The extent to which Biblical Law applies to the unbelieverIntroduction
As far as Western culture is concerned, there was a time when Biblical ethics were regarded as the norm for our society. Things were either right or wrong on the basis of Biblical teaching. This is only partly so today.
In our modern secular society, Biblical ethics no longer hold a sacrosanct position. It is accepted or rejected on the basis of its utilitarian value, ie. Biblical Law is accepted where it adds to the enjoyment of life. Thus many traditional Christian values are no longer widely accepted in Western society.
It is simply not possible for the Christian to give utilitarian support for all the laws in the Bible. God has revealed to us the "right" and the "good", but the human condition does not easily allow us to see why a certain act may affect our ultimate happiness, especially when we believe that life has an eternal dimension.
There is some concern whether Western society can survive in its present form, having rejected biblical morality. Lord Devlin said,"No society has yet solved the problem of how to teach morality without religion. So the law must base itself (in a nominal Christian country) on Christian morals, and to the limit of its ability enforce them, not simply because they are the morals which are taught by the established church (on this point the law recognises the right of dissent) but for the compelling reason that without the help of Christian teaching the law (secular) will fail"...with the resultant "collapse of moral order" (anarchy).
On this point C.S. Lewis takes a counter view. He says that society has never really adopted the Christian ethic. The morality of a society is formed on the basis of a vague consensus. In Western society the Christian ethic has influenced societal morality, but has certainly not dictated it. The bases of society's morality stands where it always did, on consensus alone. There is no base as such. Mind you, the Christian ethic is still widely accepted among the general population. (In Australia some 70% still claim allegiance to the Christian faith).
So most Western societies give superficial assent to Biblical ethics. Our question then is, to what extent can Biblical ethics be applied to the unbeliever, and what is the Christian's responsibility toward society with regard to that ethic?
God's law and the unbeliever
C.H. Dodd, along with many theologians today, was of the view that both Old Testament morality, and in particular New Testament morality, are directed to the believer alone. Only the Christian has the ability to understand and apply Biblical morality. We have come into a state of grace and thus have the power to at least apply in part the mind of Christ. So as God's law is for the believer, we have no right to impose it on those outside the church.
Yet such a view fails to recognise that God is the God of all creation and that His will is not just for some, but for all. Biblical morality, even in its most highly refined form in the sayings of Jesus, represents the unchanging mind of God. The absolute "good" always remains, and God expects all those created in His image to recognize that "good" and press toward it. The Old Testament and New Testament prophets did not hesitate to rebuke the nations for breaking God's laws. Amos 1-2, Isaiah 13:23, Jonah, Romans 1. No person can defy the living God with impunity.
So the unbeliever is no less bound to apply God's law than the believer.
Public morality and the believer
Having established that God's laws apply to the unbeliever as well as the believer, we need to consider the obligations the believer has toward public morality:
i] Personal purity. A believer should strive to live a righteous and pure life under the light of God's revealed ethic, irrespective of the standards adopted by society. Our light should shine, Matt.5:13-16, 1Pet.2:11-12.
ii] Proclamation. We are bound to declare to our society God's standards for personal and communal behaviour, and God's judgment upon those who ignore or oppose His will. There is little value in presenting an abstract morality as such, rather Biblical ethics should be communicated clearly to our society, whether welcomed or not. We do need to remember that the presentation of Mosaic Law by itself only leads to condemnation. Thus it must be inseparably linked to the gospel of salvation.
iii] Politic. Believers within a democratic society will naturally wish public morality to reflect the mind of God. Yet as Western societies are pluralist, we can only hope that our community will at least adopt part of the "more excellent way" and mitigate the excesses of immorality. The Christian voice is one voice among many. We are bound therefore, to make only limited demands on public morality - exposing blatant immorality and calling for a righteousness that is readily identifiable in the mind of the unbeliever. Most Westerners know of Jesus and respect him. They also know of his words "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The Golden Rule is certainly part of public morality, and we do well to remind our community that such a rule is better than "greed is good."
The new public morality
In place of the Christian ethic Western societies have filled the vacuum with a mixed (often competing) replacement ethical system:
i] Hedonism. That which makes me happy is good.
ii] Capitalism. The good of free enterprise, individual enterprise - individuality and freedom.
iii] Socialism. The good of egalitarianism, the community over and against the individual - opposing the "evils" of racism, sexism
v] Environmentalism. Green politics. The good of nature over and against human existence.
vi] Easternism. Replacement of "do unto others" with the value of clan and family. eg. taxation regarded as theft as it robs the clan of resources, therefore tax evasion is good.
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