Life In A Relative Society

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
I've been thinking a lot lately about how we as Christians decide what is morally good, and what isn't. On the grey areas of the Bible, it's easy for us to be relative and subjective. For me, this tends to be a struggle. And I wonder if God intended for life to be this way. The list goes on and on, where we try to take Biblical principles and apply them to thousands of scenarios. Should I listen to this song? Should I laugh at that joke? Should I eat that much dessert? All of life is making decisions that are relative to a large degree, but I have a personality that wants standards that are black and white. In past times it was much different. Our leaders wouldn't allow blasphemy in movies, stores were closed on the Sabbath, people were required to dress decently, etc. Did God intend for the Church to be so relative with much of morality? Should we be convinced on what we believe to be true with grey areas and stand firm on them, or should we have the "you do it your way and I'll do it mine" mentality?
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
Have you read any Reformed book on Ethics?
I probably should study more of this. Is there anything more concise than Bavinck?

I just saw this on Ligonier: "As someone who is unapologetically Reformed observing the way ethical issues have been dealt with over the last several decades, I often feel like Treebeard. In the Lord of the Rings films, there is a scene in which Pippin, one of the hobbits, asks Treebeard, “And whose side are you on?” Treebeard responds “Side? I am on nobody’s side, because nobody is on my side.” The confessional Reformed tradition doesn’t let culture define the “sides.” Jesus Christ defines the sides and He does so through His commands in Scripture."
 

Mr. Great-Heart

Puritan Board Freshman
In past times it was much different. Our leaders wouldn't allow blasphemy in movies, stores were closed on the Sabbath, people were required to dress decently, etc. Did God intend for the Church to be so relative with much of morality?
Are you asking this question as a general question for American evangelicalism, or are you asking and struggling on a personal level (the "me" you mention earlier in your post). I think you would agree that none of these 3 examples are areas where there should be any relativity and subjectivity - blasphemy, the Lord's Day, and modesty. Of course, at the same time, it can be relative and subjective where (for example) each individual Christian draws the line for modesty in their own attire. But that was the case even in the "good old days."
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
Are you asking this question as a general question for American evangelicalism, or are you asking and struggling on a personal level (the "me" you mention earlier in your post). I think you would agree that none of these 3 examples are areas where there should be any relativity and subjectivity - blasphemy, the Lord's Day, and modesty. Of course, at the same time, it can be relative and subjective where (for example) each individual Christian draws the line for modesty in their own attire. But that was the case even in the "good old days."
Good point. I'm ultimately thinking about myself and how I understand truth, so I'm not easily tossed around by what I see, but that would trickle into an expectation for others as well, which gets really tricky, because that's where living in peace/division with others comes into play.
 

John The Baptist

Puritan Board Freshman
There must be some connection here to Christian liberty, but as mentioned above, there are certainly laws of God where it is not in the realm of Christian liberty (for example, blasphemy).
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
I have a personality that wants standards that are black and white.
We have the Bible for our standard. You know the commandments. The WLC gives pretty specific guidelines on the ten commandments, addressing both the duties required and the sins forbidden. This seems both exhaustive and sufficient.

There is also adiaphora (Romans 14)--matters not specified in law--about which we have freedom. There is Christian liberty in regard to a number of things, including various specifics regarding living your Christian life. You don't want another dictating to you, contra Romans 14, nor do you want someone living your Christian life for you, which, of course, only you can do.

Life isn't just a matter of law (torah) but also wisdom (hokma). If you fail to see this, you'll end up like Job's friends, confused about the application of law to a particular case. The standards are not fuzzy or unclear. You don't lack some instruction from God. You have what you need.

Resist the sentiment (the idolatry) that you need something more than God has given; you don't need black and white for everything. You only need that which God has chosen to give you. Now seek the wisdom to walk, in the particulars of your life, as you should walk--for your good and His glory.

Peace,
Alan
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
"There must be some connection here to Christian liberty, but as mentioned above, there are certainly laws of God where it is not in the realm of Christian liberty (for example, blasphemy).

I think to some extent, perhaps even to a great extent, we are all a bit like the frog in the slowly heating water that leads ultimately to its death almost without notice. It is more than easy to be desensitized to the evil around us in our increasingly Pagan culture. How many thousands of times do we hear the word gay, for example, in an acceptable light-hearted manner? I don't see how we can avoid being numbed by such a horrible sin as homosexuality. I pick on this because Paul's thinking in Romans 1 is pretty clear that he considered this sin above others to be a consummate sin and a sign of a culture that is in ruins and soon to be destroyed. And our culture marches onward toward the cliff's edge, gleefully singing as it walks off the edge. But, this is true to a great extent within the church as well. You must have noticed much ambiguity about same-sex attraction in the church. I'm a member of the PCA, and they are bordering on officially making compromises that minimize the evil of this lust.

