Christian Authority

A Letter to John Beyers

1998

Greetings in the Name of Christ!

Your enthusiastic reception of my address on the Golden Rule at the Men's Club (of Grace UMC in Atlanta, GA) in February (1998) makes me think that you would also be interested in some further thought I have on this same topic. At that time, as you will remember, I had suggested that our Lord had intended for this rule to guide us in all behavior such that we could know beyond any doubt precisely what were necessary for us in order to be pleasing to God. In other words (and as I indicated by means of the title to the essay on this subject on my web site) the Golden Rule is a proxy for scripture (at least with regard to conduct), and all actions that might be derived from that rule might safely be ascribed to God as his commands, and everything else were suspect, even if the writer did in fact ascribe the genius of his work to God. As an example: we see Jesus "rebuking" Moses and refusing to accept the law of Moses as the law of God (the scenario being the discussion on divorce per Matthew 19:8*) even though the procedures for divorce, which presuppose permission, are clearly stated with the other commands in the law section of the Hebrew scripture (Deuteronomy 24).

* And this is accentuated again in John's gospel, chapter 5 (vs. 16 & 18), where it is recorded that Jesus does in fact break the law, that of the Sabbath.

Now even though the context and the language of our Lord in Matthew 7:12 would focus the Golden Rule squarely on the Hebrew scriptures, I think it is clear from the references to this rule alone by his immediate followers* that he actually meant for this rule to serve universally and to include under its purview all authorized and legitimized commands from any external source, be that from another Christian of my own time (from you, for example) or from the New Testament scriptures as well.

* Romans 13:9,** Galatians 5:14, James 2:8.

** In this essay I am treating the law of neighborly love as equivalent to that Golden Rule.

While much, and perhaps most, of the behavioral strictures of the New Testament, implied and otherwise, are obviously of moral significance, e.g., murder is forbidden, there is some language directed toward a mandatory conduct where the moral aspect is not obvious at all. Here I am thinking in particular of some apparently non-moral commands of Paul, e.g., his tirade against homosexuality of Romans 1, his instruction on hair of 1 Corinthians 11 (where we are told that the woman must cover her hair while the man must have short hair), and the 1 Corinthians 5 case of the condemnation of a man who married his step-mother (even though apparently his father were already dead, i.e., the man was not prohibited from such a marriage by any other rule except that against marrying a step-mother). How desirable it would be, and indeed how necessary it is, to have a reliable means of discerning legitimate complaints against the behavior of Christians such that they would be able to tell very clearly that a defense of their actions were called for; and otherwise, if not, how to deal with the matter in a Christian manner; this need is surely clear to any person contemplating Christian society.

At first (before my study of the scripture had suggested to me the solution to this problem*) I would have thought that if someone were offended by the behavior of another Christian, the offending Christian would be confronted with the matter and an explanation and rectification demanded. But then it occurred to me that in order for the Christian not to be badgered by whimsical complaints, i.e., that life proceed in a reasonable and consistent way, this objection (to the behavior of others) must also itself be based on the Golden Rule, for it is by this formulation that we distinguish the words of men from the words of the Holy Spirit.** As I think further about this, therefore, the very obvious occurs to me, namely that the offense itself must not be based on some prohibition given in some scripture or merely due to the whim of some individual as rather upon this very same Golden Rule (for otherwise the summarizing character of the Rule would be compromised in contravention of our Lord's clear pronouncements in this regard). Therefore, as it has become clear to me now, the offense, in order to be such that a defense by another is justified, must itself be derived from the Golden Rule; and it is only then that any Christian has any obligation to reply. In other words, and to be clear and brief: it is unacceptable to require me, as a Christian adult, to defend myself against any charge whatsoever, including therefore also a citation of scripture, unless the person making the charge is able to derive the basis of that charge from the Golden Rule.

* This is suggested to me by much of Paul's writings and also by the Lord's own comment on this subject in Matthew, verses 18:15-17.

** Technically speaking and per the earlier footnote, the Golden Rule summarizies all passages of scripture which can be prefaced with "Thus saith the Lord God".

