by Michael B. French
Introduction to the Elisha Generation
There is a growing hunger in our society to walk in some form of power. Men and women, old and young, have diligently sought to harness this power. As much as our society seeks to devalue religion, it is spirituality that is the unspoken source of the power that is sought. The quest to obtain “real” spiritual authority has taken the populace down numerous pathways. These paths have included New Age Spirituality, Wicca, Paganism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and many more – but rarely does our culture look to Christianity for the source of the “reality” it seeks. Christianity has been relegated to a second class religion that claims to have all the answers, but offers no proof of its relevance in this Post-Modern Culture.
It is time for those who call themselves Christians to re-evaluate where they stand and what picture they are painting for our society of the one from whom they take their name. I believe that the primary reason Christianity has been sliding down a slippery slope toward the loss of our cultural relevance, is the fact that we have lost our ability to convey the strengths of our faith form generation to generation. With each passing of the torch, the spiritual authority of Christianity grows dimmer and thus the “seekers” of society loose sight of its relevance.
There have been many attempts by the church to regain its former relevance; however, at times it has seemed that we are fighting a loosing battle. According to the recent research conducted by Josh McDowell’s ministry, 81% of Christian youth no longer believe in the concept of absolute truth.
When we reluctantly acknowledge that this research seeks to clarify the status of CHRISTIAN youth, it is shocking. The very existence of such a piece of evidence should sound a clarion call for change. Josh McDowell says that “today merely “believing” isn’t enough. Not because believing isn’t important; it is. But…, in today’s culture believing is made out to be more of a preference based on one’s subjective feelings at the moment. And that kind of believing isn’t enough”
Many things have been proposed, one of the most prominent being the establishment of the “seeker sensitive” church, however, few have been successful in reclaiming the real ground that has been lost. Unfortunately, many “seeker sensitive” models have unwittingly abandoned the heart of Christianity in favor of regaining societal relevance. (Please note that this statement is in no way intended to indicate that all “seeker sensitive” models have failed, as there are certainly those who are successful in fulfilling their Biblical mandate.)
The seeker sensitive model has sought to move toward where the unbeliever is, in an effort to draw them to the place the church should be. However, all too often, these ministries have become more “in the world” and “of it,” rather than “in the world” not “of it”. In order for the church to regain its cultural relevance, we must do more than entertain the population in an effort to bolster our numbers. We must restore the value of the absolute truth embodied by Christ’s statement that He alone was “THE way, THE truth and THE life” (John 14:6). While the world may be demanding that the church change in order to prove its relevance, the true mission of the church is to again become the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) that shines uncompromisingly. By so doing we will prove that it is the world that must change in response to a desperate need for the relevance of the church. It is only in this way that we can transform a generation for whom believing is not enough.
If the models that we have been using have either become ineffective or in some cases may never have worked at all, then it is time to find a new model. In searching out that model, there would be wisdom in heeding the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes:
That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
According to the wisdom of this passage, we are actually not looking for a new model at all, but rather we must return to an ancient model that is set forth in the Word of God and the lives of the men and women described therein. To restore relevance to the church, we must return not to a model that allowed the passing of the torch to be made without loosing any of its light, but rather to a Biblical model that allowed it to be passed while seeing an increase in the light with each time it is passed.
With the admonitions of the Ecclesiastical writer taken to heart, we can turn back the pages of time and ask ourselves how faith has remained relevant in other trying times. One of the most trying of times found in the Biblical record is described as the period in Israel’s history when she was governed by Ahab and Jezebel. Even to this day the name Jezebel is associated with demonic attack and the usurping of true spiritual authority. This was also a time during which even one of the greatest prophets of the Bible found himself questioning his own ability to continue and the ability of God to preserve the truth (See I Kings 19:1-14). As the words of a familiar song proclaim, “These are the days of Elijah . . .” and it is in those days of trial that we may find answers to the same questions that we are facing in the trying days of this present time.
The relationship between Elijah and his protégé Elisha paint of vivid picture of the transference and increase of spiritual authority even when surrounded by a hostile society. The book of I Kings recounts how Elisha was called:
1 Kings 19:19-20
So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him.20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, "Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you."
