The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day. True and false life orientations.
In any question on the Bible in dialogue with questions of the day it is good to have dialogue with what the Bible has to say on such issues, and to consider what principles Christian dialogue is to be governed by. We have excellent examples of this in Christ’s discourse on himself as the true bread of life (John chapter 6) and the Pauline exhortation to believers on how to comport themselves in non-Christian surroundings (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24). Jesus is in dialogue with his Jewish tradition and the Pauline exhortation in Ephesians with Greek culture. Both have in common that the Christian message (whether on the lips of Christ or in the letter to the Ephesians) has to do with an orientation of the entire person, orientation centred on Christ and all that belief in him implies. Christian belief gives, so to speak, a new default system; it gives clarity and conviction with regard to how one’s Christian life is to be spent. Of its nature, then, it passes judgment on certain values of the society and culture in which one lives.
It does this without rejecting any particular culture, but only those parts of it that are incompatible with belief in Christ, his mission and his message. Jesus was not anti-Jewish. He inherited and lived the culture and tradition of his people, but came to transform it as the messenger sent by God his Father. Paul was not against Greek culture, nor did he exhort his churches to reject its riches. Towards the end of his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 4:8-9) he wrote as follows: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” And yet Paul and the other New Testament biblical writers make it quite clear that conversion and baptism mean a clear break with one’s former life, if this is at variance with belief in Christ. Paul’s letters, and others under his inspiration, spell out some of these unacceptable practices, some of them having to do with sexual mores, texts often omitted in the passages read as liturgical readings. There are many others not of this nature, mainly at variance with Christ’s teaching as found, for instance, in the Sermon on the Mount.
These texts, of course, represent the early Church’s reaction to first-century Greek and Roman society. And yet their teaching is equally valid today. At the very centre of Christian belief and Christian life stands Christ. In the words of the Epistle to the Ephesians Christians “learn Christ” as their model, and the consequence of belief in him as made clear in Christian tradition. This gives the Christian orientation in any dialogue with another, or contrasting orientation with regard to how one’s life is to be lived.