And so I see then most generally that any complaint about one's behavior, as a Christian, must be dealt with in a consistent manner, and regardless of whether that complaint arise from a pagan, a fellow Christian, the Hebrew scriptures or the Christian scriptures, i.e., regardless of the source, and including most certainly from the Lord himself. Therefore any pronouncement of any scripture is meaningful to a given Christian with regard to his behavior and conduct only to the extent that it (or also its opposite) can be derived from the Golden Rule, for it is only in this wise that such pronouncement can have any significance with regard to the morality of a given action or intention.* Therefore, for example, Paul's own complaints must be subject to the same constraints as those of the rest of us, i.e., the Golden Rule being the solitary basis, and even Jesus himself will expect us to test his own pronouncements about this same rule.**

* Thus we are not discussing procedural or organizational matters or matters of ritual which are morally indifferent and where we engage in certain behavior for the sole purpose of honoring God or symbolizing His work, e.g., baptism or communion or worship. Nor also are we talking about some prudent consideration where, for example, the homosexual (or left-handed writer) might be quite at ease morally speaking about his behavior, and yet find far greater happiness and fulfillment in another sort of life style.

** In my own opinion the enunciation of the Golden Rule before any mention of a "greatest commandment" in the New Testament means that Jesus expected his insistence upon this Rule to validate his own speech to the multitudes. This would be consistent with the otherwise very curious verse, Genesis 3:22a, where we are led to believe that we know as much about right and wrong as does God (even if our actual implementation of such right and wrong is about a worthy as "filthy rags").*** It makes a tidy and quite coherent system to think that we know the difference between right and wrong, but that it must first be presented to us for our recognition of it; and this is precisely what Jesus is doing in the Sermon on the Mount to the crowds of his day. Incidentally, such a system would certainly make Jesus' thinking on this subject entirely consistent with the analysis of right and wrong on the part of Immanuel Kant in his monumental Critique of Practical Reason.

*** See also Luke 12, especially verses 13 & 14, and 57.

Therefore, and in order to implement this procedure, whenever we are commanded by scripture (or any supposed authority) with regard to anything, e.g., the length of hair or murder and mayhem, we are first to see that the writer can make an obvious derivation of his requirements from the Golden Rule. And this is either given in the scripture itself, e.g., Romans 13 (regarding compliance with civil government), or else it is self-evident, e.g., the command against murder can be seen by sheer analysis to arise from the Golden Rule such that even a child can make the derivation, e.g., would you want someone to murder you or someone you love? Etc. Otherwise we (as Christians) are safe to ignore such requirements as moral commands, for they are not! Now the fact that the writer of scripture has pronounced these commands and/or prohibitions must give the Christian considerable pause before such dismissal; but the fact is that the Lord spoke universally with regard to the validity of the Golden Rule and thus it cannot be subjugated to the opinion of another.* ** As Martin Luther stated before the Diet at Worms, "it is neither safe nor right to act contrary to conscience," and it is the function of the Golden Rule to be the guide and measure for the Christian conscience.

* It is no coincidence that Immanuel Kant came up with the same rule as the universal arbiter of the societal behavior of all rational creatures, for the Golden Rule is his famous moral law, only expressed for humans and lacking Kant's more universal (and merely scholastic) formulation which holds for rational beings in general, i.e., including even God.

** It is here that the ultimate superiority of the Christian faith will be found vis-a-vis that of the Islamics, for their claim of confusion in the "two former books", i.e., the Old and New Testaments, can no longer be maintained in the face of the simplicity of the Golden Rule as the final and ultimate arbiter of human behavior.

The General Procedure

The general procedure for all questions of conduct on the part of Christians as a group can be expressed as four coherent steps,* and then with an adjunct fifth step, namely:

1. I am to heed the complaint about my behavior on the part of another (person, scripture, et.al.) and am entitled to hear it stated as a derivation from the Golden Rule, i.e., such that the opposite of my behavior is derived.

2. Assuming this derivation is accomplished, I am obligated to make a like derivation of my behavior, if possible, and to seek to explain the difference in the two derivations in terms of the difference in understanding of perceptions or of causes and effects.

3. Assuming that I can be satisfied in conscience that my behavior can be derived from the Golden Rule (or that its opposite cannot be so derived), then I am further obligated to discuss the matter with a larger and (presumably) impartial group of Christians, but in the same way, i.e., with respect to a derivation form the Rule itself and a discussion and explanation of respective understandings of causes and effects.

4. If I am forced to admit to myself that my behavior is contrary to the Golden Rule, then I am obligated as a Christian to desist from such behavior.

* This procedure is given in Matthew 18:15-18, and I have merely assumed the Golden Rule per Matthew 7:12 as the basis of the "trespass" or "sins" mentioned in verse 15.

Now this would seem to end the matter. But the Spirit of Christ calls for more. The Christian is subject to a higher rule, namely the Friends Commandment (of John 15). This rule is enunciated most clearly for our present purposes here in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 10, namely that even though our behavior is acceptable morally and thus with regard to the relationship between ourselves and Christ alone and in that respect beyond reproach, still we are to be cognizant of the conscience and sensitivity of fellow Christians and are to avoid doing in their presence that which may be offensive to them. And thus we come to the final rule of this procedure, the rule of the conscience of others, namely:

5. If the offended Christian is unable to understand my derivation of my conduct and is troubled by association with me as a result, then I am to avoid engaging in such conduct in the presence or hearing of that person.

