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Point of Reference

    by Fred Price

The Christian Ethos
Date Posted: April 26, 2019

On a number of occasions, I’ve claimed that in the course of American history, Christian ethics have impacted secular society as well as Christians; and that they had in fact laid the foundation for the development of our democratic ideals.

All of which contributes to the larger debate as to whether America is – or ever was – a truly Christian nation, if by that we mean a majority of citizens actually professing and practicing their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives. (Any discussion of practicing vs. professing being a subjective one, but most would admit that calling on God only when we’re in crisis or believing in a Great Something out there in the Great Somewhere hardly qualifies as real faith.)

Considering the abysmal record of religion and politics when too closely associated, our founding fathers often had a deep distrust of institutional Christianity, but absolutely believed in the benefits of “true religion”; usually identified with Christianity in its various expressions while promoting freedom of conscience. (Up to and including – with some reservation – Judaism and Islam.) The reason being that it could be categorically observed that “religious” people made better citizens. Their strong sense of right and wrong, beyond that which was dictated by government institutions, inclining them to be virtuous, peaceful, productive, etc. Thus religion in general – and Christianity in particular – was viewed as a pillar of the American experiment in representative government, which entrusted the average citizen with a degree of freedom never experienced before. A dangerous and scary aspect of democratic rule, when one considers how quickly freedom can, has and at times still does degenerate into license and anarchy.

The aforementioned Christian ethos can be summed up in a few select portions of scripture, dealing primarily with the behavior of Christian converts. However, it also exerts a powerful and lasting influence on secular people who none-the-less seek a moral compass promoting peace and prosperity. Which may in the end, make them better candidates for salvation – the focal point of Christ and the church – than they might otherwise be.

Chapters 5,6 & 7 of Matthew essentially sum up the character of Christianity and thus its ethic, starting with the Beatitudes or “Blessings”. (Mirrored in condensed form in Luke 6) Blessed are the financially poor or poor in spirit, who lack position or power – the down trodden; who never-the-less continue to seek “success” as defined by Christ. Blessed are those who weep and are mournful, for they will find comfort through their families, the family of God and ultimately Christ himself. Blessed are the meek. Not the wishy-washy, indecisive, backward individual some characterize meekness as being, but rather similar to the raw power and fierce independence of a wild horse whose spirit is left intact even as its will is “broken” and made saddle-ready. All the power is retained but focused, channeled and controlled for a purpose. Blessed are the hungry, who “crave” righteousness as well as food. For through the agents of compassionate change, their bellies will be filled and their hearts desire fulfilled. Blessed are the merciful, pure in heart and the peacemakers, for they will be shown mercy and become God’s own. The impact of such realities having far-reaching influence not only on the individuals directly involved in church but on their families, friends and communities as well.

A blessing coming from Christ even when we are persecuted, insulted and excluded by some because of the righteousness we reflect – however imperfectly – as a result of our relationship with Him. Jesus actually warning, “Woe to you when men speak well of you,…” Luke 6; 26 As there should be a noticeable, sometimes jarring difference in our outlook on life that will be attractive to some and repel others. Despite the risk, being the salt of the earth and light of the world should make us difficult to overlook.

On a very personal level, we are cautioned to watch our mouths because, “…men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken.” Matthew 12:36 We are also encouraged to shield our minds eye from exposure to and lusting after things and people we are not meant to possess. (See Matthew 6:22,23 in conjunction with Matthew 5:27-30) And we are instructed to be true to our word, our spouses, families, employers, friends and God.

And then we are admonished to do the truly difficult. Do not resist evil, instead absorb the abuse and hurt others may inflict on us while being generous with our possessions and time in return. Going the extra mile in more ways than one. Modeling the Golden Rule of doing to others what we would have done to us. And then it gets really hard. Taking the Gold Standard one step further, we are told not to love just our family, friends, and neighbors but our enemies as well! Which is almost too much to bear, until we remember what He bore for us on the cross – while we were still sinners.

That takes us up to Chapter 6 which begins by warning against performing our “acts of righteousness” for public consumption and acclaim. The praise we receive by doing so replacing the eternal reward those private acts are meant to ensure. What we treasure and what pays the biggest “dividends” coming from the account we maintain in heaven. Which directly affects our behavior as, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 Reinforcing Jesus’ insistence that, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6;24

Chapter 7 likewise begins with a big one. Something society turns on its head to challenge the Christian conscience and thwart the church’s call for repentance. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (Even though we must be discerning) For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (See Luke 6:37,38 as well.) Which is closely followed by the assurance that if we sincerely ask for God’s provision and guidance, we will receive it; if we actively seek Him and His way, we will find it; if we persistently knock on the door of opportunity in Christ, it will be opened.

And then there is the contrast of the narrow and wide gates. The wide, all-accepting, carefree road leading to confusion and destruction. The narrow, focused road of faithfulness to the One True God, leading to genuine life in the here-and-now and life everlasting in the hereafter. Be aware, however, that not everyone who appears to say the right words or perform the accepted deeds will enter the gateway to heaven. “…only he who does the will of my father…” Matthew 7:21 All of us recognized by the “fruit” we produce in our lives, when people are watching as well as when they’re not.

Jesus ending this section of scripture with, “…everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man… But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man…” Matthew 7:24-27 This being true of nations as well as citizens of those nations. Their building of homes, businesses, reputations, and societies rising or falling on the decisions they make daily that are “wise” or “foolish”.

Check back next week for more on the “saving” aspects of Christian ethics.

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Biography Information:

Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.

Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker.  He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today.  Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.  

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