There are two heroic-sized statues of the two great apostles at the far end of the huge piazza fronting the entrance to the basilica of St. Peter in Rome (the Vatican). One, of course, is of St. Peter, the other, of St. Paul. St. Peter has his right arm pointed downward toward the ground, while St. Paul has his right arm extended outward. Wags have interpreted the meaning of these two differing arm positions to mean: the laws of the church are made here (St. Peter), and these laws are kept there (St. Paul), meaning, respectively, they’re formulated in the Vatican but they are obeyed out there in the worldwide church.
That raises the interesting question about the role of law, whether in the church, or in society at large: do lawmakers (and that might include God Himself) think up rules and regulations, according to their best instincts, and then promulgate them for others to receive and obey? If so, there’s a possibility that there might not be a suitable “fit” between some laws developed by well-intentioned but out- of- touch with- the- real- world lawmakers and the law-keepers whose lives and mode of eking out their livelihood don’t correspond. So this results in these laws being disregarded and not kept, at least till the law-enforcers catch up with them. And this happens somewhat frequently. It’s the liability of arm-chair legislators being out of touch with the complications involved in obeying the law.
Thankfully, there are other types of lawmakers, both in church and civil society, who are more acquainted with the “real” world and know the challenges of formulating pertinent rules and regulations that are adequate for real life situations. And so their influence is felt in the laws they make and promulgate because, for the most part, they are humane and reasonable, and able to be kept by those inclined to be fair and open-minded. This is because this latter type of legislator just doesn’t “dream up” what he or she takes to be a good piece of legislation without sufficient concern for those meant to keep that law, but rather is well acquainted with those for whom the law is intended, and is aware of the burden involved in keeping the law.
The difference between these two types of legislators is that one does it from the top down, while the other does it from the bottom up.
Of course, there is another side to this picture. This regards those who are to keep the law. Once again, they fall into two types. There are those who tend to regard any law lightly: rules of the road, income tax procedures, city ordinances about property maintenance and upkeep, vehicle maintenance, animal care and upkeep, voting privileges, payment of fines, honoring public places prohibiting smoking, etc. While some of these may seem insignificant, yet when many or even all of them are disregarded indiscriminately and habitually, such violators soon become pests, even a pain in the neck, if not worse, for at times such disregard can endanger others.
But, fortunately, there is a large category of law-abiders, the conscientious types who appreciate the rationale of good laws and statutes, and try to abide by them, at times at some inconvenience for themselves. They realize it makes good sense to abide by them, both for themselves and for the public at large. And when it happens that a particular city ordinance is poorly designed and crafted, they proceed to round up like-minded fellow citizens and work to change the rule or regulation. This type of citizen need not be blind before or indifferent to poorly crafted ordinances, and is willing to expend considerable time and energy to take the steps to change or rewrite it.
So, back to Sts. Peter and Paul. When Peter makes the point that the buck stops here because this is where the church law originates, he does so well aware of the earlier tiff he and Paul had back in the beginning when Peter was siding with the Jewish membership of the early church who wanted gentile converts to the faith to abide by many of their Jewish customs they continued to practice after becoming Christian. But Paul objected to this regulation, noting Peter’s inconsistency in this, since earlier on Peter did not insist on this rule. And Peter, good law-maker that he was, agreed, changed his mind in this matter.
And Paul too, as he went about the known world of his time, preaching the gospel in “pagan”lands, found himself before some ticklish situations, such as allowing new converts to the Christian faith to buy meat in the market place even though it had earlier on been offered up to pagan gods, or trying to reconcile an escaped Christian slave with his Christian master, or allowing a previously married pagan convert to the faith to remarry, as a Catholic, if his still pagan wife refused entrance into the church. Paul had to tiptoe around such delicate areas.
But the annals of early church history are replete with instances of many Christians of the early church refusing to obey the law of the Roman empire requiring worship of pagan gods, and so suffering martyrdom. So law-making and law-keeping is a demanding affair, keeping all of us sensitive to the issues at play.