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Christian Morals

How do the morals in the church today compare with the
morals in the early church?

In the world today there is a grim lack or moral fortitude. There is such depravity concerning what is morally good that the world, and even the church itself, has the lines blurred to the point that the vast majority have cast aside ethical principles that derive from the Law (Torah). We know that the world is morally bankrupt for the most part, yet how is one able to say even the church is on this same slope? Most of the church does not believe in following the Torah, and even those that do, it is questionable whether they are following it the way God intended. God gave them commandments that were not good (Ezekiel 20:25) which is the letter that kills (2 Corinthians 3:6), however we are to follow the law of the Spirit (Romans 7:6), to lead a life of holiness and to live and walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

Christian morals and ethics are not merely a list of do’s and don’ts, but a code of wisdom and instruction to walk this life after the Spirit and not after the flesh, as mere men. Christian morals teach us to transcend our humanity, to arrive at a divine nature. The Apostle Paul said that our love should abound and that our love would be displayed in great depth by coming to a more precise knowledge and discernment of ethical matters (Philippians 1:9). The word “discernment” is ‘aisthēsis’ in Greek and means “of moral discernment in ethical matters.” [1]  The knowledge the Apostle Paul spoke of, derives from the Greek word epignōsis and it denotes “precise and correct knowledge, used in the New Testament of the knowledge of things ethical and divine.” [2] Where does this knowledge and discernment come from? It comes from the Torah, nomos. Nomos Speaks of “the Christian religion: the law demanding faith, the moral instruction given by Christ, especially the precept concerning love”. [3] The church has lost its moral compass mainly due to most believing they do not need the law and the commandments; instead they are merely saved by grace.

Christian morality was a way to protect us from any false accusations, being blameless in all our conduct. The Apostle Paul writes “And show your own self in all respects to be a pattern and a model of good deeds and works, teaching what is unadulterated, showing gravity [having the strictest regard for truth and purity of motive], with dignity and seriousness. And let your instruction be sound and fit and wise and wholesome, vigorous and [2] irrefutable and above censure, so that the opponent may be put to shame, finding nothing discrediting or evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:7-8) God is not convinced, nor are most people, by merely posting scriptures on social media, or posting selfies of us studying to impress or prove to others what we are in the word; what vanity. There is nothing wrong with posting Scripture and words of wisdom online, however what is the intention? Are we really walking out that message, is that post really a lifestyle, or do we feel this misplaced sense of gratification that we simply did our part because we shared something on social media to get a few ‘likes’ and an “amen.” Let us be serious and ask ourselves these grave questions.

Early Church Father Irenaeus understood the teachings of morality are an important step to immortality. He was just degrees from the Apostle John; a student of Polycarp, who learned from the Apostle John. The divine teachings and instructions were still living and breathing within the soul of Irenaeus.

This, therefore, was the [object of the] long-suffering of God, that man, passing through all things, and acquiring the knowledge of moral discipline, then attaining to the resurrection from the dead, and learning by experience what is the source of his deliverance, may always live in a state of gratitude to the Lord, having obtained from Him the gift of incorruptibility, that he might love Him the more; [4]

Moral discipline is a path that leads to immortality and to an incorruptible body. This is indicative of the spiritual life that will lead us to the Father. Irenaeus states as well that “He is present with those who attend to moral discipline.” [5]

God is with those who are living a life of purity. Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle John, affirms this perfectly in saying It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts.” [6]

My statement concerning social media to prove to others that you are a Christian appears to be in alignment with Ignatius. Athenagoras, who was a second century apologist, spoke on how the moral teachings of Christianity was not only in word but in deed, and that others would come to faith because of the conduct of a Christians life.

What, then, are those teachings in which we are brought up? “I say unto you, Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven, who causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Luk_6:27, Luk_6:28; Mat_5:44, Mat_5:45) Allow me here to lift up my voice boldly in loud and audible outcry, pleading as I do before philosophic princes. For who of those that reduce syllogisms, and clear up ambiguities, and explain etymologies,30 or of those who teach homonyms and synonyms, and predicaments and axioms, and what is the subject and what the predicate, and who promise their disciples by these and such like instructions to make them happy: who of them have so purged their souls as, instead of hating their enemies, to love them; and, instead of speaking ill of those who have reviled them (to abstain from which is of itself an evidence of no mean forbearance), to bless them; and to pray for those who plot against their lives? On the contrary, they never cease with evil intent to search out skillfully the secrets of their art,31 and are ever bent on working some ill, making the art of words and not the exhibition of deeds their business and profession. But among us you will find uneducated persons, and artisans, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth: they do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves. [7]

It is supremely divine that the life of Christian is the confession of one’s life and does not rely on rehearsed speeches or eloquence, but the very conduct is said to exhibit the love of God to everyone, including your enemies. Loving you enemies requires us to surpass our human nature to avenge our affliction brought on by enemies, but to surpass it to the point where you truly love that enemy is only of a divine nature that this world, especially today, is starving for.  

Origen defines moral doctrine to a depth that is beneficial to the salvation of our souls and how we are to look at the Scriptures. To be clear, the moral doctrine is still hidden, it is a particular revelation that pertains to perfecting the soul. The mystical doctrine of the Word is what perfects the Spirit.

You then, secondly, come to the protective covering of the shell in which the moral doctrine or counsel of continence is designated. These are of course necessary to protect what is contained inside, but they too are doubtless to be smashed and broken through. We would say, for example, that abstinence from food and chastisement of the body is necessary as long as we are in this body, corruptible as it is and susceptible to passion. But when it is broken and dissolved and, in the time of its resurrection, gone over from corruption into incorruption and from animal to spiritual, then it will be dominated no longer by the labor of affliction or the punishment of abstinence, but rather by its own quality and not by any bodily corruption. This is why abstinence seems necessary now and afterwards will have no point. [8] 

The moral revelation of the Scriptures delivers us the moral discipline that is conducive to coming into the resurrection, that will result in us receiving an incorruptible body. Origen’s understanding of moral doctrine is in perfect unison with Irenaeus instructing us that without moral discipline, a code of ethics in this life, we will not be able to receive this perfection that is promised. Moral discipline is revelation that teaches us to overcome the flesh and subdue the passions of the flesh, so that we may come to higher levels of revelation and a deeper understanding of the mystery of God. Amen.

References:

  1. Thayer Dictionary definition for ‘discernment’ G144
  2. Thayer Dictionary definition for ‘knowledge’ G1922
  3. Thayer Dictionary definition for ‘law’ G3551
  4. Irenaeus-Against Heresies Book 3 Ch. XX, Vol. 1
  5. Irenaeus-Against Heresies Book 3 Ch. XXV Vol. 1
  6. Ignatius- Epistle to the Ephesians Ch. XV, Vol. 1
  7. Athenagoras-A Plea Ch. XI, Vol. 2
  8. Origen – Spirit & Fire