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“Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
“I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Jesus in Luke 19.40)
One mark of Christian authenticity is discontentment with anything less than “all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). Coasting is not discipleship. Drifting in self-contentment is not like basking in the pool of security, but like floating, fast asleep, toward the falls. “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).
There is a holy discontentment. It is not a nail-biting uncertainty about our standing with God. It is the increased appetite of those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:2–3). It is the pursuit of those who have been pursued and captured by the strong arms of love. “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12).
Therefore, the biblical passages that follow are a way of waking our drowsy souls to feel a pure and holy dissatisfaction and stirring us up to pursue “all the fullness of God.”
- “Grow in grace.” “But he gives more grace.” (2 Peter 3:18; James 4:6)
- “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 1:9–10; 2 Peter 3:18)
- “Increase our faith!” “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly.” (Luke 17:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 10:15)
- “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
- “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12; See also 1 Thessalonians 4:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Philippians 1:9)
- “We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1)
- “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
- “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)
- “[God will] increase the harvest of your righteousness.” “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (2 Corinthians 9:10; Matthew 5:20)
- “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 9:8)
- “Be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)
- “The word of God increased and multiplied.” (Acts 12:24; 6:7)
- “The number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (Acts 6:7; 1 Corinthians 9:19; Acts 16:5)
- “Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12)
- “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him . . . abounding in thanksgiving.” “Give thanks always and for everything.” (Colossians 2:6–7; Ephesians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 4:15)
- “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
- “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48; Philippians 3:12)
Father, we fear our deadly fondness for floating toward the falls when we ought to be swimming against the current.
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
“No man can look with undivided vision at God and at the world of reality so long as God and the world are torn asunder. Try as he may, he can only let his eyes wander distractedly from one to the other. But there is a place at which God and the cosmic reality are reconciled, a place at which God and man have become one. That and that alone is what enables man to set his eyes upon God and the world at the same time. This place does not lie somewhere out beyond reality in the realm of ideas. It lies in the midst of history as a divine miracle. It lies in Jesus Christ, the reconciler of the world.”
Posted January 29, 2016
Islam has an ally in the Roman Catholic Church. Allah, the god of Islam, is the same as Jehovah, the God of the Bible, according to Pope Francis. Wheaton College Professor Larycia Hawkins appealed to Pope Francis when she donned a Hijab to show “support” for Muslims and asserted that the god of Islam and the God of Christianity are one and the same (my response). Now Craig Considine, a Roman Catholic Sociologist, argues that Christians can recognize Muhammad as a legitimate prophet of God—similar in status if not quite equal in status with Jesus in this article.
Considine attempts to justify his recognition of Muhammad as a true prophet by defining a prophet as “a messenger of a Higher Power who works on earth to bring justice and peace to humanity.” As a Roman Catholic Considine it is not surprising that he does not appeal to scripture to support this definition of a prophet, but it would have been helpful if he would have provided at least some explanation of how he arrived at this definition. Even if we do not appeal to scripture, Considine’s definition of a prophet proves to be untenable. The assumption seems to be that anyone who seeks “to bring justice and peace to humanity” is a messenger from a “Higher Power,” that is, a prophet. What if a member of the occult becomes a humanitarian leader? Would Considine be willing to recognize a devil worshipper as a prophet? Probably not. Clearly Considine’s definition of a prophet is too broad.
But the basic problem with Considine’s argument is not his definition of what a prophet is. His basic problem is that he is not a Christian. Considine anticipates that his recognition of Muhammad as a prophet might cause people “to question my credibility as a self-professed Christian.” He explains, “People might say, ‘Jesus is the only way. You’ve turned your back on God. You’re no longer Christian.’” It does seem that Considine is indeed contradicting John 14:6 by teaching that Muhammad offers a way to God in addition to Jesus. However, Considine more clearly demonstrates that his claim to be a Christian is false in statements that do not have to do with how he views Muhammad.
In our day, when divisiveness is coming to be considered a virtue, we face a difficult challenge. Some people relate to others by emphasizing the differences between them while other people relate by emphasizing the commonalities.
I suppose there is a time for each but of this I am sure: Those who live exclusively by the rule that our differences matter more than our commonalities will never receive the blessing Jesus pronounced on the peacemakers. He certainly had his times of clashing with the religious leaders who had so much to lose if they agreed with Jesus, but with the vast majority of people Jesus was amazingly inclusive.
I am convinced — from watching Jesus and history and current events — that our first instincts must always be toward inclusiveness, toward cherishing our commonalities. We must at times be exclusive, of course, but let’s let the other person decide to be our enemy before we consider him to be an enemy.
One of the current areas of great tension is the relation between Jews, Christians and Muslims. There are some very real differences between the three but we dare not neglect the deep commonalities. We who are Christian will never relinquish our center in Jesus Christ. Ours is a lifetime, unconditional commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior. But we must be very careful to avoid defending our borders, our edges as fervently as we do our center.
We have a history, especially in America, of breaking fellowship with anyone who doesn’t share in the whole of our thinking. Conservatives, for instance, often seem convinced that those nasty Liberals aren’t even Christian at all. And those who baptize only adults sometimes look with scorn on those who practice infant baptism. Those who baptize by dunking tend to have little respect for those who drip a bit of water on the head. On and on we go, criticizing and separating from one another to form countless denominations and independent congregations. We seem to think the form of baptism, which distinguishes one group from another, is more important than our common commitment to Christ, which unites us.