Thus (and in brief) I am to accommodate myself 1. to the reasonable (or rational*) demands of another person (be that Paul or my next door neighbor) by defending myself with regard to my behavior, and 2. to the unreasonable demands by avoiding such practices in his or her presence. In this way the Christian is spared from having to deal with merely arbitrary demands where another Christian can essentially say no more than: "I don't like you doing that;" and yet at the same time is obligated to do all that heshe can to live in community with other Christians and indeed in peace with all people.

* By rational we should mean whatever can be derived from a principle. It is unreasonable for me to have to defend myself against someone who merely asserts that he or she does not like what I do; for "one man's meat is another man's poison."

Now when we turn to the scripture, we find ourselves in a similar position, for unless someone can derive heterosexual behavior, or Paul's hair rules or his marriage dictums from the Golden Rule, I may, in conscience, avoid defending any behavior of mine which is in opposition to such scriptures.*

* We do not need to consider here whether such behavior might not still be personally offensive to Paul in this present time, i.e., the 20th century, for obvious reasons; but it might still be to those who are weak in the faith (Romans 14:1) and thus believe in a "material" right and wrong (which was a constant problem with the Jewish Christians**), and so then therefore who must be instructed as to what is right and wrong; and these then, after rational discourse has ended, we must shield from "wrong doing" even as we keep children form certain adult sightings, e.g., naked sexual behavior.

** Consider Acts 15 and the then continuing circumcision question in Galations.

I now hope this completes the system of Golden Rule theology; for now we see that the Golden Rule is absolutely universal in its applicability, precisely as was suggested by our Lord in his Sermon on the Mount. Armed with this we are able to clearly differentiate personal opinion, e.g., length of hair, sexual preferences, etc., from any moral obligation, and which makes this accord squarely with the foundation verse of all moral scripture, namely Genesis 3:22. For those who yearn for a moral absolute, the Golden Rule is the answer to their prayers, for by means of it all subterfuge is swept away and the individual is faced squarely with the right and wrong of his own actions. In a word (of Martin Luther), the Christian is captive to his conscience, so much so that this can be called the individualized voice of God (as Kant might have described it); and this is thoroughly consistent with moral thinking in general, for this conscience is in turn itself captive to the Golden Rule.

I remain

Your servant

In Christ, to Whom, with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, be all glory and honor and dominion, both now and forever. Amen.

Philip

 

Post Script One

It is abhorrent for any system of supposed morality to have confusion and indecision with regard to the moral character of any act. The human being, however, at least in his own natural way, is never without clarity in this regard (Genesis 3:22). The only problem arises with a priesthood where the members of the faith are instructed as to the proper behavior, i.e., the behavior that will bring forth the approbation of some God, and the innate standard of right and wrong is manipulated by this priesthood.

The Christian religion is unusually sound in this regard, for it is within this faith that the adherent is absolutely correct and can be absolutely certain in his own, personal determination of the right and wrong of any behavior, for he or she is compelled only to compliance with the Golden Rule. The religion is indeed unique in this regard, according to Immanuel Kant in his Practical Reason, for what the faith requires in order to please God is not different from what the moral law commands of all rational beings in general.

The predecessor faith to the Christan, the Hebrew system of the priesthood, was (and is) entirely different. In a recent article of the Atlanta Constitution it was reported that a Mr. and Mrs. Cohen of Israel were in dire straights because the wife had been raped and, according to rabbinical law, since Mr. Cohen was a member of the priestly class (and for whom ritual cleaness was necessary), he would either have to divorce his wife or publicly state that she were a liar. Unwilling to do either, Mr. Cohen took the only option available: he procured the services of a clever rabbi to figure a way out of his predicament. While the success of this course was not known at the time of the article, we see the problems with a complex and externally given law, namely legalism and advocacy and argument ensue in a most natural and necessary way.

The great advantage then of the Christian religion is that no one need go to a rabbi or to a lawyer to decipher how to please the God, for we have his law in our minds (even through reason itself, like the Logos*), and we have his promise that his law will become part of our flesh if we will but submit ourselves to his guidance in all things, never worrying about straying from his path, for we have his Golden Rule as our guide. In this way the Christians have no need to feel inadequate vis-à-vis the Muslims, for the vaunted (and pretentious) superiority of the latter, due to the greater security of the transmission of their scriptures, vanishes under the purity and simplicity of the Christian moral.

