Bob suggested another challenge to Christian Ethics might be that people who certainty. I got that all the time during my ministry. Many said they missed the old days when you were told what was right and what was wrong. “At least, you knew what you were supposed to believe in those days,” they said.
That might have been so in their congregations or their communities, but it never described the universal Church. An honest reading of the Bible reveals that it retained different traditions. The Old Testament story is told from the perspective of the priests, the prophets, the poets, the wisdom philosophers, and others. The New Testament tells the Gospel according to four different versions. Of course, neither includes other traditions that were judged not adequate. Still much of its strength is its honesty in acknowledging there is not one narrow way to be Christian.
Perhaps the greatest value of faith is how it enables us to live in the uncertainty of real life. Its foundation is God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis that he will use his family to bless the world. Jesus makes clear this means God will not respond to evil with violence but forgiveness and love. He, Paul, and John do not define this love as law or doctrine, but rather as responding to the needs of our neighbors and even our enemies. In a sense, this involves doing whatever we have to do “to save” others in the circumstances of this world or the next.
Although we might never be certain we are doing the right thing, we still have a lot of guidance. We check what we think love is against the canon, what the Bible records as authentic past religious experiences. And because people can disagree on what the scriptures mean, we have the creeds that give an approved interpretation of controversial parts.
There, also, is custom that has developed since biblical times and ceremony that surrounds us with tradition each Sunday. For the most part, we are not even conscious of their effects as they are habits of the heart rather than rational decision-making.
And finally, we get help understanding what love might be in particular situations from people who share our ministry. There is the clergy, those leaders given authority by their integrity, training, and acceptance. There is the community with whom we discuss our views.
More and more, community is the most critical of them all with our distrust of authority and our radically individualistic culture. There has always been an understanding that a teaching is not really valid unless the community of believers is willing to accept it. So it is imperative that we meet with others to discuss our challenges.
Acting in love, by definition, still involves risk. It is opening oneself to another with all the dangers that go along with that. God himself is committed to that risk as we profess in the crucifixion. When we follow Christ, we too become vulnerable. To demand certainty is to deny love and retreat back into law. Hope based on faith that God is love enables us to take this risk.
Let’s end these lessons on Christian Ethics with this point. We start up again in the fall with a course on The Gospel According to John. Scott says it is wise to keep posting, so I’ll put some sermons I’ve preached through the years on the site this summer.