So what can we do to stand against this onslaught? I have chosen one method that I stick to pretty closely. I refuse to use the word 'gay' when describing this disgusting lifestyle. Neither do I resort to derogatory terms and name-calling like f**** (this is not my spelling, this was inserted automatically by the PB governor. Google substitutes the same symbol). But the same Google search listed maybe half a dozen derogatory terms used against those not favorable to this lifestyle. I won't take the time to list them, but there is no automatic restraint against their use of such words against us.

By the way, did you notice what I did at the end of the second sentence before this one? I called their sin a 'lifestyle.' I did so on purpose to see if you would notice how wrong I was to call this sin a lifestyle--just a simple choice like what color T-shirt I will wear today. Let's not use that word, either.

The 'F****' word, along with the 'N****' word, is both words of blasphemy as defined by our culture. We must not give in to accommodate their sin.

So here's what I do. I stick pretty close to the very descriptive and very Biblical word sodomy and sodomite. I'm fully aware that this is not considered a neutral term by our culture, but it's a good term that we should not let them take away from us. The word sodomite has at least three advantages over name-calling and minimizing names for this sin.
  1. Most people still know where that word comes from. The Bible. That's the first good point about the word.
  2. Next, it reminds people of what they do in the practice of their sin. It's got to bring up sick and disgusting mental smells and images.
  3. Next, it reminds people of God's opinion of the practice. Even in our religiously ignorant culture, almost everybody knows about Sodom and Gomorrah. Both what they did and what God did.
So I say let them hate us for using the word. But remember, it is God's word, not some ad hominem slang leftover from a former age.

This word is just one example of something that I have tried to stick to at all times.
 

Before

Puritan Board Freshman
Seems to me the ‘grey areas of Bible’ are the result of Hegelian dialectics.
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
We have the Bible for our standard. You know the commandments. The WLC gives pretty specific guidelines on the ten commandments, addressing both the duties required and the sins forbidden. This seems both exhaustive and sufficient.

There is also adiaphora (Romans 14)--matters not specified in law--about which we have freedom. There is Christian liberty in regard to a number of things, including various specifics regarding living your Christian life. You don't want another dictating to you, contra Romans 14, nor do you want someone living your Christian life for you, which, of course, only you can do.

Life isn't just a matter of law (torah) but also wisdom (hokma). If you fail to see this, you'll end up like Job's friends, confused about the application of law to a particular case. The standards are not fuzzy or unclear. You don't lack some instruction from God. You have what you need.

Resist the sentiment (the idolatry) that you need something more than God has given; you don't need black and white for everything. You only need that which God has chosen to give you. Now seek the wisdom to walk, in the particulars of your life, as you should walk--for your good and His glory.

Peace,
Alan
This is very wise. The catechism definitely is a good resource to turn to. Thanks!
 

Before

Puritan Board Freshman
Interesting thought. Do you think that's wrong? I would like to hear more. Thanks!
In the light of these words there seems to be no room for 'grey areas'...

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
(Mat 5:18)

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
(Isa 40:8)

LAMED. For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.
(Psa 119:89)

The grey area exists only in our cranium and it's interpretation.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
How do personal scruples and conscience fit into this concept of grey areas?
This could take volumes to go into deeply, but I offer a simple observation:

A scruple is the feeling of anxiety about doing something because, in some way, the conscience says it is wrong.
Conscience is a God-given instrument in our being that evaluates what is a moral course of action.

Of course, because of indwelling sin, our consciences are tainted and not the final authority. Nevertheless, we should seek to "calibrate" the instrument by learning and meditating on God's word.

The instrument is delicate and can be destroyed ("seared") by suppressing it. So, in matters of adiaphora, it is wise to not go against it.

As Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 8, some may have a conscience about meats from the temple. Brothers who think they are strong are to avoid using their knowledge and liberty to upend someone who, by conscience, continues to abstain.
 

LadyCalvinist

Puritan Board Junior
But there are gray areas that the Bible does not explicitly address, namely, entertainment. I am not talking of p**n, or of anything inappropriate, but simply having wisdom in the matter, knowing where to draw the line. I do not own a tv, haven't been to a movie in a few years, and yet, I can spend hours on the internet. Saturday, I spent a good portion of the day watching football. I can spend hours watching videos. I know I am wasting time, but I seem unable to stop.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor
Is it not true that the process of sanctification is very personal, and pertains only to the individual? "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). This will differ for each of us.

In a sense this is the "wisdom" spoken of above – learning what the Lord is working to fine-tune in our lives. It is an on-going "conversation" we have with Him.

I find I am very cautious in this area, seeing as I'm prone to being over-scrupulous or austere on the one hand, and giving in to Pig Self (what I call an aspect of my "flesh") on the other.

And on top of that, due to opening my awareness to demonic voices and suggestions (usually counterfeits of the Lord's guidance) through the use of the drugs of the 60s and 70s (grass, acid, hash, 'shrooms, etc), I have to be extra cautious to be ware of deception.

