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Pastor Keith Anderson Zion Lutheran Church

 

“Letters and Papers From Prison” is a collection of letters to and from Dietrich Bonhoeffer while he was in Tegel prison in Berlin, Germany. He was arrested on April 5, 1943, because of his involvement in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was executed April 9, 1945, just three weeks before Hitler ended his own life.

On July 21, 1944, he wrote a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge. In that letter, he said, “In the last few years I have come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity.”

This statement came from someone who carefully observed the world in which he lived. He saw a “Christianity” that was too cautious to speak the truth in the midst of a crumbling and dangerous society.

He ponders the silence of the disciples on the night in which Christ was betrayed. How could no one stand up against the hatred of the world? How could no one have courage in the face of death? I believe self-preservation is part of the “this-worldliness” of our lives. We want this life, even if it is sometimes angry and out of control.

Bonhoeffer then says that when we can let go of our own suffering and “stay awake with Christ in Gethsemane,” then, we know more of the other-worldliness (my phrase) of heaven and eternal life with Christ. He said, “And I think this is faith; this is metanoia (repentance.)” That is the turn around when we know that it might be possible that protecting the powers of this world is a point where we let go of the power of Christ. That should pain us all who claim the name of Christ in this world.

A statement he made near the end of this letter really becomes a prayer. “May God lead us kindly through these times, but above all, may God lead us to himself.”

By Marv Repinski

By Marvin Repinski
United Methodist Pastor (retired)

In the past week, people who were part of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump were asked to give oaths of impartiality and honesty.

The presiding official of the Supreme Court of the United States was requested to: “Place your right hand on the Bible.” Chief Justice John Roberts did so, and repeated a solemn pledge. I assume that he will give legal oversight that the deliberations and process be just, fair, and balanced. More than a symbolic ritual, I believe, is a long held tradition that affirms our nation has Jewish-Christian commitments that are enhanced by the teachings of the Bible; that values attributed to the Bible be one of the basics of the impeachment participation.

The Jan. 24 issue of the Austin Daily Herald placed a historical note. In this column “Today in History,” we read: “In 1848, James W. Marshall discovered a gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill in northern California; a discovery that led to the Gold Rush of ‘49.” Are there “golden nuggets” in the Bible?

There are millions of seekers worldwide in search of a religious life, and they often find strength and at least a partial philosophy to maintain their loyalties. There too are those persons — you’ve met them — who say, “I don’t want to disappoint my mother,” in church on Christmas Eve. You have heard: “I do go to weddings in the Synagogue.”

We face the fact that times change, needs change, other commitments are forged. Our relationships shift one’s outlook, but the Bible remains as a guide to inspiration, values, and a reminder of historic loyalties.

Ask me: “Marvin, as a believer in the Messiah, the salvation through Jesus Christ, are you welcomed in any church to participate in Holy Communion?” Now we have an array of gender questions. Some are told, “You have a different gene, a basic human function or manner of sexual orientation, so membership in my church is not for you.”

A member of the Supreme Court is asked to place his hand on a Bible, which means to me its writings, both Old and New Testaments as the division is made, are offered to a nation. They are out of a foundation to have open covers to divergent applications.

Peter Gomes, in his book, “Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living,” writes: “The only thing that stands between rank and utter chaos, insanity, and an attempt to stand whole and full and complete in the middle of ambiguity and beyond tragedy — God’s love is the only thing.”

Central to the Bible’s message is, for many of us, the love of God. Why keep people away from that love? The Bible first and foremost is a message of GRACE. Can we believe that?

In the devotional booklet “The Upper Room,” writing for the January page, a believer, James Townsend, is listed from Mississippi. (Hello Mississippi!) I find agreement with the following and pass it on to you, the reader. “On my first trip to New York City, I was greatly impressed by the tall skyscrapers that form the Manhattan skyline. However, the exteriors of these structures conceal much more than they reveal. The buildings can reach so high only because of what is inside them. They are fortified inside with steel, concrete, and wire mesh. This reinforcement allows the building to rise upward and remain stable and strong, even when storms come and winds blow. Each structure is a marvel of engineering and construction — on both the outside and the inside.”

