Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Troubling Question

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “But one question still troubles us. What can the call to discipleship mean today for the worker, the businessman, the squire [the well to do] and the soldier? Does it not lead to an intolerable dichotomy between our lives as workers in the world and our lives as Christians? If Christianity means following Christ, is it not a religion for a small minority, a spiritual elite?...Yet surely such an attitude is the exact opposite of the gracious mercy of Jesus Christ, who came to the publicans and sinners, the weak and the poor, the erring and the hopeless.” [Pages 40 – 41; The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1963 Macmillan (paperback), New York.]

What indeed does the call to discipleship mean today outside of church walls and home Bible studies and parachurch meetings? We live in a Christian ghetto, only poking our heads outside our shells long enough to quickly say, “Have a blessed day,” whatever that means. We forget that Jesus says, “If you want to follow Me, come and die.”

Bonhoeffer calls the dichotomy between our lives as workers in the world and our lives as Christians “intolerable”.  If it was intolerable when he wrote this in 1937, it is hardly intolerable today in 2014. Oh it may be Biblically intolerable, but it isn’t causing us in the West any angst, in fact it is a dichotomy which protects us nicely from engagement and conflict with the world, it is our firewall. We meet as Christians in church and small group gatherings and then we disperse into the workplace and school and neighborhood after putting our discipleship on hold until we meet once again in our enclaves – be they large or small. We’ve become like the Masons, known only to one another with code words and deeds; if we’re different than Masons it is because we are often far less willing to help one another in need and far less likely to know the Book of our faith than, I am told, Masons know the rules of their order.

I don’t think Bonhoeffer’s question troubles us at all today; I don’t hear us wrestling with it, I don’t see reflection on it, I don’t hear it preached about or taught about. I do see low - risk witnessing talked about occasionally, non-threatening witnessing given passing acknowledgment; but our real concern isn’t that others feel threatened, it is that we are threatened by the idea of obeying Jesus’ command to tell others about Him and to make disciples. It isn’t the lives of others we are concerned about saving, more often than not it is our own skin and pride and ego.

But Bonhoeffer isn’t writing about witnessing per se, he is writing about living for Jesus in all areas of life, about obeying our Lord Jesus, about taking up our cross and following Him – of course, such lives necessarily entail witnessing in both words and deeds.

Living for Jesus is at one and the same time the safest and riskiest way of life; it is risky in that we are called to die, to be obedient to Christ no matter what the cost or circumstances; it is safe because He is ever and always with us, His presence indwells us, His power envelopes us, and our eternal future in Him is certain.

Imagine an EMT (emergency medical technician) who worked in New York City who seldom went on ambulance calls; he went on calls so seldom that when he did he told all his friends about it; having a call to respond to was the exception and not the norm. After serving for 30 years he retired, and looking back on his 30 years of service he could only remember a few calls he ever responded to. This is a strange scenario is it not?

Consider professing Christians who are called to share the life-giving grace and Gospel of Jesus with others, who are commanded to do so, who have been redeemed to do so; and yet after decades of church attendance and small group participation and Sunday school studies have seldom, if ever, shared the Gospel with another person. Why are we not troubled by this dichotomy of the way we are “in church” and the way we are in society?

How much more troubling would our EMT scenario be if the EMT regularly rode around in his ambulance passing people with heart attacks, strokes, and automobile-accident injuries…never stopping to help, never stopping to save?

How often do we get out of the ambulance?

Are we troubled by this dichotomy…or is it just business (Christianity) as usual?

Obedience leads to witness.

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