Thursday, June 14, 2012
Why be moral?
My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about the reason for morality:
Q: If Christianity is not primarily a moral code, why should Christians pay attention to the Bible’s moral commands? Couldn’t they just live any way they choose? Why do churches differ so widely on what moral commands they consider applicable to Christians, and how do I know which church is right on this matter?
First and foremost, Christianity is about Jesus forgiving sins and giving eternal life, as a gift, and as a result of His crucifixion. Consequently, Christianity is not primarily a moral code, but the Bible’s moral commands do act in service to this primary purpose of distributing forgiveness and eternal life.
This is because those moral commands first, convict those who do not yet trust in Jesus that they have displeased God and cannot correct the problem themselves; then, once a person does trust in Jesus, which results in a desire to live in a God-pleasing manner, these commands describe what that godly life looks like.
Even though Christianity is not primarily a moral code, its moral commands do still matter, and it is important that we be able to accurately identify what they are. In order to make this identification, it is first necessary to acknowledge the ground rule that the Bible will be the sole source for making such a determination. Secondly, it is necessary to read the Bible accurately.
The first important part of this is to read the Bible like any other book—that is to look at the whole text rather than reading a verse apart from its wider context; consider the language and structure (subjects, verbs, objects, setting, main ideas, etc.); understand what type of writing is being presented (prophecy, poetry, history, etc.) and how the book or verse fits into the broader picture.
Then it is necessary, to the highest degree possible to separate oneself as the reader from any presuppositions and read the text for what the text says rather than in light of one’s own experiences and biases. Most importantly, know when to stop. Sometimes the Bible just doesn’t answer certain questions, and we have to accept that. Be confident in what the Bible has said, but don’t give in to the temptation to make it speak where it hasn’t really spoken. Failure on the three points just mentioned can account for a vast majority of the differences between churches.
Bible commentaries or Bibles that contain study notes can be helpful, but they also have the potential to be misleading, depending on their source. Knowing Biblical Greek is the best possible tool to have at one’s disposal, but since time or cost would be prohibitive for most people to do this, settle for befriending a pastor who knows it. Having expended the effort to learn it, he will be glad to speak with someone who appreciates and takes an interest in this rare ability.
If evaluating a church, don’t just consider the moral commands but all teachings of a Church. Whenever a church reflects what is taught in the Bible, it is acting as a true church, but whenever a church overrules a Biblical teaching to suit the leaders or the members, or if they teach in such a way that bends the Bible to fit their presuppositions rather than adjusting their presuppositions to align with the Bible, they are teaching falsely and leading people away from Jesus.
All of this matters, because the Bible’s promises and commands are inseparable. Disregard for the Bible’s commands ultimately undermines any confidence in its promises, and if its promises are undermined, it would be just as spiritually powerless as any mere idol statue that human hands have carved or sculpted over the centuries.