Bring Forth Fruit
“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing
In the Gospel of Luke it is recorded that John the Baptist said to the multitudes who were coming to him for baptism,
The King James Version reads, “Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.” John was demanding evidence of repentance before he would baptize them. The usage of the Greek word translated “produce” and “bring forth” is the same as used of a plant bringing forth fruit, the fruit coming from within the plant. John continued to warn the crowds.
To this warning to repent and bring forth, good fruit (evidence of repentance) the crowds responded, “What should we do then?” John’s reply to the crowd as recorded in v. 11-14, gives examples of bringing forth good fruit.
To the tax collectors he said, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.” (Lk 3:13) To the soldiers he said, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely...” (Lk 3:14) Verse 18 records that “...with many other words John exhorted the people...” To exhort is to warn, urge, appeal to, etc. John exhorted them to repent (turn from their current way of life) and to give evidence (bring forth fruit) of that turning.
The ICC teaches that bringing forth (bearing) fruit is baptizing people (i.e. making disciples). This they say is the evidence of being a true disciple. John, however, says nothing about making disciples. These people were not yet disciples themselves, so how could John be instructing them to go and make more disciples? According to Luke 3:9-14, John’s comments about bearing fruit had to do with behaving righteously (evidence of repentance). Not once does John equate bearing fruit with baptism (i.e. making disciples).
The ICC also teaches that baptizing someone makes them your personal fruit, and that if you have not been personally fruitful (baptizing people) you are in danger of being cast into the fire. (Jn 15:6) This teaching creates very zealous convert makers. It also heaps guilt and fear upon those who are not as successful as others in baptizing people (bringing numbers into the group). Is this teaching biblical or a gross misuse of Scripture?
The Bible teaches that we are united to Christ and have the life of Christ within us through faith. (Gal 2:20, 1Jn 5:12-13, 1Cor 6:17) We are in union with Him through faith. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is recorded as saying,
This has to do with the spiritual union that individual believers have with Christ Jesus, through faith, and the new life within each of them. If the life of Christ Jesus is present in a person and that person continues to yield to Him, they will bear much fruit; fruit which is good, fruit of the Spirit, “...the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” (Php 1:11) It will happen naturally because they are remaining in union with Him and His words are remaining in them. The more a believer grows and abides in his union with Christ, the more that person becomes like Christ and conformed to His image. This is in no way referring to making disciples, baptizing people, or making someone your personal “fruit”. One believer cannot be another believer’s fruit. There is absolutely nothing in Scripture to support such a teaching. Being fruitful or bearing good fruit is the outward manifestation of Christ’s work in a person. And just as one can bear good fruit, one can also bear bad fruit. Scripture states that every person (tree) is recognized by his or her “own” fruit, the outward display or overflow of the inward life which they are yielding to, be it of Christ or the sinful nature. As Paul wrote in his epistle to the Christians at Rome,
This passage appears in the context of Romans 6, 7 and 8, in which Paul is presenting a contrast between being controlled by the sinful nature and being led by the Spirit of God. One produces sin ( “fruit for death”), while the other produces righteousness (“fruit to God”). It is not speaking of making good disciples versus making bad disciples. Paul also wrote in his epistle to the Ephesians,
And as Jesus said,
Again, “fruit” is the overflow, or outward manifestation of the inward life, be it of the Spirit of God (“fruit to God”) or the sinful nature (“fruit for death”). Besides, in John 15:1-8, Jesus likens believers to “branches” not “fruit”. Every single believer, including the newly converted, is a branch which Jesus says must remain in the vine (in Him) in order to bear fruit. Note : A branch is not a fruit, nor can it ever be a fruit. A branch is a branch and fruit is fruit. A believer cannot be both a branch and a fruit. Fruit is what comes forth from within a branch. And this will only happen if the branch remains in the vine.
Why must the branch remain in the vine in order to bear fruit? Because the sap, which carries the genetic makeup (or life) of the fruit, flows from the vine into the branch. If the branch becomes separated from the vine, the sap stops flowing. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (Jn 15:4) Believers must remain in Jesus to receive from Him and bear fruit. What is it that believers receive from Jesus? His life, His nature, His presence, etc., through the Holy Spirit. So, If Jesus is the “vine” and believers are the “branches”, what would the sap be? The Holy Spirit.
Jesus also says that He must remain in the man, “...and I in him...”, for the man to bear fruit. The Greek word that is translated “remain” actually means to abide. How does Jesus (the vine) abide in the man (the branch)? He abides through what the man receives from Him; through the Holy Spirit, through the sap. How does the man (the branch) abide in Jesus (the vine)? He abides through faith. And through the Spirit the man will “bear much fruit”. The fruit is of the Spirit that is abiding in the man. As the man (the “branch”) remains in union with Christ (the “vine”), the Holy Spirit brings forth much fruit through the man (the “branch”); the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) and the fruits of righteousness. This is the “fruit” which is being referred to in John 15:8.
