I am under the weather right now so I will be posting some articles that have been written years ago and for another purpose.
Understanding Christian Ethics
The requirement for this paper is to write on how Christian ethics is represented in this book and I will do that through addressing several key examples found throughout its pages. This book is a compilation of several different authors’ viewpoints, each one writing on a different aspect of ethical behavior for the Christian and for different situations the believer faces in life.
As I went through the book I had 2 impressions, first I felt that the authors were writing about Christian situational ethics, with a different set of rules for the believer to follow for each different situation they encounter and second, I felt that they were trying to fit infallible, spiritual truths into a secular box.
The world has its own standard for ethical behavior and they are the ones who have created a set of ideals which they believe others are to follow regardless of their faith, beliefs and upbringing. We often hear about corruption scandals and trials that take place throughout the world as the secular world attempt to look good by going after those they have perceived, or charged, with violating those ideals.
They rarely take into account the spiritual side of the issue and Christians are often caught up in such charades because their ways do not meet the world’s standards. Throughout this paper I will quote different statements or passages and then interact with them and then in the conclusion I sum up my views in light of what I have read.
- 1. “Christians are called to be world citizens…The point is that one must begin to perceive the world from a global perspective…In many ways Christian ethics has become a solidly American discipline…Yet, Christian ethics is much more than a North American discipline…” (Tillman pgs. 24-5)
Parts of these quotes are misleading as it calls for Christians to be something or do something they are not to do. At no time has the believer been ‘called’ to have a global view or be world citizens, they are called to follow Jesus and His teachings and to be separate from the world and their ideas. Being a ‘global citizen’ is a secular idea first expounded by the Clintons in their ‘global village’ idea.
Believers are to look at the world from God’s perspective and purpose. To do as Dr Tillman says in the first part of that quote would be to ignore God’s commands because the Christian is part of the kingdom of God and they must view the world from that angle.
The second part of that quote misleads believers into doing something that God has not said to do. It is leading the followers of God into following secular ideas and manipulating scripture to fit that box and that would be wrong. I do agree with him on the idea that Christian ethics is or has become an American influenced and run field with western ideas, ideals, and thinking at the forefront regardless of the fact that the west makes up only a small part of the world’s nations.
Far too often the western world thinks that everything starts and ends with them and their views of right and wrong, but they forget that Christianity started from God and His view plus He did not start it in the west but the Middle East where cultural differences often lead to misinterpreting the Bible. God’s ethical behavior starts and ends with Him and the western believer is the one who needs to adapt their position to fit His not vice-versa.
- “The Ethical teachings of John’s gospel differ from those of the synoptic gospels in at least two ways” (Lea pg.67)
Here we have the idea presented that the Bible actually teaches a different set of rules with different books which would make the Bible contradictory of itself and would lead the believer into confusion. There cannot be a different set of teachings in the gospels for then the believer would not know which one is right and when to apply the one over the other.
God states that He is not the author of confusion yet this author seems to teach that that is just not so as he clearly goes against the Bible with his point. This idea of Lea’s that different books teach different ethics is reinforced further down page 67 when he says ‘ The book of Revelation is a prophecy which aims at changing the behavior of its readers…it does not contain a significant amount of ethical material.’
Yet does it need to? If God has already presented how He wants His followers to behave why would He need to be redundant in the book of Revelation and present the same material all over again? That would be pointless, useless and take up space He needs to use to communicate about the future. Lea would be wrong in this approach because each book does not need the same amount of ethical material to be considered teaching ethics; it just needs enough to support early writings and to be consistent with the message of God.
The teachings of Revelation go hand in hand with the rest of the Bible, it is not teaching anything new or unique thus it does teach the same ethical behavior that the other books do, it just doesn’t have to go into as much detail because such has already been said. John does not present different ethical standards, it does not present different ethical principles but it does teach the same ones in a different manner.
Method is often confused with systems or principles and that should not be so. Method, since all people do not learning the same manner, is just teaching the same ideas in different ways so that all people can receive the message clearly. Too many ‘intelligent’ people skip such obvious objectives as they look to be intellectual and to sound smart, instead of trying to find the truth.
The same Christian behavior is being taught by God in all the books of the Bible, He does not change nor should we expect His book to change as different humans wrote His words, nor should we think His message changes because the methods employed are different.
Lea’s chapter on ethics underscores my point as he has subsections titled: The ethics of Paul, The ethics of Peter, the ethics of Jesus and all imply that each person has a different view on how Christians should behave. This flies in the face of what Paul wrote in rebuking those who claimed they were following different church leaders. The Biblical teaching of the Bible is the same no matter who is writing the books of the Bible.