* For the import of Genesis 3:22 in this regard is precisely the same as the assumption underlying the treatise on the Moral Law by Kant.

 

Post Script Two

The following is a draft of a missive to wonderful and rather fundamentalist, Christian friend which considers this matter in some more detail. I put it here in this form temporarily until I have have time to edit it further and make it more of a legitimate post script to this present letter.

Both the Old and New Testaments contain a host of injunctions and strictures which are presented as involving right and wrong, and yet which appear to have nothing to do with right and wrong. Consider 1 Corinthians 11:14-16 on hair; this appears especially curious to our ears, doesn't it? And yet this is the word of God, we are told, and that God wants this clearly understood, and if his word is unchanging then what holds then holds now, right?

So what does this mean? My Interpreter's Commentary states:

"Possibly Paul's argument from nature (verses 1-16) appeared as weak to his first readers as to later ones. If a woman's hair provides a natural covering, then why should an artificial one, i.e., a veil, be thought necessary?--It is obvious that Paul throughout this discussion is rationalizing a social custom of which he approves and that in conclusion he resigns himself to the fact that none of his arguments are fully convincing. He falls back on the practice of the churches of God and will not concede that the Corinthian congregation has any freedom in this matter."

What do your "truth sources" have to say on this?

I am trying to wrap up my work on the procedure for reconciling diversity in thinking among Christians. I am included this in my web site essay entitled "a letter to John Beyers." I have come so far, I think, to put the onus on the "prosecutor" of sins to make a derivation of the sin from the Golden Rule, i.e., to show that some offensive behavior on the part of another Christian is the opposite of what the Golden Rule calls for. Then the alleged offender must defend himself in the same way, i.e., by a derivation of behavior from this Rule of rules. If the matter is not resolved between the two (usually by way of discerning a distinction in their respective understandings of causes and effects, or as I like to refer to this: a matter of medicines and poisons) then it is turned over to a jury of impartial Christians to decide. Their only criterion is: does the defendant Christian make a valid derivation of his behavior from the Rule given his understanding? and if so, then there can be no moral problem at all; and if not, and if the person continues in the offensive behavior, then this constitutes either a fall from grace or evidence that the man were never a member of the community; and in any case most certainly that heshe is not presently one with the community. If the alleged offender is cleared (by means of a valid derivation of his conduct from the Golden Rule), then he or she has merely to consider how to engage in that behavior (if it is so important to him), e.g., long hair for a man, without "throwing it up in the face" of the complainant.*

* In this paragraph we have what I think to be an appropriate synthesis of Matthew 7:12, 18:15-17, (for the trial itself) and then Paul's thinking in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 10. And it really makes a great deal of sense and would be consistent with Paul's general demand for orderliness and procedure.

First of all, what do you think of that procedure {as I have describe it above}? Is that not clearly a scripturally based procedure? I know that this is not to your immediate liking, at least not with regard to the conclusions, but won't you agree that this is the sense of our faith, and that Jesus knew exactly what he was talking about when he placed the Golden Rule first by itself in the presentation of the Christian moral in the New Testament? And surely we cannot fail to be impressed by the number of times it (as the so-called 2nd commandment) is presented by itself (without the first commandment) in the NT?!*

* As I have indicated several times in the course of our conversation, while a formal worship is an act of faith, certainly God is pleased only with the "enlivened" heart, and that comes (legitimately and really) only through the experience of the progressive transformation of the flesh (including the emotions)** where we begin increasingly to delight in doing good, by acting in accordance with the Golden Rule, and in seeing that (transformation) as the (true) hope of the world. Then we turn to God in unfeigned adoration and collapse on our faces, "lost in wonder, love and praise".

** Which, in turn, is necessarily conditioned and prefaced by our faith in Christ whereby we come to wish to cooperate with the work of God in our spirits.

So now I am really trying to wonder what Paul was referring to with this long hair business and homosexuality (if that is what he had in mind) and the (non-adulterous) marrying by step-sons and step-mothers. I look at all three now as three peas in a pod and for the simple reason that the actions themselves do not per se conflict with the Golden Rule (by any reasoning that I can arrive at from the Golden Rule or Great Commandments).

I intend now to add another post script to the letter to include a consideration of this very question and to compare it with the edict of the council of Jerusalem (of Acts 15). In that latter there are three or four prohibitions. And today we are able to discern amongst them and find one alone which is moral-based (that against fornication*), while the others deal merely with manners. But this distinction is based squarely on the Golden Rule, and so it is (or should be) in all cases involving our relationship, in conscience, between us (as Christians) and between us and Christ.

