Ethics for the 21st Century – Part 2
Many 21st century organizations operate without a foundation of Christian ethics. If they choose, these same organizations have the opportunity to place Scripture as the foundation for ethical their decision making.
Christian ethics are often viewed as merely a system of deontological ethics based on absolute rules. However, in Christian ethics we find both behavior-based characteristics, especially in the Old Testament with its focus on Mosaic laws; and virtue ethics, especially in the teleological orientation of the New Testament on the virtues of faith, hope, and love. The Bible contains the stories that describe God’s relationship with the people of Israel, and it is through these stories God reveals who He is, and what He wills. Placing Scripture as the first consideration and as the foundation for ethical reasoning enables the organization to develop the character of its members based on the virtues of love. The source of that love derives from a relationship with God.
In much the same manner that non-Christian philosophers have debated what constitutes virtue, Christians have also always argued about various interpretations of the Bible and questioned the meanings and intent of its authors. What is different about Christian ethics is that the central focus on Jesus Christ and His teachings creates a type of "gravitational base" around which ethical considerations orbit. The sheer volume of study devoted to Jesus' teachings establishes the bedrock upon which the development of a consistent ethical system may be constructed. These teachings require closer examination.
What Scripture Teaches About Ethics
For the individual, being a Christian means taking Christ into their hearts and allowing that relationship with a living God to transform their lives. The Christian leaves old ways of thinking behind to more closely align themselves with the mystery of God’s love.
In contrast to systems postmodernist worldview of a virtually meaningless universe, Christians see the world as a fallen place, where the reign of God has begun (through the birth of Jesus) but has not yet been completed eschatologically. This perspective forms the backdrop for all Christian teachings, and it is from this perspective that ideas such as repentance, following Jesus, and doing the work of the Kingdom begin to make sense. In Jesus' life, Christians have been provided with the single example of a perfectly virtuous life demonstrated by His love (agape), servanthood, His bearing of the cross, and His final liberation.
In Jesus' death, a radical and world-altering perspective emerges. Christians recognize that in a fallen world, we are all slaves to sin from which we cannot save ourselves through any independent action or behavior. This recognition has profound ethical consequences. Only Jesus' death and resurrection provide freedom from this condition. However, the freedom is not to engage in any hedonistic and self-serving behavior that suits one's mood. It is a different kind of freedom that calls Christians to the duties of service, humility, and love.
It seems paradoxical that a freedom could call a person to any duty. However, Christian freedom allows us to serve and love without being afraid that our efforts are unworthy. It is through our acts of kindness, and service, and through behaviors that display our humility that we find the meaning that has been lost in the postmodernist worldview. Jesus is calling Christians to a higher kind of righteousness than is possible for human beings to achieve on their own. Faith in Jesus Christ, and all that follows from that faith, transforms the entire person so that faith and ethics become indistinguishable.