July 9, 2013

The Church's Brand of Discipleship

I have been reading a wonderful little book critiquing the theological writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. My  fascination with Bonhoeffer began in 2007 when he was first brought to my notice through an audio book on his life and work.

Chapter 6 is titled: The Church’s Brand of Discipleship and  touches on Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship (Nachfolge). The beginning asks two fundamental questions:

  • What is discipleship?
  • What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ?
“Discipleship is the road to Christian joy (pg. 75).”  And: “Discipleship is much easier than man-made rules and dogmas, but more important, what Jesus asks, he gives the grace to do.  Discipleship may be hard, but it is not limited to a small spiritual elite.”

Cheap Grace:
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, 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.” (pg. 76)

“Grace on the other hand, is dear and costly.  A man must give up his life to follow Christ.  Grace is dear because it cost the Son of God His life, but it is grace because God did not count this too great a cost.”

The life of a disciple is to be lived in the world against its hostility, not in a favored atmosphere of a friendly monastery. (pg. 76) Only in costly grace is their joy in Christian living.

How does one become a disciple?

  1. There is the call of Jesus to follow Him
  2. One must take the first concrete step out of faith, or as Bonhoeffer put it: “Faith can no longer mean sitting still and waiting – they must arise and follow Him.”
Two Propositions:
  1. “Only he who believes is obedient”
  2. “Only he who is obedient believes.” (pg. 77)
There is no obedience without faith, nor faith without obedience.  Following Christ means leaving the world of the finite and being brought into the life of the Infinite.  Being a disciple is related to bearing the cross of Christ.

“To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only Him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.” (pg. 78)

The Cross means:
  1. One must abandon the attachments of this world
  2. One must come after Christ and die to himself
  3. One must perhaps undergo death completely
In discipleship, according to Bonhoeffer, “men become individuals.”  The call of Christ demands a break with the world as well as with the past.  Christ’s call places a barrier between man and the world.
Being in Christ, it becomes possible to see how isolated man is from man. (pg. 79)

The Sermon on the Mount:
Bonhoeffer takes the beatitudes seriously.  There is one place where the beatitudes are incarnate in one person – the crucified of Golgotha.   Thus the disciples, following their Lord, “are called blessed because they have obeyed the call of Jesus.”
  1. The poor in spirit are those who have accepted the loss of all things including their own selves for His sake.
  2. Those who mourn are those who do “without what the world calls peace and prosperity.”  Mourning means to refuse to be in harmony with the standards of the world.
  3. The meek are those who give up claims to their own rights for the will of Christ.
  4. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those renouncing all claims to personal achievement, who wait for God’s reign of righteousness.
  5. The merciful, having given up claims to their own become “men for others,” helping the needy, sick, castouts, all those who need any kind of ministry.
  6. The pure in heart become that way by giving their hearts completely to the reign of Jesus.  Under His rule, He purifies their hearts with His Word.
  7. The peacemakers renounce all violence and “maintain fellowship where others would break it off.”
  8. The persecuted for righteousness suffer for “any just cause,” and will be rejected by the world, but God’s kingdom belong to them. (pgs. 78-79)
The disciples, the blessed ones, are not too good for the world, for they are thrust into its center as the salt of the earth.  The kingdom of heaven is theirs only after they finish their earthly task.

Two options for the disciple:
  1. Being the salt of the earth
  2. Being annihilated and crushed
Similarly, as the lights of the world, they receive energy from the light of the Cross….  If the Light does not shine, can there be oneness with Christ?

Christ, the Disciples and the Pharisees:
The close connection with Christ distinguishes the disciples from the Pharisees.  Both stood under the obligation to keep the Old Testament law.  But, the Pharisees tried and failed.  Jesus spoke of the need to have a “better righteousness.”  They [the disciples] can only exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees by receiving the gift of righteousness, the fulfiller of the law, Christ Himself.

The Disciple and the Law
Bonhoeffer says: “There is no fulfillment of the law apart from communion with God, and no communion with God apart from fulfillment of the law.” (pg. 81)

Bonhoeffer rejects the subtle distinction between “righteous indignation and unjustifiable anger.”
Freedom from anger is the command for the disciple.  Anger hinders worship and prohibits service.  We cannot honor God, and dishonor our brother.  To honor God requires a reconciliation against all that have been offended.

adultery / Lust:
adultery – Desire (lust) where there is no love.
If the disciple retains his gaze upon Christ, his gaze will be pure even when looking at a woman. (pg. 82)

The intent of both Jesus and the law was to safe guard marriage.  Any violation of the law – in any sexual irregularity – is against the Body of Christ because the disciple is a member of His Body.  To be dead to lust and desire is possible because in Christ the disciple was crucified, or put to death, and desire has no hold on a dead person.

Oaths / Swearing:
Discipleship means complete truthfulness.  Discipleship supposes that one has been completely truthful with Jesus, else there is no forgiveness.  Truthfulness is the basis of fellowship among believers.  Without it the brotherhood is destroyed.

