healing and exorcisms:
That evening after sunset the people brought
to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. . . . Jesus healed
many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons . .
. (Mk. 1:34//Mt. 8:16//Lk. 4:40-41).
. . . he had healed many, so that those with
diseases were pushing forward to touch him (Mk. 3:10//Mt.
The news about him spread . . . so that crowds of
people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses (Lk.
At that time Jesus cured many who had diseases,
sickness and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind
I will drive out demons and heal people today and
tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal (Lk.
He welcomed them, and spoke to them about the
kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing (Lk.
Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the
blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at
his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they
saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking
and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel (Mt.
Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there
The blind and the lame came to him at the temple,
and he healed them (Mt. 21:14).
The preceding passages illustrate the sizable emphasis the
Gospel writers place upon the role of healing in Jesus' ministry.
Of course, Jesus did many other things besides healing and
exorcisms. But the point is, if NT discipleship depends upon
replicating the life of the exemplar, then miracles represent a
significant part of "imitating Christ." Indeed, if the amount of
space a writer devotes to a subject is any index to its
importance, then the healings, exorcisms and other
"extraordinary" charismata must be extremely important. As a
percentage of the text describing the public ministry of Jesus as
recorded in the four gospels, the space devoted to the accounts
of miracles amounts to: 44% of Matthew, 65% of Mark, 29% of Luke
and 30% of John. This percentage is continued in the
ministry of the early Church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, if
not actually expanded: of the total text of Acts, over 27% of the
space is devoted to "extra-ordinary" charismata. That represents
more text than that of all the speeches of Acts combined.
To conclude, Jesus' public ministry in inaugurating the
Kingdom of God consisted to a sizeable degree in healings,
exorcisms and miracles, not as a way of "proving" the Kingdom,
but of expressing it.
3) The next question is, what does Jesus tell
his disciples to do? At the outset, it is important to note the
explicit reason Mark gives for Jesus selecting
disciples in the first place: "He appointed twelve-designating
them apostles-that they might be with him and that he might send
them out to announce [the Kingdom?] and to have authority
to drive out demons" (Mk 3:14-15). It is only natural, then, in
view of our previous discussion, that after being "with" him,
Jesus would then send them out to replicate his own mission: "He
sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil
spirits" (Mk 6:7). Both Matthew (10:1,7,8) and Luke (9:1,2,6)
echo this commission in some detail. Luke includes a similar
commission to 72 others: "Heal the sick [wherever you visit] and
tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you" (Lk 10:9). The
numbers 12 and 72 could represent the "new Israel" the church,
which is here proleptically commissioned to perform the same
"Great Commission" similarly commands the disciples' continuation
of the miraculous, though some would wish to deny this. This pattern is not
limited to the Synoptics. The command to do "greater works" than
Jesus is understood as a command to replicate Jesus' ministry in
4) The fourth question is, what did the
disciples actually do? The only extensive historical account of
the disciples' activities after the ascension of Jesus is the
Book of the Acts of the Apostles. This work records, we assume,
with an appropriate emphasis, the results of Jesus' training of
the disciples: in short, what does Acts emphasize about
discipleship? True, the disciples exhibited the virtues of the
traditional notion of Christian discipleship: morality and piety.
But Acts devotes no less than 27.2% of its space to miracle
stories! This is more space than to all of the speeches or
sermons of Acts combined, at 22.5%.
Moreover, this high percentage of miracle
accounts does not occur without a consciousness on the part of
the author. Several studies have noted the deliberate parallel
composition of the Lukan miracle stories in the careers of Jesus,
Peter and Paul and have drawn various conclusions as to the
reasons these parallels were framed. Susan Praeder points out that
there are a variety of unreliable criteria, e.g.,
coincidental events or language, which indicate only spurious
"parallels," hence, her caution that mere similarities do not
demand an author's conscious motive to draw comparisons of the
persons or points described. Nevertheless she notes that for
Luke, parallel composition is the "surest evidence" that the
miracle working activity of Jesus, Peter and Paul was intended to
be understood as sharing parallel roles, that is, as preachers,
healers and exorcists. Some of the parallels Praeder examined
appear in the following chart.
| ||Acts 5:1-11||Acts 13:6-12|
Even without the clearest similarities in content, verbal
composition and position in relation to the surrounding
pericopes, the charismatic mission activities of Jesus' followers
in Acts, at least in broad scope, closely replicate those in the
ministry of Jesus and those resulting from the first commission
of the twelve and seventy-two.