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” What is it that motivates a person to write such sentences? That person is Dietrich Bonhoeffer (born Feb. 4, 1906 — died April 9, 1945). To get the larger essence of the manner that this man lived, read from one of several books and commentaries of this pastor. My present writing is to relate his passion, his risks, to the deepest messages of the Bible. Among my resources are “Letters from Prison” and a biography: “Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet.” A background of Bonhoeffer’s situation may be necessary to grasp the importance of his life and how the Bible resonated with his work. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and name-called and slandered all who opposed them. There was a fierce kind of self-interest in policies, politics and lies.

The realities that came forth may be captured in three words: Auschwitz, Holocaust, and death camps. Bonhoeffer, as a Lutheran scholar and pastor in Germany for some years, used his teaching, his associations, and his public protests to defeat, if possible, a virus of Jewish hatred. He spent some time in the United States relating to the Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He then returned to Europe.

During the final months of his life, Bonhoeffer was arrested on account of his opposition to the Nazi menace and spent time in several prisons. He was taken to Flossenberg as a prisoner. While there, a record of one of his writings pleading for humane politics is preserved: “Death is hell and night is cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous — that we can transform death.”

Bonhoeffer joined the millions (note the number!) of other victims of the vicious Third Reich. Many of us regard him with a sacred term: martyr. The Gestapo called him out of his prison confinement on April 9, 1945 ,and he was executed. He, with many others that day, climbed the steps to the gallows. It is stated that the crematorium was not working, so the bodies of the men hanged that morning were burned in piles. Some of his writings and materials were also burned.

Bonhoeffer’s journey was marked by and with a Bible as a primary focus of learning. In a class in his early years, while teaching young men, he kept a record of this time, and it says, “No one can ever obstruct the way to God. The church still has the Bible, and as long as she has it, we can still believe in the holy Christian Church.” This, a conviction, though he being Lutheran, was that the Roman Catholic Church must also be regarded as an authentic voice of faith. It’s a look into the ecumenical (no labels) view of Christianity.

In a study of Bonhoeffer’s preserved writings, and of those who knew him, the Bible was foundational and all important to his life. The scriptures were the van-guard to his passionate commitments.

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by Elizabeth Davey

church
(Photo: Unsplash/MattBotsford)

We are all aware of the rising consumer approach to church. We have even begun to use the phrase ‘church shopping’ when talking about finding a new church, and often make our decision based on whether the worship was good, if we liked the preacher, or even who has the best coffee!

As consumerism increased with the rise of disposable income after the Second World War, and church attendance fell as a result of the increasingly secularist influence in society, many churches felt they had to adapt or else be left behind. Unfortunately, this adaptation has not been exclusively left to the different tastes in coffee or music. In an age where we are offended easily, the gospel message has been tailored to the particular demands of the acceptance-based, tolerance-promoting culture. Grace included.

First up, we have Paul’s free grace – ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ We like a good bargain and the idea of God’s grace at no price is a pretty good deal.

But we like to have our options, don’t we? Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship is a Christian classic, with his phrase ‘costly grace’ being well known, perhaps primarily due to Bonhoeffer’s own costly witness. With this offer, however, grace is not the free gift we see advertised by Paul, but a more costly endeavor.

For the consumer church, Bonhoeffer’s writing on the cost of grace is unappetizing when the free grace of Romans 3 is on offer. Indeed, because of this many churches feed into the consumer mentality by promoting the free gift that all can receive, almost like when you sign up for a new gym membership and get a free water bottle in return.

The trouble with this is that the gift of grace has been read with the modern context in mind. Any good interpreter of Scripture knows that in order to understand what implications the Bible has today, the original context must first be considered. Whilst today we understand a gift as being free in the sense of pure altruism, that is, without the expectation or demand of a response, this is not what was understood in the first century.

John Barclay in his incredible work Paul and the Gift, shows how the first century Greek society practised gift giving. Whilst a gift could be a result of profound generosity by the giver, the recipient was aware that if they accepted the gift, it was ‘crucial to give a well-measure return.’ Paul would have been well aware of the implication of gift giving in his society.

Nevertheless, the shock factor of God’s gift of grace is that, unlike Greek society where gifts would have been given only if the giver was sure their gift would be equally reciprocated, God gives without regard as to whether or not we will reciprocate, fully aware that we cannot give an equal return. The gift of grace comes through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. What do we have that would even come close to an equal return for this? Paul talks of free gift when he considers the giver, who gives with no prior regard for our ability to respond.

