INTRODUCTION TO THE SUBJECT
© Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2016
Christians today are confronted with moral and ethical issues that were rarely raised in previous generations. Not only have the advances of technology and science raised ethical questions on which we must all make decisions, but moral values and perceptions have radically changed in our society. Behaviours that were previously mentioned only in whispers or behind closed doors are accepted as ‘normal’. Actions and relationships that were unthinkable fifty years ago are now commonplace. In addition, global communication networks impact us with the suffering of the whole world, so that, being informed, we can no longer use ignorance as an excuse for inaction.
Francis Schaeffer asked the question: ‘Why has our society changed?’ and answered: ‘The answer is clear: the consensus of our society no longer rests on a Judeo-Christian base, but rather on a humanistic one. Humanism makes man “the measure of all things.” It puts man rather than God at the centre of all things. … This has had many results, not the least of which is to change people’s view of themselves and their attitudes toward other human beings.’ [p284 Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Vol 5 The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer]
Schaeffer wrote further:
‘The Bible teaches that man is made in the image of God and therefore is unique. Remove that teaching, as humanism has done … and there is no adequate basis for treating people well. … The loss of the Christian consensus has led to a long list of inhuman actions and attitudes which may seem unrelated but actually are not. They are the direct result of the loss of the Christian consensus.
‘First, the whole concept of law has changed. … we now live under arbitrary, or sociological, law … law is only what most of the people think at the moment of history, and there is no higher law … law can be changed at any moment to reflect what the majority currently thinks. More accurately, the law becomes what a few people in some branch of the government think will promote the present sociological and economic good. … The Christian consensus held that neither the majority nor an elite is absolute. God gives the standards of value, and His absolutes are binding on both the ordinary person and those in all places of authority.
‘Second, because the Christian consensus has been put aside, we are faced today with a flood of personal cruelty. ... the Christian consensus gave great freedoms without leading to chaos – because society in general functioned within the values given in the Bible, especially the unique value of human life. Now that humanism has taken over, the former freedoms run riot, and individuals, acting on what they are taught, increasingly practice their cruelties without restraint. And why shouldn’t they? If the modern humanistic view of man is correct and man is only a product of chance in a universe that has no ultimate values, why should an individual refrain from being cruel to another person, if that person seems to be standing in his or her way?'
[p ibid pp286-287]
INTRODUCTION: THE SANCTITY OF HUMAN LIFE
In 1979, having observed the beginning of the devaluation of the human, Francis Schaeffer wrote:
‘Cultures can be judged in many ways, but eventually every nation in every age must be judged by this test: how did it treat people? Each generation, each wave of humanity, evaluates its predecessors on this basis. The final measure of mankind’s humanity is how humanely people treat one another.
‘… That there is any respite from evil is due to some courageous people who, on the basis of personal philosophies, have led campaigns against the ill-treatment and misuse of individuals. Each era faces its own unique blend of problems. Our own time is no exception. Those who regard individuals as expendable raw material – to be moulded, exploited, and then discarded – do battle on many fronts with those who see each person as unique and special, worthwhile, and irreplaceable.
‘… we stand today on the edge of a great abyss. At this crucial moment choices are being made and thrust on us that will for many years to come affect the way people are treated. We want to try to help tip the scales on the side of those who believe that individuals are unique and special and have great dignity.
‘Yad Vashem is the monument in Jerusalem to the six million Jews and others who were killed in the Nazi Holocaust. … it reminds us of what, unhappily, is possible in human behaviour. Those who were murdered were people just like all of us. More important to realize is that those who murdered them were also people just like all of us. We seem in danger of forgetting our seemingly unlimited capacities for evil, once boundaries to certain behaviour are removed.
‘There is a “thinkable” and an “unthinkable” in every era. One era is quite certain intellectually and emotionally about what is acceptable. Yet another era decides that these “certainties” are unacceptable and puts another set of values into practice. On a humanistic base, people drift along from generation to generation, and the morally unthinkable becomes the thinkable as the years move on. By “humanistic base” we mean the fundamental idea that men and women can begin from themselves and derive the standards by which to judge all matters. There are for such people no fixed standards of behaviour, no standards that cannot be eroded or replaced by what seems necessary, expedient, or even fashionable.
‘For centuries Western culture has regarded human life and the quality of the life of the individual as special. It has been common to speak of “the sanctity of human life.” … Until recently in our own century, human beings have generally been regarded as special, unique, and nonexpendable. But in one short generation we have moved from a generally high view of life to a very low one.
‘Why has our society changed? The answer is clear: the consensus of our society no longer rests on a Judeo-Christian base, but rather on a humanistic one. Humanism makes man “the measure of all things”. It puts man rather than God at the centre of all things.
‘Today the view that man is a product of chance in an impersonal universe dominates … This has resulted in a secularized society and in a liberal theology in much of the church; that is, the Bible is set aside and humanism in some form [man starting from himself] is put in the Bible’s place. Much of the church no longer holds that the Bible is God’s Word in all it teaches. It simply blends with the current thought-forms rather than being the “salt” that judges and preserves the life of its culture. Unhappily, this portion of the church simply changes its standards as the secular, humanist standards sweep on from one loss of humanness to the next. What we are watching is the natural result of humanism in its secular and theological forms, and the human race is being increasingly devalued. … Humanism has replaced Christianity as the consensus of the West.’ [ ibid, pp 281 - 284]
INTRODUCTION: SEXUAL AND FAMILY ISSUES
Contemporary sexual and family issues are possibly even more pressing than sanctity of life issues for the Christian to personally resolve. Not all of us are personally and persistently confronted with the need to make an immediate decision on whether or not we will have an abortion or request euthanasia, but we are all immediately and constantly confronted by choices in areas of sex, sexuality, and family. It is easier, and more tempting, here to unconsciously embrace the mindset or worldview of our society. It is easier here to rationalize and relativize our choices with excuses like ‘everyone’s doing it’, and it is far more obvious here if one chooses to be different from the norm. Specific personal sanctity of life choices challenge us only at specific points in our lives: sexual choices permeate the whole of our lives, and arise not only from outside of us, but also from within us, confronting us at every moment with the challenge of God’s clear and absolute standards.
