Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dietrich Bonhoeffer at 100

One of the books that has had the greatest and lasting influence on my life as a one seeking to live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ in the world is Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I first read it over 20 years ago when a friend gave me his tattered paperback copy of Cost of Discipleship. The opening chapter grabbed my heart and mind and would not let me go. As I read Bonhoeffer’s word again today I must say that they are as true today as they were when they were first written in the midst of struggle against the Nazis just a few years before the beginning of World War II.

I’m speaking of Bonhoeffer’s contrasting of cheap grace and costly grace:

“Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.

“Costly grace is the hidden treasure in the field, for the sake of which people go and sell with joy everything they have. It is the costly pearl, for whose price the merchant sells all that he has; it is Christ’s sovereignty, for the sake of which you tear out an eye if it causes you to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ which causes a disciple to leave his nets and follow him.

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock.

“It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; its is grace because it thereby makes them live. It is costly, because it condemns sin; it is grace, because it justifies the sinner. Above all, grace is costly, because it was costly to god, because it costs God the life of God’s Son—“you were bought with a price”—and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God. Above all, it is grace because the life of God’s Son was not too costly for God to give in order to make us live. God did, indeed, give him up for us. Costly grace is the incarnation of God.” (Discipleship, pages 44-45)

A Wesleyan Disciple-Making System

Here’s some thoughts that have been running through my mind for a while. I’m interested in identifying the essential “building-blocks” for a “disciple-making system” that is grounded in Wesley theology and spirit. Here’s my first stab at a summary:

A Wesleyan Disciple-Making System

1. The congregation is Christ-centered. The mission and ministry of the community is directed toward forming its members as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. The congregation’s witness in the community is as a sign-community pointing the way toward the reign of God. This means that in its witness the world sees that the poor find good news, those who were captives and oppressed are set free, and the blind and sick are healed. Love is the ethic and grace is the dynamic of a Christ-centered congregation.

2. The congregation has high expectations for its members and for God. The congregation expects that each member will do his or her best to be faithful to the baptismal covenant. It is also expected that God will keep God’s promises as they are revealed in Scripture and in the Baptismal covenant. Leaders understand that people usually live up to the expectations they are given. If we have very low expectations, people will generally live up to them. Likewise, if people are given high expectations they will strive to live into them.

3. The congregation provides an intentional system designed to provide the means for persons and the congregation to live up to expectations:

A. Well planned and lead worship that is liturgical/sacramental and evangelical in which Christ in all of his offices (prophet, king, and priest) is proclaimed in word and sacrament.
B. Frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper
C. An interconnected system of small groups for mutual support and accountability for Christian formation. Provide groups that meet people where they are—seekers, new, growing, and mature Christians.
D. Small groups that form and nurture leaders in discipleship.
E. Teaching and practicing the means of grace—both the works of piety and works of mercy are balanced together.
F. Every member is encouraged to participate in a curriculum for Christian initiation and formation.
G. Mission and ministry in and with the local community and the world, especially with poor and marginalized people. This mission and ministry both meets physical and material needs while also sharing the good news of God with them in Jesus Christ in ways that they hear and receive it as good news. This acknowledges that Christians are commanded by Christ to do good to their bodies and to their souls.
H. The congregation’s life and ministry is guided by a rule of life that is shaped by the General Rules or the General Rule of Discipleship. The importance of these Wesleyan rules of life is that they help the community and its members to live and practice a balanced discipleship that is shaped by all the teachings of Jesus and not just those that are attractive or that feel good.

4. Evangelism that is Biblical and invitational. The congregation and its leaders understand that evangelism is the responsibility of the whole people of God. It is not a program or a craft that is delegated to “professionals.” The congregation understands that evangelism is simply witnessing to the good news of God given to the world in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The evangelical task and responsibility is to share the good news of Christ in ways that those who receive it receive it as good news indeed and they desire a relationship with Jesus Christ.