Sunday, May 21, 2006

Situation Ethics is a Trap (Part 3)

One suggestion for making a systematic stab at the "sticky" decisions - in fact- at all ethical decisions that you may face is to ask yourself five specific questions. What these questions can do is help you evaluate the situation analyze it, take it apart and get a better perspective based on God's wisdom, not just your own.

Ridenour labels a Christian who possesses "the mind of Christ" (see 1 Cor. 2:9-16) one who adheres to Supernatural Christianity. Perhaps this is an old-fashioned description in and of itself, but it also could be regarded as highly descriptive of what it means to be a born-again Christian with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God.

The first question that Ridenour suggests you ask yourself in any given ethical and/or moral decision and/or dilemma is:

1. "Am I being a thermometer or thermostat?

One of the greatest challenges to being a Christian in an unchristian world is to handle the morals and ethics of your peer group - that is, not letting them handle you. Do you let other people run your life more than you might care to admit? If so, you are an ethical thermometer capable only of reacting to your environment. You have no inner strength, no moral self-starter mechanism. Church may make you pious; but when you are around godless people you can suddenly become profane, or at least a lot more tactful about sounding or looking too religious.

You say you don't run with "that kind of crowd"? It's still easy enough to be a thermometer. Return evil for evil, and you are plastic, motivated by the circumstances. Repay bitterness with bitterness and you are just as out of control as the other person. There are countless ways the environment can make your ethical life go up and down just like the temperature on a thermometer.

Of course if you don't like the idea of other people running your life or controlling it, you can let God run your life. Then, instead of being a thermometer you can be a thermostat. You can have a control center of power and strength that helps you determine and create conditions, not just respond to them.

So, the first thing you need to decide in any situation is which decision will make you act like a thermometer and which will make you act like a thermostat? In this unchristian world, if you aren't interested in trying to be a thermostat, you might as well forget it when it comes to practicing Christian ethics.3

2. "What is the fair and loving thing to do in this situation?

Who is really going to benefit from the decision you make? All questions of ethics and morals start here. Everybody is pretty well agreed on wanting fair play. Everybody wants justice - at least for himself.

Joseph Fletcher's Situation Ethicsis build on this question. This is where he starts. Trouble is, he doesn't go much farther and Christian morality lies somewhere beyond. Don't bypass this question, however, and take it for granted. One reason a lot of Christians aren't too convincing to an unchristian world is that when it comes right down to it, they don't always play that fair.

3. "What is my duty-moral obligation? Do I even care about my duty in this situation?"

With this question things get a little tighter. You are starting to think about what kind of a person you really are-on the inside. You must face yourself and ask yourself if you even want to be fair and loving in making this decision, whatever it might be.

Joseph Fletcher puts heavy emphasis on "doing the loving thing within the situation." He makes a strong plea for a sense of responsibility and a mature facing up to the difficulties in life. But Fletcher's heavy emphasis on autonomously deciding for yourself about what is loving leaves you in a leaking ethical boat. It is interesting to note that in his book, Situation Ethics, Fletcher does not have the word sinin the index. A reading of the book will bear out that sin just doesn't come up that often. When everyone is free to decide for himself what the "loving thing" is, it is easy to confuse duty with self-interest. Christian morality lies still farther down the ethical path....

4. "What do the Scriptures teach concerning this situation-in general or in particular?"

Joseph Fletcher would say that all the Scriptures teach is "the law of love." Fletcher believes that the two great commandments of Christ (see Matt. 22:37-39) are a distillation- "That the essential spirit and ethos of many laws has been distilled or liberated, extracted, filtered out, with the legal husks, or rubbish, thrown away as dross."4

Fletcher then goes on to grind up a few of these "husks," namely the Ten Commandments. By the time Fletcher gets through, you are left feeling apprehensive about reading the Bible too much, lest you become what he calls a legalist. By legalists, Fletcher really means "those who disagree with my theology."

In a debate with Fletcher*, conservative theologian John Warwick Montgomery said " is manifestly clear that Professor Fletcher's understanding of love and morality does not derive from the bible in general or from Jesus' ministry in particular...moreover, his acceptance of radical techniques of New Testament criticism removes any real possibility of his identifying the ethic of Jesus: were he to take the entire New Testament picture seriously, he would find-as any number of his critics have shown-that the New Testament, no less than the Old, insists on absolute moral standards."5

As a brief look at Col. 2:16-23 reveals, "legalism" is a matter of putting man-made rules, traditions and concerns ahead of God's Word. That's what the Gnostics were doing at Colosse. That's what the Pharisees were doing when Jesus put them in their place (Matt. 23:13-36). If you are enjoying a deepening relationship with Christ (spiritual intimacy) it follows that you will be in God's Word. Christ will be guiding and molding your life through His Holy Spirit. There is no better way to escape legalism, because in truth the legalist is the one who is far from Christ trying to exist on his own power, and above all, on his own merit.