- “A person who takes his Christian citizenship seriously is one who applies the gospel to his world through responsible involvement in the political process.” (Elder III, pg.123)
The first problem we run into here is in the ending of the quote. Whose definition will be used to determine what is a ‘responsible involvement’ and which side of the political process is the ‘correct’ one? Is every believer to follow William Elder’s definition? What makes his definition and side better than another person’s definition and side?
As an example, what makes the American Republican party more ‘Christian’ than their Democratic one? Neither follow God, nor have His objective as their goal so which party should the believer join and ‘apply the gospel’ to? Some believers say they join the republican party simply because it espouses ideas ‘closest to their own beliefs’ yet God never said to do that so why are they joining a party that does not proclaim God’s ways?
Plus why should ‘only the gospels’ be applied to the political movements? Why not the rest of the scriptures? Elder later says, ‘A Christian citizen is not only a good citizen in that he understands the process and actively participates in it but also in that he participates in it from a particular perspective, a Christina perspective.’ (pg. 123).
So Eder then considers a Christian a bad citizen if they elect not to participate in the political process even though they have a different calling or do not want to be involved in forcing their views on the unchurched world. Which is the impression I get from his words and which has been the objective of the Christian world the past 2 ½ decades.
Christ told us that His followers are to be the light to the world, but he did not say to revoke people’s freedom of choice and implement His ways forcefully upon others. Elder seems to think that spreading the gospel means to enact laws that force those who have not chosen to follow Jesus to follow His ways and that is quite contrary to what the Bible teaches.
In his approach to ethics and politics he seems to ignore the command of God to not be ‘equally yoked with unbelievers’ and other passages which state that believers are to follow God not the world nor join with the world. His ethical approach seems to over-rule what God has said because his bias is for political action not God’s actions.
On page 131 Elder goes on to state ‘Christian citizenship fosters fundamental values…’ but he forgets that Christians do not need laws or political action to foster such behavior, they just need the Holy Spirit. His desire to win the world for Christ via political action is very misguided and he applies Christian ethical teachings wrongly to convince people to follow his personal agenda not God’s.
This does not mean that Christians cannot be involved in politics, but they must do so in accordance to God’s word and commands. Thus the Christian should not align themselves with any secular party but either be independent or form their own so the unsaved world will see God in action and that the Christian stands by what they say they believe and do not compromise Christianity or God.
- 4. “The problem for modern Christians, though, is what to do about peace now.” (Sisk pg. 203)
This chapter focuses on war, peace and the Christian perspective and one of the most misunderstood terms is the word ‘peace’. We hear daily about seeking world peace, or pray for world peace yet God never promised that there would be such a thing. It seems that too many people confuse the term define it to mean that there will be no more wars. That happens later not now for now sin abounds and the desire for power and control of others is still evident in sinful man (and a lot of Christians).
When the angels sang to the shepherds ‘Peace on earth…’ they were NOT saying that there would be no more wars but that the people need to stop worrying, salvation has come. Jesus himself said, that ‘that He came to bring a sword not peace’ which means that conflict between people will continue because they will hold to different beliefs.
So the believer cannot expect all wars to cease or that world peace will be a reality, they need to focus on the inner peace, the lack of worrying, the lack of stress and so on, that ‘passeth all understanding’. God’s peace is to the human in spite of the violence and the fighting that is taking place at this time.
Sisk, goes on to discuss Holy Wars and pacifism and for the former we see that the crusades put an end to the fantasy that there can be such a thing as a holy war. The problem with Sisk’s discussion is that he offers no direction nor instruction on how the believer should act ethically as he ignores Jesus’ words, ‘if my people were called to fight…’ Jesus and the Bible do not teach that believers are to conduct physical wars against unbelievers or those of other beliefs.
Why Sisk does not include this in His discussion we do not know and later says ‘Jesus suggested a strategy…’ So according to Sisk, Jesus teachings are suggestions not commands or instructions for the believer to follow. Sisk goes on to talk about the ‘just war’ philosophy but again falls short when he does not refute it properly for there can be no such thing as a just war for in any conflict innocent people are slaughtered and that is just not just nor God’s way.
He seems to leave out or not know about the scriptures where God and Jesus teach that they will protect their people, and blessed is the town or nation that has God as its walls. Believers do not need to worry about war or peace because they have God on their side.
