Archives For October 2009

The term Cheap Grace was originally found in a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer entitled The Cost of Discipleship. Bonheoffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. He was hung by the SS as a traitor in 1945 as he rejected Hitler’s rule.

To get started let’s look at the following excerpt is from Wikipedia:

In Bonhoeffer’s words: “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” Or, to put it even more clearly, it is to hear the gospel preached as follows: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.” The main defect of such a proclamation is that it contains no demand for discipleship.

Bonhoeffer made these claims about the church two generations ago because they were settling for what he called “cheap grace”. He said that they were practicing a brand of Christianity without the cross. This was easy believism.  In many circles it would seem all that was necessary is to voice creedal tenets, such as justification by faith alone. The ability to affirm right doctrine signifies that we are in the club. Dallas Willard has dubbed this as “bar code” Christianity. If we can be rung up by the great scanner in the sky, then eternal life is assured. With this understanding of Christian life, what is the need to have a transformed life?

Is this cheap grace more prevalent today than it was when Bonhoeffer pointed it out almost 80 years ago? I tend to believe it is. Of course our lives are more hectic than they were eighty years ago. It seems obvious that we just don’t spend as much time praising God as our grandparents used to. Many of the 35,000 versions of Christianity that are around today put almost all emphasis on God’s grace and none of our response to that grace. All we need to do is spend a few hours each week in our country club type facilities and everything is taken care of. Even if we miss a few, or even most Sundays that is OK.  Discipleship has almost all but disappeared from our local congregations. We usually do something around the end of the year holidays to make us feel better about ourselves as Christians. Maybe it is putting in a few extra dollars for some poor relief efforts. But those efforts quickly dissappear along with our well intended New Years resolutions.

Call it what you want; cheap grace, McChurch, Church Lite, Bar Code Christianity. It all is pretty much the same. I am just afraid that when it comes to our eternity cheap grace might be very expensive indeed! As I said in the last post we need to live in the Lord moment by moment and not just those times it is convenient for us to do so.

Moment by moment…

October 26, 2009 — Leave a comment

Some seem to think that all that is required to be a Christian is to take an altar call and declare that Jesus is your Lord and Savior and then go on about your daily business as if nothing has changed. I know I have been in that mode sometimes myself. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth. That type of mentality is what Bonhoeffer correctly termed “cheap grace”.  Being a sinful lazy person it is easy to be trapped in the “let others do it” mode.

I have come to realize that being a Christian means living in the Lord Jesus moment by moment. Not just those times on Sunday morning or when I happen to casually think about heavenly things.  Moment-by-moment means constantly thinking of the heavenly realm and applying its teaching to my life at each moment. I have often said “oh I will try to do that when I have more time. Right now I am just too busy for that.”  This is exactly the point where I needed this exercise more than ever. I strive to never let the urgent things in this life crowd out those that are really important.

  Before coming to this understanding I had troubles with the message by Paul about taking everything to the Lord in prayer. But as a moment-by-moment Christian, at least I try to be but often fail, I can now see  his words take on their true meaning.

 Being a Christian is not just a Sunday morning thing. It is to be lived moment-by-moment and even second-by-second.  All praise and glory go to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I am a frequent visitor to several Christian blogs. One of the bigger ones I recently visited was discussing  Matt 26:11  The poor you will always have with you.  There were the usual posts saying that Jesus was inferring that “since the poor will always be here why bother to do anything about it”. These types of comments used to get me upset but I know that is NOT was Jesus was saying so they don’t get to me like they used to.

But there were several comments the to post from people who clearly don’t understand what it means to be poor. First of all I want to be clear that all of the comments were from people in the United States. There were about 30 comments in all on this particular post. One person said something to the effect that poor people are the ones who are still watching TV on the old tube type sets. He didn’t understand why it would be his duty to help them buy flat screens.  Another mentioned that some “poor” have to drive cars that are over 5 years old and that is just too bad; they need to get better jobs! Let me say again that this was a Christian blog. Clearly these people have a very narrow and myopic perception of what it means to be poor. They evidently are just not aware of what being poor is really about. It truly amazed me just how sheltered lives some people live.  