This does not mean that we are exempt from reciprocation, however. Though God gives without calculating whether or not we can respond equally, if we accept the gift we are entering into a relationship with God where we must respond in return. This is where Bonhoeffer’s ‘costly grace’ is put into practice. Jesus talks of the cost of discipleship in Luke 14, instructing his disciples to bear their own crosses (v.27) and to count the cost (v.28). The only response close to what God has given us through His Son, is to give our own lives in return. That’s the cost of the gift of grace.

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The Calling of Saint James and Saint John, James Tissot {{PD-US-expired-abroad}}

Ordinary Time in the Christian calendar is not about ordinary and ho-hum events, but about the ordering of Christian existence according to Jesus’ life and teaching above and beyond the Advent and Christmas, Lenten and Easter seasons. This blog post will reflect on what such ordering involves and how important it is for Jesus to order our lives throughout the year, including Ordinary Time.

Before we go further, let’s consider more carefully the meaning of Ordinary Time. Here is what one helpful article explains about Ordinary Time:

Because the term ordinary in English most often means something that’s not special or distinctive, many people think that Ordinary Time refers to parts of the calendar of the Catholic Church that are unimportant. Even though the season of Ordinary Time makes up most of the liturgical year in the Catholic Church, the fact that Ordinary Time refers to those periods that fall outside of the major liturgical seasons reinforces this impression. Yet Ordinary Time is far from unimportant or uninteresting.

Ordinary Time is called “ordinary” not because it is common but simply because the weeks of Ordinary Time are numbered. The Latin word ordinalis, which refers to numbers in a series, stems from the Latin word ordo, from which we get the English word order. Thus, the numbered weeks of Ordinary Time, in fact, represent the ordered life of the Church—the period in which we live our lives neither in feasting (as in the Christmas and Easter seasons) or in more severe penance (as in Advent and Lent), but in watchfulness and expectation of the Second Coming of Christ.

There is no better way to live in watchfulness and expectation for Jesus’ second coming than to submit to Jesus in ordering our steps according to his life and teaching presented during his first coming. So, as we proceed, let’s ask: what’s involved in Jesus ordering our steps during Ordinary Time? The answer: total trust and obedience.

Jesus calls us. The question we must ask ourselves during any season of the year, including Ordinary Time is: will we follow? Are there strings attached—like fishing nets—to our decision as to whether and how far and in what manner we will follow?

Consider Jesus’ first recorded encounter with his first disciples in Matthew chapter 4. Notice that for Peter and Andrew, James and John, there were no strings attached to their determination when Jesus beckoned. They left everything to follow him, illustrated by leaving their nets, their boat(s), and father(s) (Matthew 4:18-22). At the outset of Jesus’ ministry in which he calls people to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17), we find him calling his first disciples. Notice their response:

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22; ESV)

The disciples leave behind their allegiances to their families and their fishing businesses, the only way of life they had likely ever known, to become Jesus’ apprentices in his work of fishing for people. These four knew nothing of the path laid out before them, only Jesus’ call to follow. They followed unreservedly, no strings or nets attached. The only thing that they were attached to was Jesus’ word in a spirit of total trust and obedience. I find such a response refreshing, though shocking and staggering given the all-too-human impulse in our day to hedge our bets, keep our relational options open, and play the perpetual cynic.

From the get go, Jesus’ call is a call to die—to die to the old order of life, all they had ever known, to live anew according to his way of being. Thus, we find resonance with what Dietrich Bonhoeffer asserts in his volume on discipleship: “The cross is not the end of a pious, happy life. Instead, it stands at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ. Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death” (Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, Bonhoeffer Works, page 87). While Jesus’ disciples certainly did not understand all that stood before them on the path ahead, they certainly understood that their past was dead to them in living in accordance with Jesus’ future for them. Thus, there should have been no real surprise when Jesus exclaims later in the same gospel: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; ESV).

A few pages later in Discipleship, we find Bonhoeffer quoting Martin Luther who urges us to “submerge” ourselves in a “lack of understanding” to gain Jesus’ understanding (page 91). Again, total trust and obedience in the face of death to new life is required. This requires unlearning to learn anew from Jesus.

by Richard Penaskovic

In a letter on July 21, 1944, to his longtime friend, Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while in prison, recalled a conversation he had some years ago with a young French pastor. They discussed what they both wanted out of life.

The pastor opined that he aspired to eventually become a saint. Bonhoeffer disagreed, stating that he would like to have faith by attempting to live a holy life. It’s possible that both men were on target with their desires, though we’ll never know that will be the case. (See “Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” edited by Robert Cole, Maryknoll, New York Orbis Books, 1998).

