The Ladder of Grace

Friedrich Nietzsche accused the Christian church as having “taken the side of everything weak, base, ill-constituted.” He scorned a religion of pity that thwarted the law of evolution and its rule favoring power and competition. Nietzsche put his finger on the scandal of grace, a scandal that he traced back to “God on the cross.”

Nietzsche was right. In Jesus’ parables, the rich and healthy never seem to make it to the wedding feast, while the poor and the weak come running. And through the ages, Christian saints have chosen the most un-Darwinian objects for their love. Mother Teresa’s nuns lavish care on homeless wretches who have mere days if not hours left to live. …Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement admitted to the folly of her soup kitchen: “What a delightful thing it is,” she said, “to be boldly profligate, to ignore the price of coffee and go on serving the long line of destitute men who come to us, good coffee, and the finest of bread.”

The Christian knows to serve the weak not because they deserve it but because God extended his love to us when we deserved the opposite. Christ came down from heaven, and whenever his disciples entertained dreams of prestige and power he reminded them that the greatest is the one who serves. The ladder of power reaches up, the ladder of grace reaches down. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

The Mark of a Christian

Jesus reduced the mark of a Christian to one word. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples,” he said: “if you love one another.” The most subversive act the church can take is consistently to obey that one command.

Perhaps the reason politics has proved such a snare for the church is that power rarely coexists with love. People in power draw up lists of friends and enemies, then reward their friends and punish their enemies. Christians are commanded to love even their enemies. … Our best efforts at changing society will fall short unless the church can teach the world how to love. – Philip Yancey

A Colony of Heaven

“In the world the Christians are a colony of the true home,” said Bonhoeffer. Perhaps Christians should work harder toward establishing colonies of the kingdom that point to our true home. All too often the church holds up a mirror reflecting back the society around it, rather than a window revealing a different way.

If the world despises a notorious sinner, the church will love her. If the world cuts off aid to the poor and the suffering, the church will offer food and healing. If the world oppresses, the church will raise up the oppressed. If the world shames a social outcast, the church will proclaim God’s reconciling love. If the world seeks profit and self-fulfillment, the church seeks sacrifice and service. If the world demands retribution, the church dispenses grace. If the world splinters into factions, the church joins together in unity. If the world destroys its enemies, the church loves them.

That, at least, is the vision of the church in the New Testament: a colony of heaven in a hostile world.

A Kind of Secret Force

Philip Yancey, in What’s so Amazing about Grace?

Jesus’ images portray the kingdom as a kind of secret force. Sheep among wolves, treasure hidden in a field, the tiniest seed in the garden, wheat growing among weeds, a pinch of yeast worked into bread dough, a sprinkling of sale on meat–all these hint at a movement that works within society, changing it from the inside out. You do not need a shovelful of salt to preserve a slab of ham; a dusting will suffice.

Jesus did not leave an organized host of followers, for he knew that a handful of salt would gradually work its way through the mightiest empire in the world. Against all odds, the great institutions of Rome–the law code, libraries, the Senate, Roman legions, roads, aqueducts, public monuments–gradually crumbled, but the little band to whom Jesus gave these images prevailed and continues on today.

Much to Learn from the Spirit of Jesus

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

Today, each time an election rolls around Christians debate whether this or that candidate is “God’s man” for the White House. Projecting myself back into Jesus’ time, I had difficulty imagining him pondering whether Tiberius, Octavius, or Julius Caesar was “God’s man” for the empire.

… the man I follow, a Palestinian Jew from the first century, had also been involved in a culture war. He went up against a rigid religious establishment and a pagan empire. The two powers, often at odds, conspired together to eliminate him. His response? Not to fight, but to give his life for these his enemies, and to point to that gift as proof of his love. Among the last words he spoke before death were these: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

[We] have much to learn from the spirit of Jesus.

The Original Mission of the Church

Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?

Not long ago I had a conversation with an elderly missionary who had spent his early career in China. He had been among the six thousand missionaries expelled after the Communists took over. As in Russia, these Communists too strove mightily to destroy the church, which until then had been a showcase of the missionary movement. The government forbade house churches, made it illegal for parents to give religious education to their children, imprisoned and tortured pastors and Bible teachers.

Meanwhile, the exiled missionaries sat on the sidelines and wrung their hands. How would the church in China fare without them? without their seminaries and Bible colleges, their literature and curricula, without even the ability to print Bibles, could the church survive? For forty years these missionaries heard rumors, some discouraging and some encouraging, about what was happening in China, but no one knew for sure until the country began opening up in the 1980s.

I asked this elderly missionary, now a renowned China expert, what had happened in the intervening forty years. “Conservatively, I would estimate there were 750,000 Christians when I left China. And now? You hear all sorts of numbers, but I think a safe figure would be 35 million believers.” Apparently, the church and the Holy Spirit fared quite well on their own. The church in China now constitutes the second largest evangelical community in the world; only the United States exceeds it.

One China expert estimates that the revival in China represents the greatest numerical revival in the history of the church. In an odd way, the government hostility ultimately worked to the church’s advantage. Shut out of the power structures, Chinese Christian devoted themselves to worship and evangelism, the original mission of the church, and did not much concern themselves with politics. They concentrated on changing lives, not changing laws.