Some people have labeled today’s twenty to thirty year olds the “Entitlement Generation”. The reasoning goes that this group of people have been raised to believe that they are entitled immediately to high paying jobs and lavish three thousand square foot or larger homes with mandatory oak hardwood floors and granite countertops.  I suspect that some of the responders in the above posting are in that category. They seem to have very little concept of what the world actually looks like outside their communities doors.   I must admit that I myself didn’t have much of an idea of what the world was really like when I was their age either (but that was many many years ago). I had been raised in a lower middle class community where everyone was white and working class.  We didn’t have a lot but we didn’t suffer either. It was not until I got to college that I realized that the rest of the world was not particularly like us. Of course college changed much of that except maybe for the economic status. There were not then, or probably not now, many people in college from poor families.  That aspect of my education came later. Anyway, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised even in the Internet age  that twentysomethings don’t really know what poverty is.

No poverty is not doing without a flat screen TV or a car that is older than five years. Poverty is where you do not know where your next meal is coming from. You do not have a roof over your head. You do not have safe drinking water. You are surviving on as little at $12/week. Unfortunately a good percentage of the world (some figures show it up to 40% of the world’s population) are in poverty. Yes, that even includes people in the United States.

Let’s end with a prayer. God our father, your Son welcomed all who cam to him, even the outcasts and the despised. Give us faith that dares to come to you, trusting only in your love. Give us a love that accepts others, as we have been accepted by you. Compassionate Savior, too often we forget how many in our world are homeless, poor, and hungry. In your mercy relieve their suffering and pain. Remind us that when we help a person in need we are serving you.

Charity….

October 19, 2009 — Leave a comment

Charity has always been an important Christian characteristic. Jesus was constantly giving of himself to others. Often times when he did it he said not to tell others about his act. His giving is the reason that we have salvation.  Jesus clearly expects us to also have charity, especially to the poor and needy.  Here is the verse we will use today to study this concept. 

Matt 6:2-4 NIV

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

In these words Jesus makes it clear that we are to give without bringing honor to ourselves. This is one of those places where He called some of the religious of his day hypocrites!  Calling church people hypocrites is a common occurrence in today’s church as well. Some of it is well founded; some of it is not. If we give to the needy in order to draw attention to ourselves Jesus says we are hypocrites! We should give so that even we don’t know we are doing it. I don’t know quite how that is supposed to work though 🙂 ? I think it is just human nature that we want others to know the good works we do. But, of course when we do that we might doing it mainly to boost our vane pride. By the words above Jesus says when you do that you have your reward already and don’t expect anything from God for doing it.  

As a personal note there is someone I have known most of the life that always makes their giving a very public event!  It was always very embarrassing to me to have to witness those acts and the praise they expected to be lavished on them. For that reason I have always tried to live by the red letters above even before I knew of their existence. But I do also often fail when I tell people of my charitable acts. I think I do this to encourage others to also give but maybe I am sometimes doing it to draw attention to myself. So, shame of me when I am a hypocrite with my giving. As the Apostle Paul says sometimes I just can’t seem to do what I know I should do.

The last sentence in these verses says that God will reward us if we give in secret. I’m not really sure just what that reward is? Will it be something in heaven or on earth?  I hope it is in heaven. I know there are Christians who are constantly saying things like “yesterday I gave $100 to the needy and today I received an extra $10,000!”. I have always been very uncomfortable with these types people. They seem to be very frequent in some Christian sects today especially among the televangelists. The main message it sends to me is when they do that is to say if you want to be rich then give to the Lord (or to the TV program you are watching). I don’t think that is really what Jesus meant in these verses.

Let’s all pledge to give more to the needy and to keep it a secret.

James 4

This post is the final post of my study of the epistle of James.  Today we will study chapter four and five. James somewhat changes course in these chapters. The previous three chapters focused primarily on faith and works. These two chapters view of living a Christian life. As before James’ words are in blue and mine are in black.

