There are a wide variety of opinions about the effectiveness of Sunday School. Mine is that it was quite effective. Perhaps that is because I was fortunate to have three of the most gifted Sunday School teachers I’ve ever known during the time I grew up in the little Southern Baptist church I consider my home congregation. From the days when the classes were known as “beginners,” “primary,” and “juniors,” I had three women who were both dedicated and knowledgeable when it came to the Bible, and who actually believed and lived everything they taught. They weren’t selective about it depending on their life circumstances, either. If the Biblical principle was clear, and they understood it, they taught it and then they lived it.
They were so effective, that when I went off to college, and had to take a semester of Old Testament Survey, and a semester of New Testament Survey, I did very well in both, because I’d remembered a lot of what I learned in Sunday School. It was almost as if all three of them had read the textbooks written by H.I. Hester himself, though I am sure that the lesson commentaries they’d read to prepare for class provided them with a whole lot of knowledge, and their willingness to be obedient made them effective teachers. Their consistent application of the truths of scripture, translated into personal morality, was a powerful teaching tool.
I don’t profess to have perfectly consistent moral beliefs or practices in my Christian life. Part of the reason for that is a lack of understanding, on my part, of everything in the scripture that teaches us how to walk in the way of Jesus. In both college and seminary, I took a lot of courses in Biblical studies, to help me understand, because I really wanted to know, and I wanted to pattern my life in just that way. It seems, though, that for every concept that I seem to learn, there are a variety of applications and life situations that don’t lend themselves to a perfect alignment with the principle. That’s where the illumination of the Holy Spirit is supposed to help, but I must admit that my discernment is not perfect in that regard. Sometimes I give up, because it is too hard, or because I know that what I will learn is contrary to my own will. Is that where we need to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief”? I think it is.
It is always easier to spot inconsistency in someone else’s morality. That’s why I am prefacing what I am saying with the previous paragraph. I’m not going to approach this from the perspective that I have immaculate perception, and the way I see things is the way all Christians must see things, or they are wrong, according to the scriptural interpretation that I happen to accept. But I am going to ask the questions, because I see the inconsistency. There may be a perfectly logical and reasonable explanation, or it may actually be that the perfection which often eludes me, is also not part of the reasoning that is creating the inconsistency.
The foundation for much of what is expressed in public is solid. Christian morality is determined by God, and revealed through the inspired writers of the Bible. It does not evolve through the pressure of public opinion, though within the church there are influences which attempt to distort, change, or otherwise water down the principles and precepts that are laid out in the Bible. Our wisdom and reason, the essence of our identity and humanity, does not take kindly to moral absolutes that give evidence of being handed down by God. So there is a lot of study, debate, discussion, attempted reason, and logic, from human, not divine sources, that influence what we think and how we behave. And the Christian community has some code words that it uses to distinguish between its own members in order to be able to identify, and associate with those whom we hold strong, common convictions.
As conservatives and evangelicals, our code words tend to identify those who we consider to be “on our left” in their interpretations of the Bible and their beliefs about morality, as “liberals” and we identify as “Bible believing,” as opposed to those who do not believe the particular interpretation of the Bible at which we have arrived, who do not share that label. But there are some inconsistencies in the moral perspective that many conservative evangelicals hold, and those are most visible in the world of money, corporate business, and politics.
Are you interested now? Read on.
Conservative Christians are in almost unanimous agreement when it comes to moral issues like abortion and same sex marriage. And their views are drawn directly from the Biblical teaching that they claim is the foundation of their belief and practice as Christians. Frankly, if you are going to arrive at a different perspective on either of these issues, it does require departing from historical and traditional interpretations of the Bible, especially among most Protestants, and interjecting what the scripture calls the “wisdom of this world which is foolishness” into the interpretation. Most conservatives will also insist that these principles are universal expressions of truth, and that they are to be considered applicable by those responsible for making the law of the land. There is no doubt that Christian morality has been a strong influence in developing the rule of law in this country, whether we want to acknowledge that or not, even under the constitutional principle of religious freedom. It is hard to create a “secular” morality that doesn’t have a Christian element, but I don’t believe that’s necessarily a constitutional violation. Church and state separation is not the literal interpretation of the constitutional principle of religious freedom.
There are some real limits to the influence of Christian morality on government, however, that conservative Christians endorse, practice, and even fervently push. Abortion is immoral, wrong, and is a violation of the sanctity of human life. So is murder. Biblically, it is the same thing. But if human life is sacred, then how does Christian morality view the death penalty? War? Poverty that robs people of the quality of life, or of its blessings, or of their health? Where does Christian morality address predatory lending, or interest rates that exceed the Bible’s definition of usury?
Part 2 will address those issues.