Christians and Moral Ethics – An Open Letter

To the reader:

Below, please find an open letter which is a response to the mass email, titled Christians and Gay Marriage which Dr. Richard Flanders sent out today, March 18, 2014.

……………………………

Dr. Flanders,

Thank you for this! I too am articulating these matters but here in Indiana …and have been forced to become very clear about what to say when to say it and how.

I agree that all you have said applies “within” the church. I only ask you to consider that Ephesians 5:8-11 is prefaced by the first 7 verses of that passage. And, it is clear that God has written “among you” as the context of these admonitions and commands.

To be balanced and fair to the Scriptures, we need to interpret the passage in context, not only the immediate but the book and canonical contexts too. And, you know as well as I that Ephesians is about the Church—what it is, how it is established and blessed, how it works, and what will be regarding the Church. So, to apply church polity to social ethics would be a mistake. Verses 3-7 speak of how to deal with sins and the disobedient WITHIN the body of Christ. Verses 8-20 give the “because statements” for vv. 3-7. That is, verses 8-20 are subordinate grammatically to 3-7.

Within the church (as Christians), we are to do everything you have charged in your email article. But, it does not follow that we should treat those who are “outside of” the church as if they are insiders. Please have a look at 1 Cor. 5:9-13, seeing that it directly addresses how we are to interact with people “outside” the church in comparison/contrast with those on the “inside.”

9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

Clearly, if one interprets Ephesians 5:8-11 as you do, then he runs into real trouble with properly interpreting 1 Cor. 5:9-13. But, if one takes Ephesians 5 in its context (dealing with matters inside the church), then he has no trouble dealing with 1 Cor. 5:9-13.

 

“BUT EPHESIANS 5:7 MENTIONS “THEM,” SO OUR SEPARATION FROM THE WORKS OF DARKNESS MUST APPLY TO THE SINS OUTSIDE THE CHURCH AS WELL AS THOSE WITHIN IT.”

You are right that Ephesians 5 regards THE CHRISTIAN’S morals… what actions he lives out personally, and which can be lived-out no matter where he is. But, this is far different than demanding that others (non-saved) live by Christian morals, or else. We are not to bring society to Jesus through “enforced morals.” We are to bring people to Jesus through the fruit of the Spirit and through the spoken gospel. Do you agree?

About v. 7 and “them.” You are right that “them” refers to those who are “outside” the church. BUT, I emphasize again that Paul prefaces that with “among you.” He is talking about the Christians’ walk (v. 8). He is talking about what Christians should be like, and he is telling the Ephesians to expose those within the church who are being in league with the ideas and actions of unbelievers, because there is no inheritance in the Kingdom for those kind of believers just like there is only destruction for the lost who do those things (vv. 5-6). The command is not to be “partners with/fellow partakers with” them (summetoxoi – a) which means to not identify personally with the ideas and actions of the lost, not to join with them and have their like deeds, … which stand in contrast to identifying with or being part of Christ’s body (cf. Eph. 3:6). The idea is that you can go out to them and treat them as Christ would (1 Cor. 5:10-13), but you are to remember that you are intrinsically different, and that, the lost are not to be considered a part of the church until they have accepted Christ and his life. The same people Paul addressed by command in v. 10 are the same as in verse 11. It literally reads,

“…walk as children of light… trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord… [as Christians] Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness; but instead expose them [among you]” (vv. 8-11, NASB, brackets mine for contextual emphasis).

So, in conclusion, it is not the duty of the Christian to go willy-nilly “exposing” what is not Christian morality in society. “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside…”(2 Cor. 5:12-13).

 

”BUT BAD COMMUNICATIONS CORRUPT GOOD MORALS”

Just like Ephesians 5:8-11, the verse found in 1 Cor. 15:33 is often lifted out of its context by the over-zealous in order to prove that Christians should not have lost people (with their bad influence) as companions. In actuality, the verse is bedded in the context of teachings on the resurrection of believers. The passage is Paul’s inspired combat with the idea that Christ did not raise bodily from the dead. In light of that false teaching, Paul states that if there is no resurrection of Christ, then there is no resurrection of believers, which in turn means the breaking down of the entire Christian faith. In fact, that breakdown is what was happening in the Corinthian church.

Some believers had given into the false teaching, and they lost hope. As a result, they began living a hedonistic life, because if there is no Christian faith based on a resurrection, then one might as well espouse a “live it up” mentality as described by the Greco-Roman philosophical proverb “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32). [Notice that v. 32 does precede v. 33 directly for this reason] All should know the quickest way to destroy a Christian’s purity is to shatter his Christian hope (1 John 3:3). For this reason, Paul reassured the believers that there indeed was a bodily resurrection of Christ, and so, they should STOP SINNING, sober up in their thinking, and be witnesses to the world around them again.

The bad company (“communications” in some translations) is actually fellow Christians who have espoused false doctrine and are living hedonistic lives as a result. So, if you know Christians like that, then try to restore them if they will repent, but do not condone them (Jude 22ff; 1 Cor. 5). Let it never be doubted that Christians are supposed to befriend, associate and give a witness to non-Christians everywhere (John 17:15-18, 1 Cor. 5:10, 10:27).

