Galatians – Being Good without the Law

Tonight, I have invited Dr. Clifford Sosis (Ph.D. Philosophy) from Coastal Carolina University to lead us in a discussion on moral reasoning with the objective of having him help us understand how we reach our moral conclusions. My expectation is that as we read through Galatians, the discussion with Dr. Sosis will help us better articulate our understanding of a moral life apart from any reliance on the black-letter words of the Scriptures.

One of the great themes of Galatians is that those who are in Christ are not bound by the Biblical laws. Gal 2:16, 21. (This is similar to Jesus’ teaching on the Sabbath we encountered last week in the Gospel reading.) The question for Paul’s audience, for us, and for the church down through the ages is that if we aren’t bound by the laws in Scripture, then how are we to discern right from wrong?  For the medieval church, the solution lay in natural law which teaches that there are universal norms that can be discovered through pure reason. The Western tradition of natural law begins with the teachings of the Moorish philosopher Averroes and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides and reaches its apotheosis in the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. (Generally, today, only the Roman Catholic Church follows the ideas of natural law.)

By the time of the Reformation, both John Calvin and Martin Luther taught that we are only bound by the law of nature as written on our conscience, and not the law of God given to Moses. Calvin writes: “Now, as it is evident that the law of God which we call moral is nothing else than the testimony of natural law, and of that conscience which God has engraved on the minds of men . . . . Hence it alone ought to be the aim, the rule, and the end of all laws.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 4, Ch. 20, para. 16). Similarly, Luther writes that: “what God has given the Jews from heaven, he has also written in the hearts of all men. Thus I keep the commandments which Moses has given, not because Moses gave the commandment, but only in so far as they have been implanted in me by nature.” (How Christians should Regard Moses).  These teachings are also reflected in Romans 2:15: “The Gentiles show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness.”

A reliance on natural law or conscious, however, does not resolve all issues particularly when societal norms begin to change.  For example, Luther and Calvin disagreed on whether Christians can charge interest on loans. Luther continued with the Church’s traditional teaching that making money on money was inherently disordered, whereas Calvin (writing from Geneva, Switzerland) broke with the traditional Christian teaching and explicitly taught that the charging of interest was morally licit. Both men relied on the natural law engraved on their respective conscious but they reached different conclusions.

The discussion tonight is to help us articulate how we reach moral conclusions of right and wrong, even if we reach different conclusions. In the modern world we generally don’t rely on “natural law,” and Dr. Sosis will be giving us more contemporary paradigms to think through what it means to be moral and how to discover that which God has impressed upon our conscious.  My hope is also that this discussion will help us see that Paul’s discarding of the Biblical laws doesn’t result in libertine freedom, rather the Law is discarded so that we have the truer freedom to follow Jesus more fully.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is chicken spinach salad bar. Discussion about 6:45. Ashley Sosis is leading us in a sung Compline around 8. Please bring an open mind and your questions for Dr. Sosis.  Everyone is invited. 

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jeremiah 31:33

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