Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 27 Questions

Again this morning we are covering ground that is prompted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship. We have moved into chapter 27, and as I explained last time, we are shifting gears a little: Bonhoeffer has begun to make application of all that we have read about discipleship to our situation here and now as believers together. From reading the beatitudes and studying Jesus’ commands to the disciples we are moving to a more personally focused application.

The first question that Bonhoeffer poses is this: Are we really supposed to focus on discipleship so much? Don’t we find a difference between the picture of obedient discipleship presented in the Gospels and the portrait of Christians who must rest in their justification as found in the Pauline epistles? Doesn’t this show that all this talk about discipleship was really just for the original disciples? Our task then, is not to try to respond to some call that was never meant for us in the first place, but rather to accept that our work is finished in Christ’s accomplishment on the cross and simply rest in faith.

Tempting as it may be to pose a disjunction between the Gospels and the Pauline letters, we simply cannot for at least two very good reasons. First, to do so is to do violence to the Scriptures. “Our Faith”, to quote Bonhoeffer, “rests upon the Unity of the Scriptural testimony.” If we can discount the testimony of the Gospels as being “just to the disciples”, why not discount 1st and 2nd Corinthians as being just to the Corinthians.

The second reason that we can not set in opposition the Gospels and the Epistles is that it is simply not true. Paul does indeed focus on the risen Lord and his work in our life while the Gospels focus on the living Lord and his life as an example to us. Paul does indeed clearly show that our salvation has been all acomplished in Jesus’ work on the cross. And yet Paul believes that we have something to do, a race to run, a battle to fight. Have you heard the Apostle Paul’s exhortations to Discipleship? 1 Cor 9: 24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. Paul understood the inevitability and perhaps even the desirability of suffering in the Christian’s life.

Rom 5:2-5

Through Him we also have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice on the hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we glory in afflictions also, knowing that afflictions work out patience, and patience works out experience, and experience works out hope. And hope does not make us ashamed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us.

No, we are not allowed to set the scriptures in opposition to each other. But what then are we to do then with the differences between different areas of the New Testament? Shouldn’t we focus on the sections of the NT that apply most directly to us and our experience while leaving the discussion of bearing crosses to those who were actually present with Jesus and heard his call personally?

I would contend that the author of Hebrews explains the all-important order of the teaching of the Gospel to us. Let me walk through the end of Hebrews 5 and the beginning of 6. The author is talking about Jesus and says starting in verse 7

who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,

What does this sound like a description of? Discipleship! On the part of Jesus? What did Jesus need discipleship for? To be perfected. Now don’t be mistaken, Jesus didn’t need to be cleansed of his faults, as is the case with us. But he was in training for all that God had for him to undergo. Christ himself is our example. But will we follow? Continuing in verse 11

of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Still with me? The author of Hebrews is complaining that the Christians the letter was written to were not maturing the way they ought. They still needed instruction in the basics… In the milk. What was this milk? Chapter 6, continuing on, tells us.

1 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.

Do you hear that? The first steps of a baby Christian are an understanding of Justification as a result of repentance and faith. Baptism is a first step. An understanding of our eventual home with Jesus is part of “the basics”, what it means to become a Christian.

And yet the author of Hebrews wants to go on to perfection. We should as well! Next time we are going to talk about the path of discipleship as it applies to our life, starting where Bonhoeffer says Paul starts it, with baptism. Until then may we all desire to be eating solid spiritual food. I daresay we have been well fed for this last week of meetings. May God give it increase in our hearts and in our lives.