Sisk discusses several different issues, and one is the ‘call of the Christian’ which he discusses how some people think being pacifists in this violent world is unrealistic, yet such people forget that Jesus never fought anyone, never defended himself using armies and healed a man’s ear when one of His disciples cut it off, rebuking the disciple. Christians are to be Christ-like which means they can be pacifists if they want.
Does this mean that believers cannot be soldiers? No. For the military needs the light shone upon them as well and Christ never rebuked a soldier nor taught that believers could not be part of the military. Yet if the Christian does enter the armed forces they must stand up and use God’s ways not secular ones.
In the military it is taught that the only person a soldier has to rely on is his buddy but for the Christian we know this is not true, we are to rely on God for buddies will fail, they will run, they will be killed thus the soldier following the secular way is often left alone and not taught to rely on the one who does not fail, run or be killed.
What I found in Sisk’s chapter is no ethical teaching just a paper on the conflicting viewpoints involved in this issue. Involvement in the armed forces is not a choice left up to personal interpretation (that is subjective and not the truth) but one that needs to be left up to the call of God. The ethics involved are all found in the teachings in both the Old and New Testament where the Christian soldier obeys God first, and sets the example for the others.
The light needs to shine in all areas of life not the favored or accepted select few.
- “These are serious questions of ethics and Christian faith…other ethical questions are related to Christian life style…Some choices for Christians have corporate or social implications…In this chapter we will consider how ethicists have approached decision making.” (Saul, pg. 79)
Here we have a chapter that is designed to address the believer’s ability to make decisions concerning different issues. I left out the questions from the quote that the author asked in his opening statement merely because they were too many and we all know what dilemmas Christians face.
In this chapter the author presents that Christians have leeway or grey areas in which to apply their own ideas when making decisions, for he says on pg. 81, ‘For many, the Bible is the source…’ is he saying that the Bible is not the source for all ethical situations or that some ignore what the Bible says about what to do in all situations?
Either way, the author is out on the proverbial limb for if the Bible does not address all situations then it cannot be the Bible nor the world of God and if the latter is so then he is allowing for believers to go their own way, a direct violation of God’s word. What is disturbing is what the author writes further down the page:
“ All that is to say that even the clearest commands of God have to be interpreted and applied.” It is disturbing because he is allowing for subjectivism, opinion and existentialism a footing in dealing with the word of God making it a book of commands subservient to human decision making and thought and that is just not right.
If we need to ‘interpret’ the clearest commands, why follow the Bible at all? It provides no answers and its words are subject to the fallible and corrupt thinking of humans who have their own bias and preferred ways of doing things. We see this each day in reaction to even the slightest of court decisions which goes against what the people want to see take place.
Dr. Saul is not advocating any ethical standard or behavior here with these words but more of an anarchic approach to the Bible and its commands. ‘What its teachings say to you doesn’t say that to me so I am free to act as I please’, is the mentality that comes from this way of thinking, which means people are free to choose their own set of ethics regardless of the ramifications it has for others and God’s word.
On page 82, Dr. Saul talks about the ‘principles of decision making’ and all he is talking about are just doing what is right but has it wrapped in an intellectual wrapper to make it sound good. He calls it ‘different methodologies for Christian decision making’ but all he is doing is just rewriting different parts of the Bible to fit his ideology, which, as we see on pg. 96, is quite limited.
He says that ‘to follow Christ is to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and visit those in prison.’ Yet that is not all to the Christian life or in following Christ. Why does he limit it so? He does not explain. It seems this author’s perspective on ethics is far from Biblical grounds as he leaves out the working of the Holy spirit in the lives of believers. On pages 90-1 we read: ‘The moral self is shaped ethically within the Christian context…One cannot, however, isolate an individual from the community or society of which he or she is apart…because character is shaped by a community, the church must seek to be a community of faith and integrity…’
But we must be able to separate the lone Christian from the group for if we don’t then we are saying that those who do wrong within the church are tainting those who do right and that would be guilt by association, not because they did wrong. Such assumptions would be wrong and would be condemning innocent people merely for the fact that the Bible is true when it says the church is full of wheat and tares.
Dr. Saul also ignores the Holy Spirit in his last line when he says ‘character is shaped by the community’ how would the regular churchgoer know what is right or wrong behavior if most of the or all of the church is doing things wrong and saying it is right? They would not be able to without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So Dr. Saul has glaring errors in his position on decision making, character, and ethics.
For the believer, they need to remember that there is no grey area with God. There are no situational ethics with Him either, the Bible provides no escape clauses to allow the believer to interpret His commands in the way they want them to be, the believer needs to be honest when looking at God’s word.
