7.11.2009

A Warning against Making "Converts" and against Dead Orthodoxy

"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, living and incarnate." [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (revised ed.), trans. R. H. Fuller (New York: Macmillan, 1959), p. 47]

When we evangelize the lost, are we making converts or are we making disciples? I once read on a fundamentalist Baptist Bible college's website that it was having great success making thousands of "converts" each year. (The school emphasizes "soul-winning," which prima facie does not seem to require more than a person's "accepting" Christ.) I had to wonder whether these converts truly continued in the Church or whether they slipped back into their lives immediately after their evangelists departed. Is this college making disciples? Are pastors and teachers watching over the new converts, or are the converts just being left to themselves after the evangelists get a "decision for Christ" out of them? Bonhoeffer calls us to exercise more care in evangelism and in the Christian life.

One could also pull from Bonhoeffer a much-needed warning against dead orthodoxy, the acceptance of Christian doctrine with little or no improvement in sanctification and a lack of good works. The ability to recite the creeds, confessions, and catechisms does not amount to salvation. These can certainly instruct Christians, and I value them greatly; but Christians must always remember their Shepherd, who calls them take up their crosses daily, following him (and loving him in obedience). Christians must remember what (or who) their faith is in and not take the gospel message lightly.

7.08.2009

Dietrich and a Deadly Infection

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.

These are the opening words of the first chapter in Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. In his introduction, Bonhoeffer laments over a church life that is surprisingly similar to our own even though the book was published in 1937. The complaints of this 31 year old pastor mirror eerily those of today’s emerging leaders. For Bonhoeffer, however, the need was not for updates in our forms or our theologies. The disease was not an outdated church. The church’s irrelevance was not due to the style of worship or preaching. The disease, rather, was cheap grace.

I have long suspected that the origin of our spiritual impotence was being misplaced, that the problem with our lives and our churches had little to do with our modes of communication or with our ways of doing church. The problem was simply unbelief. We were deceived to think that if we possessed the right message and signed off on the right doctrine, or if we just updated in the right ways, we would be ipso facto Christ’s church—and effective. The life of repentance and obedience had nothing to do with it. We asked for greater faith but were unfaithful with the most basic commands. We prayed for miracles, but never risked doing anything that would require one. We desired more of the Spirit in our midst, but never got on our knees to pray, much less got up and obeyed him when he led.

Bonhoeffer is dealing with this problem. If you are concerned with the state of Christianity, you could do worse than setting down your church strategy books for a moment and engaging the prophetic message of this young Lutheran pastor. If you are wondering why your own life sucks so bad, you could do worse than setting down your self-help books for a moment and wrestling with the call Bonhoeffer sets before us.

7.07.2009

Brett recommends...

American's are profoundly unhappy. I can say this without doubt. This is evidenced in our commitment to entertainment. This is evidenced in our worship of celebrity. This is evidenced in our addictions to things. And this is evidenced in our reading. How-to's and self-help's line our shelves. From money to marriage to sex, American's are wookin' pa'nub in all the wrong places. Might I suggest a very small piece of fiction written by a very dead person?

Read Manalive by G.K. Chesterton. I know I quote him a lot. I fully confess that I have a non-sexual and trans-historical crush on this man. It's just that I have never met someone I wanted to be like more than him. And with that, I prove my own unhappy and covetous heart. Even when I don't agree with him, I am never bored with him. And in this story you will find something of the Art of Happiness.

A little sample. A quote about he main character, Innocent Smith.
There grew upon Inglewood an almost creepy sense of the real childishness of this creature. For Smith was really, so far as human psychology can be, innocent. He had the sensualities of innocence; he loved the stickiness of gum and he cut white wood greedily as if he were cutting cake. To this man wine was not a doubtful thing to be defended or denounced; it was a quaintly-coloured syrup, such as a child sees in a shop window. He talked dominantly and rushed the social situation; but he was not asserting himself, like a superman in a modern play. He was simply forgetting himself, like a little boy at a party. He had somehow made a giant stride from babyhood to manhood, and missed that crisis in youth when most of us grow old. (p. 14)

7.04.2009

Brett Recommends...

Just skimmed through George Eldon Ladd’s The Gospel of the Kingdom. I have been edified before by his New Testament Theology and Blessed Hope. I think I can safely recommend this as a book all Christians sitting our pews would benefit by reading. Ladd himself makes it clear that this book is proclamation and not detailed argumentation, so it is clear and easy to read. It is a good introduction.

Ladd’s theology is indebted to German theologian Oscar Cullman (see his Christ and Time), but a reading of Ladd is a great cure for all kinds of infections like:
*Pre-tribulational rapture
*Dispensationalism
*Gospel as getting to Heaven
*The Left Behind Series
*Hal Lindsey

7.03.2009

The Didache: Reconciliation Required

Jesus made a pretty big deal about being reconciled with others, which makes it even more surprising that in contemporary churches there is such apathy over reconciliation with each other. It seems that many are quite content to leave all that for heaven. This was not Jesus’ thinking, however. A forgiven people ought to be a forgiving people. A people reconciled to God should reconcile with each other.

This was so for the early Christians represented by The Didache. After laying out the criteria for authenticity, the text turns to the commands about their gathering on the Lord’s day. What is interesting to me, is that there are only two instructions: (1) break bread and give thanks (Eucharist) and (2) reconcile with each other before hand.

