Sunday, November 14

The First Christian Lesson

When one comes to Christ, accepting him as Lord and savior, where then should he go. There are many tricksy and difficult scriptural lessons upon which one could start to ponder. People wonder about things like:
  • Genesis 1-3, creation, evolution and its relationship to scientific study.
  • Discussions or thinking about free will of man, or the omniscience and omnipotence of God.
  • Eschatology, or a study of the end of time and how Gods Kingdom will come to pass.
  • Trying puzzle out and discover a "historical" Christ. What of scripture might be more or less reliable than the rest.
or any number of other points upon which people like to debate and wonder.

However I propose the real first and most important lesson is:
How then should I live and act.
That is to say, Christian ethics. Some time ago, I started pondering this question, and to be honest haven't gotten very far. I'm not thinking here about global ethical questions, about abortion, church vs state, or principles of just war. I mean personal ethics. How to treat with the immediate ethical questions we deal with on a day to day basis.

We have some answers from the text provided for us. For example, when Christ is asked by a lawyer about the most important laws. Jesus affirms his response, that we should:
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and all your mind, and

  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
The second item there, is definitely an ethical statement, yet it is incomplete. Leviticus tells me, and Christ affirms, that I am to "love my neighbor". Christ goes on in his teaching to help to define neighbor. However, what does "love" mean in this sentence. Presumably I should do what is good for my neighbor. An American liberal ethic (Christian or no) might be to give him his space and give him any assistance he might require. A Levitical ethic might be to inform him of his sin, and try to convince to change his ways lest his sin cause God's blessing to leave the nation (neighborhood?).

Just what "good" here means is itself an ethical question. I think the rest of the ethical framework Christ which meant in that passage is encoded in the Torah. However, we should not forget that St Paul has taught that Christ's message is not merely for the Hebrew people, but is meant for the rest of us goyim as well. And we gentiles have brought into the Church a plethora of new ethical frameworks with us as we came. Some of these ethics thankfully dissolved on contact, some have been absorbed into the church, and some live in uneasy peace. So the upshot is that the question of what are the ethical teachings of the Church doesn't have a easy three sentence answer, like just read Book ??? chapters y to z.

An example of an ethic which survives (and indeed is an important ethic I still hold) is the Greek concept of arete, excellence. When I asked for comments a week ago about how the secular man today views self-improvement his response was initially one of arete. He viewed his personal improvement in terms of achieving personal excellence. When I pointed out my question was intended to mean ethical self-improvement, he demurred and took the out ala' Rousseau, i.e., that no tension existed between the person he should be and the his perception of himself, definitely not the Augsutinian (or Christian) viewpoint. But I digress, the point about arete is that St Paul, exhorts us to excellence as a Christian as well as our secular endeavors, that is he has absorbed this ethic into the Christian fold.

Well, as I said, I'm still reading and studying these questions. I certainly don't have the answers, but I do think these questions are more relevant than the more popular topics often debated as listed above. Indeed I am finding that good expositions and commentaries on these topics are not easy to find. If you have any suggestions please I implore you to either leave a comment or e-mail me. If the text is good or rich, I will probably give it the same treatment I'm currently performing on the Confessions.