Elijah finds Elisha busy with the business of the day, yet ready and willing to take up the challenge of living a life of faith in the face of a hostile environment. Not only does Elisha ultimately maintain the zeal, the power and the authority of Elijah within the culture of his day, but he actually walks in a double portion of that spirit and anointing:
2 Kings 2:9-14
And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?" Elisha said, "Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me." So he said, "You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so." Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!" So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, "Where is the LORD God of Elijah?" And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over.
The lessons that can be learned from a careful examination of this relationship can help us to better understand how to handle the challenges to our faith that we face in our Post-Modern culture. If Elijah can train up and equip Elisha in the face of Jezebel and all of the false religious philosophies of his day, then certainly the principles that he used should still be effective today. When we recognize that our current methods and models are resulting in a weakening of the church, yet when faced with equal challenges Elisha walked away with a double portion of the spirit of Elijah, we must also acknowledge the need to embrace the Elisha way of being equipped. We live in the midst of a generation that is hungry for spiritual power and authority. This is a generation that will not be satisfied with business as usual. We face a day where there are only two possibilities: either young men and women will be lost or they will become an Elisha Generation.
The Road to Reality
While it is appropriate to call the relationship between Elijah and Elisha a discipleship relationship, it is also awkward. The concept of discipleship has waxed and waned in terms of its perceived value over a number of years. Discipleship has been espoused as the key to the Christian life by some and it has been denounced as a form of slavery by others. In the past “discipleship” programs have run the gambit from being nothing more than glorified Bible studies to establishing oppressive relationships between leaders and followers that seemed far more like master/servant than mentor/student. Regardless of our personal perceptions of discipleship, the mentoring relationship exhibited not only between Elijah and Elisha, but also between Jesus and his followers can be identified as a real key to the restoration of true spiritual power and the true relevance of the church. It is the training ground for true spiritual sons and daughters.
In truth, the lack of real discipleship has contributed highly to the lack of relevance of the church and to the generational abandonment of the acceptance of absolute truth. When the church looses the ability to effectively pass the torch (or to pass the mantle as it can be referred to in the context of the Elijah/Elisha relationship), it results in the very situation that we face today – a world filled with seekers, searching in all the wrong places for an answer that they cannot bring themselves to believe will be found within the doors of the church. Perhaps this is true because the Gospel was never meant to be contained within the walls of the church, but rather openly presented as a part of the daily routine of those who we refer to as Christians.
When the spiritual authority carried by each passing generation is diminishing rather than increasing, it is time to dig deep, leave no stone unturned and examine even to the very core of our belief systems. If we are to truly restore the father/son discipleship model that Elisha was a recipient of, then it is essential that we be honest with ourselves regarding where we are. The starting point for an examination of where we are may seem strange to many, but in fact it lies in the very terminology that we use to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world’s religions. Those who have accepted the free gift of eternal life by means of believing with our heart and confessing with our mouth that the resurrected Son of God is both our Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9), have taken upon themselves the name of Christian. In order to fully embrace the Elisha way of being equipped, we must first consider just what this designation that we have assigned to ourselves means.
The word Christian is the English translation of the Greek word Christianos (khris-tee-an-os') and it means: to be a follower of Christ. This seems, at first glance, to be an acceptable designation for those might otherwise be identified by church terminology as “born again”. However, upon closer examination could we dare to consider more carefully its validity? When we are truly honest with ourselves, we must question whether or not we are even worthy of bearing this title. It should be recognized that the preceding sentence is used as much for its shock value alone as for any other reason, however, it is a legitimate question. The examination of this question is in no way intended to challenge the salvation of those of us who have called ourselves by this name, but rather it is intended to challenge the commitment of those of us who have called ourselves by this name.
As we would all agree, the gift of eternal life is available to all who believe, however, there must be something more to what it means to be a “Christian”. For far too long and for far too many, the process of salvation has been treated with sufficient disrespect that it might properly be likened to an element of a common board game. All those who have ever played the game of Monopoly, will also be familiar with one of the cards available in the Community Chest and Chance decks – “Get out of jail free”. Unfortunately, many of those who have been “saved” in our culture consider it nothing more than having drawn a “Get out of hell free” card from the deck of life. This ought not to be so! While it cannot be questioned that those who have received salvation in this manner have equal access to the gift of eternal life, the question of whether or not they should bear the name of “Christian” can and should be asked, for there must be something more than this when it comes to being a true “follower of Christ”.
