My friend Ilona is asking interesting questions in the light of some “churches” being closed last Sunday due to Christmas. She gets at the nub of it here:
But if I strip off the descriptive phrases of Sabbath or Christmas, etc…. I am left with this:
Do Christians have moral obligations?
That helped me to think a bit. I already have the premise that we are not under the law, and that we have no obligatory rules…. but what about this idea of moral obligation. We all, as Christians, recognize that we do have moral obligations, that it is wrong to do or not do some things. For instance take the word Sabbath, since we are using this…. is it wrong to not take certain time for God, IOW, do we have a moral obligation to take time for God, and what parameters does that entail. Giving… we would all recognize that the Christian is morally obligated to be giving. Not in a specific time or way, perhaps, but something is morally wrong with the picture of the Christian who is not giving… and then my question is “why?”
There have to be universal principles of some sort which are incumbent upon even the Christian…. or maybe even especially upon the Christian, in light of all God has done and what we know of that.
But truthfully… the best explanation I can come up with is the idea of “the rule of love” and the pragmatic working out of Faith. That is, having faith that works by love will equate certain behaviors… and those are from what the Law of Moses and the Prophets have informed our thinking.
It is as if we cannot escape those things as foundational to our understanding, even if our obedience takes other forms than the Law spelled out.
I like everything she’s done here. We are no longer taught the Law as slaves, (ie. Divine command) but are asked to keep it as adults. I was also thinking about Ilona’s question during the second reading at Mass this morning:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
The word “were” is unclear here. It might mean the law is no more after Christ rose, or it might refer to each person’s birth, which is also a past tense event. Ie. it might be rhetorically asking asking “who is NOT born under the Law?”
I lean towards the second interpretation, so when Ilona said, “I already have the premise that we are not under the law, and that we have no obligatory rules” I was a little worried about where she was going. I think it’s disgraceful for a church that calls itself Christian to shutter it’s doors on a Sunday, and to use the excuse that “it’s Christmas” is incomprehensible. I mean, what are they doing, closing their doors so that people can get last minute bargains at Wal Mart? I know – the idea is that we’re free to worship in whatever way we see fit. It is my experience, however, that to be fully human is to live in a community. More specifically, it is to live in a faith and family community. When we are separated from family and community experience shows that we are not more strong and free, but weak and isolated. That’s why people freed in this way often wind up at Wal Mart or something equally inappropriate. We wind up simply dragged along by the crowd, rather than standing apart from it. And a Christian really needs to stand out from the crowd. If we blend in too easily, we’re doing something wrong.
I agree that the Law is stamped on our Nature (our essence) and that to go against it is an act of self erasure. In doing so I have to be clear that I don’t mean by “law” all of the Abramaic laws. I mean only the ten commandments, including the one about the Sabbath. I also don’t intend the commandments to be verbatim the laws of the land, but they do apply to Christians. Learning every detail, nuance and applicability of this law is a life’s project, a project of love and liberty. A contradiction can’t be free because it can’t even be said to exist.