The Church of England recently made a statement on “Civil Partnerships.” It caused a bit of a firestorm. While I don’t really have a dog in this particular fight, one reaction did catch my attention and made it’s way quickly into my craw, where it’s been stuck ever since.
It was argued, that given the church’s recent history of sexual abuse and cover-up scandals, it had lost it’s moral authority to make such statements. I was immediately rankled by the notion that the church ever had or ever should have had a moral authority. He are my reasons why.
Morality and Righteousness Are Not The Same
First, we have long since confused morality with righteousness. Morality has everything to do with principles and values of right and wrong behaviors. The limitation of morality is that it is a human quality and can only be measured by outward behavior. Righteousness, a God quality, has everything to do with the inward transformation to Christlikeness.
The all too common language of getting principles from the Bible has contributed to this confusion. The Bible is not to be picked for principles. It’s a revelation of God in Christ Jesus, and as such we read and study to know a person and not a principle. Living by biblical principles is a misuse of the Bible and may make us moral but will not make us righteous. We are righteous by faith in Jesus Christ.
Our Righteousness Is Not Our Own
This the most important point here. We have no morality to boast of, and the righteousness we have is not our own. It’s misleading and dishonest for us to champion our values when we are sinners clothed in the righteousness of another. Instead of championing our values, we should in humility champion our champion. He has been a friend of sinners—us.
The Church Has But One Authority.
The Word of God is our authority and not our earned influence derived from consistent ethical behavior. This needs explaining, lest we slip back into the comfortable clothes of using “biblical principles” to indirectly establish and moral authority. The Word has authority, but not to control men’s lives, but to lead men to a life transforming knowledge of the Savior. After salvation and transformation it leads us to maturity, which results in changed behavior. But the behavior is the fruit and not the root.
The essential nature of the church is that we know we are not the people with a moral authority. We are a distinct people united in the central fact that we have been rescued from sin by grace through faith and not of ourselves. We are the people who profess that we are sinners just as Paul reminded Peter at Antioch. It’s for that reason we have believed in Jesus.