Is it possible that we have missed the mark? If the term Christian means to be a follower of Christ, then the use of that term implies that we are successfully doing that. If we are successful Christians, then where are the signs that are supposed to follow (Mark 16:17-18) and where are the greater works that Jesus said we should be doing (John 14:12). Perhaps we are not as successful at being Christians as we think that we are. When New Testament terminology is considered in connection with this question, it must be remembered that it was far more frequent to refer to those who had accepted the Gospel as “disciples” than it was to refer to them as “Christians”. In fact, the word Christian is used only three times in the entire New Testament with the first time being found in Acts 11:
Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
Notice that this passage makes clear that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. Before they were Christians they were disciples. The word disciples is an English translation of the Greek word mathetes (math-ay-tes') which means “learner”.
It can be argued that the reason be have such difficulty in passing the mantle in our society is that we have made far to many converts, who without proper opportunity to learn, have simply assumed themselves to be Christians. If we cannot in good conscience claim to be successfully following the pattern that Jesus left for us to follow, then our focus must necessarily return to becoming better students. This understanding of what discipleship is all about and what it means to be a disciple can radically change our ability to pass the mantle as well as the relevance of the local church in our culture. The failure to embrace an understanding of these Biblical principles could also be seen as a failure to embrace the Elisha way of being equipped.
Just as we can examine the success of the Elijah/Elisha relationship to encourage us in our understanding of true discipleship, we can examine life of the disciples as seen in the early church to begin to understand the results of such discipleship. When the number of disciples (i.e., learners) multiplied in the early church, so did the number who came to the faith:
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Notice that verse one states that the number of disciples or “learners” was increasing and that it was for this reason that the issue over the roles that each one of these students were to play was raised. It would and should be assumed that the earliest students had learned the most and thereby should give themselves to the word of God, so that they could be better capable of teaching the other pupils. It is essential to success that students be trained by the best teachers available. No one, in their right mind, desires to be trained by the second best when they can have access to the very best. When help in service was identified so that the best equipped could focus on equipping, the passage goes on to say that the word of God spread, more disciples were made and many priests became obedient to the faith. This last statement is significant, but its true significance can be easily missed.
Why was it that the increase in disciples led to the faith of the priests and just what is the significance of this statement? To fully understand, it must be remembered who the priests were. The priests were those sacred men who were the religious leaders of the day. When we consider that Christianity is not about religion, but rather about relationship, we must remember that these “priests” were all about religion. They were seekers of the truth, but in fact they were looking so hard that they had missed it when it came. As the number of individuals who were finding truth and becoming students of the Truth was increased, they were drawn to re-examine it for themselves. When confronted by real Truth in a real way that is relevant for our lives, transformation is the necessary result.
If we are serious about our desire to see the “secular seekers” of our culture find a reason to embrace the truth that we hold dear, then we must return to our roots and once again become disciples of the Word. Just as Elisha gleaned a double portion of the spirit that was on Elijah out of the discipleship relationship that had existed between them, there is a generation of young people going about their business and desiring something more. This present day Elisha generation can glean a double portion of what we have, but only if we will again embrace our role as equippers of the saints and as real “Christians”.
The following pages are intended to challenge us as Christians, to once again identify ourselves with the concept of becoming Elijahs and Elishas of these latter days. In doing so we will be forced to recognize it is not about putting a new face on an old idea, but rather about embracing an ancient concept in a way that has never lost its relevance. We must become successful students if we are ever to become successful followers. If we desire for Jesus to be seen in us and through us, then the Elisha way is the only way. Relationship is the key to all that we believe. Ritual, habit, patterns and programs (though unquestionably beneficial at times) will never make us who we want to be, but relationship can change our lives.
Paul once said “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) This passage implied that Paul wanted others to study him as he followed Christ, in order that by mimicking what he was doing and saying, they might also learn to follow Christ more closely for themselves. This is not so surprising when we consider that the simplest way that I child learns is through imitation, particularly the imitation of their parent. We are in desperate need for students who will imitate Christ to become fathers who we can imitate as children. We are in desperate need of fathers like Elijah and sons like Elisha. We are in desperate need of the restoration of true relationships that will restore relevance to the term “sonship”.
 Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, Beyond Belief to Convictions (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 2002), 12.