* The moral argument would proceed about so: if you love others, then you do not merely use them as a commodity; but the uncommitted sexual act is precisely that, and so it is forbidden per the Golden Rule.** ***

** Without the commitment (the very hallmark of the Christian relationship) the man is motivated totally by his lust (and other selfishly seated motives), and if that were universally the case, then it might not bode well with me for I might not be attractive to others and thereby left out of the equation of others, much as they might leave out and ignore telephone poles. And so since I would not like people to treat me in that way, etc., etc.****

*** It has already occurred to me that Paul may have deprecated homosexuals for the very reason that they all (as far as Paul knew) engaged in uncommitted sex, i.e., no marriage commitment were possible. And this is the very antithesis of the commitment to the marriage (as the elemental community) which Jesus prized so highly as reflective of the Garden economy and which Moses wrongly permitted to be compromised (Matthew 19:3-9). But this is now purely academic, for through the procedure of the Christian reconciliation in my "Letter to John Beyers", no Christian is under the least obligation to answer to anyone (including Paul and the scriptures!) unless first a case is made of a derivation of a behavior which is opposed to a present conduct, etc.--but I still cannot yet figure out why he spoke as he did about hair. I cannot yet imagine the situation at Corinth that would have prompted such speech. Evidently it was pretty bad and Paul needed to exercise muscle to "tighten things up" a bit. Perhaps it was due to a situation reminiscent of our hippy time in the latter half of the 20th century when many (primarily young) American men wore long hair as a sign of their rejection of the traditional society and its values.???

**** It is important to note that the logic of the Golden Rule proceeds not from how things might be if I were attractive, but rather universally, i.e., if I were not attractive.

The importance of this procedure lies more in the relationship of the individual and the Bible than between any two individuals (although it is certainly valid there also and in all relevant cases), and this is very much the implication of the comment of Jesus concerning the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12.b).

The Golden Rule is quite efficacious, and its simplicity is really a matter to be marveled at. We can find the three categories of behavior very easily by means of this one rule alone:

Obligatory: that conduct which can be derived from the Golden Rule.

Forbidden: that conduct which is the negative derivation from the Rule, i.e., if I would not want people to treat me in a certain way, then I may not treat them in that way.*

Permitted: that conduct which is not subject to either of the above derivations.

* This negative formulation is about as close as the people of the East (in Asia) came in their moral development, i.e., "don't do to others what you would not want them to do to you."

One final comment may be in order in the interest of clarity. Sometimes my behavior seems so entirely personal that the Golden Rule does not seem to have relevence, and yet I am still under a moral duty. For (an extreme) example: suicide. But even here the Rule arbitrates, for the import of the rule is this: what sort of socieity do I wish to live in, where anyone who is unhappy with the prospects of a longer life might opt not to exit? or where each remains to do his best to shoulder his own personal burden? It is clear that a socieity based on the former could not long endure and thus I could not wish it and so therefore I am prohibited by the Golden Rule from taking recourse to any such action. (This is a very kantian take on this matter).

 

Post Script 3

The following is also a draft missive to the same fundamentalist friend (as the PS2 above)and will eventually be replaced by a more orderly presentation of the basic thought, which is liberation of the spirit from the scriptures.

I suddenly realize now, as I continue my work on the Golden Rule and Romans, that I have been guilty of trying to make Paul think the way that I think. I was so certain that he would, since we both, he and I, would have derived our notions of right and wrong from the same Golden Rule. Therefore, I reasoned, Paul cannot have stood against homosexuality per se, for that stance cannot be derived from the Golden Rule (by any stretch of my imagination).

But I was focusing too hard on the homosexual question (for very obvious reasons, i.e., since it, conceptually speaking, is so important in our lives and/or thinking as Christians today), and I neglected the more obvious indicators of a general solution not only of the homosexual question but of all questions involving any and all conduct of a Christian whatsoever. Those indicators were three in number (for me), namely: Paul's rigid insistence on the "morals of hair" (1 Corinthians 11:14-16) and the morals of marriable relationships (1 Corinthians 5*), and finally the edict of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) with its prohibition of the consumption of blood and the meat of strangled animals, among other things.

* The stated sin is not merely fornication, but rather we see that the apostle is distraught that it is of a particularly vile sort of fornication,** namely a living together of a man and the former wife of his (presumably) now deceased father, i.e., the man's step-mother.

