Before I begin let me preface this by acknowledging I am in completely over my head. Though it’s implied with every post I feel it’s important to say with this one in particular that I have not arrived. I am still growing and learning. If you disagree, good. Chances are I do too. This is the beginning of a greater work in my thoughts on a given subject. With that being said…
I was recently asked to participate in a panel discussion along with local and regional church leaders on the role of the church in preserving ethics, morality, trust, and values. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few moments, I found the experience mildly disappointing.
While part of it came from doing the hard work of preparation for nothing, the majority arose from the fact I work with students with questions – some of them in the room. It was the perfect moment for the church to demonstrate, as Rob Bell (love him or hate him) so beautiful stated, God is not an Oldsmobile. That, in fact, he is for, with, and ahead of us. But we dropped the ball. We debated semantics while hiding behind scholarly terminology, so heavenly bound we were no earthly good.
Just before our panel a man presented a keynote on fighting corruption with better laws. But as I listened I wondered if that was enough? As a society we’ve put our hope in education, legislation, and the advancement of technology only to find the problem is still there. We’ve put our faith in science and humanities and have come up short. You ask me what hope there is for a corruption-free society. I say Jesus. For more reasons than I can post.
I believe to follow Jesus is to subscribe to the highest form of ethics; the role of the church being, first, to remove the plank from its own eye before even thinking about the speck of sawdust in the world’s and to exude faithfulness to God in word, thought, and deed. And if we’re honest, we’ve failed. Simon Ponsonby in The Pursuit of the Holy writes
“Can a godless society be expected to be godly without seeing what godliness is? While the church may speak prophetically to the world about justice and righteousness, I don’t think we can entirely blame the world for its unrighteousness. The church as all too often blended in with the world rather than revealed Christ and his ways to the world. We have failed to be that shining light, that salting influence. And so, as we fail to conform to Christ and the gospel we profess, the church has at times hindered, rather than helped, the world in coming to Christ.”
We are called to be the most ethical people because while laws are good, if there’s one thing the Sermon on the Mount teaches us, laws are the bare minimum. Abstaining from murder is good. Dealing with the anger in our hearts is better.
As Christians we can talk about crime and corruption and we can even construct laws to make sure they don’t win the day but we must never forget the reason these things exist is because we are corrupt people and the solution doesn’t lie in laws but in a transformed heart.
At the risk of falling victim to my own critique, perhaps the issue wasn’t in debating semantics but rather the word we considered. Instead of deliberating on the problem with the words “preserve” and “church”, perhaps we should’ve been examined the premise of ethics all together. Ethics concerns what’s right and wrong, limits, and the most or the least we can do while remaining lawful. But, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out, Jesus was never concerned about what was lawful as much as he was concerned about the will of God. The Pharisees cared about right and wrong – ethics, if you will – but Jesus cared about the will of his Father. As people called to model our lives after Him we’re called to be the same way as difficult as it may be.