The only way to conquer evil then, according to Bonhoeffer, is not politically but passively.  If the disciple is meek, not counting his own rights, he will seek redress when wronged.  Resistance creates further resistance and solves nothing.

“There is no deed on earth so outrageous as to justify a different attitude.  The worse the evil, the readier must the Christian be to suffer.”

Love of Enemies:
The greater the hatred, the greater the love must be for the hater.  Loving the enemy is to serve him “in all things without hypocrisy and with utter sincerity.”  No sacrifice which a lover would make for his beloved is too great for us to make for our enemy.”

Jesus commands that love for the enemy be a hallmark of the disciple.  This love is the fulfilling of the law and obedience to Christ.

Discipleship means looking at and following Christ.  When one begins to notice his own love and goodness, one ceases being a disciple.
Prayer in the life of a Disciple:

Prayer is never an entreaty – for God knows our needs nor is it a pious work.  It has a hidden character, for in prayer men “have ceased to know themselves, and know only God whom they call upon.”

The model prayer Jesus gave His disciples is the “quintessence of prayer.”  It serves to place boundaries around the disciple’s prayer. (pg. 84)

Fasting, a practice akin to prayer:
Bonhoeffer follows Jesus’ warning against mere pious fasting to impress either others or oneself.  Fasting has the motive of self-disciple, for better service to Christ.
When the Christian has failed in obedience, is guilty of sin against others, has lost the joy of Christian grace, and has come to little or no prayer, he needs to fast and pray!

Simplicity in carefree living:
Bonhoeffer stresses the singleness of following Christ alone.  It is never Christ and something else.  Singleness of heart relates both to treasures on earth and to what master we serve.  Treasures are a part of human nature.  Rather than be denied them, the disciple is given “higher objects – the glory of God (John 5:44), the glorifying in the Cross (Galatians 6:14), and the treasure in heaven.”
Singleness of heart relates to the master we serve: God or Mammon.  We must love God or hate Him. (pg 84)

The uniqueness of the disciple and his extraordinary position:
How is he [the disciple] to be related to the non-Christian?  Bonhoeffer discusses this topic in the third section of the Sermon (Matt. 7).  No superior attitude is warranted, for the believer possesses his righteousness as gift, not by achievement.  Rather, he must come to the non-Christian with “an unconditional offer of fellowship, with the single-mindedness of the love of Jesus.”  If we are inclined to judge so that evil might be destroyed, we should look within ourselves. (pg 85)

As judgment is prohibited, so is coercion in making disciples of other people.  Proselytizing is wrong for three reasons:
  1. Swine do not recognize costly pearls;
  2. “it profanes the word of forgiveness”
  3. it does not recognize the weakness of the gospel
The disciple has no power over the other person, except through Christ in prayer.  The church will not win the majority of mankind.  Many are on the road to destruction.

“But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray.”
Following is made all the harder because there are false prophets who look, act, and speak like Christians.  Here one cannot judge, but must wait for evil to show its [true] colors.

Division of True from False (Judgment):
The great final judgment involves all, and division will hinge on those who confess him and those who do not.  Presently there is possibility of a demonic confession devoid of love, without Christ and without the Spirit of God.

The important question is: “Who will pass the test and who will not?”  Bonhoeffer’s answer: “the word of the last judgment is foreshadowed in the call to discipleship…. If we follow Christ, cling to His word, and let everything else go, it will see us through the day of judgment.  His word is His grace.”

Discipleship Today:
Are we moderns not in a more difficult when we do not have the personalized call to follow Jesus?  How are we to decide what following Jesus may mean for us, or to know for sure that we are not following our own wishes?

Bonhoeffer rejects these questions as being wrong.  Jesus yet lives.  The resurrection is a fact and Jesus calls to the modern to follow Him

“The preaching of the church and the administration of the sacraments is the place where Jesus Christ is present.”
How are we to discern which commands of His are related to us?  This question, according to Bonhoeffer, is based upon a misunderstanding.  “The object of Jesus’ command is always the same – to evoke whole-hearted faith, to make us love God and our neighbor with all our heart and soul.  This is the unequivocal feature in his command.” (pg. 86-87)

Baptism and Discipleship:
Baptism involves the same breach with the world as following Christ.  In baptism, one dies to the old world.  In baptism, “Christ invades the realm of Satan, lays hands on His own and creates for Himself His church.”

The demand of Christ for a visible act of obedience is manifested in the public act of baptism. (pg. 87)

There is a dilemma in the Christian life remaining to be negotiated…. On the one hand, there is the slavish legalism, in which the commands of Scripture are adhered to with deep concern for fulfillment and obedience, even though obedience may be perfunctory.  On the other hand, there is the freedom of Christ which delivers from punctiliousness but which may slide in the direction of disobedience to Christ’s commands.

The contemporary criticism of the Church is related to merchandising in cheap grace where the church has not loved all men equally, has not preached the need for repentance from all sin, and has not forsaken the world for the service of Christ. (pg. 92)

Bonhoeffer concluded his work with this admonition: “be ye therefore imitators….”
Source: http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=2737 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Dallas M. Roark)

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