Ethics is the formal study of morality. Every person has an ethic whether they realize it or not. That ethic may not exist because of a set or series of rational decisions. For most of us our ethic is learned from our family, our studies, or our religion.
But what if ethics is never served in the home? No matter; an ethic is still learned. It may not be an "ideal" ethic but it is an ethic no less. The same is true for those who do not attend a church or believe in God; they have an ethic.
The easiest way to define ethics is to describe it as a principle-based way in which we decide what we ought to do in life situations that require us to distinguish between what we believe to be the right thing or the wrong thing to do.
Ethics includes not only right and wrong things to do, but more broadly, all manners of interaction with other people.
Some believe in God and if they were to be asked if it is O.K. to steal they would probably say, "No!" Ask the same question of someone who does not believe in God and in all probability you would get the same answer.
If we were to ask why stealing is not O.K. the the one who believes in God might quote the Commandment that says, "Thou shalt not steal." Ask the unbeliever and they would probably say something like, "Because it isn't right," and of course that is correct.
The next question gets into the core of one's thinking; it peels back the flesh of the heart, mind, and Nephesh (soul), and this is the question; "Why is it wrong?" Is it because we might be caught and punished? No. Is it because our reputation might be tarnished? No. These are consequences, but they are unable to satisfy the question, "Why is stealing wrong?" This line of reasoning and questioning is applicable to every act, situation, issue, and opportunity we encounter in our daily interactions with others.
Society expects--and has the right to expect--the church to hold itself and its members to an idealism that mirrors a higher ethic; one that tries to explain why certain behaviors come under the heading of what one ought to do.
But the church does not always know what it ought to do as seen in the lives of those who claim to be a part of the church. One has only to say, "pedophilia," and we think of predatory priests who shame their God and their church. Certainly they were in the church but not of the church, a difference I trust we understand. If I list names such as Bakker and Swaggart, readers cringe because of memories of financial and sexual misconduct. In each of these cases--and there are many more--the ethic had atrophied (shriveled away) over time.
Every church exhibits its ethic to the community and the ethic of any church is the sum of the parts; and we are the parts. A church ethic is displayed in compassion to the community; not just to those who need food and warm clothing because there are civil organizations that fill that need very well.
So what is the core of the ethic of the church? It is a love that shows itself in fair and equal treatment of all peoples; those in the church and those without a church. It does not feed on the reputations of others (id. est., gossip or criticize), it does not politicize to gain a secular advantage, it does not discriminate but seeks to introduce all to Jesus the Christ and to do it with soft, caring words and with strong, caring actions.
The stronger the visible, corporate ethic of a church, the stronger and more effective the church; both for God and for the community.
Bonhoeffer, a German ethicist who helped Jews escape from the Nazis said this: "It is better to do wrong than to be wrong." That gives us something to think about.
If the church is going to get it right it has to be right, and to be right it has to undergo a process of continual introspection and searching of the heart. The pastor is the logical and elected leader of this process. It is a top-down, Spirit led, on-going process to insure the honesty, integrity, fairness, message, mission, action(s), and reactions of the church.
Of course the church has made mistakes: Of course the church will make mistakes but there is a cure for this: Repentance and Confession. Paul describes the church God is seeking to build :It is one "...that He might sanctify and cleanse ...with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot,or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." [Ephesians 5:26, 27]. This is the church that has the Ethic, the Truth, and the Faith of Christ.
Is this your church? Is this my church? God Bless e.c.