Who exactly was Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Dietrich, born in 1906, one of seven siblings, came from a prominent aristocratic family in Breslau, Germany, that moved to Berlin. Dietrich studied theology at Tübingen University and then at Berlin University where he received the doctoral degree in theology with a dissertation on “The Communion of Saints.” He was an outstanding student who played the piano brilliantly and was an excellent tennis player, to boot.

In 1928, Bonhoeffer took a position as a curate in a Lutheran church in Barcelona where he enjoyed taking care of the spiritual needs of blue-collar workers. They loved the talks he gave because they were thoughtful and punctured with biblical verses. For example, he once stated that Christ had been left out of a person’s life, if that person only gave to Christ a tiny part of his/her spiritual life. Bonhoeffer told his audience that one needs to give one’s life entirely to Christ, if they wanted to really understand their spiritual life.

In 1930, Bonhoeffer decided to go to Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan as a Sloan Fellow where he gained the respect of outstanding theological faculty like Paul Lehmann, with whom he developed a close friendship. After the year was up, Bonhoeffer returned to Berlin University as a lecturer in theology, while working on his second doctorate. 

Two days after Hitler rose to power as German Chancellor in 1933, Bonhoeffer railed against Hitler and the Nazi party on the radio, when suddenly he was cut off in the middle of his remarks. That same year, inspired by Pastor Martin Niemoeller, Bonhoeffer again spoke out against Nazi rule. Many members of the Lutheran Church, including bishops and pastors supported Hitler and some even wore brown Nazi shirts, to the dismay of Bonhoeffer and Pastor Niemoeller who helped organize the “Confessing Church” that opposed the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer had to leave Berlin in 1938, and in 1941, the Nazi government forbade him to write. He then became part of an anti-resistance movement, along with six military officers who tried to overthrow the Nazi government by force. In April 1943, Bonhoeffer became a prisoner at the Tegel Prison and then at Flossenbürg, a small village in the Oberpfalz region of Bavaria.

Flossenbürg had a barracks that held 1,000 prisoners, but was built to hold 250 prisoners. Both Jews and special enemies of the state were housed in Flossenbürg. Special enemies like Bonhoeffer received “special treatment’ such as interrogation, torture and execution. Bonhoeffer was hanged in this prison — witnessed by Dr. H. Fischer who said that Bonhoeffer knelt on the floor and prayed before he was hanged.

What made Bonhoeffer a special person?

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Eighty years ago, a 33-year-old Christian theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to his native Germany after a short stay in the United States. He would not live to see his 40th birthday.

The Lutheran and Episcopal Churches, as well as other religious bodies worldwide, recently commemorated the annual remembrance of German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and resister of Nazi totalitarianism and terrorism. On April 9, 1945, after being in held prisoner for two years, Bonhoeffer was hanged for his association with others who resisted Hitler and the atrocities his party committed against Jews, Germans, among others.

Evidence showed the group he worked with also plotted to assassinate Hitler. A week later the Allies liberated that very POW Camp. As he was being led away to what all knew would be his death, Bonhoeffer said, “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer wrote a book “The Cost of Discipleship,” that is now a classic. He compares “cheap grace,” which is like a head nod or an “atta boy” to the ethics of following Jesus, without actually getting in the water and risking a swim – with “costly grace,” that throws people into the deep end because they are formed by and live out the ethics of Jesus.

This is not a church and state issue. It is the involvement of a person of faith, regardless of religion, using politics, political action, and involvement to change the world for the poor, needy, oppressed, voiceless and powerless. Such costly grace brought Bonhoeffer into the resistance movement against the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer was also a founder and leader in a church-based resistance movement, the Confessing Church. When he was imprisoned, he refused the prayers of that Church. At a 50th Anniversary commemoration of his death, Klaus Engelhardt, then Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Church of Germany, lifted up Bonhoeffer’s reasoning, and challenged the church on it.

Bonhoeffer felt that exercising political means to resist evil and injustice set him outside the circle of prayer.

