Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Legality and Morality

We have been presented with any number of things that are now perfectly legal but still immoral.  There are those who throw up their hands and say there is nothing more Christians can do since the SCOTUS has now spoken.  There are others who are ready to become vagabond exiles living off the societal grid as Christians hiding out in an unfriendly world.  But the modern reality of abortion and same sex marriage only points us to that which has always been an unfriendly and unwelcome truth.  That which is legal is not necessarily moral.

St. Paul says all things may be possible but not all things are beneficial (wholesome, salutary, and God-pleasing).  I Corinthians 10:23  Jesus suggests exactly that which He is quizzed about divorce.  Why did Moses permit divorce?  Well, it was not God's will or intention but the hardness of hearts of the people.  It was "legal" in the sense that divorce (under certain circumstances) had been permitted by Moses but it did not and does not mean that divorce is moral.  We tend to think it is immoral for us to be unhappy but morality has a higher test than our pleasure.

The Law of God tells us in no uncertain terms what is moral, what is right, what is true, what is God's will...  We have tried for millenia to weasel out of these commands and seek our own way.  Most recently we have become antinomians who forget the Law because we possess the Gospel and usually end up with a principle of love that trumps all the thou shalt nots of the Scriptures.

We don't need to fret so much that legality and morality are now in conflict.  They have often been, perhaps it is even typical that what we say is legal is neither godly nor salutary according to God's command or His promise.  That which is legal is a cop out and one which Jesus did not fail to condemn among the Pharisees who sought the cover of legality over the morality of heart and will that is in accord with God's heart and His will.  We do not have to choose.  We have a higher cause that always trumps which is acceptable, legal, or normal.  The Law of God is good and wise and sets His will before our eyes, shows us the way of righteousness, and dooms to death when we transgress.

The ultimate verdict is not what legislatures or councils or congress passes OR what courts define as legal.  The ultimate verdict is not what is legal but what is moral, what is God-pleasing, what is salutary, what is good, and what is God's will.  We may live in an age when this is more apparent than at other times but it has always been true and the people of God has always lived within this tension.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I agree. What is legal is not often moral, and we must rightly distinguish the difference. Essentially, throughout the history of man we have fought wars, engaged in political skirmishes, and seen both riots and civil disobedience in opposition to unjust, albeit legal, laws and proclamations. When early colonists of diverse nationalities in NY were ordered by King George's proclamation to agree to a loyalty pledge, many refused and saw this as tyranny, one of numerous imposed "legalities" which led eventually to our Revolution. Today, Chinese Christians and Vietnamese believers are routinely imprisoned for evangelistic work deemed "illegal." On our own soil, a Christian clerk willingly goes to jail rather than have her name on a marriage license as the government official approving of immoral and unnatural same gender unions. Perhaps, it may only be a small number who oppose unjust laws in the beginning, but once popular sentiment is aroused, the perpetrators of unjust laws are forced to accept the consequences.

Unknown said...

We have hidden in the crowds of Judeo-Christian non-believers since the 19th century in America. When morality (think the 50s) was accepted by all but the lawless in America, everyone was 'Christian.' It was easy to be 'Christian' once, because we looked like everyone else. Now, we are going to stand out, and should stand up. We should pray.

Carl Vehse said...

"We have been presented with any number of things that are now perfectly legal but still immoral. There are those who throw up their hands and say there is nothing more Christians can do since the SCOTUS has now spoken."

The Missouri Synod view, 80 years ago, was expressed in an essay, Christian Citizenship, read before the Convention of the English District, Ev. Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States at River Forest, Ill. June, 1937, (originally published in 1937 by Concordia Publishing House). In his essay, Concordia Seminary Professor Theodore Graebner stated:

"The Church indeed has no interest at stake in the type of popular government under which it is placed in its external form so long as its freedom of worship is guaranteed. But the Christian individual, the church-member as a citizen, has a duty to make his influence as a life-giving light, as a preservative, as a moral antiseptic, to be felt throughout the political body. You cannot absolve him from the duty of serving under the guidance of a Christian conscience as a voting citizen and as an office-holder.

"In the second place, let us not forget that in our country the citizen is the ruler. It is true that, when we speak of the government to which we owe allegiance and obedience in agreement with the New Testament Scriptures (Rom. 13; 1 Pet. 2,13; Titus 3,1), we have in mind the magistrates who sit in the courts of law and the executives who administer the law in community, State, and nation. Yet we cannot forget that the power which these officers wield is delegated to them under a constitution by the citizens. We elect our rulers and we elect our lawgivers, and we consider this privilege of the American citizen one of the greatest temporal gifts. This gives peculiar meaning to the texts which describe rulers as they ought to be. If government is to be righteous, is to protect and foster the good, restrain the evil, and make life and property secure; if it is to guard peace and order and give no unrighteous cause for war; if through it the Moral Law is to be applied without fear or favor; I say, if the Scriptures make these demands upon temporal government, they place them squarely upon the conscience of the Christian as an American citizen, since according to our Constitution it is the citizen in whom all political power ultimately resides. There is therefore as much reason for the Christian voter to consider himself an agency of God for righteousness as under another form of government our Church has placed this duty upon the conscience of kings and princes and of the magistrates who owed their fealty to the ruling house.

"Are we not compelled to conclude from this that the church-member who evades the duty of citizenship is guilty of a sin of omission? Let us put this positively and say that it is the business of every church-member as a citizen to be active in his stewardship as one of those who rule these United States....

"Until the day has come that the entire United States connects with the name Lutheran, as inseparable from its meaning, the idea of religious education, of citizenship based on a conscience governed by Christian morality; until the words Lutheran, civic righteousness, and the moral training of youth have become very closely associated in the public mind, we have been lacking in the performance of duty. In this sense let the Lutheran Church be the conscience of the nation. Let it be an emblem of civic righteousness as it has long been a symbol of Bible-teaching. In this respect, too, will each individually assert himself and all collectively assert themselves in bearing witness to that righteousness which exalteth a nation. Far more than has been the case in the past should our teaching in Sunday and parochial school bring out the social implications of being a Christian and a church-member."