** Here I also presume that the couple is not married.

A serious consideration of all of these together reveals quickly the need for a sharp sword to discern the Will of God from the prattle of man.And lo! that sword has been provided by our Lord in the form of the Golden Rule, for it is by means of this rule that we can unfailingly discern what is good and acceptable in the sight of God.

Therefore I can dismiss all of Paul's commands as such and go directly to the source of good and evil, namely the heart which is attuned to the Golden Rule (being good, and selfishness being evil). Each person then must make his own derivation from the rule, e.g., homosexuality is wrong or long hair is wrong, and this can be explained to others, but it is incumbent upon the others to make their own derivation. Romans 14 in particular gives the procedures for this, as well as how we are to act vis-a-vis one another when we are unable to convince each other of the legitimacy of the actions of the other.

The matter has become so simple, therefore, as to make the rabbis blush. And therefore all my efforts to make Paul refer to something else besides homosexuality in Romans 1 comes to naught and is sheer vanity. The fact is that it simply does not matter what Paul thought about homosexuality or about long hair or about drinking blood or about eating the flesh of strangled animals, or even murder and mayhem and rape and robbery, etc., etc., for that matter. For we are all immediately empowered by virtue of our capacity to discern right and wrong and good and evil through the Golden Rule (which is discernible in the thinking of all rational people regardless of location in space and time [Genesis 3:22] as well as Kant's universally valid teaching on the basis of all morals {which he obviously picked up from Matthew 7:12 and practically admits as much}) to make all relevant decisions ourselves, and need the teaching of the Church merely in those cases where the understanding of diverse people about causes and effects and medicines and poisons might vary, namely that we do not do publicly what is offensive to the sight of others, e.g., while toilet activity is not at all immoral, it may be offensive to the sight of others and if so then the Christian does that privately.

At the risk of imposing upon you through a long-winded treatise, I cannot let this opportunity go by without introducing some comment about the Wesleyan system and how well suited it is for this liberating thought of our Lord in Matthew 7:12.

We clearly know the difference between right and wrong, and even though we must be brought to the point of thinking in terms of principles in order to think about moral subjects,* we are never instructed, but merely awakened. This is solidly Genesis 3:22**. But now, even though we are aware of our obligations and what is right and wrong in our hearts, we sin subjectively in that we are conscious of having violated our obligations*** and therefore are forced to live in a secretive world of bad conscience. Freedom for us comes through forgiveness when that forgiveness is coupled with a promise of repentance (on our part) and redemption. The latter (redemption) is given to us by God through Christ, and requires us merely to want it and to believe that our sincere wanting of it will produce it (via the power of God). The Wesleyan proclaims the experience of the active, flesh redemption where through this faith we become increasingly more like Christ (even though remaining very distant still) such that we exult in the progressive work of God in our own lives. And so while we remain imperfect, we are on the way and are increasingly approximating Christ in our own lives and in our own desires. And we have the joy of anticipation, for what the scriptures promises is being accomplished in our very own lives and before our very eyes.

* Rousseau suggested that when we reach the age of puberty we are no longer so much concerned about how we feel about others as rather about how others feel about us. In this attitude and vein we begin to formulate principles to explain our behavior, i.e., general rules such that our conduct can be derived from a rule which either could or could not be universalized, i.e., that we might or might not be able to ascribed safely to all persons. In doing this we come finally to the Golden Rule, on our own; but still differ in our conduct from others in that we understand what is helpful and hurtful differently (which I often speak of as medicine and poison, which is empirical information and must be gleaned through trial and error and experimentation and science) and further that we will differently designate our neighbor, something thinking merely of family, others of tribe, nation, etc.

** According to this thinking, we recognize right and wrong when we begin to think in terms of principles, i.e., universal rules, and we see that we have acted in a way which, if embodied in a general law of nature, would work to our own detriment. In the case of the Garden economy, Adam and Eve will have recognized the evil before their eyes, but which, ironically (and true for all persons), was self activated, namely they acted selfishly and to the exclusion of all members of the economy, namely to the exclusion of God; and it was this selfishness that they then recognized after the fact of their sin. In brief: when we come to understand the meaning of sin we see that we have already sinned.

*** And so the first work of any law, including the Golden Rule, is the realization of sin and indeed that we had even sinned earlier before we had begun to think in these terms, even though such sin is not held against us. Nonetheless such sin wreaked its vengeance on us through the death of the spirit and the retreat of the soul into secret living, like Adam and Eve hiding in the woods of the Garden.

 

Post Script 4

Here we have a short e-mail from Sam, and then Philip's attempt to look at their disagreement by means of Sam's comments and then also to come to a solution and reconciliation per the requirements of the scriptural plan of holiness.

