We last spoke about the literal sense so today we will go forward with the senses of scripture, next dealing with the moral sense. There are some passages of scripture that lend themselves easily to this really. Think of the book of proverbs or the parables of Jesus as an example. These easily lend themselves to being seen in a moral sense. The moral sense extends beyond these simple examples however. To fully understand, we need to again realize how the patristics and those after understood this. On a very basic level, the moral sense can be summed up with the question, what does this passage tell me about Jesus?
The first realization about the moral sense is that it teaches us how we should act now. This sense was popularized again by those in the social gospel movement, and the more progressive movements now, though it is most often applied improperly, and it is generally used exclusively. In much the same way as the literal interpretation of scripture, it is not an end point in and of itself, but a part of a larger approach to understanding scripture. In this sense of scripture, I want to be clear that the way we are supposed to act is not tied to salvation as the social gospel teaches. It is also not a club or a sword to attack the morality of others. It is a call to be holy as God is holy. When we are looking at a passage of scripture then, we need to examine how we are being instructed to act from the passage. An obvious example would be Christ and His instruction to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. This is clearly a moral teaching. We should also understand that the actions treated in a negative light in scripture are just as much an instruction to us of what not to do.
The second realization about the moral sense is that it teaches us how we are to act as a community of Christians. This gets lost all to often when we are speaking of scripture. While most of us are fine with at least paying lip service to emulating the life of Christ in our actions, very few of us are willing to understand that when we talk about Christ, we speak also of the church. When Christ is speaking of clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, He is not speaking only to us as individuals, but also to His church. You simply can not speak about Christ and not speak about the church. Medieval theologians, schooled by Augustine, understood that to speak of Christ meant that you must speak of the totus Christus, or the whole Christ. That means that you must speak of the head and the body together. Individual action and corporate action. This was a basic principle in Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology as well as a fundamental hermeneutical rule. If the whole Bible speaks about Christ, then it equally speaks about the church.
The third realization is that the moral sense teaches us what we are to believe. The moral sense is very much about faith. In this day and age we have created an artificial separation between belief and action. The conflict about orthodoxy and orthopraxy and which is more important occurs because we have separated from being a moral matter. While right belief and right action are two separate things on the surface, the reality is that they are intrinsically linked in the life of a Christian and can not be separated. Maintaining the orthodox faith is no less a moral matter than feeding the hungry. The early church knew and understood this. In the Christian church, the Nicene creed is the baseline moral statement. We believe in Jesus Christ so we believe that there are duties and responsibilities on Christians individually and corporately.
In this day and age of moral relativism, this sense of scripture is likely the hardest to understand and put into practice. In a very real way, it has divided the Christian church into two separate faiths, one which claims timeless moral truths and one which sees moral truth as relative to cultural, social, historical, and personal circumstances. Is it any wonder that we see such conflict in the church? God calls us to be holy because He is holy, but when the historic church says this is based upon timeless moral truths and the progressive church says this is based upon relativism, how can there not be conflict? The quadriga eliminates this conflict by putting belief and action both into their proper category of being moral. If we reclaim the faith of our fathers, we understand that saying “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” is not only a statement of belief, but is also a moral statement, and one of the highest order. We can heal the rift between belief and action, combining them into the whole that they are intended to be.
The modern view of Christianity that we have crafted is a fractured and broken faith. It has the body of Christ, but neglects the head. It artificially separates things that were intended to be whole. We treat beliefs as if they are optional statements instead of moral truths. We treat moral truths as if they are situational instead of timeless. As we discussed earlier, you can not talk about Christ without talking about the church. Right now, this is the church of a broken and beaten Christ struggling down the via dolorosa, when we should be the church of the resurrected Christ. The Resurrection is an ancient truth, and the only way to become the church of that Resurrection is to seek ancient truths.