Conscience

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narrow gate

January 28, 2019

Is the Narrow Gate Heartless?

History soon to unfold may well show that life will be difficult in much of the Western world for anyone committed to obey the God of the Bible. As indicated in numerous previous articles by this writer, the very reasonable advent of another Democratic administration and Congress would have a devastating impact on religious liberty. New laws, policies and court decisions would deny religious liberty where it conflicts with the Left’s agenda, as reviewed in my last article.

In particular, liberty of conscience not to facilitate sinful behavior and the right to maintain specifically Christian organizations which neither tolerate sin in their membership nor facilitate it in the wider world would be denied or drastically reduced. A logical extension is denial of the right to train children in the doctrines and precepts of an exclusivist faith. These duties, which Americans took for granted until a few years ago, are very basic aspects of Christian life. Without freedom to do them religious freedom is essentially denied. And so we need to have clearly in mind exactly why we are willing to accept the frustration, pain, and effort of being faithful to God. The reason is that God has prescribed the narrow gate of commitment to the doctrines and commandments given in Scripture, which is our access to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.

Faithful Christians do not advance a generic conservatism, interested primarily in clinging to the past. Rather, what there is from the Christian past and even what from what there is in traditional non-Christian societies which is in agreement with Scripture we value and defend. It is deviation from God’s revealed truth with which we must contend. And the newly devised contemporary rights to self-determination in one’s personal life, and to have one’s chosen identity affirmed by everyone else in society, are such deviations. Mandatory acceptance for all possible identities cannot possibly be practical. And so the passionate appeal to “liberty” and “equality” for LGBT identities is incoherent; any behavior or inclination could be taken as the basis for personal identity. Nor can there be any limitation on possible identities based on the oft repeated idea of “harm,” since the ideals of liberty and equality are held to protect any chosen identity from criticism. To make moral autonomy practical, specific identities must be inconsistently singled out for favor. And these identities are not uncommonly defined by what Christian morality has condemned as sinful.

In the past, opponents of Christian faith and morals attempted to appeal to reality against Biblical precepts. Religious belief and religious precepts were held to be dogmatic, against a morality based on reason. This appeal is still rhetorically made, but today self-will is advanced even against reality if need be, as is seen so clearly in gender theory, in which sex becomes self-defined. And so Christians are now in the position of defending common sense and science against ideology which would deny them. But what is the common thread of leftist contention? It is the claim that denial of self-will is mean and heartless.

A Christian understanding of morality is that it is based on the law of God given in Scripture. Since we are declared to be free from the law by the salvation offered in Christ, there is the question of what in the law is still binding. The common response is to divide the law. The moral law pertains to relations between God and man, and man and his neighbor. This is binding on all mankind, and is repeated, at least partially, in the vice lists of the New Testament. Ceremonial law pertains to the religious ceremony prescribed in the Old Testament, while the national law of Israel consists of rules and case law for the governing of ancient Israel. Only the moral law is binding to all eternity (Rev. 21:7-8); the ceremonial law and national law was effectively set aside by Christ and the apostles in the New Testament. Thus, only the moral law remains binding on Christians.

Can the moral law be reduced to love of God and neighbor, and in that way be practically set aside when a particular commandment is found undesirable? It might seem so, since Christ held that on these two commandments, to love God with all our being, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself “hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:35-40). Yet if particular moral commands are reducible to these two, what love of God and neighbor means becomes questionable, depending on one’s vision of the good life and a good world. Only if these two commandments are held to summarize the law and the prophets can the latter retain their meaning.

It should be obvious that the elevation of self-will above all other considerations itself is heartless, advanced as it is against what common sense would regard as harm. Nothing better illustrates this than the struggle over abortion, in which one human being has the right to kill another in the interests her convenience and desires in life. Similarly, the emphasis on “quality of life” for adults has been at the expense of children and family life, as children’s interests are subordinated to the desires of adults, and the family as an institution has declined in importance (and frequency) as people seek their own individual happiness above the well-being of their families and its members. This is only natural in a humanitarian society in which traditional distinctions between individuals, so well recognized and addressed in Biblical commandments, are subordinated to the interests of a universalized individual, each one the same as all others.

The freedom from the ceremonial and national laws of the Old Testament that the New Testament gives Christians indeed allows a greater area for personal decision, but it is not moral autonomy. The Ten Commandments, repeated (arguably including the fourth) in the New Testament, and further elaborated by the vice lists (Mk 7:20-22; I Cor. 6:9-10; I Tim. 1:9-10; Rev.21:8) sets limits on how we can live our lives. The further commands of Christ and the apostles in the New Testament also set limits. They provide for a life of both holiness and love (remembering that the command to be holy is part of our love for God).

Being faithful to God by observing his commands in all circumstances, and without compromise, takes enormous heart, and involves enormous risks, as the preacher of the Book of Hebrews recounted (Heb. 11). American Christians have not known those risks as the heroes of faith did, or indeed any risk from the regime under which they lived. That has changed, and could dramatically worsen. But our great reward is God himself. The life of the narrow gate will necessarily give freedom and dignity, whether or not it is honored by the wider society. And, of course, the wider society is also better to the extent that it follows Biblical morality. A contrary state engineered morality, focusing on fulfilling individual desires or even re-engineering those desires, cannot be expected to provide warmth or heart, nor (given the ever changing nature of political leadership and the ultimacy of its power) freedom or dignity.


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