 

First Sam writes:

>This gets back to our fundamental disagreement. The Golden Rule is always operant. If Paul forbids X, then X must disagree with the Golden Rule. If we think it agrees with the Golden Rule, our understanding is incomplete.

>Because the Council at Jerusalem forbade things that clearly are permitted elsewhere, one is forced to conclude that their objections are cultural as much as theological. Some of the things they forbade are forbidden elsewhere, however, so we cannot conclude their objections were purely cultural.

 

And now Philip replies:

Upon rereading this missive, I think I am better able to understand you. You think that because I say do A and you say do B in the same regard that one of us, at least, is wrong. For A <> B. That is very mathematical and in that sense you are very correct (except in modern physics, as I have been told).

Now I will have to go slow here, for I am trying to get this straight in my own mind.

I readily concede that there will be a correct medicine for epilepsy, but which is as yet unknown. Suppose it to be A, then when you say to the epileptic "do A" and I say "do B" then you are right and I am wrong. For A is indeed the right medicine. But as of this time, even though you are correct, you still are only correct in hypothesis, for the definitive proof is not yet available to the science, we will say (for otherwise I would also say "do A").

So both of us are assumed to have a healing spirit, i.e., we both sincerely wish to cure epilepsy, and while you are correct, you don't know that you are correct (for then I could know it also), but you only think that you are correct,i.e., you cannot yet demonstrate it.

Now if indeed both of us have the spirit for healing, then we will both recognize the truth, i.e., X, when it is made apparent. This is true analytically (as Kant would say), i.e., merely upon understanding the terms: a spirit desiring to heal.

So far you and I will be in agreement, I think. You are right with A, but we are both right with regard to our desire to heal epileptics, and our difference is merely empirical, i.e., the truth of A is not yet universally apparent.

Now let's try to switch gears and go into the scriptures. Paul says (we presume) that with the proper knowledge, each honest person would be able to derive from the Golden rule a prohibition of behavior A (which is now, in this example, to represent homosexual behavior), while Philip says that when he considers the matter closely he is unable to make such a derivation and prohibition. Here again we are to assume that Paul and Philip have the same spirit of Christ, i.e., they both wish to love as Christ did and they wish, as part of that love, to bring others to love also as Christ did. But they stand apart on this issue; for Philip, try as he might, cannot find such a derivation. Likewise he cannot make a derivation for B (requiring short hair for men) or C (forbidding sons to marry their step-mothers, their fathers being now dead). We are assume that A, B and C are factually derivable from the Golden Rule, only the actual derivation is a secret to Philip and to Sam, but is clear to Paul.

The solution on the part of Sam: trust Paul that the derivation is factual and that we will understand it someday. Philip says: while I believe that Paul could derive that, since I cannot, and since it is I who must stand before my maker in conscience (Romans 14:4), I will respect Paul enough to think that he can do what he says he can, but I must go my own way with Christ and cannot be led by the understanding of another.

Let's assume now that Philip goes ahead and does any of A, B and C. Philip does them in conscience. Sam, on the other hand, believing that they are wrong, refuses to. How are Philip and Sam to interact in this regard? Is Sam authorized to refuse communion to Philip because Philip will not accept Paul's presumed derivation of A, B and C? And is Philip to practice A, B and C openly in the face of Sam? Or is Philip even to acquiesce to Paul and refuse to do what Paul requires even though Philip cannot understand why?

I think that Romans 14 has the answer (and also 1 Cor. 10:23 ff.). In the first place Jesus can make his servant stand before him, and so Sam is not to judge Philip, nor Philip Sam.* And especially, I think, because while Sam accepts Paul's derivation of these matters, he does not himself understand them and cannot show Philip the derivation, but merely assert it as a matter of belief. Philip, on the other hand, cannot indulge in A, B or C in front of Sam, if they are offensive to Sam, but must go to another church or seek to hide the fact, e.g., put his hair into a bun in the presence of Sam and refuse to kiss his boy friend or his step-mother wife in Sam's presence.

* This is different from a situation where Sam can make a derivation, for then that must be presented to Philip and Philip required to make a reply, i.e., his own derivation. Barring that Philip must cease his activity or remove himself from the church.

When I consider these two passages (Romans and 1 Corthians) I think I discern the general principle, namely that while each is to stand in conscience before Christ regarding his own conduct and must answer merely to his own understanding and his own derivation from the Golden rule,* the Christian is obligated to promote community and that means to be concerned about the conscience of others,** and so therefore while we are free to do all things (for all things are lawful, i.e., all things that are not prohibited by a reasonable derivation from the Golden Rule), if we are to love one another as Christ loved us, then we are not to put any stumbling block in the way of our brother and sister, i.e., we are not to flout our freedom by doing publicly that which is OK in our eyes (in conscience) but which offends another one of our community.

