Always Distinguish Print
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 22 October 2009 06:28
Ok. Time for a mini rant.

One of the things that used to make me roll my eyes in my pre-Catholic days was the very common tendency among evangelicals to conflate the term "Protestant" with the word "Christian". It was just hard wired for many. The idea that the term "Christian" also encompassed Catholics and the Orthodox was almost unimaginable for some. (I'm fairly sure that most members of my own fundamentalist - tending family still don't know that Orthodox Christianity exists. Our imagination only extended as far as the Latin Rite.)

I always congratulated myself on the fact that Catholics weren't nearly so self-absorbed and parochial. Till now.

What is it with the all too common mistake of the Catholic media confusing the term "Catholic" with the term "Christian" these days? As I've noted before here, when discussing Christianity in Asia, we routinely reduce all of Christian experience to the experience of Catholics alone. Ignoring the fact that two thirds of the Christians of Asia are not Catholic. Out of mind, out of sight seems to be our motto there. We don't have to deal with realities we refuse to acknowledge.

The latest, stunning example is a bit different. The British Catholic Herald's recent story on Catholic resistance to the Nazis started off with this title: Germany’s Catholics: neither cowed nor craven. Francis Phillips hails a stunning study of Catholic resistance to National Socialism

That's pretty clear.

But immediately under the title is a picture of this man:

You see my problem. I hope you see my problem.

Because Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the embodiment of Christian resistance to Adolf Hitler, was Protestant. Lutheran, in fact. Bonhoeffer was the most famous leader and martyr of the "Confessing Church", the Protestant resistance to the Nazi regime. He headed up an underground seminary for "confessing" Protestants. Bonhoeffer's most luminous and famous work is a revered classic among evangelicals: The Cost of Discipleship.

Bonhoeffer's famous distinction between "cheap grace" and "costly grace" was aimed at corruptions within German Lutheranism. You know. At what can happen when a group of Christians insists, as Lutherans do, that we are saved by grace alone.

It was one of the five Solas of the Reformation: Sola Christus. Sola Deo Gloria. Sola Fide. Sola Gratia. Sola Scriptura. In response, Bonhoeffer wrote:

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.... 45

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian 'conception' of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.... In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God. 45-46

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. 'All for sin could not atone.' Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin....

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. 47

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and self all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."

Bonhoeffer was a exceptional ecumenical figure in his own day and is certainly revered by all Christians today.

But it doesn't mean that his face is the appropriate illustration for an article on Catholic resistance in Nazi Germany.

It evokes the same reaction in historically aware Protestants that say, using a photo of Pope Benedict directly under the title "Gospel Rap the Key to Evangelizing Post-Moderns, says Emergent Church Leader" would in the average Catholic blogger. Eye rolling would only be the beginning.

The article does contain a oddly placed paragraph about Protestant resistance to Hitler which mentions Bonhoeffer but that really doesn't eliminate the powerful initial impression of the combination of a title that screams "Catholic" and the image of that man's face below. Perhaps the paragraph was added to explain the photo? But why not just use a photo of a Catholic resister?

Apparently, the editor's grasp of pre-World War II history is a bit tenuous. I can live with that. But someone else should have caught it.

Even in an era where married Anglican priests can be received into and ordained as a married men in the Catholic Church, Protestants are not yet Catholics. Catholics are not Orthodox.

Together we are Christians but the word "Christian" is not co-terminus with the word "Catholic" or "Protestant" or "Evangelical".

"Always distinguish" is the Dominican motto. If we don't distinguish, we falsify our history and we can't begin to understand the world in which we find ourselves.