I beg you to not incite the people of God toward social behaviors which go against Christ’s warnings. The Lord himself charged us not to cast pearls before swine or give that which is holy to the dogs, because these sort will trample the sacred under foot and turn to “rend” you (Matthew 7:6). Given this, we are not to fight immorality in the public/political arena, as if that is where the victory lay for Christians. The church is our “place” to keep. We must also be discerning whom we “confront” about what, and when.

Largely, I agree that freedom to not participate in a matter on religious grounds is the hallmark of religious freedom—call it reasonable accommodation. But, the secular world may not agree with Christians on this in practice, even if they assent to it in theory. I also concur that Christians must obey God rather than men when it comes to the Gospel and morals. It is cruel to force someone to do something against their conscience and morals. But, again, secular society often goes by what is popular, more than by what is truly neutral or purely “tolerant.” Let me give a a couple of personal stories.

Once I worked for a prominent national bank. This bank wanted me to come in for training on a Sunday, during the time I was to teach in Sunday school. At the time, I was also a seminary student… so, Sundays were my time of practicum. I reported the conflict to my managers, both verbally and in written form a week in advance. I requested reasonable accommodation legally. I told them I was willing to stay late the day before or come in early the next day; but, my managers refused to acknowledge my request. I thought that submitting a written form would be enough. However, when I returned to work on Monday, I was put on a very strict scrutiny & probation because I “had not called in” to notify the managers of my absence the previous day. In my eyes, a written request was enough, and also in my eyes this was a case of religious discrimination. What do you think?

At another time, I worked for a sub-contractor to a prominent power and lights company in Indiana. One of my co-workers called in to let his foreman know he would not come in due to religious observance. I know first-hand that the “higher ups” discussed this. The foreman fired the worker, citing it was “because you went to church…” The foreman himself was subsequently corrected. But, the higher ups did not disagree with his firing the worker—only that he gave the wrong verbiage. If the foreman had said, “your performance is unacceptable,” or “you have missed too many days of work,” then all would have been well in the eyes of management. What do you think?

I write these stories to show we are living in a time where the law may be written, but it cannot be enforced except when proven by witnesses and/or written documents. Sometimes even that is not sufficient when cover-ups and intimidation occur or corruption abounds. What is the answer to these moral dilemmas? A Christian cannot look to government or employers for “protection” or “justice” anymore. We are finally being forced become little Christs amid the world. While this is a “scary” thing, it is also making many biblical passages relevant again to American society. Allow me to explain.

In this issue of “taking part” in ‘gay marriages’ by serving cakes or taking photos, etc., Christians must remember history and Scripture. There is a difference between treating someone with a Christ-like ethic and supporting their brand of morals. Jesus taught us this when he went over to the houses of known sinners.

Also, just because I help someone along in life does not mean I am “partaking” in their deeds. Remember, Jesus commanded his disciples to go the “second mile” when even going the first mile with a Roman soldier would have been the same in the ancient Jewish mind as serving homosexuals is to some Christians today (Matt. 5:41). What would it be like if instead of refusing to serve a cake, the Christian would put extra effort into the cake and/or give a discount… all so that later on, he could share the gospel of Jesus? Might we win them with favor and the gospel? Moreover, regarding “participating” in something that could be questionable, Jesus turned water into wine for a marriage feast at which the chief steward (Master of Ceremonies) referenced being drunk (see Bible.org especially footnote 99 — methuw). Lastly, the good Samaritan helped the Jew along the side of the road after the Jew had been robbed and beaten (Luke 10:25-37). Would Christians do the same for anyone? Anyone?! I hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect.”

Just because I show discretion in what I say, when I say it, and how I say it does not have to mean I am condoning evil—it just means I am being discrete or wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove, having been sent out as a lamb amid wolves (Matt. 7:6; 10:16; Luke 10:3; Prov. 26:4-5). Furthermore, in ancient Roman times, the times in which the Church was born, Christians had to serve masters who were not only pagan but had symposia, or drunken parties and orgies, …some Christians were no doubt physically forced to participate or serve. Also, if a slave refused, then his master sometimes had the right to kill him. What do you think? I know what the scripture says (Col. 3:22-25; 1 Peter 2:18).

Yes, our culture is different. We don’t have masters and servants (indentured, or slaves). Those who open a business are the owner of the property and the wares/skill for sale. Yet, If one refuses service to another based on anything seen as discrimination, then he will be brought under sanctions or punishments. In that sense, a business owner is a servant to the public customer (Col. 3:22-25; 1 Peter 2:18). That being said, a business owner can refuse service to anyone he likes, so long as he does not cite the reason why. But, this seems underhanded to both me and you.

So, the answer is to really see Jesus for who he is instead of who we’ve made him (and Christianity) to be. Only when we see Jesus properly will we be able to depend on the Spirit of Christ to let Christ’s life flow through us. For further explanation, please see the following articles:

May the Lord guide His Church!

For His Kingdom by His Grace,

Sam Kean

 

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