Monday, June 22, 2015

BACK TO BASICS

Christianity is often criticized - even attacked - by its opponents as being ethically inconsistent.  Often such criticisms are justly aimed at our hypocrisy, our failure to live up to the demands that we seem to make not only of ourselves, but outsiders.  Other criticisms point out (at times justly) that we are selective as to which "rules" we stress and which we ignore.
 
I do not intend to address hypocrisy here, since I have often done so before.  And I must confess that I have been guilty of this myself.  I will only point out that hypocrisy does not invalidate one's ethical code, but rather serves to validate it.  As it has been said, "Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue."
 
But our alleged selectivity is another matter.  Critics seem to enjoy pointing out what is perceived as inconsistency and though they are sometimes correct, often the criticisms are due to an ignorance of what Christianity really is.
 
For instance, one issue that has been at the front of these criticisms lately is Christians' condemnation of homosexual behavior. The criticism usually takes one of two directions.  The first is that while this behavior is clearly condemned as sinful in the Old testament, the penalty required is death by stoning (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13), yet only a few, extremely radical Christian spokesmen would advocate this.  This is pointed out as inconsistent.

A second approach is to point out that various Old Testament dietary laws are given as just as binding as the laws on sexual behavior (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 18).  So if one condemns homosexual behavior but eats shrimp or pork chops, he is just as guilty as the one he condemns.

What the critics of Christianity, as well as many of its adherents fail to understand is that the ethical codes of the Old Testament are not binding on, or even addressed to, the follower of Christ.  The law of the Old Testament - the Law of Moses, was given to the nation of Israel by God at the beginning of that nation.  For nearly a millennium and a half the people of Israel were bound by this Law, even though they often - usually - failed to keep it.

And About halfway through this time period, God spoke to the nation through the prophet Jeremiah:  "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days declares the LORD:  I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" Jeremiah 31:31-34 - ESV.

There also were many more promises and details concerning this new covenant and to put them all together and explain them in their historical context would take more time and effort than I wish to expend here.

When Jesus came, he presented himself not only as the Messiah - the Anointed King - of Israel, but also as the Mediator of this New Covenant inaugurated by his death.  At his last Passover supper with his disciples just hours before his death, he took the cup of wine and said:  "This cup that is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood" Luke 22:20 - ESV.

So the follower of Christ, whether Jew or non-Jew, is not bound by the Old Covenant.  He is a participator in the New Covenant.  Our ethics then are not derived from the Law of Moses (the Old Covenant) but from the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and elaborated in the New Testament Epistles.  The Old Testament ethics are often similar, and should be a part of our study but they are not binding.  Many of these ethical requirements are carried forward into the New Testament, but many are not; some are clearly annulled, such as the dietary restrictions (Mark 7:18, 19; Acts 10:9-16; Romans 14:2, 3).  Of course, there is ongoing debate as to some of the details and Christians will undoubtedly continue to have disagreements.

Most of the above should be understood by the critics of Christianity as well as its practitioners.  Ignorance of these basic distinctions has led to unnecessary conflict between Christians and outsiders as well as within the church.

A few more things need to be said.  First, Christianity is not primarily an ethical system.  It is a religion of redemption.  As the promises in Jeremiah 31 tell us, it is about forgiveness and about a work of God on the "hearts" of human beings.

Also, the New Testament ethics are not given for the Christian to condemn others, especially outsiders.  Our attitude toward those with whom we disagree, those who do not follow the ethics that we claim, is to be an ethic of love.

3 comments:

Shane said...

Great post, but I would say it is an ethic of love and truth, delivered with grace!

Godless Cranium said...

You said: What the critics of Christianity, as well as many of its adherents fail to understand is that the ethical codes of the Old Testament are not binding on, or even addressed to, the follower of Christ.

Of course not. Christianity basically stole and added on to Judaism. That's part of the reason one half doesn't mesh with the other. On top of this, it makes the God depicted as being bipolar and inconsistent. Either an all-knowing God would view something as right or wrong, not change it's mind over the course of a few thousand years.

You said: At his last Passover supper with his disciples just hours before his death, he took the cup of wine and said: "This cup that is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood" Luke 22:20 - ESV.

I find it disturbing that Christians view the drinking and eating of blood and flesh as redemptive in some manner.

You said: He is a participator in the New Covenant. Our ethics then are not derived from the Law of Moses (the Old Covenant) but from the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and elaborated in the New Testament Epistles. The Old Testament ethics are often similar, and should be a part of our study but they are not binding.

If they are not binding, Christians should stop picking and choosing from them and using the OT to justify their choices.

You said: Most of the above should be understood by the critics of Christianity as well as its practitioners. Ignorance of these basic distinctions has led to unnecessary conflict between Christians and outsiders as well as within the church.

Not really. Within the church, maybe but outside most fully understand that the bible is contradictory in nature and have no need to make excuses to cover it up.

You said: Our attitude toward those with whom we disagree, those who do not follow the ethics that we claim, is to be an ethic of love.

That's a nice concept. :)

Sherry Ball Schoenfeldt said...

thanks for this reminder Dad