I received the following question about a blog post one of our readers saw:
I was wondering if GES has a response to this post I recently saw on Facebook:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German pastor, theologian, martyr, spy was asked in 1943 how it was possible for the Church to sit back and let Hitler seize absolute power. His firm answer: “It was the teaching of 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.”
We live in a time and culture that not only teaches cheap grace but praises it.
I found that post. You can read it here. It is by someone who calls himself Theist Thug Life (TTL).
Note that TTL states his own opinions in the opening and closing sentences.
First, let’s consider what TTL says. Was Bonhoeffer a martyr for Christianity? That is what TTL means. I’d say no. I’d say he was a martyr for the resistance movement:
In October 1940, Dietrich Bonhoeffer began work as an agent for Military Intelligence, supposedly using his ecumenical contacts to help the cause of the Reich.
In reality, he used his contacts to spread information about the resistance movement. In trips to Italy, Switzerland, and Scandinavia in 1941 and 1942, he informed them of resistance activities and tried, in turn, to gain foreign support for the German resistance. (For the full story, see here.)
He was indeed, as TTL says, a spy. He was working against the Nazi government to bring it down.
I just preached on Rom 13:1-7 this past Sunday. While preparing for the sermon, I found that pastors like John Piper and John MacArthur pointed out that Paul gives no room for resisting one’s government. Yes, if the government commands citizens to violate God’s commands, then we disobey (Daniel 3, 6; Acts 5:29). But if the government is corrupt, we are not free to seek to overthrow it. Piper and MacArthur point out that even the American Revolution violated Rom 13:1-7.
I was taught at Dallas Theological Seminary that pastors and theologians are to be non-political. While we should exercise our right to vote, we do not use our ministries to tell people whom to vote for. Nor do we use our ministries to try to overthrow our mayor, governor, President, and other elected officials. To do so would be to violate Rom 13:1-7. Paul says, “There is no authority except from God…” (Rom 13:1). Does that include Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and Mao? Yes. “Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom 13:2).
Might it be that Bonhoeffer was executed because he resisted the ordinance of God? That is how I read Rom 13:2.
TTL ends by saying, “We live in a time and culture that not only teaches cheap grace but praises it.” I don’t think he is correct. Whether we use Bonhoeffer’s definition of cheap grace, or that of others today, very few in Evangelicalism proclaim that message today.
Second, let’s consider what Bonhoeffer wrote.
Does God’s Word teach forgiveness without repentance? Not on an interpersonal level (Matt 18:21-35). But God forgives us all our trespasses in a positional sense the moment we believe in Jesus (Col 2:13). Even as believers, if we are walking in fellowship with God, then the condition for fellowship forgiveness is confessing our sins, not repentance (1 John 1:9). Only when we are in the spiritual far country must we repent to be forgiven (Luke 15:1-32).
Does the Bible teach that baptism should be linked with church discipline? Bonhoeffer came from a tradition which sees salvation beginning with baptism, typically infant baptism. So, his point is that saved people should be subject to church discipline. That is correct (1 Cor 5:5, 9-11), though of course no one is born again by baptism. Regeneration occurs when we believe in Christ for everlasting life.
Does the Bible teach “communion without confession”? It depends on how we understand 1 Cor 11:28, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” I do not think that refers to confession of sins. In context Paul is asking the believers in Corinth to examine their own attitude toward the Lord’s Supper. If they view it as a regular meal, then they may get sick or even die (1 Cor 11:30). If they view it as a holy meal, a time to reflect on Jesus’ death on our behalf, then they have the right attitude.
Are we not to keep short accounts with God (1 John 1:9)? We are not to wait from one time we take communion to the next before we confess our sins.
What about “grace without discipleship”? Must we follow Christ in order to be born again and in order to retain our salvation? That is what Bonhoeffer is saying. But he is quite wrong. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear that we have been saved by grace through faith and apart from works. Discipleship is a work, a lot of work.
What about “grace without the cross”? Bonhoeffer does not mean grace without Christ’s dying on the cross for our sins. He means grace without our taking up our own crosses and suffering for Christ. That is Lordship Salvation or works salvation.
I’m not sure what he means by “grace without Jesus Christ.” Most likely he means salvation apart from following Christ’s example.
Dr. Charles Stanley was asked about cheap grace. In a message called, “The High Cost of God’s Grace,” Stanley says, “Grace is free, but it’s not cheap. It cost God His Son, and yet He gives it to us freely” (see here). Cheap wrongly implies we buy our own salvation at a steep discount. But as Stanley says, it is free to us, not cheap. But for God it was not cheap, rather the greatest price paid in history.
I agree. Everlasting life is a free gift given to all who simply believe in Jesus. There is no other condition.
Those who add additional conditions are trying to improve on God’s Word. They think that the quality of people in our churches is low. They are convinced God wants church people to live holier lives than they are living. So their solution is to make it harder to get into the church. Raise the bar. Raise the entrance requirements.
Is it godly to teach man-made doctrines which contradict God’s Word? No. No matter how reasonable a preacher might sound, if what he is saying contradicts God’s Word, then we should reject his message.