No wonder we have trouble getting along with Jews and especially Muslims! If we cannot value our common center with one another, how can we find any commonalities with Jews and Muslims? The fault is ours, not theirs (except for those who want to focus on the differences.)
A Christian who traveled often to Egypt was asked once, “Is Allah the same as God or is Allah a false god?” The answer was emphatic: “Allah is not God.” What a profound misunderstanding! In the first place, the word “Allah” is simply the normal Arabic word for God. And the word “God” is simply the Saxon word for supernatural beings. In the second place, by “Allah” Islam means the Creator and the Lord of Abraham as portrayed in Genesis. Whether we agree with the Islamic interpretation of the story of God and his people, we cannot honestly deny that Christian and Muslim each intend to worship and serve the one Creator.
To see a perfect example of what it looks like when we emphasize commonalities rather than differences, take the time to become acquainted with a group called the Abrahamic Alliance International. < abrahamicalliance.org >
Or, to think about the matter from a different perspective, read the story told about Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 7. Jesus has a fascinating exchange with an unclean, Gentile woman, someone about as low as one could get in the eyes of some people. They have a lively exchange in which she shows she is in perfect tune with Jesus. He grants her prayer and sends her on her way. He never once suggested that she should convert to become a Jew or even become his follower. He simply blesses and commends her. If Jesus did not insist that she become like him, who are we to insist that everyone else become like us???
It was very difficult for the Confessing Church in Germany to come to grips with the anti-Semitism fomented by the Nazis. The prejudice was so deeply rooted in the German mentality that even for the Confessing Church, opposed as it was to Hitler, to realize what a clear stand was needed against anti-Semitism. Bonhoeffer, who certainly was one of the first to grasp the full reality of the situation, spoke out but cautiously at first…
After I’d given a talk to mark the 70th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s execution, I got a letter complaining that Bonhoeffer had been drained dry of meaning and was of no more use to the church. Here’s what I replied.
Bonhoeffer was theological. We don’t all have to write two doctoral theses by the age of 24. But we do have to approach every challenge as fundamentally a question about God. The German Christians were seduced into treating the führer as God. Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church saw that the problem with the Nazis was first a theological problem.
Bonhoeffer was about Jesus. The Bonhoeffer of popular theology is the one who talks from prison about the “world come of age” and “religionless Christianity.” But what put him in prison was Jesus. The church fears that when it says the word Jesus it’s assuming an imperialistic oppressive voice that dominates, excludes, or devalues other voices. The church has too often assumed such a voice. But Jesus doesn’t assume such a voice. Bonhoeffer knew that when the church stops talking about Jesus, it has nothing to say. And when it assumes dominance, it’s not talking about Jesus.
Bonhoeffer was ecumenical. The vital conversation that convinced Bonhoeffer to return to Germany in 1939 was with George Bell, Anglican bishop of Chichester. They became friends in the 1920s ecumenical movement, when denominations really mattered. They matter less now. The days when we could forget about the world and concentrate on our arguments with other Christians are passing. Ecumenical discord is a luxury of the complacent church. We need each other. If we feel the church is weak, it’s because we’ve limited what we’re looking at when we use the word church.
Bonhoeffer was international. He understood that Germany and the church weren’t the same thing. Western Christians are slowly realizing that they aren’t the majority of the church or the part that matters most. Christianity doesn’t fundamentally belong to them. Bonhoeffer may be a dead white Western male, but his legacy points us in global directions. When people say Christianity is in decline, you have to ask which map they’re looking at.
Bonhoeffer was politically engaged. There were Christians in 1930s Germany who thought salvation was about saving souls and it wasn’t their business to get involved in politics. That reasoning left 6 million Jews dead and ten times that number dead globally. Politics is the name we give to resolving differences short of violence. If you don’t do politics, you end up doing violence.
Bonhoeffer was rooted in an accountable community. He saw that for his Confessing Church to have any backbone, it needed to be led by pastors who took for granted the simple, straightforward practices of daily prayer, the confession of sin, the studying of scripture, and the sharing of communion. His book Life Together describes that uncompromising, uncluttered set of priorities. Community is easier to theorize about than to practice, but it’s still the center of the church’s renewal.
Bonhoeffer was prepared to face danger. One of the assumptions I find bewildering yet widespread in the church is that if one is a good Christian, one’s days will be long and one shall multiply and one’s valleys will grow rich with corn. Most of the people in the Bible face danger, hardship, crisis, tragedy, and fear. Those are the places God most often shows up. God is close to the poor, not because there’s anything holy about poverty, but because those in poverty face such things all the time, and that’s what brings them face to face with God. Bonhoeffer wrestled with this in 1939. He could do so much good from the safe distance of America, but he was called to be in the place of danger. We face the same choices.
“Christ kept himself from suffering till his hour had come, but when it did come he met it has a free man, and mastered it. Christ, so the scriptures tell us, bore the sufferings of all humanity in his own body as if they were his own–a thought beyond our comprehension–accepting them of his own free will. We are certainly not Christ; we are not called to redeem by our own deeds and sufferings, and we need not try to assume such an impossible burden. We are not lords, but instruments in the hand of the Lord of history; and we can share in other people’s sufferings only to a very limited degree. We are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. The Christian is called to sympathy and actions, not in the first place by his own suffering, but by the sufferings of his brethren, for who sake Christ suffered.”