Discipleship

Posted by on June 16, 2014 in faith, feminism, Gospel | 12 comments

When I was in college at BYU I took a class on the New Testament from Camille Fronk, and I will be forever grateful that I did.  She opened the gospels up for me like no one had before.  When studying Matthew chapters 18-20, she asked us: what are the costs, or requirements, of discipleship?  I find myself returning to that question in light of the pending excommunications of Kate Kelley and John Dehlin.  Because it is hard not to see severing them as an indirect severing of those that share their questions and concerns.  Is a cost of discipleship a willingness to put aside my conscience, and to stay in a church that insists that my personhood never reach beyond the scope of my assigned gender role?  Do I insult myself by staying?  Would the church prefer that I leave?

In verse 1 of Matthew 18, disciples ask Jesus, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  Who did they expect would be?  Abraham?  The one who perfectly keeps commandments?  The one with perfect faith, or perfectly orthodox belief?  The answer was whoever becomes as a little child.  Children are eager to learn, forgiving, they make no distinctions among people, they are compassionate, and faithful.  A cost of discipleship is to become as a little child.

In verses 8 and 9 Jesus says if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.  Rid yourself of whatever separates you from God, so that you can commune with God and your neighbor [Ref 1].  A cost of discipleship is unflinching self-examination.

In verse 21, Peter asks Jesus, how oft shall I forgive?  Jesus answered, don’t keep track.  A cost of discipleship is to always forgive.

In verse 16 of chapter 19, a young ruler asks Jesus, what good thing shall I do to have eternal life?  Jesus answered, be willing to forsake your possessions, and follow me.  A cost of discipleship is giving your will to God.

In chapter 20 Jesus gives the parable of the laborers.  A householder contracted with laborers to work a day for a penny.  And at the sixth, and ninth, and eleventh hours he contracted with more laborers, to work till day’s end, for a penny. The laborers who were hired first felt cheated, and he answered them, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?  Why must you see my doing good to another as taking something away from you?  A cost of discipleship is to serve with your whole heart, and without thought of reward, because the reward is the same for all: everlasting life.

I want to be a disciple of Christ, and according to Paul, this means I must be of the body of Christ.  I may not say because I am not the eye, or the ear, or the hand, that I am not of the body.  I think Paul is saying that it is impossible to be fully Christian in isolation.  For without a community, who will I forgive?  Who will I serve?  Who will nurture me in my child-likeness?  Who will hold a mirror up, kindly, so that I can examine myself?  Who will show me what it looks like to give your will to God?  “There should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” (1 Corinthians 12:25)  A cost of discipleship is to remain, even, especially, when other members suffer.

I realize there are other communities of Christians, and I think joining one could be a legitimate choice for me.  But for many reasons, all of which are beyond the scope of this blog post, Mormonism is my incarnation of the body of Christ.  It pains me greatly to think of a member being severed against her will.  But just as our bodies will be made perfect in the resurrection, so, I believe, will the body of Christ be restored eventually.  If there’s a God in heaven then whatever wrong is done will be made right.  If Kate and John are severed, and if other members are severed, I believe they will eventually be restored, though there is a lot of pain between now and then.  Until that day, the only choice for me is to stay.

 

 

Reference 1: “The self is in fact called to rid itself of whatever in it leads to sin (vv. 8-9; the references to hand and eye do not, in Pauline fashion, represent members of the church; they are rather hyperbolic illustrations, as in 5:29-30).  The underlying logic seems to be that in order to avoid offending others (v.7) one must also take care of oneself (vv.8-9).” The Oxford Bible Commentary, p. 867.  John Barton and John Muddiman, editors. Oxford University Press.

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12 Comments

  1. This is terrific, Emily U. I’ve been thinking a lot about this: “Is a cost of discipleship a willingness to put aside my conscience, and to stay in a church that insists that my personhood never reach beyond the scope of my assigned gender role?” I think many of us struggle between issues of personal conscience and communitarian impulses. Part of me values sticking with a community, even despite its injustices and problems, and part of me wants to privilege personal conscience that tells me that certain injustice is unacceptable. I think that might be why Ordain Women was so faith affirming for so many. It was a way to follow our personal consciences and speak up about injustice while at the same time remain loyal to the community and work to make it a safer more inclusive space.

