Discipleship, ethics and religion: a response to Harriet Baber.

I thought Harriet Baber’s  argument in the Church Times (6th March 2015)  that ‘it is time to separate ethics from religion,’ was somewhat bizarre.

I hope I have misread her argument in some way, in the same way that I hope that I have misunderstood articles asking for an end to the Church promoting the concept of discipleship.

Discipleship and ethics seem to me to be inextricably linked. They are also both significant Christian motifs. Jesus asks his followers not simply to become disciples but to, therefore go and make disciples of all nations,’ (Matthew 28, 19).

To be a disciple is simply to be a follower of a particular person, world view or philosophy.  We are all disciples by dint of our humanity. It’s the direction of our discipleship and, what we do with our discipleship that’s important.

The Old Testament Prophets again and again remind their audience that God, perhaps, above all else is concerned with justice and therefore expects his followers to pursue justice.

Jesus instructs his followers to ‘be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,‘ (Matthew 5, 48).

St. Paul has the temerity to suggest to his Greek audience (who thought they knew a thing or two about ethics) that they needed to add  the theological virtues of faith, hope and above all love (1 Corinthians 13), to the list of cardinal virtues advocated by the Greek philosophers.

Philosophy it seems, sorry Harriet, only goes so far and, in the field of ethics, and that can never be far enough. (This does not mean that secular ethical thinking cannot call the Church to question its standards and behaviour).

St. John states that ‘God is love,’ before adding ‘whoever does not love does not know God’ (1 John 4, 8). John’s gospel reminds us that ‘God so loved that world that he gave his only son,’ (John 3, 16).

So as we can see in the Bible both God, and his actions, are consistently described through the language of ethics and virtue. Our character, behaviour and, speech as people of faith, should therefore be representative of God.

Christians believe that  the Church is the body (or the Corpus) established by Jesus to re-present God, and his values, to the world (the Polis). Each and every week we pray ‘thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven,’ (Matthew 6, 10). This verse from the Lord’s Prayer is a direct plea for the breaking in of justice, love and peace in the ‘material’ landscape we inhabit. We can’t, surely, be expected to remain silent about our most heart-felt prayer, for God has given his people the mandate to become co-creators of a better world.

If Christianity is about responding to the grace of God in a manner that reflects God, and the repeated use of words such as therefore, just, gave and as must imply that this is true, the Church should not abandon moral reasoning to secular agencies and, their vested interests, for surely this would imply that God has abandoned the Divine priorities; the pursuit of justice, love and perfection?

Wouldn’t it?


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