Daniel Sommer: Two Classes of Disciples

Daniel Sommer: Two Classes of Disciples

Daniel Sommer (1850-1940) lived a long life which he devoted to preaching the gospel. He saw the controversy and division among brethren in the second half of the nineteenth century over the issues of the missionary society and instrumental music. Through his preaching and editorial work, he was a powerful influence in opposing such innovations. Yet before division started happening, Sommer could see the beginnings of it. In the excerpt below, he wrote about the different attitudes he saw among brethren while he was still in college at Bethany.

“But before leaving that eventful period of my college life altogether, and taking the reader’s mind to my after life, I regard it important to retrospect and chronicle a few items of interest. Early in my life at Bethany I saw there was a difference between disciples and disciples. It became evident that some disciples were of the primitive or apostolic type, while others were of a modern or plastic type. Those constituting the former class I saw had stability, while those constituting the latter class had flexibility. The former disciples held that the world should bend to the church; the latter disciples held that the church should bend to the world.

“This was to me a saddening discovery! When I went to Bethany the name ‘disciple of Christ’ was to me a synonym for all that was true, upright, honorable, in religious character. Hence when I was compelled to recognize there was a difference, and that two classes of characters were found among disciples, I felt unhappy! The word ‘disciple’ then came to have a two-fold meaning. It thenceforth meant professed Christians who were entirely satisfied with what was written in the word of God, and professed Christians who were in certain respects unsatisfied with what was therein written. In other words, the term ‘disciple’ came to mean those who taught that the Bible is a perfect revelation from God to both sinners and saints, also those who held that the Bible was perfect revelation for guidance of sinners, but not for guidance of saints” (Daniel Sommer: A Biography, p. 91-92).

As I was re-reading this biography recently, this part jumped out at me – in part because my experience was similar (attending a college among brethren and being surprised that they were not all “like-minded” brethren). It is discouraging – or as Sommer said, “saddening” – yet I suppose it should not be surprising.

Generally speaking, there will always be two classes of disciples – those who strive to carefully follow the teachings of Scripture in all things and those who are willing to bend, change, or even ignore the Scriptures in order to justify doctrines, practices, or behaviors that cannot be authorized by the word of God. The following passages show us that the former “class” is the type of disciple we ought to be.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).

Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13).

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9).

It is discouraging when we find that some brethren are not of the “class” of disciples they ought to be. However, let us resolve to be the type of disciples the Lord wants us to be and strive to faithfully follow His word in all things.

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  1. Wayne D. Teel says

    Very good article!