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Cheap grace, shattered witness: clergy sexual abuse among Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches sounds another alarm for us all

In our better moments of spiritual self-awareness, we Christians are forced to acknowledge our capacity for actions and ideas that shatter an individual and collective “witness” as followers of Jesus. It’s been like that from the start. Judas Iscariot betrayed him with a kiss. After declaring absolute loyalty, Simon Peter denied Jesus three times: “I never knew the man.” The brothers James and John, perhaps anticipating the Prosperity Gospel, demanded “the best seats” in the coming kingdom. In every era of its history, certain Christian individuals and institutions have compelled an “orthodoxy” from others they refused to require of themselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called that kind of gospel cheap grace.

In The Cost of Discipleship (1937), Bonhoeffer called us all to account, warning:

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace. . . . Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, ipso facto, a part in that grace. 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. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God (emphasis mine).

I returned to Bonhoeffer’s admonition after reading a heartrending series of articles recently published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram regarding years of sexual abuse perpetrated by various “Independent Fundamentalist Baptist” ministers, individuals often protected and “moved on” by their pastoral supervisors or church constituencies.

“Underneath it all is a powerful emphasis on ministerial authority, with pastor-figures as ‘God’s anointed’ whose leadership is not to be questioned.”

After months of research, a group of Star-Telegram investigative reporters documented “at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches and their affiliated institutions” based in 40 states and Canada. Their study suggests that some 168 “church leaders” were accused or convicted of sex crimes against children, with as many as 45 of them continuing in ministry after being identified. The articles detail occasions when women and children were sexually molested by pastoral figures who were then moved on to other churches or church-related ministries. The accusers, almost all females, were often ignored, doubted or blamed for enticing the men.

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) movement has its origins in the 1920s and the infamous “Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy” that divided American Protestants around issues of biblical authority, creationism, “new science” and the nature of Christian orthodoxy. By the 1950s, the movement claimed some of the country’s largest congregations, many begun as “church start-ups,” others through schism with older Baptist denominations. Although asserting their autonomy as free-standing congregations, most IFB churches participate in certain loose “fellowships,” Bible colleges and evangelism programs.

“Not only did the abusing ministers betray their calling, they did so at the expense of some of their church’s most vulnerable constituency.”

IFB churches stress congregational independence, the classic “Five Points” of fundamentalism (Biblical inerrancy, Christ’s virgin birth, his sacrificial atonement, bodily resurrection and premillennial second coming), the necessity of personal conversion and strict adherence to fundamentalist doctrine and personal moral codes. Underneath it all is a powerful emphasis on ministerial authority, with pastor-figures as “God’s anointed” whose leadership is not to be questioned. As one abused female commented:

You have a system of belief where what the pastor says is true, and you cannot disagree, the deacon boards don’t disagree, you don’t go against what the pastor says because the ingrained thinking is he’s God’s man, and you don’t lift a hand against God’s anointed.

The Star-Telegram reporters conclude that many sex abuse cases were covered up because:

  • Supervising pastors enabled abusers to find other churches or church-related schools in which to work, even when they knew of accusations of abuse.
  • The accused ministers were recommended to other ministries without informing those ministries about allegations of sexual abuse. Thus, “in a culture where well-known pastors are elevated to near-godlike status, their recommendations are weighty.”
  • In certain situations, victims were pressured to remain silent since accusations could “ruin the alleged abuser’s ministry.” Or, the women were to blame. One female accuser commented to reporters: “There was a prevailing belief that it was always the girl’s fault, even a child. Because if a girl was being modest and obeying God nothing bad would happen. And boys and men were simply unable to control themselves, so it was up to the girls and women.”

The cases documented by the Star-Telegram staff sound strikingly like predatory acts committed against children by Catholic priests, many protected by church hierarchy. The crimes are heinous, made more so because the perpetrators were ministers to be trusted as caring representatives of Christ’s gospel, and because Independent Fundamentalist Baptists portrayed their churches and pastors as occupying the moral high ground, beyond the sexual immorality perpetuated by secular culture and permitted by “liberal” churches that “compromise with the world.” Many of the sexually abused Baptists testified to the rigorous moral code their churches instilled into them, an ethic preached but personally ignored by the ministers identified in the newspaper’s series.

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Germany’s Nuncio Reminds Bishops of Pope Francis’s Warning

Archbishop Nikola Eterović intervened on controversial plans for a ‘synodal path’

Interesting times just got more interesting, as the Fall plenary of the German bishops’ conference opened in Fulda, Germany, with a message from the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterović, which did not mince words when it came to the German bishops’ controversial plans for a “binding synodal path”, on which they are scheduled to vote this week.

