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Maturing in the Christian Life: A Pastorís Guide by Neill Q. Hamilton


Neill Q. Hamilton graduated from Duke University, Princeton Theological Seminary and the University of Basel, Switzerland (D. Th.) He was Robert S. Dollar Professor of New Testament, San Francisco Theological Seminary and Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley and later was Professor of New Testament at the School of Theology and Graduate School, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey. This book was published in 1984 by The North Creek Press, copyright Neil Hamilton, used by permission of the author. Prepared for Religion Online by Herbert F. Lowe.


Chapter Two: The Discipleship Phase of the Christian Life


Discipleship Redefined

In spite of current usage, I am making discipleship only a phase of the Christian life rather than a description of the whole. The root word for discipleship comes from the Greek verb akoloutheo, "to follow," as in the command of Jesus, "Follow me." The emphasis lies on the action of following Jesus and on the relationship of personal attachment to him that following entails. Our word "disciple" comes from a different word, mathetes, whose meaning is "learner" or "pupil." Jesus did indeed act as a teacher to disciples as students, but the relationship between him and his followers was much more crucial than that of a student to a rabbi. In the relationship with a rabbi the emphasis was on the subject matter. In the relationship with Jesus the emphasis was on Jesus himself. The kingdom about which he taught drew near not because he taught about it but because he embodied it. Therefore I want the word "disciple" to connote primarily attachment to the person of Jesus as it does in the Gospels rather than attention to a body of learning on the part of a student. Professor Fitzmyer puts it precisely in connection with his discussion of Luke: "Christian discipleship is portrayed not only as acceptance of a master's teaching, but as identification of oneself with the master's way of life and destiny in an intimate, personal following of him."22

The figure to follow is Jesus of Nazareth. Consequently, when we look for models and descriptions of the life of faith under the rubric of discipleship, we are confined almost entirely to the four Gospels, where the disciples spend a maximum of three years of their journey of faith. Most of that amounts to only puzzled beginnings of a faith which uniformly collapses under the weight of the crucifixion. To be sure, the resurrection revives that faith, but, except for Luke, the chroniclers of these beginnings offer no subsequent record of the disciples as followers of Jesus.

The New Testament story of faith's continuation after its initial collapse has to be gleaned from other books of the New Testament. In these books, for the most part, the journey of faith is not portrayed as following. When scholars look for a comparable single term for the life of faith after Easter, they come up with "imitate" as the sequel to "follow."23

Luke continues to call the faithful "disciples" in his second volume, but that is merely a carryover from his first volume. After the ascension there is no figure to follow, since Jesus stands at God's right hand (Acts 7:56). If there is anyone to follow, according to Acts, it would be the Spirit whom Jesus has poured out to bless and guide the church (Acts 2:33)..24

Aside from Luke, only John and Matthew offer any continuing version of discipleship, but in very restricted ways. John portrays a risen Christ twice instructing Peter to follow him John 21:19-22), but no figure is offered within that metaphor for him to follow. In John we are caught between a later editor's desire to continue the metaphor of discipleship and the original author's intention to close it off. The burden of the original author's farewell discourse was that Jesus would be absent from the disciples after his ascension and that the coming of the Holy Spirit as paraclete would fill the void. In her function as paraclete, the Spirit was positioned differently than Jesus had been.25 The departing Jesus says that during the discipleship stage the Spirit "dwells with you" but afterward "will be in you." So the original author did not conceive of the Spirit as going before the disciples in some fashion analogous to Jesus' leading the disciples in the days of his flesh. That leaves Matthew as the remaining source for continuation of the metaphor of discipleship beyond resurrection.

The Great Commission appears to express this intention with, "Make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19). When we inquire about the content of this discipleship, the answer is, "Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Presumably Jesus continues with the disciples through his commandments --" `and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (v. 20). It is hinted obliquely in the threefold formula for baptism that the Holy Spirit provides an added dimension to this continuation of discipleship. Presumably this baptism fulfills the promise of John that Jesus would baptize with the Holy 'Spirit and with fire (Matt. 3:11).

Two very important factors complicate Matthew's continuing form of discipleship. From resurrection on, Jesus is with them, whereas before, they had been with Jesus, i.e., he had led out ahead of them. Where is the dynamic leadership of the itinerating Jesus after Easter? How does the Holy Spirit supply this dynamic if that is one of her intended functions? Matthew supplies no answer to these questions. Without further answers to these questions the mandate to teach "them to observe all that I have commanded you" overshadows trinitarian baptism and the promise of Jesus' continuing presence. The result is that following Jesus tends to degenerate into following his version of the law. Discipleship becomes scarcely distinguishable from Judaism. Jesus as the new Moses interprets the law without concession to human hardness of heart (Matt. 19:8) but with concessions to rabbinic argumentation (v. 9). Christianity becomes another school of legal interpretation alongside the schools of Hillel and Shammai. To be sure, this mode of being Christian is authentic but it misses too much of what came to distinguish Christianity from Judaism. I maintain that the church assembled a canon to include literature that would answer the questions Matthew left unanswered. Until the journeying Christian learns how to apply these answers he or she is caught in a relatively early phase of faith maturing.

I do not mean to leave out of account the redaction critical insight that Matthew, Mark, and particularly John intended the episodes of Jesus' ministry to apply to the present. It is a well-acknowledged assumption of Gospel research that the materials of Jesus' ministry were preserved and retold precisely because the church experienced in them the continuing presence of the risen Christ in the guise of a past figure.26 Experiencing Christ's presence in these Gospels is a major part of what it means for them to become the Word of God. Nevertheless Christians who live primarily out of the discipleship metaphor tend to be limited in their maturing by the tendency to view the Gospel materials as stories of a past and absent Master.

To sum up: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all portray Christian faith in terms of discipleship up until the resurrection. Matthew recommends that metaphor as valid to the close of the age, but does not give content for Jesus' continuing presence. How baptism in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit makes a difference is never spelled out.

