Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cheap Grace

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran who opposed the Nazis, wrote the following in his book "The Cost of Discipleship":

"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...  Let him be comforted and rest assured in his possession of this grace -- for grace alone does everything. Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves."

This will be my last comment on the issue of Dr. Tiller's murder.  I certainly don't feel that churches should not be warm and welcoming places.  We need to love each other and pick each other up when we fall, not kick each other.

However, that doesn't mean we can choose to ignore sin.  It's not about judging other people.  That's God's role.  But we, as the body, are called to confront sin when it is in our midst.  In I Corinthians 5, Paul very clearly tells us that it is our obligation. 

It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife.  And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you?  For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present.  When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus,  turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.  Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough?  Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough – you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.  I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.  In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world.  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person.  For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside?  But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.
Look, I want to be kind and loving and forgiving just like anyone.  I would hate the thought of having to confront someone with their sin or of having to go further and having to remove them from fellowship.  But Paul doesn't really leave us that option.  And if we as Christians say that we accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God, then it's not something we can opt out of.  As much as we hate it, as much as we know that we too are sinful, it's in the Bible.

I know that I am sinful.  But I think that there is a difference between me stumbling and falling and repenting and between those who knowingly, willfully, continue in sin unrepentantly.  And I think a church that ignores that fact does so at their own peril.  Perhaps had they instituted church discipline and called him to repentance, Dr. Tiller would still be alive.


ValleyGirl said...

Good post, Lori. I'm glad you followed up on this. I whole-heartedly agree. I've been working for several weeks on a post looking at the fear of God versus the grace of God, and whether or not "modern" Christians are getting a little too cozy with just the grace part of it all. Someday I'll finish it!

Melissa said...

ValleyGirl, I want to comment on your comment. I was taught that the "fear" of God was the respect and reverence of God, not what we might commonly refer to as fear (being afraid). How do you understand it?

Anonymous said...

You have to understand, that's how liberal the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is. They don't care that he killed babies. They just wanted to love the sinner and not hate the sin. They welcome gays into their midst and allow women (who also may be gay as well) to be ministers. From what I heard he was not welcome at other churches until this one welcomed him with open arms. I do not think that church discipline would have worked with him. He was so far down the path to hell, he wasn't turning back. He went to the church that would turn a blind eye to what he did. One woman interviewed even said he was a Christian! Uh, no. No one can be a Christian and kill babies.

Melissa said...

Ummm...Let's not generalize. I belong to the ELCA and I certainly don't condone abortions. Are gays welcome to worship? Yes. Everyone is welcome to worship. At my church we have a female head pastor (she is not gay). That doesn't mean I think abortion is okay. I consider myself to be conservative. One of the things I like about the ELCA is that communion is open to all who are baptized and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. You don't have to be a member of our church, you don't have to be a Lutheran. Does that make me liberal? I think we should be cautious of lumping people into a particular group.

Lori - The Simple Life at Home said...

I think we do need to be careful about generalizing. Not all people in a particular denomination agree with everything the denomination does. It can be very difficult. While I respect the ELCA for their stance on social justice and how they put their faith into actions, I am concerned about some of their other positions. Melissa, I love you and hope not to offend you, but here are some of my issues.

1) Homosexuality is a sin. I don't think that openly practicing gays should be allowed to take communion and be part of the church life if they are unrepentant. I would feel the same way about a serial adulterer or thief or rapist. This doesn't mean we can't be kind and loving, but there has to be a line drawn.

2) Out of curiosity, I went to the ELCA website and found under their statement of beliefs the following: "Those who have done good will enter eternal life, those who have done evil will enter eternal fire. This is the catholic faith. One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully."

Uh, I'm sorry, but it's grace not works that get us into heaven. This was part of the Athanasian creed (which they claim as part of their statement of beliefs), which I have never heard of before. It also stated that one can lose their faith, which I don't agree with, but that's not as worrisome to me as the works vs. grace issue.

Since I don't know if Valleygirl will check back in, I'll offer up my thoughts about the fear of God. Yes, I think it's more along the lines of respect and reverence. HOWEVER, we must not forget that He is a God of holiness and perfection. There are many, many instances in Scripture where He comes across as what I would consider too harsh when His holiness and His commands are violated. The man who touched the ark of the covenant while carrying it, Ananias and Saphira for lying about the amount of money they got for their property, etc. They were struck down for what we would consider minor sins these days. God is not to be trifled with. We should respect and revere Him, but I believe that it should be mixed with a healthy dose of the knowledge that He is perfectly within His rights to strike us down, sinners that we are. I'm so very, very thankful for His grace and lovingkindness, but we shouldn't ever forget that He is also a God of justice and holiness.

