Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The harm evangelism can cause?

I am currently reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which, for the last 100 years has been acknowledged as a spiritual classic. In the opening chapter, he bewails what he terms 'cheap grace' and the harm it has done the church. This is what he writes:

"Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack's wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost is infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. what would grace be if it were not cheap?

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 secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, 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.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner..... 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.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciples leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought 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. 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..."
The Cost of Discipleship pages 35-36

You get the drift. The point Bonhoeffer is making is that we must be careful we don't cheapen grace by giving the impression that the Christian life is easy and we can become one without putting ourselves out in any way. Or that we can be a Christian without confronting our sin, and accepting the need for repentance and the ensuing battle that we will be involved in if we are to stay true to Christ.

I make this point because I have a number of concerns about the Church today:
First, I am concerned that we don't try to sell a sort of dumbed down Christian faith in order to win 'customers'. In the fear that our pews are not as full as would like them to be the temptation is to do whatever we can to try and fill them. This can - and does - so easily lead to compromise. We only have to see the way some churches are going with regards to same-sex marriage.
Second, evangelism is one of the first things to suffer. Attempts to force someone 'making a decision for Christ' with very little preparation or weighing up of the cost can have a devastating long term effect on the individual involved as he/she can be misled into thinking that everything is okay and they will go to heaven when they die because they have made a decision or prayed a special prayer.
Third, cheap grace has played into the hands of the enemy as it produces nominal Christians by the bucket load leading to the Church as Club rather than the salt and light to a dying and darkening world it is meant to be.

I could go on but you get where I am coming from. We are in the state we are today because the Church has been giving away grace cheaply by the bucketload and now it has all caught up with us. We are reaping what we have sown and now are 'enjoying the benefit' of our past indulgences.

All is not lost however and God, in His wisdom, is disciplining the Church in order to restore it to the condition He needs it to be in for what is coming ahead. In the words of Hebrews 12:4-11:

"4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

One final comment. Several months ago I produced a new baptism policy for the parish. Those inquiring about having their children baptized are now required to attend church first as well as classes about the Christian Faith. Unless they do so I will not give away the grace of God cheaply and go through a meaningless ceremony that means nothing and gives the impression that little Johnny is a Christian when his parents and godparents haven't a clue about the most basic beliefs about Jesus Christ. Since then I have had three enquiries but no responses. On the surface of it, it looks like a failure - which is where the pressure comes from - but at least I can now sleep at night knowing that I have not belittled what Jesus has done for them and me.

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