In spite of the fact that its post-Easter content is vague, very many Christians continue to be drawn to discipleship as a term for being Christian in preference to other options offered within the canon. Why do so many prefer this metaphor in spite of its vagueness when other New Testament metaphors for the Christian life seem better designed to fill the space left by the risen Christ? I certainly do not understand all the reasons but I suspect that some of the following are part of the answer.

The Appeal of Discipleship

One of the things that characterizes modern consciousness is its confidence that the critical study of history is a way to test the truth of traditional wisdom. This consistently critical appraisal of traditional wisdom is relatively recent. It only came to bear fully on the study of Christianity in the last quarter of the last century. Applied to Christianity it meant sooner or later the testing of the figure of Jesus Christ. With historical fact as the touchstone, a distinction immediately arose between Jesus of Nazareth, a known figure of history, and the risen Christ of faith, a figure beyond history. The only sure historical component to the risen Christ was the historicity of those who believed in him. Believing in this Christ amounted to having faith in someone else's faith. To avoid being vulnerable to all sorts of historically questionable myths, it seemed wise to turn to the firmer ground of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus one of the first projects of Christian scholars under the spell of history as the final arbiter of reality was the quest for the historical Jesus. As Albert Schweitzer's chronicle makes clear, this quest was driven not simply by the search for the holy grail of reliable historical fact, but also by the desire to undo in the name of Jesus a great deal of seeming nonsense that had clothed itself in the mantle of Christian dogma.27

These twin drives, to ground faith in history and to free us from dogma, still have their appeal today. It certainly takes a greater leap of faith for a modern historian to relate to the risen Christ of Pauline mysticism or to the paraclete of John than to commit oneself to the straightforward teaching and example of the historical Jesus. It takes far less credulity to remember this Jesus respectfully than it does to pray to him as a living presence. This form of faith protects one from certain excesses of religion brought on by mystical attachment to a risen Christ. For example, it is comforting to know that Jesus never spoke in tongues or that Jesus seemed more at home in the world of women, weddings, and wine than Paul ever was.

The wing of American Christianity that is concerned with social justice and attuned to theology in a modern idiom finds confirmation in the figure of Jesus. His prophetic message with its central theme of the kingdom of God blends with this party's commitment to justice and its concern for the poor and oppressed. As prophet of the coming kingdom Jesus ranks alongside the classic Old Testament prophets who are the chief patrons of this party. The Christ mysticism of Paul seems much more difficult to translate into modern myth than does the ethical religion of Jesus.

I suspect also that discipleship has great appeal to healthy, confident moderns. Jesus seemed to foster self-reliance, initiative, and responsibility. When he taught and directed others, he assumed they had the power to carry out his commands without debilitating reservations arising from doctrines of original sin and moral depravity. When, for example, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan he concluded with, "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37). That is something a healthy person can grasp. The Sermon on the Mount may not be easy, but it is understandable and many people under the constant pressure of the marketplace find it a steadying guide in that jungle of ethical relativity. There is less dependency in discipleship focused as it is on a healthy ability to respond rather than on the spiritual mysteries of a Paul or a John who harp on the inabilities of the sickly soul.

Surely these are some of the appeals of discipleship. Pastors charged with leading people committed to this mode of being Christian may find these musings helpful in imagining what forms of communication and program will appeal to devotees of discipleship. If clergy ever feel inclined to lead some kind of modern-day, religious equivalent of a charge up San Juan Hill, discipleship Christians are likely to be the rough riders who will want to form behind them. Discipleship breeds heroes of faith like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. This heroic note suggests the first feature of this initial phase of the process of Christian maturing.

The Motto of Discipleship

When we look for the New Testament model for discipleship, we find its archetype in the Twelve whom Jesus selected to be his closest companions and pupils. We concentrate on Mark's portrayal because Mark was the original artist and also because Matthew and Luke soften and touch up Mark's stark sketch. It is important at the outset to grant that the portraits of the disciples are drawn more to describe a phase of faith than to show what the Twelve were really like. The quest of the historical disciples, like the quest of the historical Jesus, leads us as much to theologies of faith of the synoptic authors as it does to the first historical disciples.28 But that suits our needs exactly, since it is precisely the shape of faith these figures represent that is the subject of this chapter.

The sense of confidence in the self that typifies this stage of faith comes out in the exchange triggered by the request of James and John for places of privilege. "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory" (Mark 10:37). The scene is set just prior to the entry into Jerusalem when Jesus' disciples supposed that he would launch the holy war against the Gentiles that would result in superpower status for Israel under the Davidic kingship of Jesus. James and John were asking for cabinet posts in the soon to be formed government. Jesus knew what they wanted, but they did not know what was really in store for them. Jesus foresaw crucifixion and collapse of the movement rather than escalation into military and political triumph. He asked if they were ready to endure what was actually in store for him and for them. "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" The reply of James and John is the motto of the discipleship phase: "We are able" (Mark 10:39). What they were able for was battle and the risk of becoming casualties in the anticipated holy war. They were willing to fight and take their chances. The other disciples felt just as ready and able, as the rest of the conversation shows.

This self-confidence on the part of the disciples is an expression of late Judaism's confidence in the goodness of human nature as God created it. According to this psychology, the natural self is continually under pressure from a good impulse and from a bad impulse, with power to choose between the two. Within this Jewish framework the disciples no doubt viewed the influence of Jesus as informing and strengthening the self to choose the good impulse in service of the vision of establishing the kingdom of God in the style of the golden age of David. They supposed that all that Jesus required of them to share in this dream was to repent, to believe, and to be ready to fight. Jewish confidence in human nature and in Israel's political destiny made them able for this.

Women Who Fit the Mold

Lest one imagine that discipleship macho is a merely male trait, consider the venerable tradition of the all-sufficient woman of faith. Her archetype finds hymnlike expression in the ode to the good wife (Prov. 31:10-31). This woman who "fears the Lord" is "far more precious than jewels" not merely because she is a charming and beautiful companion and mother. There is more. By rising "while it is yet night" and working productively until well after dark ("her lamp does not go out at night") she supplies the economic base for the standard of living of her husband and children. Indeed, she earns the status that her husband enjoys= "her husband is known in the gates where he sets among the elders of the land." Max Weber thought he had found the model of the Protestant ethic in Franklin's male figure hammering from five in the morning until eight at night to comfort his creditors .29 The original is the woman in Proverbs.

