Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Christian Ethics - Christ Centred, Cross Focused and Missional

I read an article by academic Stephen Barton a few weeks ago asking the question "was Paul a relatavist. It caught my interest and got me thinking. Stephen Barton argues that Paul was a “principled Situationalist”, and that the problem is that contemporary evangelical Christianity has become so caught up with the law that it has forgotten the freedom of the Gospel. Christianity in itself has become obsessed with morality and legal precepts, rather than the flexibility and freedom of the Gospel, and that the issue for Christians today as it has always been is to find ways not to compromise the Gospel, but express it in a way that is free of cultural and legalistic baggage. The challenge for Christians thus is to both be evangelical, and also to be missional.

Paul’s ethics and ethical teaching are linked to his mission, to pronounce the Gospel to both Jew and Gentile, while showing them how to live as Christians. His ethics are based on the primacy of self-sacrificial love which is set by the Jesus Christ (1 Cor 8:1-3 and the primacy of the weak brothers rights over the strong (1 Cor 8:1-3; 10:23-30). These principles inform his ethics and the way he conducts his ministry. Paul’s main aim is the unhindered proclamation of the gospel of Christ, particularly to the Gentiles.

Paul believes that he is free from all men (1 Cor 9:19) due to his being in Christ (1 cor. 1:30; cf. Gal 2:4) and his mission. Paul sees himself as ultimately responsible to Christ. (1 Cor 4;4) Paul is a slave to the mission that Christ has given to him. He can do nothing else!

His mission can be shown in the fact that he adapts to the situation. “To the Jew he becomes as a Jew” (1 Cor 9:20) so that he can gain their acceptance and attention. He does this through his circumcision of Timothy in Jerusalem (Acts 16:1-5). To those who are under the Law he becomes like one under the law. When surrounded by weaker Christians he would take on the behavioural norms that they followed so to not to lead them into temptation and sin. He would do this out of sacrificial love. And to the Gentiles Paul would become like one of those outside the law, to show the love of Jesus in a way that was relative to them.

Paul saw the Laws role as primarily negative, its aim was to convict people of their sin, and show them the way to live, (Rom 7) but it was not the means to Salvation, It shows people that they rely on the mercy and righteousness of God, and that they can only be given salvation through the saving act of Jesus on the cross. Pauls allegiance was not to the law, or the Jews, but to his Lord, Jesus Christ. Paul believed that Christ has ushered in a new order, which superseded the old order. For Paul the law that superseded the Mosaic Law was the law of Christ. This holds that freedom is held in constant tension with love. The aim of Paul’s teaching was that new Christians would neither fall into following their own selfish and sinful desires (Gal 3:13), but directed towards love and service to one another(Gal 3:13b). The works of the Law are replaced by the ‘Fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 22) which are outward expression of the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in the believer’s life. Paul believes that “against such there is no law.” (Gal 5:23) Instead of being guided and restricted by the moral precepts of the Mosaic Law but that the Christian will walk by the spirit and give each other in sacrificial service to one another and to their Lord, Jesus Christ, in this way they will fulfil the law and the will of God. Paul’s aim was to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, So Paul became a to those who were outside the law. Paul’s aim was to be uncompromising to the Gospel message, but he wanted it to believed that the message needed to be opened to the Gentiles.

Pauls ethics are principled situationalist ethics because they are not set by a strict set of moral precepts, but are guided by the spirit and the law of loving one another. Paul, also will not compromise his quest to see the gospel of Christ spread. Paul believes that Christians are to be sacrificial, Christ centred and Cross centred believers and he plans to teach the churches that he has planted how to do this; relevant to the situations they are in. Paul accommodates to the needs of non-Christians, he adapts his message to the culture that he teaches to, and in this he is truly missional, but he does not compromise the message and his theological convictions. The Gospel is centre. Paul is not a legalist, but is committed to Christ and his mission to the Gentiles, and does not want to compromise the saving message of the Gospel. I believe that this important for the Christian these days, the Christian needs to share the gospel in a way that is relevant to the culture that they live in, without compromising the reality of the Gospel. The Christian should not be constrained by moral convictions, but rather for their love for their neighbour, they should be aiming to serve, rather than to judging people for not following ‘the rules’ which might not actually be the ‘law of Christ’ (It should be said also that when Paul’s churches didn’t follow the law of Christ he explicitly told them to repent and change). Their aim should be to show Gods love and mercy through their actions, not saying look at me, but look to Christ because only through him can you be changed, saved and have new life.

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