Re: “Their perception of God”

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

In the older version of his work Kluge reproached us of having an Old Testament perception of God, comparing us with the Jehovahs Witnesses. It is positive that he has withdrawn this reproach which revealed either a lack of knowledge about both the Old Testament and our teaching, or that simply displayed the usage of run-of-the-mill reproaches in absence of any thorough investigation.

We are also glad that our critic nevertheless acknowledges that we have great respect for God. We rejoice above all because we know that there are so many things where we are still so imperfect and we dont always give God the honour he deserves

Reverent Fear and Love to God are not contradictory concepts. We find both in the Old as in the New Testament.

Deuteronomy 6:5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” and

Hebrews 2:3 “…how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him…”

serve only as examples of an Old Testament word about the Love to God and a New Testament passage showing the consequences of disobedience.

True reverence for God and Love are two inalienable aspects of a vital relationship to God.

Now Kluge doesnt reproach us of having an Old Testament perception of God anymore, but one that is regulated by laws. If we consider what those people in the New Testament who wanted to be justified by keeping the law were reproved for, then we discover something completely different to the practice of our community. The Old Testament Law, and even more the Pharisees interpretation of it, was brimming with numerous commands built upon a formalistic level such as regulations about cultic purity, dietary and sacrifice regulations, to a lesser extent also clothing regulations, furthermore the command of circumcision and the keeping of various festivals. Whoever wants to deal more with this topic can read especially Leviticus and Numbers.

Whoever, on the other hand, calls the pursuit of holiness, which should penetrate all areas of ones life “legalistic”, shows that a life of following Jesus is alien to him. To the very people who were in the danger of living according to the law Paul writes in Gal 5:24,

“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

A life of discipleship and of freedom from the Law means to turn from sins, passions and desires. Christian life is always a life of sanctification. Its interesting that the Catholic Critic adds his voice to the chorus of Free Church fundamentalists who, for years have “reproached” us of legalism, because we didnt agree with their often formalistic understanding of the Bible.

Our fight against sin doesnt spring from a fear of angering God. A God who can be angered is a deeply heathen conception which even contradicts the Old Testament revelation. The fight against sin springs on one hand from the insight that a deed is bad and hence should be rejected in itself. On the other hand it corresponds to the nature of the Good God that his children, out of love for him, do good and shun evil.

Following Jesus means to learn from Jesus, i.e. to adopt his ethical standards. The standards of Jesus dont consist of a special elaborate system of rules and regulations, but of a conscious life of devotion to God. Thus Jesus teaches us to distance ourselves from the superficialities of life and to be formed by him even in apparently trivial things. The example given by Kluge (of interpreting the answer of someone else wrongly) is a general communication problem that is probably not possible to avoid completely. The unity we have with each other in belief of course helps us to understand each other better. Maybe Mr. Kluge also misinterpreted something here which came from an unsure source.

The sentence, “To doubt is to question God” is certainly justified in individual cases, above all when someone has already understood much of Gods Truth and then without objective reasons puts this knowledge in question. But Kluge doesnt present any general assessment of doubting.

For a biblical assessment of doubting, see James 1:5-8:

“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”

In a loving relationship doubts disappear. Doubts are hence a sign of a lack of trust in Gods love. Love can nevertheless not be forced and therefore statements such as those from Kluge are usually not the way to lead someone out of doubts to trust.

If we use the expression “Cheap Grace” now and then, we subscribe to the criticism of D. Bohoeffers expressed in his work The Cost of Discipleship.

“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 cheapjack’s wares 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. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?

“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. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. 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.”

“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.” The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners “even in the best life” as Luther said. 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. That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of 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, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, excerpt from The Cost of Discipleship)

This prolonged quotation from Bonhoeffer’s work should serve to show that even people who were entangled in the institutional state church system knew of the danger of this false conception of Grace and pointed it out with urgency.

We must clearly repudiate the reproach of Justification through deeds. (Interestingly this reproach is made by a representative of the organisation whose justification through deeds was the cause of the Reformation). The notion of grace is not only verbally acknowledged among us. We are conscious of our dependence on God, from whom we have received everything that we can give him. The actions of a Christian life are not the reason for, but the result of salvation.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Faith bears fruit. If the fruit is missing it shows that the faith, too is missing. Faith without sanctification is no faith at all.

“Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

“Only the one who believes is obedient, and only the one who is obedient believes.” (D. Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)

Whoever thinks that he can earn his place in Heaven has not understood what Christianity is all about.

“…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6)

We must not confuse cause and effect. The fact is that because we are in heaven we experience Gods dynamic power in our lives that leads us to a new life, which is completely different to what the world expects.

What would Mr Kluge say about sentences like, “Works of neighbourly love are the Key to Heaven”, or, “Works of love are always a means to come closer to God.” had he heard them from our lips? In our case he would have probably detected salvation by works, something he wouldnt reproach “Mother Teresa” of. (Quote from “Mother” Teresa, A Simple Path, 1995)

Faith, discipleship is more than just a Hobby. If God determines our life, its clear that we will submit all areas of our life to him. “Make the most of the time.” (Colossians 4:5)

That also means that we allow our time to be directed by God. When we allow our lives to be led by Gods will, some of what was earlier important for us will become unimportant. Its not about forbidding hobbies and pastimes, but about the knowledge that the time is too precious to be whiled away. Whoever gets to know God has basically different standards. Jesus spoke clearly of the priorities of the life of a disciple (Luke 14:26-33). Whoever loves him doesnt experience these priorities as a pressure, but as liberation to be able to focus on the essentials.

Mr. Kluge likes to confuse cause and effect. If the practice of the group anyhow determines what a biblical lifestyle should be like, why do we occupy ourselves then, as he acknowledges, long and intensively with the Bible, and especially, as he also knows, with a strong interest in the practical life? If the words of the Bible dont bounce off us completely, the result would have to be that the biblical principles determine our lifestyle. We are in any case open for suggestions for improvement with a biblical basis.

The comment that James 2:14-26 is of great significance for us we want to consider a compliment. We dont want to devalue scripture, like Martin Luther, by despising this letter as a straw Epistle and to banish it from the Bible (Luther wanted to do the same with Hebrews, Jude and Revelation. Compare the prefaces to the Letter to the Hebrews, the Letter of James, the Revelation of John from 1522). Certainly the passages which emphasise Justification through faith are not less important for us. James and Paul agree in this point, while emphasising different aspects.

How is James 2 visible in the life of the “church” represented by Mr. Kluge?