  • When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. — This verse helps me understand previous verses in the Bible where is flatly say “Ask and you will receive”. Here, James puts some necessary conditions on those words. Asking for the wrong things will get no more response from God than not asking at all. The last part of this verse is the clincher for me. If we ask for something that simply increase our worldly pleasure then don’t count of God answering in the affirmative. In my opinion, narcissism is one of the biggest idols in today’s world. When we always look at things from a selfish self-centered light we are putting ourselves and our personal pleasures above others.  Jesus definitely practiced a selfless life and he expects us to do the same.
  • Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. — One of my recent personal revelations about the Bible is that Jesus never judged anyone during his ministry but the religious establishment. According to James Jesus expects us to do likewise. James also adds slander to the list. Slander is defined as  a malicious, false, and defamatory statement. This goes along with do not bear false witness especially in a hateful way. Of course slander is almost the exact opposite of love.  

James 5

  • Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. — the more affluent among us can’t seem to get a break when it comes to Bible verses.  Some say in this verse James is talking to pagan oppressors since Christians would not be weeping and wailing but instead celebrating Christ. The second verse below seems to support that contention but I am just not personally sure.
  • The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. — This verse is definitely an attack on those who do not pay a living wage to their workers. Who is included in this group is hard to say but I’m sure the Lord has a list 🙂  Is not raising the minimum wage in the U.S. for more than 10 years part of this? I think it is.
  • You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. –  Another stern warning from James about having wealth as the idol in your life. It is the self-indulgence aspect of riches that make it so sinful.  Not the money itself.
  • Above all, my brothers, do not swear — not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.  — To me James message here is quite simple. Always speak the truth!  If you are known as a truthful person you will not be asked to swear that you are speaking truthfully.  Of course in our legal environment in the U.S. that is another issue.  The Quakers and I believe the Amish use this statement to refuse to swear even in the legal mode.  In today’s world does this prevent us from saying the “Pledge allegiance to the flag”??  In doing that we are swearing our selves to a kingdom of the world instead of to God’s Kingdom.  I will have to think about that one for a while before I can answer. As James said Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.  I will try to do that here. But if you want to chime in with an opinion I would be interested in hearing it.

James 2

This post is a continuation of my study of the epistle of James.  Today we will study chapters two and three. As before James’ words are in blue and mine are in black.

  • For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. — Of course this was the constant mantra of the Apostle Paul too. We need to constantly be reminded that the Law is there to show us our sin and therefore our total need of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Does this fact invalidate the law? No it doesn’t.  We still need it to show us what is right and wrong.
  •  What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? —  This is the particular verse that many of the reformers had difficulty with.  On the surface it seems to say that works are an integral part of our salvation. Luther and Calvin in particular were totally offended by this verse. Of course that had something to do with the indulgances that the Catholic church was handing out but that is another post.  In reality most of us realize that what James is asking is “do you have head faith or heart faith”.  Head faith is just saying the words but not really believing them in your heart. This is kind of like Pascal’s wager  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_wager . To paraphrase it  says what harm is their in saying you believe in God. If he exists you gain heaven; if he doesn’t exist it doesn’t matter as we will all go into nothingness.  Heart faith on the other hand is totally committed to trying to live out our lives as Jesus taught us. That is to be more Christ like every day. When we do that we obviously effuse good works from every pore of our being.
  • Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. — This is another of those life lessons from James. It goes back to his early teaching to do what Jesus says.  Faith without actions is dead and worthless faith.  This is a hard lesson for us to learn. There is, or at least should be, no such thing as a shallow  or greedy Christian. Of course all of us are on different paths to fulfilling this teaching.

 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ?  Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”  and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.  – James does not mince words in Chapter 2. Faith without deeds is useless and man is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.  This verse is most often used to discredit Sola Fida of Protestantism. I can certainly see where Martin Luther had to claim that this epistle did not belong in the Bible!

James 3

  • With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. — This teaching goes to the heart of the fact that Jesus wants us to love God and to love each other. When we publically praise the Lord but then turn around and curse/criticize/judge others we are not speaking truthfully. God wants us to love everyone. Even our enemies.
  • Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. —  This like most of the previous verses tells us to live a good life of deeds. But it also adds do this humbly and wisely.  Don’t do it in a showy or shallow way.