She has been there all along, although the control of the literature by males obscures her image. Only occasionally does she come into view, as in the squabble between Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38ff.) or in the story of the Greek woman with enough chutzpah to argue Jesus to a standstill so that her possessed child might be healed (Mark 7:24ff.). She has also been there all along in the attitudes of her offspring. According to Matthew, James and John who gave us the motto for discipleship, "We are able," were put up to their life projects by a believably ambitious mother (Matt. 20:20). And Monica and Suzanna, the mothers of Augustine and Wesley, deserve the credit for the driven quality of the discipleship of their sons.

We live in a time when the drive of discipleship is becoming socially acceptable for women as well as men. We see these superwomen disciples on every hand changing costumes in phone booths, from singles to wives to mothers to graduate students to professionals to staff partners with spouses to singles again. The model from Proverbs is coming into her own.

Discipleship and Ego Strength

The parallel with modern therapeutic assumptions will be obvious. But Paul's term for people who work out of this naturally endowed self was psychikos, an adjective built on the root word psyche, meaning the soul or the self (I Cor. 2:14). The RSV word for psychikos is "unspiritual man," but the footnote alternative, "natural man," is more apt. An even more apt translation for our time would be "psychological person." The person who works out of ego strength is the modern-day equivalent of the "soulish" or "psychic" person of Paul's day. These were persons who traced the power of the religious self to the natural vitality all humans share by creation rather than to the special vitality derived from experience of Spirit. Consequently, people in the discipleship phase will desire and profit by counseling and therapy aimed at the strengthening of the self. Pastors of people in this stage will find it important to be able to respond to this desire for the strengthening of the self in the service of the tasks and privileges of the kingdom of God. This reliance on the self to the neglect of the energy of Spirit ranks discipleship as the beginning phase of Christian maturing.

Discipleship and Reparenting

There is, however, a conflict between discipleship's view of self and today's conventional understanding of what constitutes a mature self. Therapy commonly seeks to wean the adult away from dependence on parentlike figures. The mature self is the autonomous self, free to take charge of its own destiny. By contrast, discipleship seeks to reestablish a parenting relationship. This time, however, the parenting figure is no human, but God as heavenly Father. In effect, the disciple is adopted out of his or her natural family into the family of God in order to be resocialized into the values and life-style of this family. Whatever one's natural socialization in childhood, it was at odds with the orientation of the heavenly family and must be redone.

This need for resocialization accounts for Jesus' abrupt way with family ties. He called the original four away from family businesses. James and John left their father, Zebedee, on the shore (Mark 1:16-20). Jesus spurned the summons of his own mother and brothers, explaining to the crowd he was teaching that they were his family in the measure that they did the will of God (Mark 3:19b-21, 31-35). He generalized, "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own psyche [as it was formed and continues to be reinforced by worldly influences working through the family], he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). For those who suppose that the parenting of discipleship will fit smoothly with natural family relationships, Matthew strikes the harshest blow. "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother ... and a man's foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10: 34-37).

These sayings do not mean that Jesus was antifamily. He made marriage and family more secure than any Jewish regulations had (Mark 10:2-16). He confirmed Peter in his family once their home had become the base for his mission (Mark 1:29-34). It was just that in many ways every family delivers us to adulthood at cross purposes with the kingdom of God. Discipleship entails allowing God to parent the adult disciple in ways that compensate

for that deforming influence of our natural families. One could summarize Jesus' whole nurture of his disciples as a guiding of them into maturing, as the family of God defines maturing over against the way natural families define it.

My characterization of discipleship as the childhood phase of faith comes from this necessity for all of us in some way to start over again. That is what Jesus prescribed for his grown-up but malformed followers by putting a child in their midst with the comment, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).

Before considering the content of this new childhood under God's parenting, we need to note the fact that this childhood of faith must have a beginning. The Synoptics picture that beginning in the episode of the call of the four fishermen.

The Call to Discipleships30

This beginning is for adults. Discipleship calls for detachment from natural family and preoccupation with work, both of which assume adult status. That is the point of the four fishermen being called away from nets and boats and from the father, Zebedee (Mark 1:16ff.). The disciple is one who subserves his or her workaday life and family commitments to Jesus' mastery. Detachment from family and work as the chief expressions of the order of this world, and attachment to Jesus as the representative of the order of the kingdom, is the beginning of discipleship. Its contents unfold in Jesus' teaching and example as they come down to us in the stories of his ministry. To adopt as one's own rule of life the new principles of life that Jesus taught and modeled is to launch the reparenting and resocialization that discipleship represents.

Women Disciples

Women as well as men were called to discipleship. Male domination in late Judaism prevented their story from coming to the fore, but women disciples are clearly in evidence. They remain faithful between crucifixion and resurrection, bridging the gap in the process of discipleship nurture left by the failure of male disciples. Women coped better with Jesus' apparent failure. The woman who anointed Jesus for burial earned perpetual fame by accepting a fate for Jesus that no male disciple could stomach (Mark 14:3ff.

Women had been in the circle of disciples all along, as an occasional saying discloses. "Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Mark 3:35). Mother and sister disciples supported the movement all along (Luke 8:1ff.). They would have made the same moves to disengage from family and work as men. The issue of women leaving work and home to become disciples is behind the complaint of Martha about her disciple sister, Mary (Luke 10:39ff.). No doubt there were disgruntled Marthas all over Galilee who were left with their disciple sisters' share of the housework.

