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.