That's my .02

Melissa said...

The ELCA is not a works-based faith. It is a grace-based faith. That part of the creed is taken out of context. I would probably not do a good job of explaining it myself, but I will try to get a better explanation for you.

Lori, I, too, love and respect you, but who are you to say that someone should or should not take communion? Who is going to decide which sinner is "bad enough" to exclude someone from communion? What is the litmus test for repentance? Is it public confession or is confession within one's heart to God enough? We are commanded to eat and drink of the meal. I don't believe it is for me to withhold that sacrament based on my judgment.

I am familiar with the Ananais story. I agree that he should live with the knowledge that He is in complete control at all times. To me, this is a comfort, not a fear. Especially since I am a sinner and I am in need of the grace he so lovingly provides.

If the sinners are barred from the churches and the sacraments, who will be left. No one.

Lori - The Simple Life at Home said...

Ok, I'm not saying we bar sinners from the church and communion. I think I was pretty clear on what I believe the Bible says. Would you make this same argument with the apostle Paul if you were a first-century Christian? Not that I'm comparing myself with Paul, but I'm using his words for my argument. If Paul lived in this generation and stood up and declared the same words, what would your response be?

Again, none of us would ever want to do it. But, according to Paul, it must be done. It's not optional. And I don't know of a better case than someone who kills babies, babies who would be viable outside the womb, for money for years on end when he has been told again and again that what he's doing is sinful. Godly repentance means sorrow over your sin and TURNING from it.

There are times when I have denied myself communion because I know there is sinfulness unresolved in my heart. Anger at my husband, or others, for example. Communion is a sacrament and we are told not to take it lightly (or give it lightly) or come under judgement.

I didn't mean to imply that ELCA was a works-based faith. From years of knowing you, I know that's not what you believe. But I found it very unsettling to have that on the website. I've read through the creed again and I don't think I quoted it out of context. Once it does mention "he suffered death for our salvation" but that's the extent of what it mentions regarding how we get to heaven.

Melissa said...

Lori, I think we will have to agree to disagree here. I don't have the same thought regarding communion and we will have to leave it at that. I talked to my Pastor about the Athenisian Creed and he said it was good timing, that he would be preaching on it this weekend! He says we only use it once a year. I can give you more info after the sermon if you are interested.

I appreciate your passion for your faith and how you don't waver on your beliefs. I hope I have not offended you. BTW, the ELCA has been working for years (too long, IMHO) on coming up with a statement on sexuality. Currently, we are reviewing it at my church. I am unable to attend all the meetings (one of the requirements for group discussion), but I may meet one-on-one with my Pastor as this is a complicated subject and I have some thoughts and questions I would like to discuss.

Love the sinner, hate the sin. Hope by keeping the sinner in the flock you can turn him/her away from the sin.

Lori - The Simple Life at Home said...

Melissa, of course you haven't offended me. I think it's healthy for believers to have these tough discussions. Iron sharpens iron and all that. We can definitely agree to disagree and we are fine as far as I'm concerned.

I would be interested in what your pastor has to say about that creed. I've just never heard of it anywhere else and found it interesting. Let me know what he says.

ValleyGirl said...

I don't normally check back for follow-up comments, but I'm glad I did.

Lori, it seems you and I think and believe quite similarly. Yes, it is grace that ultimately saves us, not our own works, but we need to remember that God's principles, commands, and statutes are absolutes. There WILL be punishment of sin, regardless of whether or not we've been saved. I don't believe this means we'll lose our salvation, but there are always consequences to sin.

We get angry with and punish our children when they disobey because we want to teach them and there are rules in place for their benefit. God does the same with us and WILL do the same with us, whether we particularly care for that aspect of His nature or not.

We hear a lot about "God is love, God is love," but we don't often hear that He is like a loving parent who will still punish a child for disobedience, no matter how much He loves the child.

Love does NOT equal tolerance. I think too many of us have confused the two.

Melissa said...

Okay, this is way late, so I don't know if anyone will check back, but I must say I disagree, ValleyGirl. Christ went to the cross for our sins and he took our punishment that we deserve.


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