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Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

Today’s world in which we live has abandoned almost completely any kind of moral standard for conduct. In the sphere of ethics it is, so to speak, “Every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost.” Morality is determined today by popular opinion without any regard to the law of God and the objective standard of the Scriptures. Increasingly, every man is given the right to do what he feels like doing, and no one is permitted to pass judgment on his conduct. It is in America (and in the world at large) as it was in the time of the judges in ancient Israel: “And there was no king in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

A recent issue of The Banner of Truth had a quotation from Don Bell Reports, April 12, 1985 which illustrates this point with startling clarity. The quote is entitled: “The Humanism of the Textbooks.”

The Mel Gablers, who do extensive research into textbooks used in public schools, have revealed how Humanism is written into these books. For example. On Sex: “Everyone must develop his own set of principles to govern his own sexual behavior” (Psychology for Living, McGraw-Hill/Webster).

On Drugs: “Your decision about marijuana is important to you. You should be the one to make it.” (Good Health for You, Laidlaw).

On Situation Ethics: “If a situation pressures a person to act in a certain way, that person is not likely to be judged as the cause of the act.” (Experiencing Psychology, Science Research Associates). “Let each pupil decide for himself about each. Emphasize that this is not a test, and there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers.” (Man and Society, Silver Burdett).

On Moral Values: “The moralistic value system remained firm in the rural areas and small towns of America until World War II. Since World War II rural and small-town America began to pass into history. Today urban America, with a changing set of values, is taking over. Protestant evangelists continue to crisscross the land attempting to revitalize the old religion, the old culture. They preach the old values, the old standards, the ‘old-time religion.’ . . . But now they represent a waning culture.” (Perspective in American History, Field).

On Sexual Permissiveness: “Activity C . . . 1. Have students write a one-sentence statement on ‘Why sex urges can be fun for an adolescent’ . . . ‘What are some of the values of communal living?'” (Finding My Way, Bennet).

On Religion: “Anthropologists studying human customs, religious practices, ritualism, and the priest craft came to the conclusion that men created their own religious beliefs so that the beliefs answered their own special needs. To the anthropologists religions were functional; they served men’s needs, and they were clearly man-created” (Perspectives in U.S. History, Field).

For more on Humanism in textbooks, write the Gablers, P.O. Box 7518, Longview, TX 75601.

From a different perspective, this same view of ethics was presented in a striking way in a recent article which appeared in the U.S. News & World Report. This article was a “conversation with James Q. Wilson, a professor of government at Harvard University.” His field of expertise is crime and he discussed in this article how genetic traits predispose some to criminality. He claims that various studies of genetic traits have proved that “despite claims of some social scientists, environment is not the only factor in whether people become criminals.” Now this is an amazing statement. He apparently accepts the studies of social scientists that, at least in some cases, environment determines whether a person becomes a criminal. While, of course, there is an element of truth in this, the assumption of social scientists is that environment alone determines this. Sin plays no role because, according to the learned social scientists of our day, there is no such thing as sin. But while Dr. Wilson holds that environment plays a role in some cases, genetic traits also determine criminality. Crime, or a predisposition to it, is inherited.

It is the claim of this learned scholar of crime that studies of twins prove his point. “Studies of twins and adopted youngsters are the best evidence of the genetic basis for the precursors of criminality.” He claims that “Adoption studies . . . find that if the biological parents of a boy were criminals, he is more likely to be a criminal than if his parents were not lawbreakers—even though he never knew them or was cared for by them. This is the case regardless of what his adoptive parents would like.”

Going on to explain this, the doctor relates behavior to hormones and finds that boys have a greater disposition to crime than girls because of hormonal influences early in life.

The conclusions of this are evident. For one thing, it ought to be possible at some time in the future to predict with some accuracy what children are predisposed to criminality. Then, of course, these children can be properly treated so that criminal behavior will be avoided in the child’s later life.

Woe to the child who falls into the hands of the know-it-all scientists who are determining whether a given child has criminal predispositions and who will then subject the child to the prescribed treatment which such predispositions require.

The connection is obvious. If there is in this world no objective standard of right and wrong, if God has not told us in clear and unmistakable language what is good and what is bad behavior, then there is no such thing as sin. There is, of course, “criminality.” But what is criminality? It is only what society at any given time in history decides to be unacceptable behavior. At one time, not so long ago, homosexuality was considered criminal behavior; this is not so any longer. But a few years ago selling pornographic magazines and songs was criminal behavior; now it is considered an exercise of the rights one has under the First Amendment. There was a time when gambling was criminal behavior and punishable by law; now those who are entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing the law have decided to make use of gambling to bring money into the coffers of government. Society’s opinion of “criminality” changes as easily as a chameleon changes color.

However that may be, once having decided what particular conduct is criminal behavior, apparently scientists, particularly that dastardly breed known as social scientists, will have to study children to see whether their genetic make-up and their hormonal balance predispose them to such behavior as society finds unacceptable. If they should latch on to one such child, woe is him. Because it is now within the power of scientists to alter the genetic structure of living creatures and because these techniques will certainly be refined and developed as the years go by, the poor child will have to have his genes altered. Because his hormonal makeup predisposes him to crime, he will have to undergo, at the hands of those who have all the answers, treatments of one sort or another which will prevent his criminal predispositions from forcing him to do what society disapproves.

