A young German minister by the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a transformational book by the title Nachfolge (literally: “following” or: “the act of following”) in 1937. The book was published in a very trying season. It was during the height of the second world war that Bonhoeffer wrote this daring book that call the church back to discipleship. Bonhoeffer was disgusted with what he called the “cheap grace”. “Cheap grace” is about believers who did not appreciate the price paid for their salvation and yet they claim that they have been saved. It is a religion that did not require changed life. Basically what Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes in his book is what the church of Christ in Ethiopia finds itself at the present time.
I want you to take a moment and think the sacrifice you made this week to become Just like Jesus. What did you have to give up in order to please God. What is it that required you to go out of the way to help some one, to stand for justice, to fight evil or to stretch a helping hand to someone who needs it? In what way are you different from the people who work and live around you? What is the distinguishing mark you carry that tells people that you are the follower of Jesus?
I am asking all these question not to make you feel bad. I am trying to make a point that now a day we do not ask such critical questions. We are leading what I call a “part time Christianity.” Let me try to explain what I mean by “part time Christianity” the most we do to worship God is attending one or two meeting a week. Once we did that we have already paid our due. This has become the standard by which we measure our spirituality. We judge people by where they attend church services not by their character. Do not get me wrong the gathering of the believers is one way of showing our commitments to God but it is absolutely not the only one. Brenan Manning calls it a “Cross less Christianity” in other word a life that does not require any change or sacrifice.
Going back to Bonhoeffer the book sends a title wave through the ecclesia in the whole world. Living what he believed cost him his life. Hitler can take it no more so by the order of Himmler (the second man after Hitler) they hanged him. His book has been translated in many languages and was read by millions. The English version of his book came with the title “the Cost of Discipleship”. The title given to the English version created a wrong perception among many well meaning believers. People started to speak and teach discipleship as almost impossible or extremely hard. In fact, it is viewed as if it is for few brave souls. This is not a new deception. It has been an issue the church struggled from the beginning. The Catholic Church has been snared by this lie from its inception. The church believes that only the chosen few are called to follow Jesus as his disciples. These devoted disciples have to make huge sacrifices, they have to live modestly and lead a life of celibacy. The remaining majority can live an “ordinary life” of sin and worldliness. The same idea has been in the Ethiopian Orthodox church. The priests and the monks are those who committed to live for their soul. “le nebsachew Yaderu” meaning people who live for the well being of their soul. These are the special elect of God who live in monasteries and caves. The majority who are still considered the member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are not required to live a disciplined life of righteousness.
It is my opinion the same direction is been taken by the evangelical church in Ethiopia. Commitment to the teaching and mission of the Lord are replaced with attending weekly meetings and few optional activities. It has become a part time religion instead of total transformation of life. It does not require lifestyle change. People might change their churches but not their life. Their business, family and relationship continues as usual. Bonhoeffer puts it this way, “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 with out Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
It has come to a point that the deterioration of Godliness is not alarming anymore. People find explanation why is it ok not to be like Jesus. It seems everyone is bought into the lie following Jesus is hard and his teaching are not meant to be obeyed and followed. The church is full of “followers who do not follow” as Francis Chan puts it.
Believers seem to speak about how costly it is to follow Jesus. They describe the difficulty of leading a righteous life in this treacherous time. They have all kinds of examples and story that proves it is almost impossible to follow Jesus in obedience to his word.
The question we were supposed to ask is not the cost of following Jesus. The question should be how much costly is not following him.
Dallas Willard puts it this way, “the vast grim “cost of discipleship” is something we hear constantly emphasized. …we would do far better to lay a clear, constant emphasis upon the Cost of non-discipleship.” What will be the outcome of people who believe in their mouth but deny him in their action. What will be the future of a church who preaches the grace with out discipleship. What will be the future of people who sing freedom from sin and live under its bondage?
I believe the cost of non-discipleship is much costlier than the cost of discipleship. What we sacrifice to follow Jesus according to his word will be so insignificant compared to the life of sin and disobedience. It is much easier and happier to follow and obey Jesus than leading a life of disobedience.
Yonatan Tekie (pastor)