Monday, January 5, 2015

Christians Living Ethically

“Christianity finds expression in tangible and social realities that include all types of human accomplishment,” suggests Edward Long (Conscience and Compromise/55).  Some of the areas he includes are “the homes men create, the businesses at which they earn their bread and butter, and the clubs and movie houses that furnish their recreation.”

Long defines these as the “realities which the New Testament calls ‘the world’ and which are today commonly referred to as culture.” For us to be faithful to Christ and for us to obey his commandment of love requires that we as Christians be obedient to him in all these different areas of our lives. As He adds, “if the demand of Christian love is a full and unconditional demand for total obedience, then it calls for this obedience to express itself in all aspects of culture” (bold print added).

I raise this point because we moderns have occasionally become victims of a secular outlook that makes religion just one department of life among many. This state of mind generally regards the nonreligious departments of life as beyond the scope and pale of religious influence.  I remember battling this issue back in the sixties when JFK ran for Presidential Office and his Roman Catholic Church membership was being contested as to whether or not he could be a “good Catholic” and disregard the teachings of the Vatican (an independent state) should they conflict with his office.

Too often, we divide life into sacred and secular areas of concern. We forget that religion can find expression only through cultural channels. We divorce our worship experience in church from the life we live outside the church. When this happens, we have a man of the cloth living as a priest in church and a life of pedophilia outside of church. When this happens, we have national statistics telling us divorce is as common among church families as unchurched, and faith makes little difference.  When this happen, we have a church proclaiming the love of God and practicing--even enforcing--racial segregation, as we did for many years following slavery.

“The conflict of interest and loyalties,” writes Long, “both within the earthly city and between the earthly city and the heavenly city, tears the Christian conscience and forces it to compromise. It creates those situations which become stumbling blocks to men of faith.  The world in which men live is both good and evil in its influence, but it seems to compound human sin even more readily than it compounds human virtue”

Quoting Reinhold Niebuhr from his book Moral Man and Immoral Society we read that “what men would never do individually they consent to do corporately…” Although we resist this idea of social sins, there is that thing of being carried along by group pressure and frenzy. There is that individual selfishness that becomes group injustice; there is that personal cantankerousness that breeds social war. There are those cultural groupings that produce class divisions, economic injustices on an exploitive scale, and patterns of organized segregation as well as military conflicts.

We understand that Christians cannot escape from the world and live as Monastics, just so they can perform their duties to God (This may be the most selfish of all individualism and libertarianism because done under the guise of religion). Suffice it to say here that we recognize that duty to God can be performed only by those who seek to do his will in the world about them. Culture merely furnishes the condition within which the Christian ethic must work and to which it must be relevant. Jesus told us we should be “in the world” and that is so we can be relevant, but added that we be not of the world.

Christians, often try to live their lives free from sin, yet frequently find themselves involved in the sin(s) of their social group (culture), as for example in time of war. Sometimes the institutional church compounds it with evil of its own making. Although we live in a nation that some mistakenly regard as a “Christian” nation, we must understand there are still those vitalities and forces that seek to destroy Christian values.

It is here that we must turn to the Christ! Christ calls all of us to acknowledge our sin(s) and overcome it (them). The radical call of love is to share that compelling love with all mankind—even your enemies, and become obedient to Him (Christ) in what is largely a disobedient world. That call must remain uncompromised!

That is to say, we cannot turn to Paul, for example, to accommodate a just war theory, without being seduced by the secular and re-interpreting the teachings and values of Jesus. Anything less than Jesus becomes a downsizing, deluting, rejecting of the real Gospel and living less than ethically.

Intent on taking Jesus seriously, I am

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