Again, fruit comes from within the branch. Note: In Scripture, Jesus likens believers to “trees” (and, or) “branches”; never to fruit. The fruit is always something which the tree or branch brings forth from within itself. If anything, we are all God’s fruit, His offspring (Acts 17:29) , for it is He who gives the new life within. It is His seed, His life, and His Spirit that brings about the birth and growth of a believer.
This is not to say that believers should not be sharing the Gospel or making disciples. Scripture commands it. (Mt 28:19, Mk 16:15) But Scripture never states that a person’s salvation is based upon how many people that person has led to Christ. Scripture also states that Jesus commanded the disciples not to go and do anything until they had been imbued with power, enabling them and equipping them to do so. (Acts 1:4-5,8) The power spoken of is God’s presence. Scripture teaches that it is God who does the work through us so that no one can boast.
It is unbiblical to teach that God will judge a person according to the number of people that that person has led to the knowledge of Christ. It is stated that, “...he who wins souls is wise.” (Pv 11:30), and “...those who lead many to righteousness” will shine like“...the stars forever and ever.” (Dan 12:3) But Scripture does not state anywhere that you (as a believer) are responsible for how another person responds to, or does not respond to, the Gospel that you are sharing with them. You can point people to Christ but you cannot make them believe. One person cannot control the heart of another. It is the Spirit of God who moves upon the heart of a person and leads them to repentance, not you. As believers we can only plant seeds, we cannot make them grow. A believer cannot “produce” or “bring forth” another believer. Believers are born of God, not of another believer. (Jn 1:12-13) Paul writes in his epistle to the Corinthians,
Paul is speaking against people exalting men who had been successful in the ministry (including himself), and those who had baptized many believers. This exalting of men had led to disunity in the church at Corinth causing some people to be following those they were exalting. Speaking to this, Paul writes,
Then Paul states most emphatically,
Paul was in Corinth for over a year and a half (Acts 18:11), devoting himself “...exclusively to preaching.” (Acts 18:5), and Scripture states “...many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.” (Acts 18:8) This means that for over a year and half Paul had been instrumental in many people coming to know Christ. Yet he, himself, had baptized only one of them; that was Crispus, the synagogue ruler. (Acts 18:8) The entire household of Crispus “...believed in the Lord” (Acts 18:8) , but Paul had baptized only Crispus. (1Cor 1:14) And it was after Crispus was baptized, and from the point where God spoke to Paul in a vision, that Scripture states, “So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.” (Acts 18:11) The King James Version states that Paul, “...continued there a year and six months...”. So it was after Crispus was baptized that Paul stayed 18 months or more (Acts 18:18) , before leaving for Ephesus. And during that time he did not baptize a single soul.
“What about Gaius and the household of Stephanas?”, one might ask. “Paul did say that he had baptized them, too.” This is true. He did not, however, say that he had baptized them during his stay in Corinth. In his first epistle to Corinth, written some two years after his departure for Ephesus, Paul mentions people he knew were currently in Corinth. He does not say, however, that they were from Corinth. Paul states that the “household of Stephanas” were the first converts in Achaia (1Cor 16:15) , a region encompassing several cities in southern Greece, Athens and Corinth being two of them. Paul made a stop in Athens before traveling on to Corinth (Acts 17:15, 18:1) , and a number of people in Athens became believers. (Acts 17:34) This means that for the household of Stephanas to be the first converts in Achaia, they would had to have been converted either in Athens or at some point previous to Athens. As for Gaius, there is only speculation as to whether he was a native of Corinth or Paul’s traveling companion from Macedonia (Acts 19:29) , where Paul had been previous to his journey to Corinth. Being one of Paul’s traveling companions would have meant that he was a fellow worker in Christ, a believer (saved). Thus he would have to have been converted before ever traveling with Paul from Macedonia to Corinth.
In any case, the only person that Scripture clearly identifies as being from Corinth, or being baptized by Paul during his stay in Corinth, is Crispus. (1Cor 1:14, Acts 18:8) If, as the ICC teaches, bearing fruit = baptizing people (making disciples), then the apostle Paul was not very “fruitful” in Corinth. According to this one view (“bearing fruit” = baptizing people), even though Paul was the instrument used by God which brought many to the knowledge of Christ, Paul was, himself, lacking in the area of personal fruitfulness. He had remained unfruitful for, at least, a year and a half.
