The Ethics of the New Testament

The Ethics of the New Testament

The Ethics of the New Testament

The Ethics of the New Testament

Excerpt

The subject matter dealt with by an ethics of the New Testament is the question of how life was lived in the earliest Christian communities: what were the foundations, the support for, and the criteria and principles for this way of acting and living. In an age of uncertainty and drift, reconsideration of New Testament ethics seems especially urgent. Despite all the committees, synods, and reports dealing with ethical questions, there seems to be a substantial need for breathing space; once again, for example, we hear voices criticizing too much social action and insisting that what matters is not action but faith, as though they were mutually exclusive. Of course salvation is by faith alone—but this faith works through love (Gal. 5:6). The Son of man when he returns will not ask what we have had faith in but what we have done or failed to do (Matt. 25:31ff.). For the New Testament, faith is not primarily speculation or assent to ideas and theories, not fulfillment of cultic obligations or mystical ecstasy, but hearing God's Word and doing God's will. Faith and practice are indissolubly linked. With varying emphases, the church has always had to fight on two fronts, lest “those without faith devote themselves to vain works, or those without works take refuge in faith.” The danger of activism without faith must not be minimized. At the same time, we must certainly be on our guard when the Christian faith, adapting to the sentimentality of bourgeois prosperity and widespread narcissism, threatens to be reduced to private subjectivity or narrow ecclesiasticism, or, out of hopelessness occasioned by the world about us, threatens to take refuge in otherworldliness. At least the New Testament cannot be blamed for such a development. The early church was neither a mystery cult, a monastic movement, nor a philosophical party. It was a community of witness and service, a church for God and “a church for others.” Jesus, for example, did not suggest that his followers lead a monastic life in the desert like the Essenes. He did not commend to them an inward or transcendent kingdom of

1. Martin Luther, WA 45:689, on John 15:1Off.

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