Next time I will close out my study of James with a discussion of Chapters four and five. These chapters move away from his focus on works to teach us other lessons.

I am going to do something I don’t do often on this blog. I am going to concentrate the next few posts on an epistle. Particularly the epistle of James. Some of the reasons I am doing this is because James, being brother of Jesus, was one of the few people to know Jesus his entire life.  (A short sub note here — I have recently read where in Jesus’ time the Aramaic term “brother” was used to include brothers, cousins, second cousins, and many other males in a direct family line.  So James being Jesus’ brother might not mean that his mother was Mary but he almost surely knew Jesus from childhood.)  He was one of the select individuals Christ appeared to after his resurrection. Paul called him a “pillar” of the church. He was the leader of the Council of Jerusalem. In others words, he was one of the “big shots” in the early church. Being so I am sure his words here were taken with great weight by them.

Another reason I want to study this epistle is that it concentrated mainly on teaching us how to live a Christian life. This made James out of favor with several of the protestant reformers, particularly the words James 2:17 where he says that faith without works is dead, but that is probably the reason I am drawn to it more than most of the other epistles.

 Several of the Protestant reformers had problems with James as much of his epistle was about “works” and how to act as a Christian. Martin Luther in particular did not have much good to say of James as his writings seemed to fly in the face of “Sola Fida” (justification by faith alone which I covered in the previous post). He believed that this epistle was not a work of an apostle! He believed it was a fraud or an “epistle of straw” as he called it! In reality I think this is one of those areas that Luther, and some others just got wrong. James was clear that we are saved by grace but he questioned whether grace without works as really grace.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer later termed faith without works as “cheap grace”.

Ok, let’s dive into this epistle. As I have said before I am just not a chapter/verse type of Christian. I concentrate more on the lessons behind the words rather than where they are in the Bible. I will attempt this study by looking at the words in James and then try to glean in my own terms the lessons I think he is trying to convey. I am doing this primarily for my own benefit but I hope that maybe some of you might  get a small insight in to the words too. I am also looking for any insight you can provide me. After all we Christians grow by being together with other Christians. (James’ words are in blue below. Mine follow in black.)

James 1

  • When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone — So if God is not doing the tempting who is? Of course the answer is Satan.  For those who believe that everything that happens on this earth is God’s will this statement flies in the face of that. It is not God’s will that we be tempted. It is not part of his plan for us.  Does he use the temptations that the devil throws at us to make us stronger. Of course he does but he is NOT the originator and it is not his will.
  • Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry — This is one of those lessons that I definitely need. I, like St. Peter, am an impulsive person. I often become angry and fly off the handle when I know I shouldn’t! I pray daily that the Lord give me a good dose of patience to listen more and speak less.  I know I am not alone in this area. We could all use a good dose of James’ instructions here.
  •  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. — To me this is at the heart of what James is trying to convey. Listening and not doing is worse than not listening at all! Anybody, including even Satan, can listen but it takes a true Christian heart to actually put what we hear into action. We can never fully do this as we are sinful human beings that often succumb to Satan’s temptations. But we must always strive to do what Jesus says.
  • Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. — This is kind of a strange verse? James is saying that true pure “religion” is looking after those less fortunate than us. Maybe this goes back to the difference between religion and being a Christian. Are they two different things? The second part of this instruction is indeed a constant battle for all of us. Our worldviews have a strangle hold on our very being. Yes, we are all totally indoctrinated with our worldviews even if we don’t choose to acknowledge that fact. Many who call themselves Christian Evangelicals are totally submersed in the politics of the extreme right wing of the Republican party’s worldview. Where that worldview clashes with the Kingdom of God view is a constant battlefield but many don’t seem to see that. This verse is in particular one of those areas.

Next time we will look at James 2 and 3.

Upon This Rock? ……..