What contemporary challenges confront the Christian here?
Issues of purity of thought, dress and attitudes
Fornication – all sexual relationships outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage
‘Sexual preferences’ – issues of homosexuality, bi-sexuality
Deviant sexual behaviours
Questions concerning divorce and remarriage
Perceptions about gender roles
We are also challenged by
Changing family structures and dynamics
Legislation restricting parents
Questions of ‘rights’ – of both parents and children.
It is not possible to adequately address all of these issues. What is possible is to confirm the Biblical worldview and the implications of that worldview for our choices irrespective of the specific area of choice, and to address some of the more urgent of these challenges from the perspective of the Biblical worldview.
Once we have acknowledged that God is indeed there and that he is the Lord of all, with the right to command us, then there is really only one choice to make: the choice to trust and obey him. Both of these components – ‘trust’ and ‘obedience’ – comprise biblical faith. To claim to believe in Jesus Christ is to also affirm belief in his word – not just his promises but also his commands. To believe and to trust just his promises is not biblical belief; it is a self-centred perversion of biblical faith.
And here is the sticky point: if we acknowledge Jesus Christ, we are acknowledging that he has the authority to call the shots, to tell us what to do. And he has, through the whole of the Word, clearly told us what to do in these areas of sex and family. Do we believe him? Do we really trust his word? Or do we think he doesn’t really mean it? That it doesn’t really matter? That his Word is not absolute and eternal? Do we really believe that Christ is actually there, and that he is demanding these high moral standards of us today? Or are we by default acknowledging that contemporary society is right when it thinks and lives as if there are no standards and no God?
Are we, the Christians, the ones who say we believe in God, in fact just as much practical atheists as those among whom we live?
INTRODUCTION: ISSUES OF SOCIAL CONCERN
Because of the sin factor all is not right in our world. One of the commonly asked questions is ‘Why?’ As Christians we are confronted not only with this question of ‘why’ but with the ethical challenges: ‘How am I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, supposed to personally respond?’ and ‘What am I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, supposed to do?’
We are surrounded by, and sometimes personally involved in, areas of social concern, whether the big ones like global poverty or small ones like the lonely old widow next door. As Christians we are also aware of the confrontational parable of Jesus in which he stated clearly: ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ [Matthew 25:40]
This section focuses on three topics:
Global poverty – in which biblical principles and perspectives on poverty are combined with poverty statistics to challenge the student towards making Christian ethical choices in this area of concern.
Addictions – in which both substance and behavioural addictions are researched and biblical life principles analysed to encourage biblical ethical choices in this area.
Racism and discrimination – in which students are challenged by historical and statistical facts and by biblical principles and perspectives to work towards ethical choices which maintain both biblical discernment in relation to truth concepts and biblical standards of non-discrimination towards people.
The choices that challenge us in these areas of social concern are not easy choices. Sometimes they can be very demanding choices. Sometimes the problem seems so great that it inhibits doing anything. And it is here, where the problems are massive, that we need to take our cue from Jesus Christ.
He, the eternal and omniscient God, knows, as we will never know, just how massive the problems are. He, the gracious and compassionate God, loves people perfectly, in a way that we never can. And as the incarnate One, during the three years of his ministry, he helped them in their suffering one by one, without being overwhelmed, without frustration, without despair, without frenetic activity. Just one by one, as he met them down the street.
To this same uncluttered and stressless compassion he calls us also.
INTRODUCTION: ISSUES OF PERSONAL CONCERN
In this section we look at issues about which we as individual Christians have to make choices relating to our own personal lives in contemporary society. To a large extent they are issues concerning which we have to search the Bible for foundational principles rather than clear specific instructions.
We could, of course, hibernate or hermitize, but unless in that withdrawal we also withdrew from the political state and from all technology, we could not isolate ourselves from the need to make ethical choices in these issues. But such self-isolation is not the Christian way. Christ called us to be distinct from the world while still citizens of the world, and to live out our lives as his people – light and salt – in the context of the spiritual darkness and moral pollution of the world. He called and commissioned us to shine.
How then should we live? How should we choose in these issues in which we each have to come to a biblical, God-honouring choice in the midst of the godless world?
What should our attitude be towards the government? Does the Bible lay down any principles?
Should we get involved and make a Christian voice heard when political issues being debated?
And what about Christian involvement in the armed services? Does the Bible give us any direction?
Is there a Christian perspective on environmental issues?
Does the Bible intrude into my media and entertainment choices or can I choose how I please in this area? Does it really matter what I see and what I hear?
Are there biblical principles regarding our attitudes to work and employment? Or about our ‘rights’?
These are all areas in which we have to make choices, sometimes everyday. How we choose will either glorify God, promote his kingdom and line up with his will, or dishonour him, work against his kingdom and disobey his will. As Christians we are committed to Christ as our Lord. This is no easy commitment; rather it is a submission to his authority. These studies are planned to encourage and enable a biblical response in each of the areas investigated so that we will know what it means for us to personally submit to Christ’s authority in these issues.