Friday, January 31, 2020

Ethics, obedience, fellowship

Bonhoeffer (again) argues that Christian ethics is unique because it refuses to ask the two ethical questions - how can I be a good person? and what is a good action? - because it is already confronted by a greater question: will you hear and obey God?

I think that's helpful in churches riddled with ethical confusion.  Look, the key thing here isn't to go away and have a commission and a process to try to work out what is good.  Will you listen to God and do what he says?

It's also helpful in cutting through some of the fudge.  This is just ethics, say some.  It's a peripheral and complicated issue.  Nobody should be made to feel unwelcome in church just because of an ethical disagreement.  Why can't we all just coexist?  Well, okay Mr Fudge, I see where you're coming from.  The big 'ethical issues' we're wrestling with - around gender and sexuality, for example - are indeed 'peripheral', and have a degree of complexity about them.  I get it.  But what if we try again with the only relevant question for Christian ethics put front and centre: this is just obedience to God.  Obeying God is a peripheral matter, and it's complicated.  Nobody should be made to feel unwelcome in God's church just because they persistently and deliberately disobey God!  Yeah, doesn't sound so good now, does it?

Leaving aside the fact that the apostle is perfectly clear that we should indeed break fellowship with people over 'ethical' issues, and that he brings this into the closest possible connection with the eucharistic celebration of the gospel, just understanding what the ethical question is ought to help us with working through the implications of the answer.

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