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All or nothing

September 23rd, 2011

1224304578452_1No one can fail to be impressed with Euan Murray’s muscular approach to the Christian life. He seems to bring the same strong, uncompromising approach to his Sunday observance as he does to playing in the front row of the Scottish scrum. Even though he would be first choice for this week’s Scottish team to meet Argentina in the Rugby World Cup, he has chosen not to play because the match is being played on Sunday. I love his line:

“It’s basically all or nothing following Jesus. I don’t believe in pick ‘n’ mix Christianity.”

That kind of sentiment is an accurate reflection of the kind of commitment that Jesus required and would have approved of: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

It’s also a contemporary reminder of a point which was made very eloquently by Deitrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship. One of the most quoted parts of the book deals with the distinction which Bonhoeffer makes between “cheap” and “costly” grace. Bonhoeffer defines cheap grace as “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.”

Or, even more clearly, it is to hear the gospel preached as, “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.” The main defect of such a message, says Bonhoeffer, is that it contains no demand for discipleship. In contrast to this is costly grace:

“Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It 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 is light.”

Bonhoeffer argues that as Christianity spread, the Church became more “secularised”, accommodating the demands of obedience to Jesus to the requirements of society. In this way, “the world was Christianised, and grace became its common property.” But the hazard of this was that the gospel was cheapened, and obedience to the living Christ was gradually lost beneath formula and ritual, so that in the end, grace could literally be sold for monetary gain.

But, as Bonhoeffer describes it, there was, within the church, a living protest against this process in the form of the monastic movement. This served as a “place where the older vision was kept alive.” Unfortunately, “monasticism was represented as an individual achievement which the mass of the laity could not be expected to emulate”; the commandments of Jesus were limited to “a restricted group of specialists” and a double standard arose: “a maximum and a minimum standard of church obedience.” This was a dangerous state of affairs for, as Bonhoeffer points out, whenever the church was accused of being too worldly, it could always point to monasticism as “the opportunity of a higher standard within the fold – and thus justify the other possibility of a lower standard for others.” So the monastic movement, instead of serving as an incentive for all Christians, it became a justification for maintaining the status quo.

All of this changed at the time of the Reformation through Martin Luther, says Bonhoeffer, when he brought Christianity “out of the cloister”. However, he believed that subsequent generations had again cheapened the preaching of the forgiveness of sins, and this has seriously weakened the church.

“The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organised 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 baptised, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation without condition. Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving… But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.”

We have to say that authentic Christianity which claims to be consistent with the teaching of Jesus Christ is not a “pick ‘n’ mix” Christianity in which a disciple can pick the blessings and privileges of a life in fellowship with Jesus and avoid the painful decisions and hard choices. Following a crucified Christ means that we, too, are called to bear a painful, often bloodied, cross.

We may disagree on some of the details of Christian discipleship, and may have different views on what Christ wants us to do, or not to do, on the Lord’s Day. But men like Euan Murray are fully persuaded that their Christian discipleship requires them not to become slaves to their sport so that it is allowed to have the primary place in the way they use their time. In that area, as in every other one, Jesus Christ is Lord. It’s all or nothing. And that is a message which Christians, and the world of unbelief, needs to hear.

I still hope that Scotland win on Sunday.

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