The plans are controversial because they deliberately seek to put settled matters of doctrine on the table for discussion and a “binding” vote, and to address disciplinary issues directly involving the good of the whole Church in a way Vatican officials fear would sidestep the Roman oversight necessary to preserve order in the Church throughout the world.

Vatican officials have expressed the opinion that the mechanics of the German operation as currently planned are basically unsound from an ecclesiological point-of-view and afoul of Church law. They have urged the German bishops to review both the scope and the methods of their designs for a binding synodal path.

Recalling Pope Francis’s letter of June 29th to the people of God in Germany, Archbishop Eterović reminded the German bishops that the last time a reigning pontiff took it upon himself to write to the German people, it was Pius XI with his 1937 encyclical letter, Mit brennender sorge, on the Church and the German Reich, in which the pope decried the encroachments of National Socialism on the rights of the Church and the disorder the Nazi regime introduced to national affairs more generally.

“The letter of the Holy Father deserves special attention,” said Archbishop Eterovic. “It is indeed the first time since the encyclical of Pius XI, Mit brennender sorge, that the Pope dedicates a separate letter to the members of the Catholic Church in Germany,” he went on to say. “The difference between the two documents is great,” the nuncio explained, “because the encyclical of 14 March 1937 denounces the inadmissible interventions by the National Socialist regime in the affairs of the Catholic Church, while the current letter takes up issues proper to the Church.”

“We thank God that the relations between the Church and the Federal Republic of Germany are very good,” Archbishop Eterović said, “and therefore no intervention by the Holy See is necessary.” That is about as stark an admission of serious dysfunction and as blunt a warning as one will find in any dialect of curialese. That Francis felt the need to write and send the letter in the first place establishes the gravity of the situation. That the nuncio had to remind the bishops of the historical precedent for such an intervention at three months’ remove establishes the persistence of the crisis.

Archbishop Eterović repeated Pope Francis’s line to the effect that a synod — whatever it is — “is not a parliament,” and matters belonging to the common patrimony of the faith are not ever up for grabs, nor are matters touching the common weal of the Christian faithful subject to particular discussions apt to produce any sort of separate peace.

The apostolic nuncio invoked the memory of the Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom the Nazis executed for his participation in the resistance against their evil regime. Bonhoeffer described attempts to negotiate solutions to the problems that inevitably arise from time to time when Christians live in the world without becoming conformed to it as “cheap grace”. Noting that Francis sees the current crisis in society as a call and opportunity for evangelisation, Eterović said, “[T]he evangelization demanded at this time cannot be reduced to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls ‘cheap grace’, but, in order to remain in [Christ’s] words, to which [Bonhoeffer] has attested by his heroic testimony, we must search for the ‘costly grace’.”

Eterović recalled one of Bonhoeffer’s enlargements upon the notion. “For example,” Eterović offered, “in 1937 Bonhoeffer wrote: ‘Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our Church. Our struggle today is over expensive grace’.”

In short: the threat to the Church in Germany in 2019 comes from within.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who was executed in 1945 for his involvement in a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler. His (book, The Cost of Discipleship) was published after his death, and includes a section on what he calls “cheap grace”.

Cheap grace is the idea that we can obtain salvation and forgiveness of sins without any personal cost to ourselves. Faith in God becomes merely “fire insurance”, and there is no compelling reason to change the way we live. We’re saved and forgiven, therefore we can do as we please without another thought.

Here in Canada, we have relative freedom to practice our faith. We don’t face imprisonment or death, and there are laws to protect us from being fired from our jobs because of our beliefs. Have we forgotten that our salvation cost God everything? We so often live as though His sacrifice is nothing more than a Get Out of Jail Free card that requires nothing more from us.

I read an account of a man who visited a country where it is illegal to practice Christianity. Early one morning, his Christian hosts took him on a boat ride down a river. The boat was loaded with fishing equipment, but no one was fishing. About an hour into the trip, in the middle of the enormous river, they met up with another boat filled with what looked like fishermen. After a while, another boat joined them. A lookout was appointed to watch for other boats that might carry government authorities or law enforcement, because to be caught could mean their arrest or immediate execution. This group of forbidden Christians spent hours reciting passages of Scripture they had memorized, since no one owned a Bible. They prayed, sang hymns quietly, and encouraged one another. At dusk, with many tears and deep emotion, they parted and went their separate ways. 

July 2020
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