Church Behind Culture

For centuries, the Church has faithfully held up God's law as the standard people should strive for. Sinful people don't always measure up, of course. But then, Christian ethics isn't based on how people behave. It's based on the transcendent standard of God's revealed truth.   That is, until our own day.   In the last few years, some Protestant denominations have begun to question whether Christian ethics really ought to be based on God's law. In the 1960s, secular culture threw out the notion of transcendent standards. Now many churches are following its lead.   Consider, for example, the report on human sexuality that recently rocked the Presbyterian Church (USA). The report recommended that traditional ethics be rejected as outdated and oppressive. It asked Presbyterians to approve homosexuality, fornication, adultery and other behavior it once found sinful.   What grounds were given for such a drastic proposal? The report said the Church must re-evaluate its definition of sin to reflect "the changing mores of our society."   If you remember one of the earlier commentaries in this series, that phrase might strike you as familiar. Several days ago I discussed the difference between ethics and morality--or mores, which is the Latin root of the word morality.   Morality is the accepted code of behavior of a particular culture or group. Ethics is a timeless, universal standard of right and wrong. Morality says, This is how society does things. Ethics says, This is how it ought to do things.   The report on human sexuality debated by mainline Presbyterians gave up any notion of Christian ethics in favor of morality--in its own words, the "changing mores of our society." By this standard, Christian ethics becomes a mirror, simply reflecting what people in fact do.   A San Francisco pastor praised the report, saying "we have to evaluate people's sexual experiences on the basis of what is right for them." When the Church gives up a transcendent standard based on divine law, all we have left is each person's feeling about what is right for him.   Theologian R.C. Sproul warns that when ethics is confused with morality, the result is what he calls "statistical morality." Social scientists take a statistical average of the behavior people are pursuing. Whatever the majority is doing is labelled normal. And what is normal quickly translates into what is right.   That's exactly the kind of reasoning used by the committee of the Presbyterian Church (USA): The statistical average has shifted, new behaviors have become normal, and so now we must shift our definition of what is right.   That's sure death for Christian ethics.   Well, for now this particular report has been mercifully put to rest, defeated by the Presbyterian general assembly. But it is only a matter of time before the issue raises its head again.   The Church used to treat the surrounding society as a mission field. Now it treats it as a model. The Church is climbing into the same boat as secular society, leaving its oars behind. Instead of acting as a guide to direct and challenge the culture, it is drifting with the current.   In my next commentary, I'll point out a better way. This is the seventh in an 11-part series on Christian Ethics  


Chuck Colson



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