Recently, I read a quote from a speech made by Marty Fuqua, a World Sector Leader of the ICC, teaching this one view of “bearing fruit”. He was rebuking others in church leadership when he said:
If 5 baptisms a month is considered doing badly (“dragging your sorry little butt around”), I wonder what Marty Fuqua would say about Paul’s zero baptisms in a year and a half. Would Marty Fuqua consider Paul a “wimp” or a “sissy”? Would he blast Paul for not having “competitive fire” or for being a poor example to the other disciples? The following two quotes are from speeches made by Kip McKean, the undisputed leader of the ICC.
To those who had not baptized someone in a year’s time, Kip said, “...you need to be rebuked. You’re in sin. Sin of cowardice, sin of unbelief, and sin of laziness.” Would Kip describe Paul as numb? lazy? In sin? A coward? In unbelief? According to this one view (and Kip McKean), Paul was in major sin and needed to be rebuked. And depending on how many or how few he had or had not baptized elsewhere, he could actually have been in danger of being cut down, “sawed off the vine”, and thrown into the fire. According to this one view, if you are not continuously making disciples (baptizing people) you can lose your salvation. This belief is plainly evident in the following statement made by the South Florida Region Leader of the ICC.
He then stated in the very same sermon, “Cause if you don’t know how to fish, then you’re not going to make it to heaven.” (Terry Folker, ibid) This belief is also evident in the following statements made by Kip McKean and John Hafer.
Kip teaches, as do many in leadership, that “fruit” are baptized disciples. Show me just one verse of Scripture that states that the activity of bearing fruit and the activity of baptizing people are one in the same activity. Show me just one Scripture where Jesus, Paul, or anyone else refers to a disciple as a “fruit”. And show me any Scripture which backs up Kip’s assertion that Jesus, in John 15:8, is talking about making disciples. The only support he gives for his assertion, concerning what is meant by ‘bearing fruit’ in John 15, is the following statement.
Apart from Kip giving absolutely no scriptural support whatsoever, most likely because he knows that no scriptural support exists, the above statement is grossly incorrect. I looked up the word ‘go’ in The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance Of The Bible and found it used in many commands given by God. Here are just a few examples from the Old Testament: Ex 3:16, Ex 4:12, Ex 4:19, Ex 6:11, Ex 32:34, Deut 5:30, Deut 9:23, and Judg 20:23. And that is just a sampling from the first few books. Here are a few from the New Testament: Mt 8:13, Mt 8:32, Mt 9:13, Mt 10:6-8, Mt 11:4, Mt 21:2, Mt 26:18, Acts 5:20, Acts 8:26, Acts 8:29, Acts 9:15, Acts 22:21. As you can see, there are many texts in God’s word, with God or Jesus as the speaker, which include the command “go”. Besides all this, the word “go” doesn’t even exist in the Greek manuscript of John 15:8. Kip McKean’s claim is not only unfounded, it is refuted by Scripture.
These quotes by Marty, Terry, John and Kip, speaking of competitive fire, ambition, numerical expectations, cowardice, being “sawed off the vine”, not making it to heaven, and one’s relationship to God being dependent on one’s ability to convert people, not only show the tremendous pressure and guilt heaped upon ICC members by their leadership to “crank” out numbers [“...crank the ever livin snot outta that place!” (Marty Fuqua, The Super Church, Boston Leadership Conference, Aug 92) ], but they violate a host of Scriptures, not to mention the very nature of God.
Many people have also been kicked out of the ICC by leadership for failing to recruit enough new members (i.e. bear enough fruit). For example, according to an article in the Evening Standard (a London publication), 400 members were kicked out of the London Church of Christ in 1993. [See: Worry over 'disciples' as church sect expels 400] According to the article, Mrs. Fiona Ghalustians, the spokeswoman for the London Church of Christ, admitted that most of the people were expelled for failure to recruit new members. She is quoted as saying, “These people are not true disciples. You have to commit yourself to Jesus totally - and if you can’t do that then you can’t remain among us.” (Worry Over ‘disciples’ As Church Sect Expels 400, Evening Standard (London), Jan 22, 1993)
The Bible does not teach that one’s commitment to Jesus, or one’s status as a “true disciple”, is gauged by how many people one baptizes. In claiming that it does, the ICC has hurt, scarred, and damaged a lot of people; especially since those people have been taught that all who leave (or are expelled from) the ICC are damned and going to hell! These absurd abuses are all a result of this false interpretation of John 15 and of the true meaning of “bearing fruit”. Getting back to his epistle to the Corinthians, Paul then says something totally contrary to all of these quotes, and to this one view of “bearing fruit” equaling conversion (baptism) by stating,
Paul is stating that his goal is not to baptize people, but to preach to gospel. He even states that Christ Jesus did not send him to baptize. Therefore, according to this one view, this would mean that Paul was not sent to “bear fruit”. And if Paul was not sent to “bear fruit”, then Jesus was contradicting Himself, God’s will, and many Scriptures which command us to “go and bear fruit”. On top of this, if Paul was not sent to baptize people, then this one view would claim that Paul could not have been a true disciple.