- “Sometimes multiethnic churches ignore or overlook the principle of cultural appreciation. This cultural chauvinism carried to its logical extreme can result in cultural genocide of minorities. Churches that ‘treat everybody alike’ more than likely reflect cultural insensitivity rather than fairness when they fail to demonstrate multiethnic cultural appreciation.” (Smith pg. 153-4)
This idea of ethnic ethics seems to have its foundation in culturalism, where the culture of a given people influences what scripture says and how it should be applied to different people. But again, we need to find out whose definition will be used to determine what is or isn’t culturally sensitive.
Also we need to see that not all cultural practices are scriptural and learn that culture does not dictate to scripture but that scripture dictates to culture. If we believe that the Bible is the word of God and it reveals to us how we are to live then we cannot turn around and say such words do not apply because the culture of that time is different than the culture of this time or that the culture of an African nation is different than that of a western nation.
It is NOT culturally insensitive to preach the word of God as it is for the Bible is the ideal standard, the words of the Supreme for all to listen to, follow and find salvation thru. One cannot do that if they demean the Bible and make it subject to the different cultures of the world or eras. In reading this chapter, it seems that the author ignores God’s leadership in order to be more politically correct and appeasing to the world’s thinking.
The above quote is leaning in that direction and support for this can be found on page 152, ‘Inclusions of minorities in leadership is a characteristic of healthy multiethnicity. Leadership exclusion is racist and pathologic.” Strong words of hatred for those who do not include minorities in their leadership because they are obeying God’s direction.
The author ignores many issues in this chapter as we read further down the page, ‘if a church cannot, under any circumstances, conceivably call a pastor who is not of the same ethnic identity as the majority of its members, it is a victim of institutional racism through perversion of theology, anthropology and ecclesiology.’ The author forgets that God is involved in the calling of the church leader and to hold to such a view would be to call God a racist and a sinner.
Also, such people who hold to such strict political correct generalizations forget that the church is allowed preference for whom they would like to lead them. Plus ethnic backgrounds cannot be the only criteria used to call a minister of God to a church. There are other qualifications inplay here which help determine who gets the position and the church should not be held captive, blackmailed nor extorted to hire someone simply because they have a different color of skin or a different cultural heritage That would be reverse racism.
Which brings me to an early comment made by the author on page 150. It reads, ‘For centuries, American culture baptized the church in racism.’ He knows this how? Did he visit each and every church throughout the centuries to see if this was true? Such generalizations undermine any ethical point he is trying to make for the author forgets that people have free choice and the culturally different person may have turned down a call to a church that is culturally different than himself.
To place the blame upon the church alone is wrong and shows that the author doesn’t follow his own thinking when it comes to ethical behavior or a healthy ministry. His mistake is to accept the secular world’s idea that there are four different races on earth. There isn’t, there is only one. Race was a teaching from Darwin as he sought to explain the differences between humans and the author accepts this without even consulting the Bible which states that ‘all men descended from Adam’
If Dr. Smith wants to declare racism is a factor in the church, then he needs to remove himself from teaching Christian ethics for racism is not a charge that can be used in the church, for we are all of one race. He says on page 151 that ‘overcoming racism requires several steps’ and he goes on to explain those steps but the problem is, there is no such thing as different races and racism thus what needs to be overcome is the acceptance of worldly teaching and have it replaced with the truth.
The church has to be the leader in the truth not following the world’s ideas, they are to be the light of the world with God’s ways not promoting secular teachings which divide and confuse people. So the church is facing nationalism or cultural practices and yes, as the book Peace Child showed us, we need to adapt certain ideas to the culture we are trying to reach so that they grasp what the message of the Bible is BUT we do NOT change the message to fit the culture.
In other words, we do not follow the thinking, ‘the culture of that time’ because then we have demoted the Bible to being subject to the different cultures over the ages and millennia and have its message changing simply because cultures changed. That would be wrong and it says that God and His word is not superior nor the standard and that any human can determine what it says based upon fallible, sinful practices.
Such thinking is not ethical not just, let alone fair, for which culture had it right? If no culture had or has it right then how do we determine what God is saying to us? What are we to follow for the message changes with every secular change of culture? What I see in Dr. Smith’s chapter is that the church and pastors must meet man’s requirements to be ethical and that would be wrong. The church and leadership are to meet God’s standards to be ethical, fair and just or there is no sense in having the Bible used in church. The Bible does not follow the secular cultural changes in the world (and throughout history) or there is nothing to be saved from, we would not need a savior for there is no new way to change to because it will change depending upon the whims of those humans who do not want to follow its message.