Discipleship in Contrast to Crowd Religion

Adoption of new principles for living distinguishes disciples from the crowd. Members of the crowd sought out Jesus merely for the good he could do them. They never intended to alter their way of life, much less to make Jesus the arbiter of their lives. The story of the ten lepers is a perfect example of the difference between discipleship and crowd religion. Nine who remained with the crowd took their healing and went their merry way. The one who exemplifies discipleship made his healing an occasion for mounting a relationship with God, "praising God with a loud voice," and for a worshipful intimacy with Jesus, "and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks" (Luke 17:11-19). These characterize discipleship. Parishioners who appear in the sanctuary only on Christmas and Easter are our most obvious "crowd" exemplars today.

The Advantage of Discipleship Over New Creation and Rebirth

The call of the four presents a more realistic picture of the beginning of the Christian life than the metaphors of new creation and rebirth. These tend to promise too much too soon. The call of the four shows not only that disciples must make a conscious and deliberate choice to answer Jesus' call but that a long journey lies ahead of them before the daily leading of Christ their new Master will counter the effects of their former lives. Only this long journey can prepare them to fulfill their destiny to become fishers of others. Discipleship takes account of the long road that leads toward maturing. This relieves the fledgling Christian of the crushing puzzlement and guilt that come when all things turn out not to be immediately and literally new for new creatures in Christ. It allows for the fact that new birth does not simply close off influences of a former life in the days that follow conversion.

The portrayal of discipleship in the Gospels is as accurate in dealing with the end of the road as with its beginning -- the story of the faith journey of the first disciples remains unfinished. No Gospel author takes up the task of tracing each of the twelve to the journey's end. That is a parable of the fact that our maturing is never finished. But there is an end to discipleship in the sense of a goal that provides orientation within the always incomplete process of maturing. That goal is given in the metaphor that dominates this book: "I will make you become fishers of men [others]" (Mark 1:17). As disciples we are all destined for mission, so that one of the principal measures of maturing is the extent to which we engage in mission. The prophetic guide to maturing in the Christian life may take the measure of a person's effectiveness by how soon and how well his or her charges become avid, knowledgeable, successful, and peaceful anglers. Isaac Walton, a contemporary of Bunyan, wrote a classic entitled The Compleat Angler, which depicts such anglers. Whether or not it was Walton's intention, his book is an apt metaphor of the heart of the clerical calling and of the delightful mood in which it may unfold. Walton's "compleat" angler studies not only how to catch fish but also how to be at peace while doing it. Walton found the joy in the doing as rewarding as the catch. His final admonition, "Be quiet and go a-angling," is worth attending, as is the accompanying quotation from I Thessalonians, "Study to be quiet" (4:11). But much must happen in the new childhood of discipleship before we arrive at such mature poise.

Our Father

The prayer Jesus taught the disciples epitomizes the content of the reworked childhood he prescribed. It amounts to a lesson plan for those responsible for nurturing themselves and others in it. The prayer begins as the petition of a group: "Our Father. . . : " God uses the company of disciples as the medium of nurture. The church acts as the family of God to model and reinforce for one another what God is drawing us all toward. Jesus dealt with his disciples as a group, calling four to begin with (Mark 1:16-20). Eventually he selected twelve as a symbol of a new people that this family of disciples was intended to become. Even when they were dispersed for mission purposes, they went two by two. Solo discipleship is an anomaly. Faith matures in company with others. I will not say there is no salvation outside the church. I am prepared to say there is no maturing outside it.

The circle of disciples constituted the new family in which childhood is reworked. In the Synoptic Gospels it is the equivalent of church. That circle came to focus as a table fellowship. That table replaced the table of natural family. The nurturing influence of discipleship was most intense at table with Jesus. The celebration of the Lord's Supper is the sacramental continuation of the disciple circle gathered around its table. Jesus sat at the head of the disciples' table conducting the nurturing process for the invisible parenting God. In the sacrament he continues to preside over our nurture.

"Our Father" points to the new parent whose affection, guidance, and careful support shepherds us into new growth. The affection of this father fuels growth and invites our love. As we grow in discipleship, we grow in the degree of our intimacy with the heavenly father until it becomes natural to speak to him with all the familiarity of a child to its daddy. Jesus' "Abba, Father" in the Garden of Gethsemane would be something like "Daddy Dear" in our usage .31 The loving acceptance of this affectionate intimacy with the single most important other in the universe has power. For those who believe, it overcomes the denigrating and debilitating estimate of ourselves that our natural parenting, our early socialization, and life's daily put-downs have fastened on us.

Here is the true source of the life-giving affirmation we seek from our closest friends and dearest loved ones. They provide what we seek in such imperfect ways that our hearts remain restless until they rest in this father's love. The cause of liberating women from the oppressive role assignments of our culture complicates discipleship's way of relating to God as a father. Many blame the church's doctrine of the fatherhood of God for the predicament of women in Western culture. This doctrine was used most recently to reinforce the roles assigned to men and women in the Victorian family.32 It is true that doctrines of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man as we have inherited them from the nineteenth century do reflect our culture's way of looking at the masculine role. That way of looking at men does not do justice to the role of God grounded in the disciples' prayer in particular and in the New Testament generally. As the New Testament presents God in action, God fulfills the best of both masculine and feminine roles in the process of nurturing us toward maturity. These multiple roles attributed to God lead logically to a doctrine of the Trinity. Within the Trinity the mothering role of Spirit emerges on a par with the fathering role we are now exploring, and overcomes in principle the fixing of God as masculine which occurred in Jewish monotheism.33 When we come to describe the phase of the Christian life that I call "transition in Spirit," we shall see that God exercises what we call masculine and feminine roles simultaneously, thus overcoming in eschatological preview the dividing wall of sexuality that so many now experience. Even in the discipleship phase, the disciples' prayer counters oppressive associations from culture.

The petition "Hallowed be thy name" means that this father is not the same as any other father any of us have known. An essential meaning of "holy" is separate or special. In its original setting in Judaism this petition reaffirmed monotheism's main tenet that there is only one true God. That is being reaffirmed here as disciples confess that no one else has a comparable claim to our allegiance or a comparable function as the source of our life. We are to love this one, commit ourselves to this one in a way we have never done with any human being. Holiness means that this fathering God will never deal with us in quite the same way any human parent has. We need not fear the influence of this father, however complicated parenting has been for us heretofore. To become a child again to this father will lead to our maturing as disciples and not to the childishness of arrested development that natural parenting in some measure imprints upon us all.

