Wednesday, 18 January 2012
The Gethsemane Blog
My friend "K" asked a question on Facebook recently. He asked, "Should it be the government's job to set a standard for morality in the United States?"
As a Christian there are truths which I must (and want to) proclaim. One of those truths is that morality, justice, goodness, life, and healthy cultivation all derive from the Creator God revealed in the holy scriptures known as Yahweh (YHWH). Throughout scripture God directs his creation on how to operate within the universe so that life may exist and exist in goodness and abundance, in fullness. From Adam and Eve whom he gave directions on how to live in the Garden of Eden, to Noah and his family whom he chose (due to righteousness) to refill the earth, to the Israelites and their neighboring nations (remember the Ten Commandments?), to kings, to prophets, to the world through Jesus Christ God has revealed the Truth, the Life, and the Way. Life is found in Christ. The Creator is found in Christ. Since Christ is the the fullest revelation of Creator God in history it follows that in Christ we see the standard for how to live (morality) more clearly than anywhere else.
Since it is God, and in a unique sense, Jesus Christ, whom we receive morality from, it then follows that those who submit to The Way of the Creator are the people on earth who give witness to the standard of morality which is found in Christ Jesus. These are the people people who imitate Jesus Christ. In the New Testament these people are said to be those who are "like Jesus in this world." While it is true that these people are not always found in the established church it seems according to the New Testament and early Christian writings that the people who fit this descriptions are those who are called Christians, having been baptised "members" of the Church, partaking in the Eucharist, and living under the authority of the scriptures. In shorter words, the universal morality given to man by God is most clearly exhibited and witnessed to by the Church. This is the way things ought to be. Sadly, the institutional church fails at being a faithful witness and example. Sometimes a grater witness is seen in those who don't even confess Christ. Regardless, it is the Church to which God has established witness for the world and it is the Church which must set the standard on earth, in all nations.
In other words, the Church ought to be setting the standard by example/witness because she is like Jesus in this world. Laws won't change hearts like love will. Behavior modification is not true morality as God as given but rather an imitation that falls drastically short. God seeks to transform rebellious creation. Within that transformation morality is most adopted. But what then is the government's role in connection to morality? If it is not the authorities who set the standard for the people of the nations then what is it they are to do? Surely there is a connection between governments and how morality is lived out.
Governments can govern the people, punishing and rewarding those who embrace or reject the standard of morality set by God for all people (according to Romans 13:1- and 1 Peter 2:13-17) but the governments do not set the standard. The governments are enforces who are meant to ensure peace among the people. As Romans 13:4 points out, "For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Within this we see that God has established authorities to function in connection with the morality he has given humanity while we also see that God did not institute the authorities to create a standard of morality. We react to God and the morality he has given and the authorities react to us. Thus it is never the government's duty, according to their nature as illustrated in scripture, to set the standard of morality for the people of nations because Christ has already set the standard and it is his followers who are to be a witness and example to that standard while the governments react to people who do good and bad according to the universal standard that God has given to creation.
Endnote: While it is the Church who examples and gives witness to God's gift of Universal morality, it is best that the individual authorities live into that morality as well. It is also a duty of the Christian to pray for the authorities. An examination of this duty and an example of such a prayer can be found here.