So Dr. Smith’s politically Correct/race based ethics just does not fit and is steeped in secular idealism or thinking and not God’s.
These are but a few examples to illustrate the point I made in the introduction. The ethics discussed throughout this book is not a Christian ethical system but one that is derived from accepting secular teachings and ideas. The authors of the chapters are trying to fit the Bible into a secular model, mold or concept and that is not only backwards, it is wrong.
I do not believe in a ‘Christian ethic’ for I feel that it takes away from Biblical teaching and simple obedience to God and His commands, instructions and teachings, done through His Old Testament Biblical authors and Jesus and His disciples. We are not called to create an ‘ethic’ but to obey, though many of the authors quote scripture and invoke some form of obedience, they also misapply them to fit their bias, their beliefs and theories. Instead of getting solid Christian teachings, we get human ideas with quasi-support from scriptures, based upon human interpretation.
I can say this because too often God and the Holy Spirit were not even mentioned as being part of the process of ‘Christian Ethic’, everything was manmade ignoring what The Bible taught and replaced it with secular ideas.
A Christian ethic should be humble obedience not a model or theory and it needs to be applied at all times to all people no matter how vile their crime or how offensive their character. It is not something that is pulled off the shelf or manipulated to fit the horrendous acts we encounter and there are no grey areas, for God did not institute any grey areas.
We know this by His acting in the Old Testament by His handling of those who sinned and disobeyed and we see this in the New Testament, not only buy the book of Revelation but by the teachings of the disciples and Jesus Himself. We do not need a ‘multi-ethnical’ ethic to tell us how to treat people from another nation. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us and we need to put the Bible’s teachings into our lives as instructed by such passages as Galatians 5:22ff and Phil. 4:8 (and others).
When we are faced with difficult situations, like the ones expressed via questions on page 79 we do not need to fret for we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit to guide us to do what is right in God’s eyes. We do not need a ‘Christian ethic’ to do that for us, for it has all been laid out for us in the Bible.
They may not be word specific but they are applicable to all situations when one is in doubt. Verses like, ‘Do unto others as ye would have them do unto you’ or ‘Do not return evil for evil’ or Do good to those who do evil’ cover many, many situations that do find a word specific in other passages and with God’s help the believer will know what they are to do.
When it comes to sexual relations, we know that the Bible forbids pre-marital sex thus when faced with the situation, we do not need a ‘Christian ethic’ to fall back on but courage to simply obey God’s word and reject the opportunity to sin.
Or when it comes to economics, we have the passages of scripture which instruct us to be ‘good stewards’ thus we must weigh the situation and with God’s help determine if it is a wise move to make or if such an adventure or purchase will send the wrong message to the unchurched world.
We do not need to define what a Christian ethic is for then we are faced with the problem of whose definition should we accept as the standard and the moment we accept a human definition over God’s word, we have sinned and made that ethic unusable in the church for it will trump what God has said in the Bible, especially about following and obeying Him.
Then the believer is no longer following God but their own ideas or the ideas of some other fallible human and that is not what God said to do. To be ethical, the believer has to follow God first and His instructions are found in the Bible not in some model, theory or ethical list.
Yes there are difficult decisions to make, especially in the areas of those who are dying as it is hard to see a loved one suffer but one must be consistent and remain with God and let Him retain control over people’s lives. The command, ‘thou shalt not kill’ is a good starting point to learn how God wants one to act and one should not be caught up in semantics over the meaning of the word ‘kill’, we cannot use scripture to justify disobedience to God.
The same for the issue of life, birth and abortion as ‘thou shalt not kill’ applies there as well along with the compromised position of ‘it is okay for abortion in the case of rape or incest…’ The Old Testament tells us that children should not be punished for the sins of their parents, and to allow abortion in the cases of rape or incest is punishing the child for something they did not do nor had any control over.
Ethically, Christians have to stand with God and find scriptural alternatives to the ‘accepted’ ethical standard so that God can be obeyed and glorified and so the believer does not sin. In closing I cannot agree with the Christian ethical position discussed in the book, in full and it would be a stretch even to do so in part. For if it eliminates or omits God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit then it is not of God and one would be following the wrong path.
It is best to simply read the Bible, learn correctly what God means and then have the Holy Spirit implement what God wants in one’s character and practice for we are part of God’s kingdom not the world’s and it is God we please not the world. So our ‘Christian ethic’ must be constructed by God, and that has been done already for we find it in the books of the Bible.