Chapter 14 says:
Now after gathering for the Lord’s own day, break bread and give thanks, having confessed your trespasses before hand, so that your sacrifice may be pure. But if anyone has a quarrel with his companion, let him not come together with you until they reconcile, in order that your sacrifice might not be defiled. For this is what was spoken by the Lord, “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice because I am a great king,” says the Lord, “and my name is wonderful among the nations [Mal 1:14]. (Did 14:1-3 BB)

This is clearly an application of Jesus’ words from Matt 5:23-24, where Jesus addresses the command “You shall not murder.” Beyond literal murder, Jesus condemns anger, hatred, and conflict. Jesus says that if somebody is going to offer their sacrifice and realize that one of his brothers has something against him, he is to drop everything and reconcile before coming back to make the offering. Most people can say, “Well, I haven’t killed anybody.” Nobody can say, “Well, I have never been angry with anybody or been in conflict with anyone.” But these sins are just as severe in the mind of Jesus. Our relationship with each other was closely related to our relationship with God, such that Jesus could say if you do not forgive others, neither will your father forgive you. And these early Christians took this seriously. Confession and reconciliation had to happen before worship with the community would be allowed.

Can you even conceive of this taking place in today’s churches? What would it take to take this seriously? Do you think a commitment to this might be necessary for any kind of spiritual renewal to begin?

7.02.2009

On scholarship and the church

"When a gulf exists between the lecture-room and the pulpit, sterility in the class-room and superficiality in the pulpit often result." George Eldon Ladd in the Forward of The Gospel of the Kingdom

7.01.2009

The Didache: Discerning the Real Deal

In chapter 10, we saw the instructions for how the community was to order their Eucharist. This was clearly a shared meal rather than a snack appended to a worship service.

This leads to what I think is the most interesting section of the text as it gives a window into early Christians’ ethics and the criteria of authenticity. In chapters 11-13, we find instructions on how the community was to go about the process of discerning whether someone was the real deal. What it assumes is that—in the same way we see it in the NT—the itinerate teachers and traveling Christians passing through town occurred regularly. It demanded a great deal of hospitality but also a great deal of discernment.

The section breaks down as follows:
(1) Visiting teachers (11:1-2)
(2) Visiting apostles and prophets (11:3-12)
(A) Apostles (11:3-6)
(B) Prophets (11:7-12)
(3) Fellow-Christians (12:1-5)
(A) Passing through (12:1-2)
(B) Wishing to settle (12:3-5)
(4) Prophets and teachers wishing to settle (13:1-7)

Because many came through in the name of the Lord, it was important to discern the legit from the posers. Jesus made it clear that many would claim to be his but will not be (Matt 7:15-20). Nevertheless, Jesus’ true apostles and prophets were sent traveling, and their lives depended upon the hospitality of others. This, I think, provides a better context to understand Jesus’ words: “He who receives you receives me” (Matt 10:40) and “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40).

The Test -
The teacher: Should be received and listened to if their teaching conforms to the teaching they have already received. If the teacher strays from it by teaching another teaching which undermines it, they should be rejected. Only teachers, who promote righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, should be received as the Lord (cf. Matt 10).

The apostle: This clearly implies the position of apostle extends beyond the twelve. Just as with teachers, the apostles were to be received as the Lord. Interestingly, the sole criterion for discerning false apostles had to do with their disposition to provisions. The apostle was only to stay one or two days. If they stayed longer, they were false. Likewise, the apostles were to be sent away with a day’s provision of bread that would get them to next stop. If the apostle asked to be paid in money, they were false.

The prophet: The criteria for judging prophets was severely complicated by their understanding of Jesus’ teaching on the unforgivable sin in Matt 12:30-31, which is paraphrased here: Every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven (Did 11:7 BAB). This sin, in the context of Matt 12 is clearly the attribution to Beelzebub (or Satan) things done and said by the Holy Spirit. For this reason, the community was commanded not to judge the prophet’s words in a spirit but rather the deeds of his life: But everyone who speaks by a spirit is a prophet, but if he should have the behavior of the Lord. Therefore, by the behavior, the false prophet and the prophet will be known (Did 11:8 BAB). What behavior were they to watch? One, which I do not quite understand, seems to have something to do with their behavior at meals (v. 9). Second, if they teach truth but do not do it. Third, if they have been tested and found genuine and then practice worldly mystery for the church, they should not be judged by the church. This a difficult line to understand, but may be something like when the OT prophets would enact bizarre and sometimes inappropriate acts to illustrate their prophetic message. Finally, with regards to money, if someone requests money for himself, they are false; on the other hand, it is fine if they are requesting money for others.

Fellow-Christians: Those who came in the name of the Lord but were not teachers or prophets, were to be tested. However, no details are given, only that they will be able to discern it. These Christians were only to stay a couple of days—like the apostles—and then sent on their way. However, if these brethren desired to settle with them, they were required to apply a trade to provide for themselves. If they could not, then the community was to decide how to handle it, but they are warned not to accept anyone who refused work.

Finally, teachers and prophets wishing to dwell with them permanently, were to be provided for. It says, the community should provide for them out of their first fruits. These leaders are likened to the OT prophets and priests who were to be provided for by the rest of the nation. If no such leaders lived among them, however, they were to collect for the poor.