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May 2, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

In this postmodern world ethics and morality become a bone of contention.  If there is no god there is no universal moral standard by which humanity can direct its moral life.  The old modernism appealed to rationality to erect a moral structure by which human conduct could survive in harmony with an evolving world.  Postmodernism rejects rationality by in large since evolution is arbitrary and accidental.  They define morality as cultural preference, sometimes called cultural relativism.  Of course, the cultures clash and we are faced with identity politics and various battles for moral and legal legitimacy.

It was no different in the first century of Christianity.  The Greco-Roman culture was hardly consistent with the Judeo-Christian culture.  Judaism had been for some time recognized as a legitimate religion by the Empire.  However, the Messianic movement was bringing non-Jews into its fold.  The Empire was reluctant to excuse its subjects for not holding the Roman Emperor as the supreme authority in the universe, especially when their affirmation of faith was that “Jesus is Lord.”

The Apostle Paul has to correct a misunderstanding of the Corinthian Christians of something he had said about not associating with sexually immoral people.  They understood him to mean that they should not make friends or communicate in any way with the sexually immoral, the dishonest or idolaters.  The Rabbi Apostle speaks very frankly when he says, “(If you did that) you would need to go out of the world.”  What the Apostle is saying is that such people are not to be allowed into the baptized family of believers.

Late in chapter 6 of the first Corinthian letter he is discussing the subject of settling disputes among believers.  There is an extended sentence toward the end of the chapter.  “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdome of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus the Messiah and by the Spirit of God.”

I am not so much interested in Paul’s choice of sins.  He could have added others. What is interesting is the phrase, “And such were some of you.”  It is clear that these Christians did associate with people whose morality they did not affirm.  They made friends in the world.  They likely invited them to attend meetings of the believers where the faith was taught and proclaimed. They offered them an example and an opportunity to meet the God and Father of their Lord, Jesus the Messiah of Israel.  Obviously some did.

These Christians were following the example of Jesus who received sinners and ate with tax collectors who were despised by first century Jews as traitors to the Romans.  The Church at its best has always been welcoming and transforming.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at END-whs