Spirit of Peace

"Cheap  Grace"

[  http://LiberalsLikeChrist.Org/cheapgrace.html ]

 

In memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a very exceptional person, a Christian clergyman who challenged Hitler publicly (even returning to Germany after having escaped for a time first to England and then to America).  The Nazis arrested him in 1943 and Himmler himself ordered him hanged in April, 1945, just a few weeks before the allied liberation of his concentration camp.  Thank God, however, his insightful book, "The Cost of Discipleship", survived the Nazi book burnings.  I believe that his idea of "cheap grace" explains not only the hollowness of German Christianity, but that of American Christianity as well.

Why has Christianity in America's Bible Belt been so unable and/or unwilling to recognize the evils of slavery, segregation, black terrorism and white supremacy, if not because of its embrace of the very same concept of "Cheap Grace" ?

How could the unholy alliance of the wealthiest and most bigotted people in America, those who almost worship guns for personal use and can't spend enough of our nation's resources on weapons of mass destruction, those who despise the least fortunate among us, and the political party which best represents all those sentiments, get away with calling themselves a "Christian Coalition", if not because of the prevalence of the notion of "cheap grace" here in America?

We may never know where the Nazis disposed of Bonhoeffer's body, but this web page hereby erects a shrine to Bonhoeffer's tremendous contribution to Christianity, the exposure of the heresy of "Cheap Grace".  See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 866 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022, 1963 and reprinted in paper back by Simon Schuster in 1995. 

        There was a video produced about him and featured on public television in 2001.  Check it out at http://www.bonhoeffer.com/thefilm.htm and/or http://www.journeyfilms.com/content.asp?contentid=770.

Cheap Grace

        "Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like a cheapjack's wares.  The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut-rate prices.  Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits.  Grace without price; grace without cost!  And the essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.  Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite.  What would grace be, if it were not cheap?
        . . .  In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. . .
        Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.  Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.   { p. 42}
. . .
        Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, (it is) baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."  { p. 43-4}

(True) Costly Grace

"Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake of one will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
        Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
        Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.  Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. . . 
        . . .   Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him;  it is grace because Jesus says:  "my yoke is easy and my burden light." { p. 45}

The Lutheran Church & Germany
(as illustrations of the harm done by CheapGrace)

        " We Lutherans have gathered like the eagles 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, of course, that we have paid the doctrine of pure grace divine honours unparalleled in Christendom; in fact we have exalted that doctrine to the position of God himself.  Everywhere Luther's formula has been repeated, but its truth (has been) perverted into self-deception. . .  by making this grace available on the cheapest and easiest terms.  To be "Lutheran" must mean that we must leave the following 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 follow Christ.  The result was that a nation became Christian and Lutheran, but at the cost of true discipleship.  The price it was called upon to pay was all too cheap.  Cheap grace had won the day."  { p. 53}
        "But do we also realize that this cheap grace has turned back upon us like a boomerang?  The price that we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized Church is only the inevitable consequence of our policy 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 nation unasked and without condition. . .  What had happened to all those warnings of Luther's 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 the world than this?  What are (examples of mass-murder) compared with the millions of spiritual corpses in our country to-day? . . .  Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical Church." (p. 54}
        "This cheap grace has been no less disastrous to our own spiritual lives. . .  Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience. . .  Having laid hold on cheap grace, they were barred for ever 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 in fact 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."  {p. 54 }


Although the Roman Catholic Church hasn't suffered as much as fundamentalist Protestant churches from the "cheap grace" syndrome, it does suffer from a very similar problem, which might be called "cheap sacraments", the belief that its priests have the power to wipe sin out with a mere sign of the cross over a penitent and the mumbling of the words: "I forgive you, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost."  Operating on this belief, the Roman Catholic hieararchy did very much the same as the Lutheran hieararchy in Nazi Germany.  Adolf Hitler did not succeed in the arrest, transportation, torture, emprisonment, mass murder and disposal of the remains of about 10,000,000 innocent human beings all by himself.  Nor did he recruit the millions of "willing executioners" (as one scholar has described the accessories to Hitler's monstrous crimes ) from the planet Mars.  Hitler recruited the vast majority of those assistants from the pews of the Lutheran and the Roman Catholic churches.  After being instructed by their clergy to obey the civil authorites of their day, which inevitably led to gravely sinful behavior.  Lutherans were led to believe that "grace" would save them, and Catholics were let to believe that its sacraments would save them, as they went about their daily routines of exterminating the Jewish race.

The impact of St. Paul's writings on Nazi Germany

There is no way of measuring that impact, but it is hard to imagine that the high standing that Paul of Tarsus has with Lutherans did not cause them to be influenced by the powerful teaching below to respect and follow their Nazi leaders - who actually appealed to these perfectly clear instructions, regarding obedience to one's political leaders ( with no room provided for reservations or exceptions) :

Letter to the Romans 13:1-7

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.  Do you wish to have no fear of the authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God's servant for your good.  But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.
        For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, busy with this very thing.  Pay to all what is due them–taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. "

Anybody who really believes that this passage is inspired and inerrant would have to defend "the divine right" of tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Min, Castro, Milosovich, Saddam Hussein and all the other monsters to stay in power for as long as God allows. Far from allowing anyone to try to remove such rulers, this "Word of God" compels "Christians" to respect and obey such rulers : "there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. . .  Therefore, whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed."  Paul doesn't allow for the slightest bit of "interpretation".  He drives home his point over and over again, that we should treat any and all rulers as God's very own appointees to whatever office they hold, be it governor, king, emperor, president, prime minister, secretary general, or Führer. No "if's", "and's" or "but's" !
        "The doctrine of the divine right of kings, came to dominate mediŠval concepts of kingship, claiming biblical authority [ Epistle to the Romans, chapter 13 ]".   [ from http://www.answers.com/topic/ roman-catholicism-s-links-with-political-authorities ] .
        Rather than supporting their oppressed subjects, Christian churches have a long record of supporting the arbitrary and dictatorial rulers of those subjects, so long as they in turn were supported by those rulers.  The rare exception, as in the case of the Soviet Union, is when those dictators opposed the power of the church itself.
        In World War II, the Christian churches of Germany had no problem applying this teaching of Paul's to the Nazi dictators - who were clearly evil, but pretended at least to be on the side of Christianity -. Yet, because the Soviet Union made no pretenses about being Christian, the Church didn't entertain for a minute that "those authorities that exist (in Communist countries) have been instituted by God."

        For more on these matters, see LiberalsLikeChrist.Org/RCscandal.htm, which deals mostly with the sad role of the Roman Catholic Church in the holocaust.
        For a time, there was an excellent documentary on Bonhoeffer available from www.frif.com/new2003/bon.html, which was shown on PBS in 2001.  Hopefully, it will be shown again.

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Ray@LiberalsLikeChrist.Org
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