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Postmodern Morality, Authority and Accountability

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In recent weeks I have read several books addressing Christian perspectives on our North American society. Postmodern culture is, as you well know, difficult to define and understand. In fact, postmodernism almost defies definition, as one of the basic tenets of the postmodern mindset is a removal of absolute standards, even when it comes to the meaning of words. Bear with me as I try to organize my thoughts on a particular issue.

One thing that is clear when I examine the culture around me is that postmoderns place high value on morality. There is something a little bit bizarre or ironic about this, isn’t there? It seems odd that when people abandon standards of absolute truth, they continue to demand morality. This serves to show the irrationality that is so prevalent in postmodernism. It simply cannot be logical and rational.

I live in a suburb of Toronto that just so happens to be the wealthiest town in Canada. This town is a bedroom community for the movers and shakers of Canadian business and politics. There are more of the big decision-makers in my town than in any other in the nation. My wife and I do all we can do to pull down the average family income, living in the neighborhood that everyone starts in but moves away from as soon s they can. We’ll be here for a while. But I digress. What I mean to say is that we live in a town whose inhabitants are thoroughly postmodern in their mindsets. Many of them have far more money than common sense, and it turns out that the two are not necessarily related. This town is filled with people who value postmodern morality.

Postmoderns try to be moral people. They want us to know that eating veal is baby-killing. They also want us to know that it is immoral for us to legislate about what a woman can or cannot do with her own body. Many feel that it is against their moral standards for the United States to go to war against Iraq and Afghanistan. In all these things they make moral judgments.

But what is the standard of postmodern morality? On what basis do these people make moral decisions and judgments? The obvious answer is that postmoderns emand to have personal moral autonomy. They want to describe morality the way they understand it, using their minds, emotions and experiences as the foundation. They want to be morally autonomous.

It is interesting to consider that this autonomy does not consistently extend to all areas. I do not know of too many postmoderns who wish to have personal standards of mathematics. Most are content to believe that one equals one, and one plus one equals two. Similarly, they agree on a specific tone relating to the musical note of “D” and agree that blue is blue and red is red. But when it comes to morality there can be no absolutes.

Implicit (and often explicit) in such a stance is a rejection of moral authority. Moral authority is quickly falling out of favor. After all, if postmodernism is built on relativism and narcissism, such a mindset can hardly agree to allow another person or standard to trump personal freedoms.

The Christian mindset stands at odds with this. The Bible claims that it is the foundation for all morality. The Bible, being the living, breathing Word of God, stands as the moral authority. And what are its standards? It begins with ten that should be well-known (though recent studies show that even most Christians can’t name all ten): have no gods apart from God; do not serve idols; do not take the Lord’s name in vain; honor the Lord’s day; honor your father and mother; do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not lie; do not desire what is not yours. These standards were not only given by God to His people thousands of years ago, but were also written right into the human heart by God Himself. Jesus later told us that the true basis of morality can be described in two simple commandments: to love the Lord with your whole being and to love your neighbor as yourself. He also clarified these standards, telling us that it is not enough merely to keep from committing the actual deeds listed. If one seeks to be free from the sin of adultery, he must keep his mind, and not only his body, pure, for if a man thinks lustful thoughts towards a woman that is not his wife, he has already committed adultery in his heart.

Thus the Bible is our moral authority.

There is one more thing that humans need, as unfortunately, due to our sinful natures, authority is not enough. We also need accountability. Postmoderns reject this accountability as much as they do authority. They are held only accountable by their personal standards. Thankfully, as Christians we can know that God has given us two means by which we can be held accountable to His standards of morality. The first is the Holy Spirit. After Jesus returned to His Father’s side, the Spirit was sent out to live within believers and to guard their hearts. The Spirit is a constant presence in our lives, taking the Words of the Bible and quickening them within us. He shows us where we are failing to uphold God’s standards and stirs our hearts to despise our sin.

The second means by which we are held morally accountable is the church. Christ handed to the church the keys to the kingdom, instructing that in every church men be raised up who will serve as pastors and elders. These men are tasked with, among other things, ensuring that the body of Christ continues to adhere to godly standards. When a Christian begins to exhibit lax standards of morality, it is the responsibility of the church to challenge, confront and rebuke the person. If he does not repent, refusing to admit his sin, the church may have to cast him out where He can hopefully come to a place of repentance.

And so it is that postmodernism rejects both of these facets of morality. They reject moral authority, and it necessarily follows that they then reject accountability. And so I guess where this is all going is that I’m wondering how this will impact the church. Scriptural authority and godly accountability are already on the decline. And just as Jesus told us, the church stands at polar opposites to the world in mindset. As believers we have to continue to stress the importance of submitting to God’s Word, no matter how unpopular such a belief may be. Only then will we have the authority and accountability to live lives that truly begin to measure up to God’s standards of morality.

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