A) Mission: A Disciplined, Principled Life

I once asked a couple celebrating their fiftieth anniversary why they settled on each other fifty years before.  The woman replied “I didn’t have any better offers.”  After some initial joking I heard both practical and spiritual stories that justified why they joined together and how they remained connected across the years.  They remember their vows.  They stick together in decisions.  They steer toward the future. 

In 1980 two churches “joined forces” to create a federated church known as United Parish of Auburndale.  A joint education program brought them together on Tuesday nights in 1969, but the marriage seemed to take place on February 3, 1980 with vows we have on file known as “The Purpose of Church Union:  A Call to Renewal.”   These next eight weeks I am exploring each of the eight mission commitments which were made at that wedding, remembering these vows so the new UPA can stick together and steer toward the future in mission.

1.  “The Acquisition of Disciples of the Spirit.”

We commit ourselves to nurturing a personal and communal faith through the acquisition of disciples of the spirit.  We will seek to ground a Christian witness in Biblical teachings and theological resources.  At the same time we will reevaluate our beliefs and values in light of rapid change around us.

I’ve never seen those three words linked together:  Acquistion—Disciples—Spirit.   We acquire real estate.  The church acquires disciples?  Disciples chose to follow Jesus, though I suppose one might say Jesus acquired them.   Is this the mission of the church, to go out and select disciples?  We need a few more young people, let’s go to the mall.  We are short on cash, let’s drive to Wellesley and acquire a few wealthy benefactors.  Do we really want to be that church–The ding-dong-at-your-door disciples ridiculed in the Broadway “Book of Mormon” musical?

What are they to be disciples of?  “The spirit.”  I know stories about disciples of Jesus.  He acted as a Rabbi to a small group of men and probably women too, wandering across the country side offering them object lessons along the way.  How does anyone become a disciple of the Spirit?  I Googled it.  Those words don’t appear together but for one obscure reference to a Howard Thurman book “Disciples of the Spirit.” The 1963 book ranks at 9,489,399 with no reviews.  For reference, the 1986 book “Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In” ranks 269,835.

But wait, there is a 1963 book by Howard Thurman entitled Disciplines of the Spirit.  These disciplines are: Commitment, Growing in Wisdom and Stature, Suffering, Prayer and Reconciliation.    Of this first discipline, Howard Thurman reports:

The meaning of commitment as a discipline of the spirit must take into account that mind and spirit cannot be separated from the body in any absolute sense. It has been wisely said that the time and place of a man’s life on earth is the time and place of his body, but the meaning of his life is as significant and eternal as he wills to make it.  While he is on earth, his mind and spirit are domiciled in his body, bound up in a creature who is at once a child of nature and of God.  Commitment means that it is possible for a man to yield the nerve center of his consent to a purpose or cause, a movement or an ideal which may be more important to him than whether he lives or dies.   The character of his commitment is determined by that to which the center or core of his consent is given.  (p.17)

Setting aside objections to patriarchal language and the Platonist “spirit/body dichotomy,”  I like the discipleship Thurman describes which yields consent to a risky cause.  Could that be the kind of mission UPA adopted in 1980?   A church with a spine?  A church with nerve?   Did they envision a church grounded in Biblical teachings and theological resources (Like Howard Thurman’s book Disciplines of the Spirit) which drove them to deeper commitment and wisdom, deeper suffering and prayer?   To reconciliation?   I am less interested in joining the church which acquires disciples than I am the church which helps this disciple lead a disciplined, principled life.

Maybe there is a typo in the “Call to Renewal” Document.  Perhaps where “Discplines of the Spirit” was intended, “Disciples of the Spirit” was printed.  Typos happen.  The first King James version of the Bible (1631) included an important word omission in Exodus 20:14, “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

This first mission commitment may not be instruction to knock on neighborhood doors in order to grow the church.  Rather, it may be an invitation to read inherited documents v-e-r-y  c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y  so that our response is well grounded and meaningfully applied.

One Response “A) Mission: A Disciplined, Principled Life” →

  1. Doris Ann Sweet

    March 6, 2013

    The typo explanation makes a lot of sense! Many of the folks active in the Centenary Church, especially, were colleagues of Howard Thurman and thought highly of him. The reference could easily have originated with one of them.


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