As for being able to know what the Scriptures say-in general or particular-about ethical problems you face, all kinds of lists of Scripture verses on "what to do if..." are available, but it is far better to program your computer (brain) with God's Word continually. Christian morality is not so much a case of being able to punch the right ethical button and come up with the precise solution each and every time; it is more a case of hearing the still small voice of the Holy Spirit as He tells you what is right or wrong.

5. "Which choice in this situation will strengthen my relationship to Christ? Which choice will weaken it?"

Jesus said, "You can know the Truth (Me) and I will make you free" (see John 8:32). The key to understanding this is to realize that Jesus doesn't offer freedom from restraints, or even laws and rules. Naturalist man wants a freedom of no restraints, no laws and no rules-because he thinks this world is all there is and that he is (or should be) in charge of his own life.

But for the Christian, Jesus offers freedom to. This is a Supernatural freedom to live in God's world, to become what He created you to be.

Jesus also said, "The one who obeys Me is the one who loves Me..." (John 14:21). Freedom in Christ means obedience to Christ. There are many differences between a stinking, slimy swamp and a clear rushing river. One big difference is that the river has borders (restraints), and the swamp has none. 6

It isn't easy to stay out of the ethical swamps. Swamps have many confusing turns, twists and dead ends. One thing is for sure: you will never find your way out of the ethical swamp if you follow the ever-lovin' crowd. Most of the crowd likes it in the swamp. They like the freedom of "no restraints," or so they tell themselves.

But swamps are full of quicksand, not to mention snakes and alligators. To live without "restraints" isn't freedom. It is the worst kind of slavery with self as the master.

The Christian's Master is Jesus Christ. We submit to His authority (not authoritarianism) and by submitting we find (as He promised) that we are free indeed! (See John 8:36.)

John Stott illustrates freedom in submission by pointing out that "To express himself freely, a pianist must accept the discipline that the keyboard imposes on him. His greatest flights of freedom and self-expression are not in defiance of this but in submission to it."7

Stott goes on to say that he "...finds freedom in knowing God's Mind, thinking God's Thoughts after Him. My will finds its freedom in obeying God's Will-doing God's Thing, not my thing."8

And that brings you right back to the first question: thermometer or thermostat? If you commit yourself to being a thermostat, you will be an instrument that determines and creates better moral conditions. But there's more to it than that. A thermostat needs energy of some kind to operate. The mighty energy at work within the Christian is the Holy Spirit-the One whom Christ has sent to live in and empower all Christians. It is the Holy Spirit who takes you beyond mere wishful thinking about love and fair play. He can give you the desire to want to be fair and loving. he can guide you into all truth. (See John 16:13.) He will tell you what is taking you away from Christ and what is bringing you closer to Him.

Questions concerning morals and ethics come from everywhere: to lust or not to bed or not to hate and lie or love and tell the worship power and self (idolatry) or worship God.

Your only chance to be a thermostat in a world choking on thermometers is to take God's Word for it: "You are living a brand new kind of life that is continually learning more and more of what is right, and trying constantly to be more and more like Christ who created this new life within you."


In Part 4, we will discuss taking a look at your life-style and focusing in on the Supernatural point of view regarding morality.


3 Concept of choosing between being an ethical thermometer or thermostat adapted from The Way (vol. 15, no. 3) 2850 Kalamazoo S.E.; Grand RApids, Mich.

4 Fletcher, Situation Ethics: The New Morality, p. 71

5 "Situation Morality: The Ethics of Immaturity," John Warwick Montgomery, EPA syndicated article, 1971. Montgomery's remarks were extracted from his debate with Joseph Fletcher at SDSU in Feb., 1971.

6 Myron Augsberger, Faith for a Secular World (Waco: Word Books, 1968), p. 39.

7 John Stott, "Christ: Lord and Liberator, " His magazine, June 1971, p. 4.

* In this same debate, held on the SDSU campus in Feb. 1971, Fletcher made the remark that Jesus was a Jewish peasant with no more philosophical sophistication than a guinea pig.


Scripture references:

1 Corinthians 2:9-16

9 But as it is written:
"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."*
10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the *Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For "who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?"* But we have the mind of Christ. (NKJV)


Matthew 22:37-39

37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'* 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'* 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (NKJV)

Deuteronomy 6:5
Leviticus 19:18


Colossians 2:16-23

16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. 18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has *not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.
20 *Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations-- 21 "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," 22 which all concern things which perish with the using--according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (NKJV)

NU-Text omits not.
NU-Text and M-Text omit Therefore


Matthew 23:13-36

13 "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
15 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16 "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.' 17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that *sanctifies the gold? 18 And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.' 19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who *dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.
23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and *self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.'
31 "Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (NKJV)

NU-Text omits this verse.
NU-Text reads sanctified.
M-Text reads dwelt.
M-Text reads unrighteousness.


John 8:31,32

31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.

32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (NKJV)


John 14:21

21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." (NKJV)


John 8:36

36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (NKJV)


John 16:13

13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (NKJV)

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