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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Grace V - The Future of the Church

We Christians today, and especially evangelical Protestants, have gathered like vulture around the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ. It is true that we have paid the doctrine of pure grace divine honors unparalleled in Christendom, and in fact we have exalted that doctrine to the position of God himself. Everywhere we have repeated the formula of the Reformation, but we have allowed its truth to be perverted into self-deception. So long as our Church holds the correct doctrine of justification, there will be no doubt that she is a justified we thought, thinking we must vindicate our Protestant heritage by making this grace available on the cheapest and easiest terms. To be evangelicals must mean that we leave the following of Christ to legalists, Calvinists and enthusiasts - and all this for the sake of grace. We justified the world, and condemned as heretics those who tried to actually follow Christ. The result was the Christianization of an empire (British) and a nation (U.S.), but at the price of true discipleship. The price they were called upon to pay was all too cheap. Cheap grace had won the day.

But do we not realize that this cheap grace has turned back upon us like a boomerang? The price we are paying today in the shape of the collapse of the organized church is only the inevitable consequence of making grace available to all at too low a cost. We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole culture unasked and without condition. Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving. We poured forth unending streams of grace - but the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard. What had happened to all the warnings of the Reformers against preaching the gospel in such a manner as to make men rest secure in their ungodly living? Was there ever a more terrible or disastrous instance of the Christianizing of the world than this? This poisoning of grace may have been worse than the embrace of Christianity by Constantine's empire. Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our evangelical Church.

Indeed, it has been no less merciless to us as individuals in our spiritual lives. Instead of opening up the way to Christ, it has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience. Perhaps we had once heard the gracious call to follow him, and had at this command even taken the first few steps along the path of discipleship in the discipline of obedience, only to find ourselves confronted by the word of cheap grace. Was that not merciless and hard? The only effect such a word could have on us was to bar our way to progress, and seduce us to the mediocre level of the world, quenching the joy of discipleship by telling us that we were following a path of our own choosing, that we were spending our strength and disciplining ourselves in vain - all of which was not merely useless, but extremely dangerous! After all, we were told, our salvation had already been accomplished by the grace of God.

While the word is true in itself, the message attached to it mercilessly extinguished the smoking flax. It was unkind to speak to men like this, for such a cheap offer could only leave them bewildered and tempt them from the way in which they had been called by Christ. Having laid hold upon cheap grace, they were barred from the knowledge of costly grace. Deceived and weakened, men felt that they were strong now that they were in possession of this cheap grace - whereas they had lost the power to live the life of discipleship and obedience. The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.

Christendom is populated with many who are troubled by this problem, that for them the word of grace has been emptied of all its meaning. This message must be spoken to all for the sake of truth, for those among us confess that through cheap grace they have lost the following of Christ, and further, with the following of Christ, have lost the understanding of costly grace. We must help our brethren understand that we as a Church no longer stand in the path of true discipleship. We confess that, although our Church is orthodox as far as her doctrine of grace is concerned (at least, in its freedom), we are no longer sure that we are members of a Church which follows its Lord. This must be attended to, and the issue can no longer be evaded. We must answer the question: How can we live the Christian life in the modern world?

Happy are those who have reached the end of this road, and who are astonished to discover the by no means self-evident truth that grace is costly just because it is the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Happy are the simple followers of Jesus who have been overcome by his grace and are able to sing the praises of the all-sufficient grace of Christ with humbleness of heart. Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world. Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. Happy are they who have become Christians in this sense of the word. For them the word of grace has proved a fount of mercy.

Let us bring this word to all.


  • The statement "The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works." (whether Bonhoeffer's or yours...haven't read him in a while), is a very interesting one. Since we are known by our fruits (which Rolling Stone and many other news sources have no idea is biblical) I can see how your above quote can apply to much of "Christendom" today. I believe we are not saved by faith plus works (or faith plus anything else for that matter) but according to James, faith minus works is no faith at all. I think that cheap grace can lead to faith minus works. Another reason for the shipwreck of cheap grace is that many see salvation as just getting to heaven. We are saved in order to share the good news and the love of God with others not sit back in our easy chair of heavenbound grace.

    By Blogger Inheritor of Heaven, at 2/01/2006 10:24:00 PM  

  • Great comment, IOH. Stick around, we have great things to discuss!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 2/03/2006 03:23:00 PM  

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