The support of the so-called “evangelical Christians” for the likes of Donald Trump and now Roy Moore has become an embarrassment for many Christians in the United States and around the world. But Christians fall into many categories, not all of them related in any way, shape or form, to the message of Jesus.
First, there are the “cultural Christians.” You know who they are. They go to church every Sunday because that’s what they’ve always done and what everyone they know does. They listen politely to the sermon, praise the preacher, and enjoy visiting over coffee after the service. Then they go about their lives the rest of the week as if nothing they heard on Sunday made any difference in their lives. Some even choose the church they attend they way they select the country clubs they join. Not because of the tenets of the religion, but because of the social status of the members.
Then there are the “political Christians.” Don’t confuse them with the evangelicals, even though the two groups frequently overlap. They are the ones who still decry the ruling against “prayer in schools” and the removal of the 10 Commandments from public places. They place all the current ills facing our culture on these restrictions of the Christian faith, all the while denying that according to the Bible, the place to teach our children is in the home. Our Jewish brothers and sisters know this far better than we do.
The Shema Yisrael is the centerpiece of Jewish morning and evening prayer and comes from Deuteronomy 6: 4-9
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord above. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” These words ought to be familiar to all Christians as they form part of Jesus’s answer when asked which is the greatest of all the commandments. But the teaching goes on.
“Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead. Inscribe them on your doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (JPS Tanakh Translation)
“Impress them on your children.” This is where the responsibility for teaching Christian values lies, not in the public schools, not in the courthouses, but in the home. The Roy Moore’s of this world, who was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to take down a copy of The Ten Commandments from the courthouse, want to deceive you that it is more important to have the Ten Commandments inscribed in marble than in your heart. They wield Scripture as a weapon against any perceived enemies instead of a pathway to a loving God.
Now we come to the “evangelical Christians.” This is, in many ways, a misnomer. All Christians are called upon to be evangelical – to bring others to Christ. The word derives from the Greek “evangelos” which means “messenger” and also is the source for our term “angels” who were the messengers of God. Everyone who proclaims themselves to be a Christian is a messenger for Christ. But often the message is garbled and distorted. The best description for being a true evangelist comes from St. Francis of Assisi who said “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words, if necessary.”
Yet the same self-proclaimed evangelical Christians, and let us name the foremost:
Jerry Falwell, Jr.
have prostituted their religion, first when they supported the candidacy of Donald Trump – a man who says he has never asked God for forgiveness because he doesn’t believe he’s done anything he needs to be forgiven for, then when others like Franklin Graham have defended Roy Moore. These so-called men of God have used the concept of “cheap grace” first defined by Lutheran minister and martyr Dietrich Bonehoeffer in his book “The Cost of Discipleship” to defend men like Trump and his ilk. He’s a “baby Christian” they claim. He’s just learning the way.
Recently Franklin Graham said the following about Roy Moore:
The hypocrisy of Washington has no bounds. So many denouncing Roy Moore when they are guilty of doing much worse than what he has been accused of supposedly doing. Shame on those hypocrites.
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) November 17, 2017
Correct me if I’m wrong Mr. Graham, but Jesus never said “The scribes and Pharisees are bad, but look at how much worse the Romans are.” Instead, multiple times in Matthew 23 Jesus proclaimed “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” The hypocrites aren’t the ones in D.C. They are the ones in the pulpit – today’s version of the Pharisees.
As a member of the Reformed Tradition, I believe that we are saved “by grace through faith” but that grace does not come cheaply. Here is partly how Bonhoeffer describes grace in his book:
He begins his book with these words “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.”
“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 the idea that is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sin.” He goes on to say “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.”
As Bonhoeffer devotes the entire first chapter of his book to the differences between “cheap” and “costly” grace, only certain highlights are presented here.
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.”
“Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and contrite heart.”
To sum up Bonhoeffer’s thoughts, true grace is grace because it is costly. It requires more than asking for forgiveness, it requires changing the way one leads one’s life. It requires a commitment to follow Jesus. Otherwise it is cheap. It is worthless. It is not a one time “Get Out Of Jail Free” card – it is an ongoing and lifetime pursuit.
Many “evangelical” Christians are being led (misled) by the political ones, because their worldview of politics conforms to their own comfortable way of how our country should be run. It is also the longing of the “cultural” Christians for a world that no longer exists. A world where being white and Christian meant you were living the correct life.
To these Christians I say – heed the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Cheap grace will not lead you to salvation. Cheap grace corrupts the very meaning of the sacrifice of Christ. And to forgive a sinner who either denies or does not regret his sin is the worst possible form of cheap grace.