Derek, I really have got to print this book off and read it...
Here are some excerpts, again, from Jacques Ellul's "The Subversion of Christianity". He's talking about systems of morality, and how Christ came to bring freedom from them. If you think of the Pharisees, they were the highest moral characters, and Christ was constantly "calling their bluff." Their actions were squeaky clean, but selfishness and vanity darkened their hearts. Also, if you think of a lot the parables, it was the "moral" characters that ended up being taught a lesson. For example, the prodigal's older brother, the men that worked 12 hours and got paid the same as those who worked one, etc. Ellul communicates that the freedom Christ gave is a heavy burden, and only something that someone can be mentored into, not taught through a moral system. He says that moral systems in the church originated along with the mass conversions of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Prior to this point, churches were "small flocks," and the ability to live in the freedom of Christ was passed on from mature believers that had, themselves, been mentored by mature "freemen." When the church ballooned after it's imperial sanctioning, rules and systems had been set up to maintain the order of the masses. There became no room to mentor, and no ability to keep others accountable in the freedom of Christ, so they decided to do away with it. I'm not sure what I think of all this, but I'd like to hear others' thoughts. Here are some of the quotes:
"In the Gospels Jesus constantly breaks religious precepts and moral rules. He gives as his own commandment "Follow me," not a list of things to do or not to do. He shows us fully what it means to be a free person with no morality."
"Not only is it honestly impossible to derive a moral system from the Gospels and Epistles, but further, the main keys in the gospel - the proclamation of grace, the declaration of pardon, and the opening up of life to freedom- are the direct opposite of morality."
"All things are lawful," Paul twice proclaims. "Nothing is impure," he teaches. We find the same message in Acts. We are as free as the Holy Spirit, who comes and goes as he wills. This freedom does not mean doing anything at all. It is the freedom of love. Love, which cannot be regulated, categorized, or analyzed into principles or commandments, takes the place of law. The relationship with others is not one of duty but of love.
The Christian masses naturally found it difficult to live in this freedom of spirit and of love. Norms soon had to be imposed. Duties had to be indicated. Every time there was a return to a community that rejected morality so as to live, as was said, according to the Spirit, this resulted concretely in disorder and rapid human and spiritual deterioration (e.g., the community of John of Leiden).
We may live truly by the Spirit in a community like that described in Acts; but if we do there will have to be a small number of truly converted believers who are fully both in their humanity and in their faith and can bear the risk of freedom. A numerical limit will be imposed. This corresponds to Jesus' own dealings with his disciples (a maximum of seventy) and his statement that they will always be a little flock. At issue here is a true understanding and living out of revelation that has nothing whatever to do with morality and that to moral persons seem to run contrary to morality and defy it.