Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A word from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This is the introduction from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany in the 1930's who recognized early on that the state church of Germany was selling its soul by recognizing Hitler as its formal leader. He saw that the church as a whole was losing its very core -- the gospel of Jesus Christ -- by going along with the culture. Here is a lengthy quote from the start of his book:

"Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace as bargain-basement goods, cut-rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacrament; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit. It is grace without a price, without costs. It is said that the essence of grace is that the bill for it is paid in advance for all time. Everything can be had for free, courtesy of that paid bill. The price paid is infinitely great and, therefore, the possibilities of taking advantage of and wasting grace are also infinitely great. What would grace be, if it were not cheap grace?

Cheap grace means grace as doctrine, as principle, as system. It means forgiveness of sins as a general truth; it means God’s love as merely a Christian idea of God. Those who affirm it have already had their sins forgiven. The church that teaches this doctrine of grace thereby confers such grace upon itself. The world finds in this church a cheap cover-up for its sins, for which it shows no remorse and from which it has even less desire to be set free. Cheap grace is, thus, denial of God’s living word, denial of the incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means justification of sin but not of the sinner. Because grace alone does everything, everything can stay in its old ways. "Our action is in vain." The world remains world and we remain sinners "even in the best of lives." Thus, the Christian should live the same way the world does. ... cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord's Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock.

It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it thereby makes them live. It is costly, because it condemns sin; it is grace, because it justifies the sinner. Above all, grace is costly, because it was costly to God, because it costs God the life of God’s Son —“you were bought with a price” (1 Cor 6.20)—and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God. Above all, it is grace because the life of God’s Son was not too costly for God to give in order to make us live. God did, indeed, give him up for us. Costly grace is the incarnation of God."

Bonhoeffer knew that it is spiritual death to follow the world and lose sight of Jesus and his sacrifice for us. It is spiritual death to say "yes" to that which the world affirms but God denies. We are caught in a culture that sweeps us along like a spring flood, sometimes gently bobbing on the waves and sometimes raging in torrents. We cannot step out of the flood and say "that doesn't matter" because we see our world -- and all too often, parts of our church -- being swept away. It is only in clinging to Christ that we can avoid drowning in the culture. It is only the cross that will not be swept away in the flood.

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