Evangelism, the Apostolic Band, and the moral dynamic of Doctor Who

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

–John 1:43-46

So the classic Dr. Who moment seems to be the moment when, having had a proto-adventure with someone– usually, let’s be frank, some chick– he invites her along to Share the Journey as his new companion.

This is powerful stuff, on an emotional level.  The bit of the gospel that it echoes is Christ calling his disciples.  Picture Matthew in that moment of decision considering his ordinary, dull, and actually very skeevy desk job of being a tax farmer for the Romans and spending his days dunning his own people for money– ledgers and people hating him and the Roman overlords having contempt for him and boring, boring, boring– and looking at Christ reaching out his hand in the classic Dr. Who gesture of “Let’s go!”

The trouble with the Dr. Who version is that it is necessarily exclusive for the moment, but not forever, and so can tend to draw a lot of it’s emotional charge from jealousy.  It operates both in that calling-of-disciples arena and in the marriage-proposal arena, but because it is not a permanent arrangement, it creates a constant us-vs.-them inner-ring dynamic where the companions are always on some level going to feel threatened by both former and possible future other companions.

This exclusivism doesn’t sit well with the emotional tenor of evangelism, which is always open-hearted and excited for others to share in the good. Even the fact that the band of Apostles is limited in number– the crew is just the twelve men– doesn’t really change this.  In fact, the Apostles, when they’ve got it together and have a really good bead on their Captain’s heart, are the perfect example of the good that all exclusive clubs and ingroups are imitating or feeding off of, though they are all corrupted by pride.

The Apostles have a very strong sense of themselves as a crew, as a band, but they want also nothing more than to share what they have.  Because Jesus Himself chose and appointed them, they’re not all wigged out that they have to keep proving that they’re on the inside.  They KNOW they’re his band of brothers.  But they also know that  millions and millions of Christians will come after them, will form their own bands and parachurch organizations and congregations and nonprofits and artistic movements and groups of friends in imitation, and that all these groups will be a part of the one big crew– the Church– that their band stands at the head of.  And, above all, that it is in Christ that all of these groups have their individual identities and are knit together in a group with a single identity, which is the body of Christ.

And, knowing this, they don’t feel like they have to keep Christ to themselves to maintain their own group integrity by exclusion.  Indeed, they would be missing the point if they did.

They don’t always get it right.  Even after Christ is resurrected, they screw up and miss the point, sometimes.  The Book of Acts and some of the Epistles paint their screw-ups pretty clearly.  But the vision is there, and they get better at living it out as they all head toward the end of their earthly lives in martyrdom.

In this context there is a special poignancy to the book of Revelation.  John, who was the youngest, is the only one left.  Now an old man, he is on Patmos in exile.  And his vision of the new City that his King will found includes this detail:

It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates… The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.(Rev. 21:12, 14)

This is the City in which the old crew will be brought together again, under the leadership of their Captain who they’d thought in those horrible three days was lost to them forever, in which the love and companionship that they had for each other will be fully realized– it’s the triumphant, ultimate “getting the old gang back together for one last caper” moment, but this is a caper that will go on forever, in which each escapade is better than the one before.

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