Discipleship: Divinely Exclusive by Bishop John Fonzer
Can you believe it? Here Jesus has everything going for Him. His church is packed. His ministry is highly acclaimed and then He turns and says something as church-splintering (not merely church-splitting) as: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). To be clear, He said, “I want you to hate, not just dislike the people who are nearest and dearest to you, and come to Me” (paraphrased). If I were there, I might have tried to respectfully whisper, “I know you’re Jesus and I love you, but Jesus . . . did you really mean to say that?” After all, He did permit questions, even if He didn’t always answer them!
His statement, spoken to a multitude, followed a series of controversial actions and statements that upset the religious and civic leaders. Although He was neither crude nor malicious, Jesus was good for upsetting the system. Spiritually, He was safe and on point: He spoke what He was commanded to speak and repeated what His Father said (John 12:49, 50). He did what was written of Him (Luke 24:27). Naturally and professionally speaking though, His timing could never have been worse.
His coarse language was divisive and not the least bit seeker-sensitive. It would certainly not pass for qualifying as a gracious call to discipleship. It was extremely opposite of inviting, almost as though He wanted no followers.
The radical commitment Jesus called for screamed of cult by almost any religious standard, because spiritually it required exclusivity to the furthest extent — and then some. Few, if any cults would have been so forward as to make such a demand, and certainly not initially. They definitely wouldn’t have used the word hate. They would have methodically indoctrinated and wooed their prospective convert first. The most conservative Apostolic would warn against following leaders who made such demands, even if they were one of our own.
While Jesus was pro-family, as were His disciples (John 19:26,27), dual commitment was clearly out of the question, and His demands seemed to be the most stringent when it came to family. Jesus was a daring example of sole commitment beginning at age 12 when He was left behind at the Temple. When His mother asked Him why He had “treated them so” (Luke 2:48), He answered, “Why is it that you have been looking for me, did you not realize that I had to be in my Father’s house?” He almost harshly challenged His own mother at the wedding at Cana of Galilee when she came to Him saying, “They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.” (John 2: 3,4). On another occasion, Jesus refused to even pause His teaching to visit with or acknowledge His mother and brothers who came to one of His gatherings and desired to speak with Him. When one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee,” Jesus shockingly asked, “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren?” (Mt. 12:48). When it came to choosing between following the dictates of His Father or pleasing Himself and His family, as meek and lowly as Jesus was, He became ruthless and offensive. For the sake of the text, I daringly say — He hated His mother and brethren. Hate here simply means there is no gray area or in between when it comes to doing the will of the Father.
Jesus was so adamant about commitment and assignment over familial relationships that when He invited “a certain man” to follow Him and the man requested that he first be permitted to bury his father, Jesus imposed, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (Mt. 8:22). In so many words He was saying to the man, “From this point on, your family will be . . . whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven (Mt. 12:50).
A disciple is a pupil and learner. The teacher, particularly in the culture of Bible times, was the pupil’s master. For members of the multitude to become Jesus’ disciples, He had to become their master and they had to publicly wear “his yoke.” Neither a yoke nor a cross was jewelry of choice—not when it came to the demands Jesus imposed. Wearing Jesus’ yoke meant going where He went and doing what He did indefinitely and unconditionally. Indeed that would be grounds for charges of cultism, heresy, bondage and legalism. Add the demands that the disciple hate family and his own self, and all those charges would be well justified.
Had Jesus, without disclosing the conditions, asked the multitude, “Who wants to be my disciples?” everybody would have raised their hands. Being in intimate company with Jesus who could walk on water, feed the multitudes, heal the sickest of the sick and turn water into wine would have placed them into a spiritually elite group.
Disciples, though, are not made in the grandeur of public settings or even defined by the miraculous things they do on Jesus’ behalf. It is when they are called by Jesus away from the comfort of family, livelihood and the familiar to be fitted for yokes and crosses. This is not the kind of presence of Jesus we seek and celebrate in our circles, but it is the presence of Jesus nonetheless. Disciples are not made in the place of phenomena, music and Shekinah glory, but there is another place in His presence, a place where they who answer His invitation take on a different look, sound and their preferences and passions change.
When Jesus called His audience from multitude to discipleship, he was in essence saying, “If you want to be a member of the congregation, that’s one thing. If you want to see the water turned into wine, the lame walk and the blind see, that’s another thing. You can be numbered among the congregation and eat the loaves, behold the miracles and even personally benefit from them. You can make great claims of seeing the works of Jesus firsthand and even talk all the talk that people equate with spirituality, but — you still won’t be My disciple. You might even follow Me to every camp meeting, support My ministry and seize upon My every word, but if you want to be My disciple, it’s going to take hating the people you love and being willing to die for what you believe.”
Apostle Paul displayed great power in his ministry. He cursed Bar-Jesus (Elymas) with blindness. He healed a lame man in Lystra. People were miraculously healed who touched his garments and handkerchiefs in Ephesus. During a late night meeting of the church in Troas, he brought Eutychus back to life when he fell from a second story window. To Paul, none of those things were enough. He understood that the healings and miracles through him were manifestations of the Spirit, not necessarily proof of discipleship. Above all, he desired the knowledge of all knowledge and experience of all experiences: that he could know Jesus, the power of His resurrection, to fellowship in His sufferings, and be made submissive, obedient and compliant unto His death (Philippians 3:1).
In so many words, he said, “I don’t just want to preach, teach and do mighty works; I want it all: the good days and the bad; being celebrated and humiliated. I’m really in this. I accept everything Jesus went through, including death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Our generation demands inclusion of everything and everyone and every belief, and there are fewer distinctions with each passing day. Open relationships are becoming more commonplace. We are increasingly accommodating of both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Every theology is accepted as long as it has some merit or logic. For the sake of transparency, no subject is taboo in any setting. Distinctions and boundaries are disappearing in favor of comfort, tolerance and social acceptance. Public and private, day and night are the same. People even wear their bedclothes in public places! Titles and etiquette are being discarded in favor of supposed humility and making all things common.
The doctrine of extreme grace and inclusion is appeasing and destroying already weak consciences. Anything a person wants to do, they simply write into their theology. Everybody claims to believe in holiness, but the holiness they believe in is refined, revisited, and reinterpreted and made palatable. Our beliefs are a la carte, even in Pentecostal circles. We embrace what we want and leave the other. Exclusion is considered Pharisaic, dictatorial and outdated. Hate of any kind is out of the question, even hating sin.
We don’t follow the anointing when we look for a church today. We follow our preferences, and we look for a ministry where we are a good fit and which requires the least of us. If the rules are not agreeable to us, we leave. Laws are despised in our day, especially if they are imposed by the Church; yet Jesus imposed laws and conditions for discipleship.
True discipleship and doing ministry as Jesus commanded it will be deemed more cultic in our day, especially if we hate whom and what we must. It is no wonder Jesus said His disciples would be hated for His namesake. As time progresses, even many of us will sadly become more silent or even compromise in order to survive or be accepted. In our multitude mindset, we will somehow opt to foster a plan so we can fit in and change the world at the same time. Instead, we will be as salt that has lost its savor or effect, which neither changes the flavor of meat or preserves it. Without its savor, it looks like salt and feels like salt, but in all actuality, it is only granulated white stuff. So it is with those who cherish membership over discipleship.
Heaven counts on disciples to carry out the plan of God; persons who would not merely do the mighty works of Jesus but live the life of Jesus, both the gory and the glory indefinitely. They are people who will lay down their lives and reputations … who love not their lives unto the death (Rev. 7:11) and who will wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. That’s discipleship!