It is wise to be regularly asking our Saviour and Shepherd for guidance and discernment in these things. He is abundantly faithful to help and work with us in them. Walking with the Lord can be a very personal activity and experience, beyond just "rules" and "laws" we keep. It is not a "grey" area, but one of intimacy of communion and communication.

An interesting and instructive concept on this topic is a quote of G.K. Chesterton a friend noted, “Temperance consists in finding out the proper limit of a particular indulgence and adhering to that.”
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
Thanks for all the thought-provoking replies. I've been thinking more about this. Here are a list of sins: envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, wrath, and immodesty. Here are a list of virtues: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The thing with most of these, is that they aren't really objective, but subjective to humans. Who is to say someone is being greedy, or lustful, or lazy? Another Christian may come along and say he's just trying to support his family, he's not greedy, or he really likes new cars, and isn't lustful, or he likes to take it easy on his days off, he's not lazy.

Though we don't see eye to eye as people, God must judge objectively. I don't think these things can be indifferent. I think there is an absolute standard that God has, and it's either sin or it isn't.

One solution to help the Church be more serious about these things would be if the leaders spent more time expounding teachings on these topics, to help people conform to sound doctrine. I don't think these things should be a free-for-all, because sinful humans naturally conform to the world. It would be awesome if from the pulpits the Church was regularly being shepherded by God, using his under-shepherds to lead and guide people in practical holiness. I think God really cares about the way we live every day, and elders of the Church should play a vital role in teaching us what that should look like. And at that, they should be setting the example for us all.

That's something that seemed to be really neat about the days of the Puritans. Their sermons were so filled with practical instructions and helps for obtaining the holiness which without, no one will see the Lord.

Anyway, those are just some thoughts I've had for the night. And thank you to all the elders who do their best at shepherding people!
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor
Hello Ryan,

You said, "I think there is an absolute standard that God has, and it's either sin or it isn't."

Let's pick one sin, say gluttony. Is there a standard of how many cookies (for the sweet-tooths), or pieces of steak one may eat? Or worldliness? How much watching videos or movies, or reading secular books (or suchlike) constitutes worldliness?

For each person there is a standard God has shown them as to monitoring and restraining their appetites. This can apply even to good things we may make idols of (primarily serving them instead of God), such as wealth, beauty, family, work, ethnic pride, power, health, etc. This is growth in godliness.

Indeed, there are cut & dry black & white (no grey) sins, such as lying, stealing, murder, dishonoring parents, worshipping idols, taking the Lord's name in vain, etc, but when it comes to personal sanctification is there not a continuum where we progress according to our maturity and the Lord's direction to us as individuals?

Does God "judge objectively" the fruits of the Spirit or works of the flesh you listed, as in He holds all to one standard?

You are certainly right in that we should not be indifferent to the holiness He calls us to walk in, but holiness is not just keeping the Law, but in increasing conformity to Christ-likeness, which is by degrees for each of us.

The absolute standard of holiness or righteousness acceptable to God? I have a saying jotted down on a piece of paper from some commentary by my desk that I didn't want to throw away: "The righteousness satisfying the requirements of the Law, sinful man cannot produce. Only Christ's righteousness can avail."

For those in Christ that objective standard of righteousness (sinlessness) can be found only in Christ, and it is imputed to them (and only to them) who are in Him. This is our justification – a glorious right standing given us – in the eyes of the holy God. In God's eyes we are holy as Christ is holy. This absolute standard He has given – applied – to us. Christ is our righteousness.

And, at the moment of this justification we are also given the Holy Spirit of Christ to indwell us to lead us into sanctification, a process of growth which shall last until the day of our death.

These two righteousnesses – both absolutely necessary for the saint – must be distinguished, and not confused. This is the teaching that will build the Church and the individuals in it. It all comes from union with Christ. There needs to be more of this teaching.
 
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Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
One solution to help the Church be more serious about these things would be if the leaders spent more time expounding teachings on these topics, to help people conform to sound doctrine. I don't think these things should be a free-for-all, because sinful humans naturally conform to the world. It would be awesome if from the pulpits the Church was regularly being shepherded by God, using his under-shepherds to lead and guide people in practical holiness. I think God really cares about the way we live every day, and elders of the Church should play a vital role in teaching us what that should look like. And at that, they should be setting the example for us all.
I think this is right on the mark. I'm very thankful to be in a denomination that does just this from the pulpit. It's not a nosy thing or addressed to any one individual for sure, but our pastor regularly mentions those sins inward and outward that plague us, leading the congregation in asking forgiveness, and teaching that fortifies us on how we may do better. There is a subjective element as you said, because we all have private lives and our own consciences known only to the Lord; and in the end each of us will give an account to the Lord for how we lived our lives and spoke, and for how we redeemed the time, the days being evil. Convicted as I type.

We are to use the judgment of charity as far as how others outside our sphere order their lives, unless it becomes evident they are indulging in or captivated by habitual serious sin.
 
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