By Rory Leishman
For Christians, this is the season of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, repentance and prayer in preparation for the culminating event of the Christian year – the celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death at Easter.
Some people feel small need for repentance. They think they deserve at least a passing grade on the Ten Commandments, because they rarely swear, usually relax on Sundays, always honour their father and mother, and have never killed anyone, stolen anything, committed adultery, lied under oath or coveted their neighbour’s wife or belongings.
However, as Jesus explained in the Sermon on the Mount, the Ten Commandments are only a summary of the moral law. The full requirements are far more demanding. The divine law forbids not only the act, but also the very thought of adultery. It requires us to love not only our friends, but also our enemies. It summons us to bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us and pray for them which despitefully use us and persecute us.
Altogether, the Bible contains more than 600 moral rules. Some, such as the prohibition in Deuteronomy 22:11 against clothing with mixed wool and linen fabrics, are obsolete. Few faithful Christians would have any compunction about wearing a woolen suit with a linen lining.
That puzzles Merle Hertzler, an on-line village agnostic. He asks: “If the Bible is your source of guidance, why do you simply ignore this rule, and live as though it doesn't exist? This rule is not reasonable, is it? Why would God care if we wore two kinds of fabric together? If you and I let reason override this rule, then it seems to me that reason, not the Bible, is our ultimate guide.”
Hertzler has got it wrong. For theologically orthodox Christians, Catholic and Protestant, Holy Scripture is the ultimate authority on all questions of faith and morality. Reason is the means for discerning revealed Biblical truth.
There is no conflict between right reason and Christian faith. In the eloquent words of Pope John Paul the Great: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”
Many Canadians, including most of the judges on our courts of appeal, rely on reason alone as a guide for moral judgment. Inevitably, they fall into grievous error. Who would have thought even a few years ago that a majority of our secular rulers on the Supreme Court of Canada would have found, as they did in a ruling in December, that there is nothing unlawful or degrading about several men engaging in group sex with a woman in a place open to the public?
In striving to understand the truths of the Bible, theologically orthodox Catholics and Protestants do not rely entirely on their own unaided reason. They look also for instruction to the reason and faith embodied in the traditions of their respective churches. While these traditions vary on some key points of doctrine, they essentially concur on the substance of the moral law.
Thus, both Protestants and Catholics hold that while the New Testament rendered the ceremonial laws of the Hebrew Bible obsolete, the moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments is universally binding and true. Protestants and Catholics who uphold the traditional teaching of their churches also concur on the meaning of these commandments.
Consider, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The 1647 Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that this commandment “forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words and actions.” Likewise, the contemporary Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “Every baptized person is called to lead a chaste life, each according to his particular state of life.”
What man in our pornography-saturated culture can go for long without an unchaste thought? Who can truly claim to have always loved his neighbor as himself?
All have sinned and fallen short of the divine perfection. No one can be self righteous. No one is entitled to pass judgment on another person. But no one need despair.
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law,” declared St. Paul. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”