Taking Grace Too Seriously

Not sure what pushes this…but a question was raised…”Now that you are retired, what would you change in ministry to make it more effective…for yourself and for others?”

A good question that could perhaps get nowhere. But. I will answer. Probably when I was most disappointed in myself was when a “situation” was over I didn’t think I gave as much energy as I could have. Felt almost like a slacker. No less with others…in fact I believe there are many ordained clergy, without naming any, who, let me put it this way, take grace too seriously.

That doesn’t mean the goal is perfection. Did I ever tell you when on a Saturday morning, as I was cutting the grass at 10:30 a.m., our sexton called, wondering when I was going to show up for an 11 a.m. wedding? Thanks goodness I arrived before the florist, which meant we then could start. And yes, I did shower…sort of. Sigh. Nope, perfection isn’t priority. Fidelity and effort, the belief and task interconnected is.

Thought I would tap into the minister who is mentor for me…and has been since February, 1966, when he interviewed me to be an Assistant Minister on his staff in Chicago, Fred Trost, a true servant of Christ who understands the calling to ministry to be a calling to servanthood. Fred responded and has given me permission to share his thoughts. Please read…to see if it matters in how you order your manner of life, ordained or not.

This is more than a sentence and a paragraph…but I believe in my heart of hearts, Bonhoeffer and Fred share what should not only be incarnate in ministry, make that living for any of us, but intention for the living of each dawning day.

From Fred’s heart and his witness in ministry:

You remember, of course, what Bonhoeffer had to say about “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” (“The Cost of Discipleship,” pp. 35-47, in the December, 1961 printing by SCM Press). A very contemporary theme, as you point out. The final paragraph is memorable (as is all of the essay).

Bonhoeffer wrote, “Happy are they who have reached the end of the road we seek to tread, who are astonished to discover the by no means self-evident truth that grace is costly just because it is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Happy are the simple followers of Jesus Christ who have been overcome by his grace, and are able to sing the praises of the all-sufficient grace of Christ with humbleness of heart. Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world. Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. Happy are they who have become Christians in this sense of the word. For them the word of grace has proved a fount of mercy.”

I rarely, if ever these days, hear “grace” described in anything close to Bonhoeffer’s memorable words, “The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices… Grace without price; grace without cost!…Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth,… no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin… Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything,… and so everything can remain as it was before… The world goes on in the same old way,…”

The difference between “cheap” and “costly” grace should be taught in every seminary of the Church, i.e., seminaries that have integrity. Not as an elective! Faith has to do with rugged obedience active in the world; clinging tenaciously to the teachings of Christ; an expression of discipleship few of us care to embrace, and certainly not preach about. And so the Church is where it is,… for the most part quiet; certainly when it comes to the dreadful realities of war and violence that are choking the world to death. [I know there are courageous exceptions.] We are, in many parts of the Church, ignorant and careless when it comes to the “cost of discipleship.” We prefer an easier path; a path devoid of risk. And so we continue to diminish. Bonhoeffer put it succinctly: “We… have gathered like eagles round the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk the poison which has killed the life of following Christ… Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it (one) will gladly go and sell all he/she has. It is the pearl of great price (for) which the merchant will sell all his goods,… it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves (the) nets and follows him…”

But the Church is dying because of its cowardice, and the ineptness of its teaching ministry, and it will require a reformation as was the case 500 years ago. This is “most certainly true” today. It remains true that we are daily called to re-formation in every era. But we default… I do not expect to see it, urgent as it is, in my lifetime. Alas!

In Faith and Friendship,

About Mark H Miller

Diane and I live in Leander, Texas. This past June 17, 2015 I celebrated the 49th anniversary of my ordination. We returned to Texas after three years in Washington, during which I served as interim minister in Bellevue/Eastgate and Mercer Island. Am planning to begin a 5th novel that will have my protagonist, Tricia Gleason, serve a year in licensed ministry in Snoqualmie, Washington. The novel, "The Lemon Drop Didn't Melt," will find Tricia wrestling with ministry challenges. None of which more daunting than someone wanting her breathing to stop. All the published novels are available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle under Mark Henry Miller. A primary goal in our return to Texas is to make sure grandchildren get lots of attention--here and in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Traveling is definitely an activity that will not slow down. With that, of course, fishing will happen. To that the t-shirt is apt, "I fish; therefore I am." In addition to novels, the book of Blogs, "Voice Of My Heart," is also available on Amazon.
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