October 5, 2009 — 6 Comments

Upon This Rock 320x197

I will admit for the first time on this blog that I am currently a member of a Protestant Church (but I won’t tell you which one 🙂 ). Of course the Protestant church had their origin in the 16th century when Luther challenged the existing church authorities. Lutherans like to think of this encounter the same as when Jesus remanded the existing Jewish church authority. For me I’m not sure that is a valid comparison. After studying this period I have come to the conclusion that things got totally out of hand during this encounter. Both sides were screaming at each other and doing little or no listening. But, coming to Luther’s defense the Catholic church at the time was pretty far astray. Luther had not originally intended to cause the giant schism that he eventually did but things just got out of hand. It ended up with Luther almost calling the Pope an anti-Christ. Unfortunately some of that strong anti-Catholic feeling is still prevalent today in some Protestant sects. 
 Protestants generally believe in Sola Scriptura. That is that the Bible is totally inerrant and is all that is needed for Christian faith. So, when they come across some verses in the Bible seem to contradict one of their contentions with Rome they have to show where the verses don’t say what they “appear” to say. One of those instances which I have always had trouble reconciling is Matthew 16:15-20.  

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

We Protestants have been taught that the words on this rock I will build my church mean that on the belief that Jesus is Lord is what he was talking about. In other words he changed the subject from the verses previous to this and even after this. If I took that one sentence out from the rest I might be able to absolutely agree with that premise. But Putting it in the context of the surrounding words makes that very difficult for me. In Aramaic Peter means rock. Why did Jesus rename Simon to Peter here if he was actually talking about himself? The verse following the “rock” verse about the keys is very clear to me that Jesus is talking about a person to take charge when he is gone and not a concept. Keys in today’s world means something very different than in Jesus’ time. Each one of us probably carries around several keys at any time. But in Jesus’ time keys were usually given to only a very trusted person to keep. That is because they only locked up the most valuable things in those days. Getting back to the verses at hand, the words whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven are very powerful words indeed. Catholics argue that this is the power that Jesus gave to the first Pope Peter and the succeeding Popes. That is, what they say is valid on both earth and in heaven.

I hope that this doubt does not get me in any trouble with my local church. Some of the members browse this blog from time to time 🙂 . Looking back at what Christian churches have done in the past with the inquisitions and burning of heretics, (how is that for showing God’s love) I wonder if I had made this belief known then I may have been invited to a barbeque! I think we are more civil now or at least I hope so.  

But, like I said in the previous post maybe even thinking of this stuff is just a distraction from the “real” Christian message of God’s love for us. Maybe we shouldn’t be hung up on this peripheral stuff. So I will say it one final time. maybe ignorance is bliss.

Like Children…

October 1, 2009 — Leave a comment

Is it possible to know too much about Christian theology. I didn’t used to think so but I am tending to come to that conclusion recently. It seems that the more I study Christian theology/doctrine/dogma the more I see the disharmony in Christ’s church. Because of that I am beginning to wonder if anyone really has it right! To me the most important verses in the Bible are:

Matt 22:36-40 NIV

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  

But, when I study church history and different Christian sects these words seem to get drowned out by things like:

  • full vs. partial immersion baptism
  • whether faith alone is enough or whether works is also required
  • whether God gives us free will or He has already decided whether we get heaven or hell
  • whether we should be snake handlers as proof that we are Christians
  • Whether the bible is all we need or whether church tradition is also needed
  • Whether the words of Matthew 16 made Peter the Pope  

This list could almost go on almost endlessly. We seem to be arguing over everything and mostly ignoring the “important” stuff! Jesus time and again told us we must be like little children if we want to truly follow him. Let’s look at some of the passages where he talks of this:  

Matt 18:3-4 NIV

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 
 

Mark 10:14-16 NIV

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 
 

Luke 10:21 NIV

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. 
 

Of course little children wouldn’t know much theology but they get the simple message that God is Love. They don’t lose sight of this the most important thing. I have always thought that knowing church history and its dogma was important to really knowing God but maybe all that stuff is just “stuff” that can drown out the simple truth of God. Maybe the old saying Ignorance is Bliss is really true when it comes to following Jesus on this side of heaven. More on that idea in my next post.