Going further, if Jesus did not send Paul to baptize, then it would be Jesus’ fault if Paul (a branch) had produced no “fruit” (personally baptized disciples). This means that it would be Jesus’ fault if Paul were “sawed off the vine” and thrown into the fire. Sounds absurd, but taken to it’s fullest logical conclusion, that’s what this view would have to mean. It would also mean that Paul’s salvation would’ve been directly dependent on how many people he had baptized. No matter how you put it, this is adding to the finished work of Jesus on the cross and earning one’s salvation. Contrary to what some people might believe, a disciple preaches the gospel and shares his or her faith because of Christ in them, not to gain their salvation and escape the fires of hell.
If what Paul said about not being sent to baptize in verse 17 is true, then he could not have believed that baptizing people equals “bearing fruit” or he would have put much more effort and been much more aggressive in baptizing people to ensure his own salvation through his “fruitfulness”. Such was not the case. Paul was earnest about one thing, preaching the gospel. Yes, he taught about baptism. In fact, if Paul is indeed the author of the book of Hebrews then he considered “instruction about baptisms” (note the plural form of the word) an elementary teaching, as he did “the laying on of hands”. (Heb 6:1-2) His zeal, however, was for preaching the gospel. And for him the gospel message was very simply, “...turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21)
The following are just a few of the many verses within which Paul expounded on the subject of preaching the gospel, the imperativeness of preaching it, and his compulsion to do so.
Not once in any of his epistles did Paul ever write anything like, “...if only I may complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me---to baptize as many people as humanly possible.” or “Woe is me if I don’t baptize enough people (bear enough fruit) to stay on the vine.” or “By this gospel you are saved if you hold firmly to your baptism which I administered.” It follows, then, that if Paul could not have believed this absurd view of baptism equaling “bearing fruit”, which appears evident by the verses he wrote to the Corinthians, neither could the person who sent him or inspired him to write those verses. And that person was Christ Jesus (God).
The Apostolic Fathers (the second generation of Church leaders) understood the correct teaching of bearing fruit as is evident by their writings. Some of them, such as Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp, were actually appointed to office by or taught by one of the twelve apostles.
The apostle Paul verifies this view by stating,
He did not say that they were to prove their repentance by how many disciples they could make, but rather, like John the Baptist, was exhorting them to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Lk 3:8) Do not be deceived. Know what the word of God says. Pray to God for wisdom and knowledge and revelation of truth, that you may be able to discern between correct and incorrect doctrine. Study to show yourself approved and test everything by the scriptures.
In October of 97, Kip McKean wrote a letter to the L.A. church in which he claimed to have redefined his ideas concerning personal fruitfulness. He wrote:
“Let me remind you that since the Discipleship Series, we have redefined personal fruitfulness as either ‘planting’ or ‘watering’. Therefore, let me encourage each disciple to not be a dead-end disciple, but to strive to be personally fruitful in one of three ways. One: meet someone who becomes a disciple. Two: study and become best friends with someone who becomes a disciple. Or three: to baptize your child into Christ.”
This quote was taken from an article entitled: The Cutting Edge, A Letter to the LA Church, by Kip McKean. It appears on page 3 of the Dec 97 / Jan 98 issue of The LA Story. Apart from Kip admitting that something (else) he has been teaching (for almost 20 years) was incorrect and in need of being "redefined", he is still teaching that being personally fruitful has to do with getting someone baptized. He is still teaching that "fruit" is something (or someone) produced by baptism. He appears to still believe that a disciple (convert) is a “fruit”. Even his three ways of being personally fruitful are conditional.
Not only does Kip limit “personal fruitfulness” to a person’s effort in the area of evangelism (planting and watering), but he limits it to evangelism which results in a baptism. Without the result (baptism), the effort being made (planting and watering) is not considered as being “fruitful”. Kip is actually contradicting himself by claiming that “planting” and “watering” is “personal fruitfulness” when it is clear by his definition that those activities cannot be considered “personal fruitfulness” unless a baptism results. I wonder if Kip would consider someone “personally fruitful” if they studied and became best friends with a person, but that person never became a disciple. I wonder if Kip is aware of the contradiction within his re-definition.
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