* And of course, to be open to an expanded understanding and the reasoning of others.

** As Martin Luther put it:
1. a Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none, and
2. a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
Dana Butler Bass, A People's History Of Christianity, 1989, p. 182.

Is that your reading of this matter?

It seems then to me that while you, Sam, are prohibited in conscience from engaging in A, B and C, since you cannot provide the derivation which you assume Paul possesses, you cannot rightfully demand of me, Philip, that I comply with your understanding. I, on the other hand and for my part, once I know of your scruples about A, B and C, then while I am free to comply with my own conscience and derivation in the presence of Christ, I must seek to shield you from that behavior.*

* Again this is different with regard to D = stealing, let us say, for there you can provide me with the required derivation, i.e., that it is wrong, and then I am obligated to refute your derivation, or else to desist from the practice, or else leave the community of followers.

This is much like not drinking wine in the presence of an alcoholic, even though you have no scruples about wine as such at all, and drink with non-alcoholics.

Our difference then: I refuse to accept the derivation of another from the Golden Rule, for I am now of age and must think for myself and stand on my own two feet before God and his holy angels. I have the word of God that I know the difference between right and wrong (Genesis 3:22) and I see that difference by means of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12a) and am persuaded by Christ that God requires of me nothing more and nothing less than behavior in accordance with that (Matthew 7:12b).

You are offended by some behavior due to the thinking of Paul, and although you are unable to come up with Paul's derivation of his condemnation, you believe that it is valid and so you refuse to engage in such behavior for the sake of Paul, i.e., that you believe he is right.

The only question then is: how do we relate to each other? If my long hair offends you because of Paul's assertion, then I must seek to hide it from you in some way, or even to cut it short; if I have married my step-mother (my father being dead), then I am in a real quandary; for if this is offensive to you, and yet I feel that it is wrong to divorce my wife, then we will have to attend different churches, I suppose, and you will refuse to invite me over in a social setting, for it would be offensive to you if I should bring my wife. Likewise if I were married with a man.

And so while I am free to engage in A (gay marriage), B (long hair) or C (marry my widowed stepmother) in conscience, you are not; but also I am not free to flout my behavior in your presence.

Is that pretty much the conclusion? It seems to follow pretty much from Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 10.

Assuming that that is settled (since it seems so clearly scriptural), let's look at problems that might arise. On my part there is no problem, for I am captive via my conscience to a very simple rule. You, on the other hand, are in a difficult position. For you think that you must comply with Paul's understanding of right and wrong, and so therefore you must seek to discover what that is. And so you are obligated to have the scriptures ever before you and to search out this and that. And you must decide whether something is cultural or not. Long hair prohibitions of Paul seem to conflict with the long hair requirements for Sampson. So, what gives? Was Sampson just a special case, and is it actually unnatural and wrong for men to wear long hair. Paul shaved his head at one time. What is the length of long hair such that it become wrong?

What I suspect you will do is this. You will in fact presuppose the Golden rule as the arbiter of right and wrong, and since you will not be able to make any moral sense out of Paul's admonition with regard to hair and veils, you will simply dismiss such and call it all cultural. But the fact is that you will actually utilize the Golden rule to make the distinctions in the scriptures.

And this points out the great and indeed indispensable utility of the Golden Rule, namely it is by means of this that we distinguish in the scriptures what is moral and Christian and what is merely cultural and arbitrary and voluntary. This makes perfect sense in accordance with Genesis 3:22. For as moral beings, i.e., as beings who are able to distinguish the moral from the arbitrary, the command of the moral law from the decrees of a powerful lord, we use the Golden rule (Kant's moral law) to discover what it is that is a problem and needs explaining, e.g., the destruction of the children of Jericho at the command of God and wearing long hair and eating blood, and what does not, e.g., the prohibition against stealing from a member of the community or of mistreating a member.

And so, like it or not, the Golden Rule actually is previous to Paul's thinking and each of us uses it to decide what needs explaining.

And it is this Golden rule that you, Sam, (unwittingly?) use to discern the difference between an outright condemnation of something, i.e., what violates the Golden Rule according to your own reasoning and thinking, and what is alleged to do so, i.e., what Paul or other scripture writers assert to be the case.

And so once again we see the great utility of this Rule and the wisdom of our Lord in positioning it as the pinnacle of moral thinking (as opposed to our Hebrew "grandfather" who hide it amongst the minute rules and regulations called the Law).

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