Morality derives not from…

Morality derives not from the outside in, but from the inside out. Christianity tends to the nature of the ‘inside’. As Monika Furlong has written (a paraphrase here) ‘The church’s best thing is to offer people life in Christ, everything else is decoration’

Reflection 13-5-12

Last week we had a dinner where the topic of ‘Christianity’ came up. The conversation turned on what Christianity actually is. In Australia, the history of Christianity is a bit vexed, because of the presence of the ‘flogging parson’ Samuel Marsden. Deeply ingrained into our psyche is the idea that in Christianity, hypocrisy is rife! The idea goes that there are lots of people who ‘go to Church on Sunday’ but who do terrible things on Monday! They say one thing with their mouths, but do not behave in a way that corresponds with what they say (according to what can be observed, and in the judgement of the ‘non-church-going observer). Christianity is fundamentally about morality and behaviour

Another facet of the thought world of normal Australians is that the ‘reality’ is represented by ‘The Community.’ The most important thing is to ‘be a member of the community’. This comes out in all kinds of ways. I remember one priest telling me in an astounded voice about a member of his congregation who told him after a lovely Sunday Eucharist ‘You know Father David, the Church is one of my favourite charities!’ As well, when one is working with Local Government one will often hear the phrase ‘Well, in order to implement this policy, we will need to work with most of the ‘community groups’ like kindergartens and the Churches. Do you see the logic at work here? The main reality is ‘The community’. Within that reality there are various ‘groups’ who play a part as members of the community.

So when the church is approved of by Australians who are not members of a Church the approval comes in two forms. First is has to do with being seen to be doing good works in such a way as to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. Second, the aim of the good works needs to be seen to be for the benefit of the community.

Now at one level which I will come to later, there is much to commend this view as a strategy for the Church. But at a theoretical level it is wrong and has nothing to do with the ‘reality’ of the Church.

First of all we need to deal with the question of morality. Being a Christian is first and foremost about being ‘In Christ’. Here is the idea. The future of the whole world is going to look like Christ. Here is Colossians 1:15 – 20 that gives the sense of it.

 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Those of us who have been baptized are ‘in Christ’ and look forward to and share in this New Heaven and New Earth to come. No amount of ‘doing what is seen to be good’ can make and difference. In St. John’s gospel the people ask ‘What ‘work’ can we do to be pleasing to God. Jesus answers ‘The work that is the work ‘of God’ is to believe in me!’ The difference lies not in the ‘morality’ but in the answer to the question ‘Into what are you Baptized’. Another way of putting this is to take the image of the vine and the branches from last week and ask ‘What is the nature of the ‘sap’ that is flowing through you? Morality derives not from the outside in, but from the inside out. Christianity tends to the nature of the ‘inside’. As Monika Furlong has written (a paraphrase here) ‘The church’s best thing is to offer people life in Christ, everything else is decoration’

This leads on to the second part of the wrong assumptions that people make about the Church. The Church is not a’ part of the community’ but an alternative version of it. Do you remember the course of sermons on the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a ritual, a ritual is a series of repeated actions that creates ‘a World’. This  is the real world and is a symbolic and intense version of the less symbolic and extensive life that Christians live in the fake world.

It is just not the case that ‘all people are the same and some choose to go to church and some don’t’ but in the end it is a matter of Choice. As today’s Gospel says ‘You did not choose me but I chose you. God has invited us into a world that not many people know about and then called us to be representatives of this ‘world’ for those who are captive to other kinds of ‘sap’ which is flowing through other ‘vines’ into which they may be grafted.

But there is a problem which has to be attended to. Learning to be ‘flown through’ by the ‘sap’ of Christ alone is not easy, and in fact is a lifetime’s work! In the meantime there will be ‘wheat and tares’ within our own life, as well as among us in the Church.

As well, it is a fact that our ‘outside’ behaviour is a reflection of our ‘inside life’. (Unless we really are dissemblers and hypocrites who speak with a double tongue). St Paul says ‘If we are driven by the Spirit, then let us walk by the spirit.’ This is not a matter of ‘walking the talk’ but of letting the life of Christ, into which we are baptized flow through us.

But the judgement about this ought not to come form people who don’t care about us or understand us. In the Gospel reflection Group that I am setting up on Wednesdays, we try to let the images and words of Scripture ‘into’ us, so that our inner lives will be transformed and our ‘outer actions’ then correspond to the ‘inner life’ that is flowing through us. What ever our ‘actions’ ‘look like’ from the outside is not a reliable guide to anything. It is only when everyone is let in on the motivations of others and there is mutual fellowship and sharing. It is in this kind of a group that hypocrisy can be reduced, and the relationship between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ can be examined.

In the long run, God’s invitation for everyone is into loving fellowship with one another, instead of  into a situation where bricks are thrown from a distance.

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell isnow a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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