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He Chose to be Christ-like

April 1, 2013


Words by the Lead Coordinator, Kokayi Nosakhere

If he is not THE standard of Chrisitian conviction in the 20th Century, his witness ranks within the top five. Considering how faithful to Jesus’ example that he was, it has too. Very few persons being selected for Pope nowadays would meet the high standard that Dietrich Bonhoeffer (pronounced, BAHN-hoff-fer) set inside Nazi Germany.

In 1943, that standard cost the pacifist theologian his life. But, then again, didn’t Jesus pay the ultimate price for opposing a tyrannical government?

Bonhoeffer became God-intoxicated early. At the tender age of 24 he was lecturing students at Berlin University about “systematic theology.” He wrote books, which caught the attention of his peers. In other words, he was brilliant. In 1937, he published what became known as “The Cost of Discipleship.” A masterpiece of practical Christian logic.

The academic theologian was scathing in his denouncement of Christian institutions. He wrote, “Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. 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 sun. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.” (Cost of Discipleship, page 43)

No one I grew up with took the Pastor seriously when he occasionally spoke like this. It was called a “hard Word.” Nothing encouraging or motivational. A “meet the standard of Jesus” sermon. A “Rise up into who and what you are” sermon. Nah, nobody paid attention because very few people believed the Pastor was following what he said himself. Especially since the Pastor did not fight injustice, in many ways he calmed those angry at injustice down.

Average Christians feel helpless before money and power. The standard set is too high. The examples given of people, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who are willing to risk their lives for an abstract set of ideas, is beyond the scope of the average American citizen. Isn’t that why he is a hero? He was willing to die proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Average Christians are not willing to do that.

Most say to themselves, “Isn’t that asking a lot? I mean, my life is all I have. If I put that on the line, I’ve got nothing else. Take some money and leave me alone, please.”

Such is the cheap “cost of grace” that Bonhoeffer alludes to. Christianity is reduced to something the marketplace can put a price tag on. His version of grace is intense in a way that is ever immediate. In his mind “costly grace” renews itself – the pressure to be Christ-like! – all on its own. You don’t even have to think. The cross is THERE! Ever present is the weight of Christian responsibility.

A child of God, who is committed to the Gospel, fulfills the spiritual need of the moment. This is the real meaning of “standing in the gap.” The Believer must act to prevent injustice, such actions are considered sacred. Since Jesus paid the ultimate price, His followers are supposed to help end human pain and suffering.

Intoxicated by Jesus’ example, Bonhoeffer was a Christian who put his life on the line. Thus, he enjoyed such a reputation that American supporters smuggled him out of Nazi Germany in 1939. However, this did not bring him any comfort.

Life inside of Harlem convicted the sensitive theologian’s soul. The treatment of (so-called) African American citizens reminded Bonhoeffer too much of Germany’s treatment of Jewish men, women and children. To do nothing would lead to the segregation and cultural oppression he saw daily before him in Harlem. Germany couldn’t turn out like America: not while Bonhoeffer had his life to give.

He tried to rationalize what he saw, the watering down of the Gospel, in church history. “As Christianity spread, and the church became more secularized, this realization of of the costliness of grace gradually faded. The world was Christianized, and grace became its common property. It was to be had at low cost. Yet the Church of Rome did not altogether lose the earlier vision. It is highly significant that the Church was astute enough to find room for the monastic movement, and to prevent it from lapsing into schism. Here on the outer fringe of the Church was a place where the older vision was kept alive. Here men still remembered that grace costs, that grace means following Christ. Here they left all they had for Christ’s sake, and endeavoured daily to practice his rigorous commands.” (Cost of Discipleship, page46)

In 1941, he boldly returned to his homeland. He began immediately living out his conviction. Bonhoeffer joined the armed resistance. He was arrested on April 5, 1943 by the Gestapo for plotting to kill Adolf Hitler.

Talk about balls. This “theologian” did not just talk out his Christianity. He completely walked out his Faith.

They say that the guards interrupted him in the midst of ministry before leading him to his death.

What kind of mind must a person develop to bear witness to Jesus under those conditions – with grace. Bonhoeffer did not cry, complain or curse his captors. The theologian waxed poetic to express his inner journey.

“Come now, solemn eat feast on the road to eternal freedom,

Death, and destroy those fetters that bow, those walls that imprison

this our transient life, these souls that linger in darkness,

so that at last we see what is here withheld from our vision.

Long did we seek you, freedom, in discipline, action and suffering.

Now that we die, in the face of God himself we behold you.” (Cost of Discipleship, page 23)

The question is: What do we do with this information? How do we find the conviction to perform small acts of “costly grace” in our lives? Where do we start?

You can start by:

1) actually reading the New Testament yourself.
2) Choose to participate in By2015:AMERICA’s social media campaign.
3) Donate your time, talent and energy to a Summer Foods program.

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