Fear of making God masculine will not be the major hindrance for most of us in assuming the new childhood of discipleship. Pride in our grown-up autonomy will be. Adult hubris says we have outgrown the need for parenting with its return to dependence and its reeducation. However grown up we consider ourselves to be, we cannot avoid Jesus' insistence that unless we turn and become as children there is no way for us into the kingdom of God. Too much of what we think we know about life and how it should be lived is foolish and destructive from the perspective of the reign of God. We must allow God to parent us if we are to mature. Christians who think to jump over this phase and rush to bringing in the kingdom in their own adult way inevitably misrepresent that kingdom and bring some counterfeit in its stead.

Thy Kingdom Come

Only reparenting makes it possible to perceive, let alone serve, God's kingdom and God's will-"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." We take these two petitions together because the second is an expansion of the first. It is omitted in Luke and probably was not original in Jesus' teaching. To us the words "kingdom of God" tend to misrepresent the idea that Jesus and the Synoptic writers intended to convey. So much is at stake here because the coming near of the kingdom and its inauguration were the central theme of Jesus' prophecy and teaching. That theme gives discipleship its decisive content.

"Kingdom" implies a particular political institutional form. Most Jews in Jesus' day, including all the original disciples, supposed he was espousing a militant form ofwhat we would now call Zionism, a return to the golden age of David. Most disciples in every era since then have supposed the same. The discipleship phase climaxes with the overcoming of this illusion. We should have known from the start that any political equivalency for the kingdom was out of the question since the distinctive ethics summarized in the Sermon on the Mount make this impossible. Love of neighbor, including love of enemies, is totally incompatible with a political kingdom based on military conquest and maintained by military might.

Jesus' idea of the kingdom of God did not come from Jewish political history but came from the stream of apocalyptic thinking in late Judaism. Daniel is its source rather than the books that record Israel's conquests. The apocalyptic kingdom is a new order which will be given by God from heaven at the coming of the Son of man in clouds (Mark 13:24ff.). We cannot explore here the full meaning of that symbol for the end, but two implications are essential for understanding the parenting process of discipleship. First, although the new order of the kingdom will never be established in this age, it is the order into which disciples are being reparented and resocialized. Jesus carne to declare the coming of this new order as God's agenda for humankind. Jesus did not come declaring discipleship for its own sake. Discipleship is intended to serve the new order. This explains the second implication. In the measure that family, work, and traditional institutional religion serve existing worldly orders, they must be left behind. Discipleship calls for detachment from every means that the existing order uses to fasten its values and life patterns on people. That is why the original call to discipleship summoned disciples away from work and home. God as father parents us into the ethic of the new order of the kingdom. His love is a demanding love. The discipleship stage declares, in the name of Jesus as its authoritative interpreter, that there is no way into the process of maturing in the Christian life without obedient submission to this parenting God. Much of the effort of ministers as prophetic guides at this stage will be devoted to explaining the content of this ethic as the will of the parenting God whose presence comes into our lives and through us into the world by way of this ethic.

 

Daily Bread

God as the parenting father matches our obedience with provision for all of our needs. We need not limit "bread" to bare necessities, as in a prison diet of bread and water. Jesus' teaching offered more than puritan or monastic asceticism. In response to anxiety about clothes Jesus held up the "lilies of the field" as a lavishly beautiful example of clothing by God that surpasses anything Solomon could have managed at the height of his glory. Beauty is included in daily bread (Matt. 6:25-33). Jesus came eating and drinking in contrast to John the Baptist's "diet for a small planet," opening himself to the charge of being a glutton and a drunkard who "partied" with tax collectors and other sinners (Matt. 11:16-19). Think of how many fine banquets figure in Jesus' teaching metaphors and in the reports of his ministry. Even the bread and wine of the Last Supper were not the whole meal. Dining together stand out as a special feature of Jesus' nurture of his disciples. Luke followed his version of the disciples' prayer with a series of metaphors reinforcing the openhanded provision of God as parenting father (Luke 11:5-13; Matt. 7:7-12).

Christians devoted to the Protestant ethic and used to paying their own way may have difficulty with this "free lunch" policy. It does not intend to detract from the necessity to work, but it does challenge the cause-and-effect relationship between work and provision for material needs. Disciples are being directed to credit God for the fruits of their labor so that his mysterious hand upsets the usual calculus. This means that most of us will get a level of provision far beyond anything we deserve for our work. All of these considerations are aimed at delivering us from the distracting and enslaving anxiety for things that sap life and displace the concerns of discipleship (Matt. 6:33). Only anxiety-free reliance on God's provision for our own needs makes possible the lavish generosity toward God and neighbor that Jesus' teaching mandates (Matt. 5:3842; Mark 12:41-44).

Conservative Christians represent God more faithfully here than most mainline clergy. Anxiety about career and standard of living automatically overpower church members in the absence of teaching about the fatherly provision of God. For a beginning, most clergy will need to offer what seems to be too much. I think immediately about claims that God provides parking spaces to "revived" believers.34 When I was a younger theologian and knew better what God would and would not do, I ruled out Yahweh's parking cars. Now I would not put anything past this prodigal God.

I do not mean to suggest that this fatherly God endorses upward mobility as the final consideration in discipleship. That cannot be squared with the saying, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well" (Matt. 6:33). Protestants especially misled one another in the Gilded Age that followed the Civil War when they assured themselves that God intended all to "get rich. "35 People who make riches their aim are attempting to create for themselves bogus self-worth and security. In discipleship, worth and security are bestowed as gifts upon all who accept the love of the father of the kingdom and submit to his regulations for life. Jesus taught that having riches makes it more difficult to enter the kingdom (Mark 10:23).

