In Eric Metaxas’ New York Times best-selling book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Timothy J. Keller (best-selling author of The Reason For God) provided the following forward concerning the condition of faith during the rise of Nazi Germany:
It’s impossible to understand . . . without becoming acquainted with the shocking capitulation of the German church to Hitler in the 1930s. How could the “church of Luther” . . . ever come to such a place? The answer is that the true gospel, summed up by Bonhoeffer as “costly grace,” had been lost. On the one hand, the church had become marked by formalism. That meant going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn’t really matter much how you live. Bonhoeffer called this “cheap grace.” On the other hand, there was legalism, or salvation by law and good works. Legalism meant that God loves you because you have pulled yourself together and are trying to live a good, disciplined life.
Both of these impulses made it possible for Hitler to come to power. (emphasis mine)
Nazi Germany. World War II. The death of millions. The Holocaust. History will say that these things happened as a result of the evil that arose in the heart of a nation suffering from the wounds that resulted from their humiliation and defeat in World War I. While there is an element of truth to that historical fact, we must also consider the reason for why such a wound went unhealed. Why was evil was able to rise with such speed and destruction? Could it be that these atrocities were the indirect result of a church that had, as the writer of the Book of Revelation once penned, become luke warm?
A disturbing question to answer. However, if true, does it present a dark foreshadowing of the future of the United States of America?
Bonhoeffer described “cheap grace” this way:
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 of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins…. 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 therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
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. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin….
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is 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, living and incarnate.
Christianity in America has been progressing down the road of “cheap grace” for many years now. Many of the issues of our time—the breakdown of the family, divorce, sexual promiscuity, and abortion, just to name a few—have become nothing more than a series of lifestyle decisions that may or may not be wrong. And if it is, don’t worry, there’s grace. A great example of this misapplication of grace can be found in the rise of the homosexual movement, specifically the delusion often referred to as “gay marriage.”
- Under the guise of “acceptance of an oppressed group,” a Vineyard minister in Michigan recently wrote in a letter to his congregation that he received a “strong nudge from Jesus” to change his views on homosexuality—going as far as to say that he doesn’t believe that the Bible prohibits sexual relations between two people of the same gender, and embracing homosexual marriage.
- During a recent interview with Joel Osteen and his wife Victoria Osteen, HuffPost Live’s Marc Lamont Hill asked whether gay marriage is against the fundamental “rules” of Christianity. Osteen’s response was that “it’s not part of my core message.” Translation? If I address this issue biblically, that will require costly grace. If I hide behind the cheap grace you find in most of the motivational fluff I preach, I can escape this interview unscathed.
Of course, these are just two of literally hundreds of examples that can be found in today’s church. Many of America’s mainstream denominations have made acceptance on this issue official church policy.
Cheap grace lovers of the world, unite!
In Bonhoeffer’s time, Germany fell victim to the rise of the National Socialist German Workers Party (i.e. the Nazi Party), losing their right to life and liberty. The cheap grace message of a passive church was largely responsible for creating the environment that made that possible. In America today, we too are witnessing an increase in governmental policies and practices that embrace a form of socialism. And just as it was then, the church is largely responsible.
Many in America today are aware that we are drifting swiftly away from the truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Government grows bigger and more lawless with each passing day. Morality has become so subjective that it has lost all meaning. The right to freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the press are being stripped and redefined.
In the face of these assaults, organizations such as the T.E.A. Party have arisen to fight back against this tyranny. But it’s going to take more than voting in the elections, as vital as that is, to change the course we are on. What we need is a revival that will shake the very foundations of the church; one that will pull her out of her coma of complacency and return her to the powerful influence on America she needs to be to see this awesome country restored to the vision of our forefathers.
As we consider the events that transpired leading up to Adolph Hitler’s rise to power and the current conditions in America, could it be that we are on the threshold of an America that holds more in common with 1930s Germany than we care to admit? And if the answer to that question is yes, are we, the church of Jesus Christ, willing to throw out the message of cheap grace and return to the life-changing message of costly grace?
Before you answer that question, remember this: Bonhoeffer—and many others like him—died because their answer was “yes!”