Certainly, when St. Paul summarizes his mission
he does so with a substantial charismatic/miraculous component
(Acts 15:12; 1 Th 1:5; 2 Cor 12:12; Rom 15:19). In this he is
simply replicating the same emphasis on the power of the Spirit
in the ministry of Jesus, while at the same time, if we are to
understand "mimesis" and its related NT concepts
correctly, demanding of his own followers that they reproduce
this same pattern of emphasis. This brings us to our final
5) The last question is, what is the reader of
the NT (the "disciple of the disciples") expected to do? Let us
assume as before that the NT instructions to the disciples or
apostles, in general, are instructions also to the reader.
The NT frequently commands to the
reader/disciple to replicate the charismatic ministry of the
apostles, e.g., to "seek," "desire earnestly," "rekindle"
and "employ" certain "miraculous" charismata (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1,
4, 5, and 39; 2 Tm 1:6; 1 Pt 4: 10, cf. Jn 14:12-14; 15:7;
l6:23-24--ask for "anything" in the context of the Spirit's
descent to the disciples; Jn 3:21-22) and implies that their
appearance can be suppressed by simple neglect to imitate
faithfully the NT exemplars (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 14:39; 1 Th 5:19-20;
1 Tm 4:14; 2 Tm 1:6).
Particularly interesting is the very verses
which command a replication of Paul's ministry are verses which
are somewhat explicit about the charismatic content of
that replication. For example, 1 Th 1:5 is a summary of Paul's
pattern of presenting the Gospel "not in word only [as in
classical Protestantism], but with power [en
dunamei-the most frequent word for "miracle/mighty work" in
the NT] and in the Holy Spirit [en pneumati hagio-carrying
a strong overtone of prophetic anointing], that is, in strong
confirmation." The Thessalonians are reminded that they came to
know by experience and interaction [oidate] what sort of
[messengers] that Paul and the others proved to be. This is not
primarily a reference to character or ethics! At this point, Paul
notes that the Thessalonians then "became imitators of us and of
the Lord!" The context demands that the Thessalonians were
both imitating and modeling for others (vs. 7),
Paul's miraculous/charismatic gospel presentation, mentioning
specifically, inter alia, their faith in God-a charismatic
gift of the Spirit (vs. 8)!
A second example of the "imitation" pattern
being integrally bound up with charismatic expression is 1 Cor
1:4-8, which shows Paul's presentation of the
miraculous/charismatic gospel to the Corinthians, who then
replicated the pattern "kathos ["exactly as"] the
testimony of Christ was confirmed among you, with the result
that you do not lack any spiritual gift." This replication is
to continue among believers until the parousia.
A third example derives from another main
"imitation" passage, above: 2 Tm 2:1-2, "be strong in the grace
that is in Christ Jesus." Traditional Protestantism might
understand this as an exhortation to "be encouraged to receive
the mercy of Christ for forgiveness of sin and for promoting
sanctification." A more Pauline understanding would include this,
but with a much stronger emphasis to avail oneself of the
miraculous/charismatic power of the Messiah, as indicated in
endunamou and in en chariti,
who bears the Spirit of prophecy in this, the end of the Age
("endunamou en chariti en Christo Iesou"), cf. 1:6.
This exhortation, then, is the normative content of the
"teaching" that flows from generation to generation of Christian
This paper should not be construed as an
attempt to deny that normative NT discipleship contains none of
the elements traditionally associated with the term today.
Certainly, piety, meditation, self-sacrifice and moral behavior
are legitimate expressions of an imitatio Christi.
Nevertheless, the foregoing should indicate that a thorough
review of the NT will demonstrate that our somewhat docetic
traditional Christology as well as our unbiblical, evidentialist
view of miracles, has contributed to an understanding of
Christian discipleship that is shorn of its intended spiritual
depth and power. Nothing is more crucial for the outcome of the
Church than our understanding of the mission of Christ Jesus and
our relation to it. Our view of the goals of discipleship has
immediate implications for the direction in Christian development
that we take ourselves, for our parishioners and for those in
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