What level of provision should a disciple expect? That cannot be adequately described in the coin of worldly exchange. When Peter asked that question for himself and all disciples, the answer was, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time" (Mark 10:29-30). The point was that disciples will suffer no sense of loss for having shifted from anxiety about their level of well-being to trust in the support of the parenting God. In fact, we should expect to experience lavish provision, though we must reckon on some changes of taste in the course of our resocialization as disciples.

Forgive Us Our Debts

Having met our anxiety about material well-being, the prayer moves on to the equally important sustenance of preserving us in discipleship in spite of our continuing sins. We never quite slough off the effects of our former socialization, so that the imprint of that conditioning continues to haunt our attempts to act differently. The demons are anxious to fill any space not occupied by the nurture of God (Matt. 12:23ff.). In spite of the rigor of the new regulations, God is not a perfectionist parent, expecting what we cannot deliver. The injunction is to be perfect (Matt. 5:48). But perfection cannot mean what it connotes to us, otherwise the prayer would not provide for daily sinning, nor would there be provision for breaches within the community (Matt. 18:15-20). The theme of the Sermon prior to the saying on perfection has been the contrast between Jesus' rigorous exposition of true righteousness and the Pharisees' relaxing of the commandments.

Matthew's point is that Jesus' ethical teaching takes the exposition of God's will beyond the shortcomings of Pharisaic exposition and on to completion. Disciples must

tie their lives to this complete exposition of God's will and in that sense be perfect. "There must be no limits [like the limits being offered by Pharisees], as your heavenly Father's goodness knows no bounds." Breaches of true righteousness with God and within the disciple circle are bound to come. But then they must be repaired immediately, before the sun goes down (Eph. 4:26). And there must be no limit to the number of times forgiveness is offered (Matt. 18:21-22). This continual and immediate process of reconciliation must go on because relationships with God and with other disciples are the vehicles of nurture. Everything depends on keeping them free of obstructions to the flow of the power to mature.

Growing Pains

"Lead us not into temptation" calls attention to the fact that discipleship unfolds toward maturing only by overcoming obstacles to growth. Temptation means "testing" as Jesus was tested by Satan in the wilderness. Just as health in childhood is not the absence of disease, but the overcoming of it with the consequent building up of immunities, so we grow in righteousness as we fall prey to temptation, but build resistance to it in the process. This testing process comes with the territory, since we bring the tapes of our former socialization with us into discipleship. Maturing means suffering through the editing while new tapes of discipleship are being cut to displace the old tapes of crowd religion. The sense of the petition then is, "Do not let me be caught in tests too severe for me to manage in my spiritual infancy, and never, never let me sense that I have been abandoned by you when I fall." You see how the last two fit together. There can be no abandonment by this parenting God who has committed himself along with his whole earthly family to forgiving restoration-whatever may befall.

So much for the prayer as an inventory of important factors in discipleship nurture. The factors of resistance and testing at its end point to the final resistances that must be overcome before the discipleship phase may come to completion. The ultimate resistances to be overcome by reparenting and resocialization are illusions about who Jesus is and what the coming of the kingdom means. They are two sides of the same coin.

Beyond Illusion

Christology and the nature of the kingdom were the issues that caused the original disciples to defect. We can observe a process of dawning appreciation in the case of the first issue. They met Jesus as a prophet announcing the coming kingdom. They followed him initially on that basis. His ministry seemed to be a branch of the movement of the prophet John the Baptist. Then he unfolded a body of teaching about the nature of the kingdom and of life in it. He became their teacher-rabbi. The role of prophet and of teacher were both attested by healings, exorcisms, and nature miracles. At Caesarea Philippi disciples are represented as having put the prophecy and teaching about the kingdom of God together with the miracles and coming to the conclusion the crowd had missed. Jesus was more than a teacher-prophet-he was the Messiah of the coming kingdom. He was not just the herald of the kingdom but the agent through whom God would set it up. So far, so good.

Now the disciples' idea of the kingdom became decisive. Their religious nurture led them to expect the coming kingdom to be a return of the golden age of David. But this time Israel would be upgraded to a superpower that would impose its religion and will upon all the peoples of the earth. The Gentile nations were to become Israel's servants (Isa. 60). The first step in the coming of this kingdom was to be a holy war against Rome led by the messiah in his role as a charismatic warrior. At Caesarea Philippi all this came together. The disciples saw Jesus as this Son of David Messiah. Now they understood why Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem in spite of the resistance to him. He had come to Jerusalem to inaugurate the holy war against Rome in the ancient capital of his people. They began to collect weapons for the fray (Luke 22:36, 38). The disciples did not simply invent this scenario to fulfill some private wish. They had received it as part of their religious training.

Some such illusion about the kingdom and Jesus' role in it seems endemic to discipleship. The church through much of its history has been wedded to some variation of this illusory package. I think immediately of examples such as the church under Constantine; the dream of a holy Roman empire; crusade fever; the political alliances of the Reformation that led to state churches; and, closer to home, the American Protestant project to turn America into the kingdom of God.38 This misperception of the kingdom of God and of Jesus' role in it is the grand illusion of discipleship.

American disciples still have to move beyond thinking of America as the kingdom of God if they are to complete the work of that phase well enough to move to further maturing. That illusion persists among conservative Christians in their veneration of the economic and political systems of America as adequate vehicles of the kingdom of God. The coming of the kingdom only waits for the imposition of their private morality on the public at large. Current features of that morality include the allocation of national resources to outarm, and, if necessary, outfight the Russians; the return to laissez-faire capitalism in explicit rejection of welfare state compensation for the inequities of that economic system; and a ban on abortion as being a crime equivalent to murder. We saw the movement of this kingdom illusion peak in a coalition of Reagan forces, the Moral Majority, and the right-to-life movement.

Social activist Christians keep a counter hope and companion illusion alive in the form of liberation theology. For them the Vietnam war scuttled the hope of America ever qualifying as the promised land of the kingdom. So, many have shifted their hope to the Third World, where religiopolitical revolutionary movements of the oppressed might provide the occasion for the kingdom's coming there. Jesus is perceived by both types of Christianity as prophetic teacher of both versions of the kingdom. Both are prepared to follow him into holy war.

