Christian Ethics – a matter of life and death
The word ethic comes from the Greek language and means a standard or rule and has come to mean a set of principles for conduct – i.e. what is good and what is bad; what a person ought to do.
Christian ethics therefore is what a person who is follower of Jesus ought to do. In the words of Colossian 1 we need Christian ethics ‘so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God’ and for this Paul says we need knowledge, wisdom and understanding that comes from the Holy Spirit (Colossian 1:9-12). This means not that we live this way to be a Christian but because we are a Christian what is the best way to live. We want Christian ethics not to be a duty but a delight, an act of worship – they are the Christian people loving Christ because they belong to him and wanting to please him in their conduct. It is not to be used as a big giant ruler to judge or condemn others but as a plumb line to help us worship and reflect Christ to our world.
At church we have just begun a series on ethics and we began yesterday looking at the ethics of life & death. We talked about issues ranging from abortions, IVF & genetic engineering to euthanasia, assisted dying and palliative care. These are all emotive and often personal & pastoral subjects but I believe as we ‘talk about’ them in the presence of Christ it is pleasing to him and an act of love and worship.
We also discovered that there are no easy answers and often different opinions as we engage with the gospel and scripture, Christian tradition and our rapidly changing culture. However both personally and as a church an activity we must engage in if we love and want to please Christ – and I believe it is often easier to hear the Spirit when the emotions of a live decision are not imminent. We need to think through – if I was in a certain situation as a follower of Jesus it would please him if….
My biggest concern for the church is that it is easier not to have these discussions. Pastorally and culturally it is safer to not speak and discuss and leave it to the individual at a particular time and situation to respond. The church I believe fails these people in not allowing them to make faith the main reason for their decision.
Ethical issues are not new to this generation. A good percentage of Paul’s letters are helping the church of the first century know what lifestyle and choices are pleasing to God and therefore an act of faith and worship.
Some ethical issues are in Paul’s word – ‘disputable’ . Discussing a live disputable ethical issue in Romans 14 which Paul clearly had a view on – his biggest concern was not the decision but that the decision was made from faith because everything that does not come from faith is sin – Romans 14v23. Therefore the priority for the Christian is to be ‘fully convinced in their mind’ that what they are doing is for the glory of God and in continuity with scripture and the gospel.
And what the gospel speaks is that we will never get it right all the time but there is always opportunity for repentance (changing our mind in light of God’s word) and forgiveness and healing . The Lord wants to remove all of the guilt of our past when we allow his spirit to lead us and that ‘all things works for the good of those who love him’ – may I even suggest this includes things that we have repented from or confessed if we allow him. So as I lay out my conclusions from our discussion last night – know that I am happy for you to disagree and show me how a different view may be consistent with scripture and the gospel and that these should not condemn or judge you but lead you to a Saviour who can forgive, heal and remove all guilt and self condemnation.
So where did that leave us or better me in our discussions on life & death.
For me I believe to be consistent to our Christian story as far as is in our power we should stand and speak up publicly for life in all its stages, varieties and differences. Therefore as Christians we need to protect and care for the unborn child and the seriously ill and suffering. Life in all its from is infinitely valuable.
It gets more complicated when it comes to fertility and genetic treatments – to what extent are they seeking to care for life by healing and overcoming medical issues. To what extent should we ‘interfere’ with the natural process? What makes the embryo and beginning of life more ‘sacred’ than other medical interventions? It is this ‘disputable’ matter that Christians disagree on – but in these situations we must bring in faith and be certain, as Paul says, in our own mind as to what our faith speaks to us. When does God speaks life/breath into cells? How do I bring most glory to God in this situation? How can I show most care and value for life?
Also at the end of life, although infinitely valuing all life, to what extent do we fight to extend life by a short time. As Christians we see life as a gift but do not fear death & dying. The distinction between active and passive euthanasia is becoming more blurred, the distinction must now be between a good and bad death. How can dying give dignity and glory to God but demonstrate the value of life.
I leave these thoughts with you. I have personal friends and ministerial colleagues I respect who have chosen contradicting decisions on some of these beginning and end of life issues – so for me on the specifics they are ‘disputable’ matters. I have walked with them and shared what I am convinced of in these matters but have allowed them by the Spirit to enable them to be ‘convinced in their own mind’ . So that their decision is an act of faith.
On these disputable issues I encourage people to journey with a Pastor or minister or other mature Christian friend to ensure it is a decision of faith. My only counsel is not to ignore faith and journey alone.