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by Elizabeth Davey

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(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.
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. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Quote

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify to the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenceless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray.” 

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship

Image result for bonhoeffer quotes

By Denny Heiberg

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Few people have had the transforming influence upon the spiritual lives of multitudes of people around the world as Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Most of those lives, mine included, never had the opportunity to see him in person or hear his voice. History records that his courageous life was taken from him on April 9, 1945 by the Nazis in their Flossenbürg concentration camp, just two months after his thirty-ninth birthday. But a closer look at this bold professor, pastor, theologian, author, and central figure of the Confessing Church’s ecumenical movement reveals that no one took his life from him. Dietrich Bonheoffer willingly laid down his life from the moment he responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow him as his disciple.

Bonhoeffer was a man on mission. He was proactively engaged in a battle against two pandemic forces. The loudest enemy was Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich. After Hitler came to power in 1933, he began to inject his poison into every sector of German life. Nazism was more than a political party; it was an extreme racist philosophy. Only the Aryan race was acceptable to the Nazis and history has recorded the tragic results of their beliefs. However, the Jews and other non-Aryans were not the only target of the Nazis, they also sought to bring the German Church under its rule as well. Unfortunately, due to the eroding spiritual condition of the Lutheran Church, the gates of hell overtook them.

The quiet enemy Bonhoeffer faced was also a toxic foe. In his defining book, Discipleship (later published as The Cost of Discipleship), Bonhoeffer referred to this plague as “Cheap Grace.” Bonhoeffer describes this enemy in his own words:

“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…. Cheap grace means justification of sin but not of the sinner. Because grace alone does everything, everything can stay in its old ways.… 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.”1

In 1935 Bonhoeffer chose to return from pastoring two German congregations in London and head back to Germany to become the director of an “illegal” seminary in Pomerania. As Bonhoeffer poured his heart and soul into this community of twenty-five vicars, his curriculum focused on the kingdom gospel that included discipleship as essential to a believer’s life. No cheap grace allowed here. He spent five years training and modeling among these young pastors the biblical mandate of disciple making until the Gestapo permanently closed the seminary in 1940. It was during those years in Christian community that Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together and Discipleship.

For a brief period, Bonhoeffer returned to the United States in 1939. And while his friends urged him to stay and impact Germany from afar, he resolutely set his face toward his homeland and boarded one of the last ships leaving the States.

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