Responsible Love

Self-denial and suffering in this life are the promises of Christ to His church.

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I’m not sure what to say after that. Sarcastic rants, tempting to write as they may be, are not the best choice, here.

This is not a forum for church-bashing. On the contrary, the fact that the few of us are still meeting together in some form of sporadic regularity, despite the complete loss of purpose, says much about our determination. To be honest, I’m going through a time of serious self-reflection about my own lack of faith.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer has completely wrecked me. Anybody who is curious to know what I mean by that and feels particularly self-flagellant, by all means, read the first few chapters and tell me your thoughts, if you want. WARNING: this is not for the casual Christian bookstore literature reader.

My copy1 contains a Forward by Bishop G. K. A. Bell, a personal friend of Bonhoeffer, Memoir by G. Leibholz, and an Introduction, all well worth reading. But I encourage you to jump right in, if you want. Go back and look at these when you get a feel for what’s going down in the book. Front stuff can be off-putting for some, and this is best started with a running leap into the deep end, in my opinion. Just get into it.

In chapter one, “Costly Grace,” Bonhoeffer explains the difference between “cheap grace” and “costly grace,” allowing the reader to understand, right away, where he’s coming from with these two operational definitions. Pay attention to what you’re reading. Don’t let your mind drift. This is not so much over your head, as cloaked by our spiritual contamination, something very few people in the modern world can circumvent, given our over-exposure to sensory stimulation.

I look forward to hearing your reflections on this. Cathy, I’m talking to you. Guys, I’m not going to lie; this is hardcore stuff, but it’s good stuff. There’s a reason this book is mentioned in low, reverential tones. If you’re through playing around in the kiddie pool, and you want to go deep into the heart of responsible love, come on in. I dare you.

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  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 1st Touchstone ed. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995).

Cross-Road

The message of the cross: we don’t want to hear it.

This could be one reason why much of the American church has, over time, delegated the full extent of its revelation to the obscurity of near nonexistence.  The central focus of the Judeo-Christian faith has been almost completely omitted in the modern church’s declaration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How has this happened? Christian bookstores are filled with mediocre “cheer up” messages which are little more than over-priced, humanistic self-help manuals. We “encourage” one another with “buck up, lil’ Buckaroo” admonishments and helpful hints based on “how I overcame this-and-such in my life.” We pick and choose our theologies based on the Big Three: Prosperity, Good Works, and Empty Encouragement.

Prosperity and Godliness

Prosperity teaching, in one form or another, could be the most prevalent heresy promoted from the pulpit since the early days of the Church. Anything other than complete financial success is interpreted as God’s punishment for the Faithless and/or the Non-tither. Poverty is used as a threat, and looked upon as a curse, even though Christ’s ministry on earth is a template for Christian self-denial. We love the reciprocity verses, focusing entire teachings, even ministries, upon its precepts (Luke 6:38*). We justify whole sermon series targeted at monetary giving by reminding the bench-warmers that their money is God’s money and, therefore, belongs to the church to redistribute as it sees fit. We tell ourselves that the on-staff missions’ pastor knows how to better use God’s provision while we comfort ourselves with excuses for not handing a fiver to the man on the corner holding a homemade cardboard sign. “He should work for his bread,” we say. “Those who do not work, do not eat,” we paraphrase Paul’s words. Yet, Paul’s admonishments were directed at those who misused the gifts given to the church by the faithful. These were words aimed at the Body of Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 3). On the contrary, we are continually instructed by the scriptures to care for the poor (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 4:18; Luke 14:13; Luke 19:8; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10; James 2:1-7). It’s not my job to judge the man on the corner or presume to know what he will do with “my” money. I thought it was God’s money, anyway, so what do I care what happens next?

Nice Guys

Good works are good, so long as they are done in secret and glorify God, not myself (Matthew 6:1-4). The minute that my motivation is to posture myself in front of others, everything that follows is garbage (Luke 6:26; Philippians 3:7). The only attention I should ever draw should be directed toward Abba who is worthy of all glory. Period.

Going Nowhere

Finally, empty encouragement, while well-meaning, does far more harm than good. When we pile compliments on others because we love that despairing person and want so much for him or her to feel that love, we’re only putting a Band-Aid on an open artery. The kindest thing any brother or sister in Christ can do for me, is tell me the truth (1 Corinthians 13-6). Our motivation should always be love, but love seeks what is good for those who are loved. It’s like giving the wrong directions to a fellow motorist who suspects he needs help, but is, somehow, certain that he knows where he is going. We don’t want to contradict him or hurt his feelings, even though we know he’s headed for a collapsed bridge (Proverbs 14:12). Maybe we’re so taken by his knowledge of cars and driving, that we begin to doubt our own understanding of direction. This is a particularly tough one for me. Every time I skip out on an opportunity to read the Word, I’m in danger of getting turned around, myself, which causes all my well-intended direction-giving to be more harmful than helpful.

The message of the cross is suffering and rejection. I don’t want to hear that. Everything in me is desperate to soft-lens its stark reality. My need for self-preservation screams out for validation. How can I trust a God who would send His own Son to dwell among those who would despise and reject Him? How can I say, “Yes,” to His promise that I will most certainly suffer for the sake of His Name (John 16:33)? I can joyfully accept Christ’s call, because whether I follow Him, or not, I suffer, but when I share in the fellowship of His sufferings I neither suffer needlessly, nor alone. I am freed from the fear of poverty; I am justified by His death and resurrection, and I rest in the Godly council of people who love me enough to tell me the truth.

 

*Not to keep beating a dead horse, but please reference Luke 6:37 in order to understand     what kind of “giving” Jesus may be referencing in Luke 6:38 (i.e. judgement, condemnation, forgiveness).