Transition to the phase of maturing beyond discipleship depends on turning away from these worldly versions of kingdom and messiah. Instead, disciples must settle for an apocalyptic kingdom which can never find adequate political implementation in institutions of this world. This more mature orientation will be content with increasing the level of justice where possible in all human institutions without expecting to transform them into the kingdom of God. Persons may now be recruited to share in advocating and implementing that justice as part of the process of Christian maturing. The final collapse of these illusions about Jesus and the kingdom belongs to the next phase, so we will discuss them in that connection in the next chapter. We need only observe now that discipleship comes to a climax in the shift from hope of our triumph in this world to hope of God's triumph in the next.

Fishers of Others: A Model for Ministry

Meanwhile the parenting God fathers his family toward maturing-illusions and all. As we noted in the call of the four (Mark 1:16-20), the call to discipleship served notice to disciples that they were to become fishers of others. I shall maintain that this is the ultimate goal of the whole maturing process within the Christian life. The disciples were continually reminded of this mandate, for to follow Jesus was to watch him as he fished for others. All the time that Jesus was teaching and leading the disciple circle he was engaged in mission. One cannot avoid the conclusion that disciples are missioners in training. It was only a matter of maturing and time before they were sent out to augment Jesus' mission. Eventually Jesus called out twelve specifically for mission and later sent them out to duplicate his ministry. The striking thing is that disciples are put into mission even before they overcome their illusions about Jesus and the kingdom. Does this suddenly indulgent father put his children in mission at risk of their mixing their illusions into the action? Apparently so-strange Godl The lesson must be that there is no phase in the Christian life in which we may plead immaturity in order to be free of the obligation to participate in mission.

A selection process takes place in connection with the call to augment Jesus' ministry. Only some of the company of disciples get to duplicate the public ministry of Jesus-preaching to the crowds, teaching disciple groups that respond, dealing with people one by one as they come forward, and healing as they go. The analogy to the professional ministry is obvious. Most Protestant theologies of ministry interpret ordination as the call to preach, teach, pastor, and administer the Sacraments to a largely passive assembly of hearers in obvious imitation of the model we see Jesus display in the Gospels. The Reformation definition of the church as present wherever the Word is rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered duplicates this picture of ministry. Only one person on the scene holds a pole. The rest presumably are fish to be caught. This picture in the Gospels of Jesus as model for ordained ministry is so powerful that it has seduced the church in general and clergy in particular into adopting it as the complete picture of ministry. This particular picture is most appropriate to the discipleship phase of Christian maturing. It misrepresents the rest of the New Testament's doctrine whereby ministry belongs to the whole church without the distinction we make between laity and clergy 37 This other picture of ministry emerged in the so-called theologies of the ministries of the laity.

After a flurry of such theologies not much has changed in the churches. We may begin to benefit from these seemingly competing doctrines of ministry only when we begin to appreciate that each correlates with a particular phase of maturing in the Christian life. The picture of ministry we see displayed at eleven o'clock on Sunday morning in the average local church is one most appropriate to the disciple, or childhood, phase of faith. As clergy and laity in a particular congregation move beyond that phase, the eleven o'clock service will need to change to meet the new situation. Other forms of gathering and other configurations of ministry will need to emerge. The eleveno'clock Sunday-morning ministry will always continue at least as fishing ground, launching pad, and seedbed, out of which subsequent phases of growth in Christian life and ministry emerge. How to match forms of ministry with phases of maturing will be the subject of the final chapter. But there are particular implications of the discipleship phase for clergy development that are best attended while this phase is freshly before us.

Discipleship Phase for Clergy

If the experience of a few clergy is typical, many of us spend half our careers under the spell of the illusions of the discipleship phase. For clergy these illusions are variations of the basic illusions about Christ and kingdom we traced in discipleship. If we substitute career for kingdom and minister for the Christ figure, the implications for maturing begin to unfold.

Most contemporary Christians have no eschatology comparable in scope to the one we saw in the Gospels. Apart from hope for personal immortality, we make little use of the images of the return of Christ, the end of this world, and a great judgment. There is perhaps a vague hangover of the traditional confidence that America is so special it will become the scene of the final unfolding of the kingdom of God. In the absence of confidence in the biblical images for the end, we tend to be at the mercy of the apocalyptic image of nuclear holocaust. This seems to be the only image for the end that has much power in church or culture today.

This substitution of an image of nuclear holocaust for the coming of Christ is a parable of what happens to Christians when they cease to believe in their own eschatological heritage. The culture supplies its own images for the end when we default by ceasing to believe in biblical images of God's triumph at the end. Clerical careers tend to fall prey to a similar process.

Most of us respond to a call to ministry with particular, beloved and effective clergypersons in mind. As we observe their ministry we see God challenging human lives with the transforming power of the gospel. Since we long for such challenge and transformation, we suppose the people in those congregations do also. We respond wholeheartedly and we suppose those congregations are doing the same. Our call often comes as we observe some model clergy figures who are at their best speaking in public. There is little real appreciation among admirers of how seriously hearers are actually taking these persons they admire. Candidates for ministry vastly overrate the influence their favorite clergy are having. Consequently, prospective ministers are able to sustain their dream of ministry until their first call or appointment to parish leadership after graduation from seminary and full ordination. Then the reality of the profession tumbles in on them.

The reality is that the vast majority of persons in a typical congregation do not want themselves or their world to be transformed by the gospel. Instead, they want the minister to help them make life easier to manage while they and their world stay the same in every important respect. The gospel says that we and the world orders in which we live must be changed to enjoy its blessings. The good news most people want to hear is that we can be blessed without anything changing. For most beginning clergy that is a wrenching revelation. Our road takes a turn toward Jerusalem. The congregation's view of ministry is very different from ours. We come wishing to be change agents in the name of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the meaning of ministry to which we responded and which our theological education has reinforced. Their view is that ministry is to support the status quo. Which view will prevail? Here we finally touch bottom. When we realistically assess the actual situation of the minister in a local congregation, we are forced to conclude that the people in the congregation have more power to change us than we have to change them. How we respond to this turn of events determines the shape of our ministries for the next ten to fifteen years.

