A handful of folks gather periodically at Doug and Kathie Jackson’s to discuss a book relating to the Christian life.
Some have inspired, some disturbed, either because we’ve had to face the failures within ourselves or have been left wondering where one would find a church that would foster such “a serious call to the devout and holy life,” to quote the title of a classic from an earlier time.
No book, however, has so challenged us as has Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. And no chapter has challenged or disturbed me as has the first: “Costly Grace.”
From the opening line—“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church” to the closing paragraph in which Bonhoeffer writes that “Happy are they who, knowing that [costly] grace, can live in the world without being of it…,” the chapter tears the covers off some painful truths, the most damning being that because the Church has so watered down the meaning of grace, there is little difference between the lives of those saved by it those who ridicule both grace and the God whose gift of it cost His Son’s life on the Cross.
Few seem to know anymore either the true meaning of grace or “the cost of discipleship;” thus, few churches are filled with people who, knowing they were “bought with a price,” live ‘costly’ lives (except in the sense of paying a lot for the latest gadgets and name-brand clothes).
Who do you know who actually stands ‘against the tide’ (the title of a biography of Chinese martyr Watchman Nee)? Who is willing to say with Luther “Here I stand,” and then stand alone, if need be, for Truth or right-ness… whether it be in personal, family, church, social, business, or professional life?
“Against the tide” has been replaced with “Go with the flow” because that’s so much easier, such a stress-reliever. Many who do take stands do so with self-serving, not self-costing motives, if one peeks beneath the surface of their actions.
How does Bonhoeffer describe this cheap-grace situation?
“Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions, or fixing limits.”
How unlike the ancient Church, which, realizing that “words are cheap,” developed standards for membership (not, of course, for salvation, a transaction between Jesus and the believer).
Prospective members often underwent rigorous examination of their lives and knowledge of Scripture; since most came from pagan backgrounds, reaching this level of knowledge required a period of intensive study.
Today, many members come out of equally pagan backgrounds, or only Sunday School attendance in long-ago childhoods, yet immediately get placed into leadership, knowing little of the Bible, the very “charter of the Church.”
Once, prospective church members often served a year-long catechumenate, evidencing that their living matched their spoken profession of Christian obedience.
Now it’s “Come on in, you’re just fine and all are welcome”…with an unspoken, perhaps, but clear “regardless of how you’re living.” Nor is there investigation of previous membership history, so those who’ve caused offense and discord in church after church previously (of which they’ve never repented) are welcomed into another church, where, in time, they’ll behave the same.
Holy living is no longer a requirement for being ‘Christian,’ and that is precisely why the public increasingly distrusts, disrespects, and ridicules the Church when it does speak: It has so accommodated itself to the world that it has lost its relevance and its right to speak out against the ‘un-holy.’
Thus, Bonhoeffer concludes, “In such a church, the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.”
What a shameful betrayal of both God’s grace and His power to liberate from sin’s shackles….
Have a good week!