It is not too hard to imagine that the day will come when the kind of conduct required by the Scriptures will be considered “criminal.” It was this way already with our Lord. He was sentenced to die because He was found guilty of various “crimes.” We have no reason to doubt that the same will some day happen to the people of God. It will be “criminal” according to the standards of society to confess and worship the God of the Scriptures. It will be a crime, by society’s decision, to condemn abortion, to bring forth children, to raise one’s voice in protest against evolutionism, etc. And, of course, these crimes will be explained in terms of environment, genetic make-up and hormonal influences. And so such a person will have to be “treated.” The times are evil indeed.

But, however all that may be, it is not the purpose of this rubric, at least in the first place, to deal with the decline of morals in this country. It is our purpose to discuss various moral and ethical problems which the believer faces as he seeks, humbly before his God, to walk in the ways of the light of Scripture.

There are many problems and issues which confront the child of God in this complex age in which we live. It is well that these problems and issues, in so far as possible, be discussed and examined in the light of Scripture. It is this which we purpose to do.

It ought to be stated at the outset that there are not always easy answers to the many questions which we face. If I may be permitted but one example: modern medical technology has advanced to a point where it is now possible to prolong the life of a person almost indefinitely. There are machines which can breathe for a person so that his brain continues to receive oxygen and his lungs to function. There are machines which can keep his heart beating when it can beat on its own no longer. What is the calling of the child of God in situations such as these? Does he refuse the use of such machines? Does he, when they have once been employed, have the right before God to have the plug pulled so that the person supported by the machine dies? Or does he have the responsibility to continue life as long as it is humanly possible?

These are not only abstract questions which are nice to discuss in a Men’s Society for an after-recess program. These are excruciating decisions which people of God face in their life.

Because these questions are not always very easy to answer, we are not suggesting in any sense of the word that we have all the answers to these difficult problems. If our readers are expecting cut and dried and easy to follow answers to these complex problems, I am afraid that this rubric is going to be a disappointment.

But there is one thing of crucial importance. When the child of God stands face to face with these questions, it is absolutely essential that these questions be answered and these problems solved in the light of the Word of God. Society does not determine what is right or wrong. Majority opinion cannot make sin holy and criminal conduct acceptable behavior. Not even the courts of the land (though they may legalize abortion) can make up the mind of the child of God on moral and ethical issues. There is only one standard: the holy and infallibly inspired Word of God. That is the light which shines in the darkness of this night of sin. That is the rule of faith and life. That is the will of God for us.

And if you object and say that the Word of God does not provide answers to all these complex questions and difficult problems, though you are, in a sense, correct, it nevertheless remains a fact that Scripture, because it is the Word of God, is just as relevant for Twentieth Century America (and Europe) as it was for First Century Palestine and Asia Minor. And because it is just as relevant for us today as it was for the saints in the church of Apostolic times, we may expect to find in Scripture principles and truths in the light of which we may and can come to God-pleasing decisions in the problems of life. There are unchanging principles and abiding truths within the framework of which all our decisions have to be made. It is of essential and critical importance that we be willing, above all, to bow in humility and reverence to what God tells us.

This must never be forgotten. It is so easy in our day to forget that God’s Word is still a “lamp unto our feet and a light upon our path.” We cringed in horror at the thought of abortion when years ago it was made legal by the Supreme Court. But millions of murdered babies later, we become hardened to its monstrous character and insensitive to the terrible evil of it. That which becomes common does not shock. That which is almost universally accepted does not stir our moral indignation.

More than this, as our spiritual sensitivities are deadened and calloused, we begin to look at the problems of life, no longer from the viewpoint of God’s Word, but with the same biased and wicked perspective which the world uses. Here too an example will illustrate what we mean. It is common thought in the world that the mere prolongation of life is desirable. Whatever can prolong life is good. However the age-span of a man can be increased, this is something to be sought and cherished. Never mind the why—why life ought always and under all circumstances to be prolonged. Never mind the problems which are created. Prolonging life is good (though terminating life through murder of unborn infants is also, strangely enough, good). It is possible and a great temptation to get so caught up in this way of thinking, to accept so uncritically what the world sets as its goal that the believer forgets all about the fact that “to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

It is exactly the need to examine carefully all moral and ethical questions in the light of God’s Word that brings us to the solemn realization that God’s will for His people is something very positive. What I mean to say is that we can, if we are not careful, fall into the great evil of legalism. That is, we may try to find the solution to these difficult and complex problems of life by constructing and imposing a system of laws which govern every aspect of the believer’s life, and rules which will give him guidance in every step which he takes. The trouble is that once you start making rules, there is no end to it.

But the real error of legalism is that it defines the calling of the child of God in negative terms: Don’t do this; you mayn’t do that; this is forbidden; that is wrong. The life of the child of God is hedged about with fences of laws upon which fences are tacked signs, all of which read in capital letters “Don’t!”

No solutions to life’s problems can be found along this pathway. It is a maze, a labyrinth, that leads nowhere. And it will never serve in any sense of the word as a guide for our conduct.

God’s Word is very clear on one fundamental point: our calling is the positive calling to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds and souls and strength. Love! Love God! There you have the key.

The child of God does not face life with the never-ending question on his lips: May I do this? Why may not I do that? What is wrong with this? If that is his approach to life, he is sunk before he starts. The child of God understands that he is in this world, as a child of the light, to live in humble and obedient service to his God. His concern is and must be, How best can I live faithfully before my God? How can I serve Him in the station and calling in life in which He has placed me? Not, What mayn’t I do? but, What may I do? Not, What is wrong with this? but, What is right before God? To bump incessantly against legal fences of do’s and don’t’s will turn us away from God. We must turn around with the question on our lips and in our hearts: Lord, what wilt thou have me do?

This requires willing hearts, submissive to the Word, obedient to God, ready to serve Him always. And this leads to light in the most difficult problems of life.