    “In verses 8 and 9 Jesus says if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out. Rid yourself of whatever separates you from God, so that you can commune with God and your neighbor [Ref 1]. A cost of discipleship is unflinching self-examination.” I love this interpretation — that plucking hte offending member out is not about casting other individuals out of the group — rather it’s about looking at yourself and casting out those things that remove you from God. That is a reading that resonates deeply with me.

    • Thank you, Caroline. I can’t think of a single scripture anywhere that would sanction casting individuals out of the group (I’m not counting OT-style mass destructions), the parables Jesus gave were always about the value of the individual.

  2. “But just our bodies will be made perfect in the resurrection, so, I believe, will the body of Christ be restored eventually. If there’s a God in heaven then whatever wrong is done will be made right. If Kate and John are severed, and if other members are severed, I believe they will eventually be restored, though there is a lot of pain between now and then. ”

    That’s a very hopeful thought. Thanks for expressing this so well, Emily!

  3. Thank you, Ziff. I really believe it. I can’t believe that a just God would allow a committee of fallible mortals to determine whether someone’s covenants are eternally void.

  4. I love this. Thank you.

  5. When did Mormons start using the phrase “the body of Christ”? I don’t recall this term being used until fairly recently. Does anyone know?

    • It’s been around awhile. For instance, Joseph Smith used it in a Times and Seasons editorial published on October 15, 1842.

      “A kindred sympathy runs through the whole body, even the body of Christ, which, according to Paul’s statement, is his church; and no one part of the body can be injured without the other parts feeling the pain, for says Paul, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one member rejoice all the rest are honored with it .”

      You’ll find that quoted in Chapter 33 of the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith RS/Pr. manual as well.

      • Also, after a quick search,
        ,James Faust in his April 1995 Conference Talk,
        Jeffery Holland in his April 1980 Conference Talk,
        John Taylor discourse Jan 5, 1873, Journal of Discourses vol. 15

        all refer to us as being members of the body of Christ.

  6. This is beautiful and gives me a lot of peace and comfort. Thank you!

  7. I have needed to take some time to process this, thus I am only commenting now. This is a powerful post, to be sure. Over the last few days, i have considered resigning my membership. For the most part, it is because I don’t want to expose my children to a disciplinary process…and lately, I seem to be drawn to Anglicanism because of the female clergy. But when you wrote:

    “Mormonism is my incarnation of the body of Christ.”

    And it made wonder what my incarnation might be. Because I love the Book of Mormon, and I want to stay Mormon because of that Book, if for no other reason. I feel at peace in reading your words, and in consideration of this in particular ” just our bodies will be made perfect in the resurrection, so, I believe, will the body of Christ be restored eventually,” I feel as though I can go— or stay—- and it will work out in the end. And that has brought me a peace that has been absent from me for a very long time.

    Heartfelt thanks. I needed this.

    • Spunky, I wish I could give you a real-life hug. FWIW, I agree you can go or stay, and it will work out in the end. I don’t think staying is the only legitimate way to be in the body of Christ. I am still processing all of this, too. I guess I just wanted to acknowledge the damage that excommunicating sisters and brothers does to the body, and my hope and belief that Christ can and will somehow, eventually, heal us individually and collectively.

      It’s my strong belief that we need communities to fully live a Christian life, and in spite of what is happening, my community is still Mormon. I feel that if I leave I’m giving certain elements of the church the power to passively throw me out as well, and I don’t want to give them that power.

  8. This post came as a huge help in the “Teaching for our Times” lesson I gave today on Elder Holland’s “The Cost and Blessings of Discipleship” (a talk that I strongly dislike and agonized over teaching…). Especially this part “I think Paul is saying that it is impossible to be fully Christian in isolation. For without a community, who will I forgive? Who will I serve? Who will nurture me in my child-likeness? Who will hold a mirror up, kindly, so that I can examine myself? Who will show me what it looks like to give your will to God?” as well as Caroline’s comment “that plucking hte offending member out is not about casting other individuals out of the group — rather it’s about looking at yourself and casting out those things that remove you from God”. I drew much from what I learned through this post, and ended up discussing the meaning of discipleship->not to be done in isolation->tied this in with sister Oscarson’s address of becoming one as sisters. The RS responded very well; it was an emotional and spiritual experience for us. Thank you for saving me!

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