Most of us have little choice but to accommodate to the congregation's view. No one has warned us that this is what the ministry is really like. Nor has our training equipped us to deal with the reality when it comes out.

At this point the eschatology of the culture fills the vacuum our preparation for ministry has left. We are in desperate need of an eschatology of some kind, for our world threatens to come to an end. But the end is not yet. There is an unconfessed eschatology at hand within the churches. It is no less real or powerful because it remains unstated. Dean Hoge has exposed the current eschatology of Protestants in the institutional church 38 Underneath the professing of most church people that they are pursuing traditional Christian values and churchly mission goals there lies a more fundamental commitment to what Hoge calls the big three. Typically, church members, clergy and lay, are most deeply committed to family, career, and standard of living. Whenever we are challenged by competing values, these three prevail.

Caught in the backwash of broken dreams of being change agents, young clergy shift toward pursuit of career as an alternative future. Advocacy of personal and social transformation fades as a major preoccupation of ministry. Career becomes the dominant eschatology for the profession. An unspoken contract gets struck. If we exert ourselves to provide what the institutional church wants at local and denominational levels, we will be rewarded with career advancement. From this point on, our ministries tend to be driven by pursuit of career rather than by passion for change.

To retain or recover our original dream in the face of career eschatology we will need to take certain steps. Discipleship nurture for clergy will mean clustering with other clergy who are resisting this takeover of the eschatology of career. This disciple circle will need to find together the means of grace to purge its members of domination by the big three until some more faithful form of ministry emerges. I am confident that can happen-but not unless clergy arrange for themselves a nurturing process similar to the one we have described in the discipleship phase.

I hope I have not drawn too dark a picture of the first and formative years as a pastoral leader. For many readers what I have described will not fit their experience. All my reading and observation tells me that it is an accurate picture of what happens to most of us. It is nothing any of us ought to feel ashamed o£ The culture and the institution to which we belong prescribe it for us. It is merely the churchly version of what happens to most adult males in our culture. I doubt there is much we can do about it until it happens to us, given our lack of warning and preparation. What matters is that we take vigorous action when we come to realize what is happening.

If this description of the predicament of the minister does not strike a chord of recognition now, eventually it will. Perhaps we may be fifteen to twenty years into ministry. That is how long it usually takes for career advancement to reach its peak. That point in our careers is like the experience of the first disciples when their career dreams vanished at the arrest of Jesus and the prospect of his execution. They had done what Jesus asked in the hope of a career in the coming kingdom. From their point of view it seemed that Jesus had defaulted on their deal. They forsook him and fled.

We experience a similar sense of betrayal. We have contracted with the institutional church for career advancement. Then the institution fails to keep its part of the bargain. Sometime in our forties or fifties we realize that we will rise no higher. There will be no larger or more challenging parishes to lead. How we respond to this jolt to our hopes will determine our path of maturing from then on. The description of the next phase of faith journey deals with this response. If we respond appropriately, this time in our careers may usher in a golden era of usefulness and satisfaction.

 

 

 

Notes (notes 1-21 are in Chapter One)

22. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, ed. and tr., The Gospel According to Luke, l-IX, The Anchor Bible, Vol. 28 (Doubleday & Co., 1981). 23. See Anselm Schulz, Nachfolgen und Nachahmen (Following and Imitating) (Munich: Kosel-Verlag, 1962), and Hans Dieter Betz, Nachfolge und Nachahmung Jesu Christi im Neuen Testament (Discipleship and Imitation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament) (Tiibingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1967).

24. According to Conzelmann, Luke intended the time of Jesus' ministry to be a unique and unrepeatable "middle of time," the conditions of which could not have been continued into the time of the church. See Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of St. Luke (Harper & Brothers, 1960), pp. 170ff.

25. In the next chapter, I shall explain how it is especially appropriate to speak of the Spirit as feminine.

26. For an argument of this intention for Mark particularly, but for others as well, see Hamilton, Recovery of the Protestant Adventure.

27. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1952).

28. For the perspective of redaction criticism which this chapter assumes but which it is beyond the scope of this book to explain, see Norman Perrin, What Is Redaction Criticism? (Fortress Press, 1969), and Joachim Rohde, Rediscovering the Teaching of the Evangelists, The New Testament Library (Westminster Press, 1968).

29. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958), p. 49.

30. For a detailed treatment of this pericope, see Hamilton, Recovery of the Protestant Adventure, pp. 108-113.

31. Joachim Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus (Fortress Press, 1978), pp. 96ff.

32. See Janet F. Fishburn, The Fatherhood of God and the Victorian Family: The Social Gospel in America (Fortress Press, 1982). Some even suggest that women were treated more fairly in heretical sects: Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (Random House, 1979), for which there is inadequate grounds; c£ Kathleen McVey, "Gnosticism, Feminism, and Elaine Pagels," Theology Today, Vol. 37, No. 4 Qan. 1981), pp. 498-501.

33. Jiirgen Moltmann's lecture, "A Doxological Concept of the Trinity," delivered at Moravian Theological Seminary, Bethlehem, Pa., Nov. 19, 1980.

34. Dennis J. Bennett, Nine O'Clock in the Morning: An Episcopal Priest Discovers the Holy Spirit (Logos International, 1970), pp. 106ff.

35. Russell H. Conwell, Acres of Diamonds (Harper & Brothers, 1915), p. 18. Taken from a prime example of the Gospel of Wealth, "Acres of Diamonds" was the most famous lecture of that time by a Baptist clergyman.

36. For a recent expost; of this last illusion, see Hamilton, Recovery of the Protestant Adventure, Pt. I.

37. See, for example, Model for Ministry: A Report for Study Issued by the General Assembly Special Committee on the Theology of the Call, Lewis Mudge, ed., with essays by Arthur C. Cochrane (Philadelphia: Office of the General Assembly of The United Presbyterian Church U.S.A., 1970). 38. Hoge, Division in the Protestant House.

 

 

 

 

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