There are several YouTube videos that I enjoy around bicycling, specifically mountain biking. In the video, the person conducting the video buys a mountain bike from Walmart and proceeds to take it on a Black Diamond (the hardest) mountain bike trail. The bike holds up for maybe one or two runs down the hill and then the problems start showing; the chain breaks, the brakes fail, the fork bends and the shocks fail and ultimately, the bike is unridable.
Christianity today seems to be a lot like these Walmart mountain bikes. shiny and cool on the outside, maybe with some low end decent components, but eventually, the poor materials and ultimately poor prodcut shines through . Today, we observe Christians who seem to have an overwheming lack of critical thought, an eight grade spiritual education, their prayers, their sermonizing is all shiny on the outside, but flakey and flimsy on the inside, much like Jesus’ condemnations of the Pharisees, whom he called white washed tombs.
Right now, we are exposed constantly to mass produced toxicity – the various news outlets, the multiple social media platforms and perhaps more grievously, our churches who adhere to long held isolationist and ignorance based thought; much of which is antithetical the the teachings of the historical Jesus.
I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer during times like these. I am drawn particularly to Bonhoeffer’s work, “The Cost of Discipleship”
“Bonhoeffer insists that as a disciple of Christ, you must be humble, so that you can serve Christ without ulterior motives. Following Christ will cost you your pride”([PDF] the Cost of Discipleship Summary – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, n.d.).
Bonhoeffer notes that Christ may command you to do extraordinary good works, such as selling your possessions to help the poor. But if you become proud of yourself for doing so much good, then, in Bonhoeffer’s view, you are no longer serving Christ. Instead, you are now serving your own ego: You are doing good works because it makes you feel good about yourself, not because you are obeying Christ. ([PDF] the Cost of Discipleship Summary – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, n.d.).
I may receive some pushback on this one, one may say, “Rob, have you sold your posessions?” I have gone bankrupt serving the church, naively thinking in my early years that serving the church and serving Christ were similar pursuits. Now in my middle age, I understand serving Christ and serving the church are not only two different pursuits, but the two sometimes are not in the same realm of influences. One can truly serve the church and it’s interests, all with the intention of serving Christ, but the doctrines and laws of the church can be antithetical to Jesus’ original message. Jesus clearly demonstrated little to no concern for his life when he spoke in parables targeting the Romans or the religious elite of the day. He was not feeding the 5000 for his own edification, but out of compassion; he existed as the Buddhists state, “in such a way as to reduce the suffering of all sentient beings”.
Thus, Bonhoeffer warns that to be a true disciple, you must not let yourself become proud—not even proud of the good works you do in obedience to Christ. Too many churches today speak of welcoming the other, but when you really look at the language, you see the exclusivism, the circling of the wagons, and interpretations gone wrong. Some churches pride themselves or least sell to the public having some sort of openess; doors, hearts, affirming, etc. What are they saying about the grace they offer to those on the outside of their walls?
Famously found in this piece by Bonhoeffer is his notion of cheap grace; particularly the idea of grace without discipleship. Costly grace on the ohter hand, costs a person something. “Discipleship means adherence to Christ, and, because Christ is the object of that adherence, it must take the form of discipleship. An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system, a general religious knowledge on the subject of grace or on the forgiveness of sins, render discipleship superfluous, and in fact they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the whole conception of following Christ”.
For Jesus and his “disciples”, it cost them their lives or their livlihoods. Discipleship making means obedience and a willingness to learn from the Jesus portrayed from the beginning of his ministry to the community who grew around him for about 100 years after his death. For the sake of this conversation, I want to conflate the word Christ with Love, Christ is love, love is the object of adherence: when we love others, we embody Christ. I challenge this then, we must live and love radically: embody a grace that is complete, that says “I love you no matter what and I have your back no matter what”.
Authentic, life affirming Christianity then is one that allows one to challenge bad notions of God, creates space to explore healthy notions of God and then creates a community that is affirming, nurturing and nourishing. An authentic Christian community engages in a lived embodiement of justice. A Walmart Christiantiy does none of these. It ignores the plight of the poor, it underpays and undermines bodies deemed expendible; it puts conditions on the grace it gives out; it’s discipleship, it’s membership is based on providing a watered down faith that has no theological depth, no spiritual maturity. It’s fruits are often over ripe.
How shall we continue?
[PDF] The Cost of Discipleship Summary – Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (n.d.). Shortform. Retrieved September 7, 2022, from https://www.shortform.com/pdf/the-cost-of-discipleship-pdf-dietrich-bonhoeffer