Pastor’s Perspective – September 2023
While witnessing the spiritual death of his nation, German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book on discipleship. The year was 1937. The nation was Germany. The cause of death was widely considered to be Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist party known by the world as the NAZI party. Bonhoeffer saw the Nazis as evil, but he was most concerned about the spiritual root causes that were destroying his homeland and had allowed evil to walk unfettered through Europe.
In America, it was published under the name “The Cost of Discipleship” and in that famous book Bonhoeffer spoke of the “cheap grace” that the Church had sold to the world. As Bonhoeffer wrote over 85 years ago,
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Cheap grace continues to rear its ugly head in the 21st Century. Cheap grace is a grace that ignores the tyrants who use and destroy our brothers and sisters in Christ in human trafficking and slave labor for the ability to have cheap electronics and sexual freedom. Cheap grace today is self-identifying what separates us while never declaring the Lord and King who makes us One in Him. Cheap grace today is taking the salvation that Jesus provided through his blood and celebrating it with licentiousness and greed that would have made Nero’s head spin. Cheap grace means we forgive sinners without ever calling them to the transformational power of Jesus Christ. Cheap grace means that we exempt ourselves from the work of discipleship and Holy Spirit change.
Like in Germany a century ago, the American Church became co-dependent with our nation. We began to believe that we were Christians because we were Americans, and when the tides shifted, we were shocked by the undertow. For years we have tried to continue unchanged, counting heads and hands as people said yes to Jesus in our sanctuaries but lived lives of violence and sin in the world. We feared that correcting them would mean they would leave the Church and find another place to worship, so we kept our mouths shut and provided them with the promise of freedom from consequence, not the gospel message of freedom from sin.
In the late 1930s Dietrich Bonhoeffer was writing to a Church that faced the culmination of their spiritual fecklessness. Would they be good Germans or good Christians? Few had ever contemplated that the cost of discipleship might mean to exchange citizenship and identity. Nazi Germany forced their hand by outlawing the celebration of Christmas, exchanging the cross for the swastika, and baptizing the young in the name of the Fuhrer. Suddenly preaching the gospel of Jesus meant preaching against the momentum and assertions of the nation.
In America today the Church faces a similar crossroads. Our partisan system has devolved into a choice between tyrannies. The ancient Christian traditions of our system have been rejected. The distinctions between the state and the faith have never been deeper. And the church on the left and on the right faces the difficult choice to follow the nation that we call home or the King that has prepared a place for us in His Father’s house.
The 21st Century in America is being called to embrace a costly grace. As Bonhoeffer wrote,
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
Will we seek the congratulations of human beings and continue to offer cheap grace or will we be yoked with Jesus Christ our Lord and carry the cross into the 21st century.
Let’s stand with Jesus!