Covenant youth should consider it a challenge to try to understand the reasonings that lie behind modern day behavior. I’m confident that responsible young people, who love the Lord and desire to be students of His Word, view life seriously. If we take a superficial attitude, we will quite naturally be stirred emotionally by rock music, by the bold “realism” of the cinema, or by the sincerity of the draft dodger, Yet, if we pause a moment to analyze the reasoning and motivation that lies behind them, we will conclude that they are not only wrong but Satan’s attempt to destroy us.
At a time in our lives when emotions tend to dominate our conduct, we must, “try the spirits whether they be of God,” I John 4:1.
To help you in this venture, I would like to take a behind the scene survey. Come with me and let’s try to find out why so many people today no longer regard sin as sin, but glorify it as good and worthy. How is it that men in the church no longer condemn this, but advocate it for young people. How can so many young people who call themselves Christians, have the “luxury” to sin without feeling guilty.
The answer lies in their acceptance of situation ethics.
In the year 1963, Bishop John A.T. Robinson wrote a book, Honest to God. Decades prior to the publication of this book, leaders in the Christian church were corrupting the truths of the Word of God. They denied the infallibility of the Scriptures. They rejected the cardinal doctrines of Scripture, e.g. the trinity, the virgin birth of Christ, the divine atonement, etc. What they did however, was use traditional Christian terminology, only they poured a different meaning into it. They continued to speak of the trinity, but they did not mean three Persons in the one Godhead; they spoke of three manifestations of the one God. Soon they reduced God to an abstract power and denied His personality. This process continued and soon the doctrines of Scripture, maintained by the historic Christian Church, were distorted. Bishop Robinson came forth and said this was not honest. So, he published his book and stripped away the pretension and openly developed his wrong ideas of God, Christ, the universe, and morals. Robinson openly and willingly became an honest heretic.
Amidst the furor that followed, these heresies, that so long lay cuddled in the depraved breast of these church leaders, were developed. Harvey Cox of Harvard University came forth in 1965 with his well known book, The Secular City, in which he criticizes the institute of the church for her failure to get involved in society and proposes specifically how situation ethics can benefit society. A year later, 1966, Joseph Fletcher of the Episcopal Theological School at Cambridge, wrote his book, Situation Ethics. In this work he reasons out the basic idea involved in the ethics of this new movement.
Situation ethics is the illegimate child conceived by the immoral union of pseudo Christianity and Existential philosophy. For many years she lay in the womb of the church, but now the “church” has given birth to this rebellious offspring. The faithful Church denies any association with her and labels her properly as a harlot, who prostitutes herself and all who follow her in the ways of hell. The apostate church praises her, and calls her sinful life virtuous.
Since Fletcher’s book, Situation Ethics, is representative of the rationale of the ethical system, we will lean heavily on his material in presenting this viewpoint.
The closest thing that one can find of a definition of situation ethics is on page 158, “Christian ethics or moral theology is not a scheme of living according to a code, but a continuous effort to relate love to a world of relativities through a casuistry obedient to love; its constant task is to work out the strategy and tactics of love, for Christ’s sake.”
To make this explicit, Fletcher develops six propositions. For the sake of brevity, we will quote them and offer a few comments. Criticism will await a future article.
The first proposition is quoted on page 57, “Only one thing is intrinsically good, namely, love: nothing else at all. He reasons this way, “Hence it follows that in Christian situation ethics, nothing is worth anything in and of itself. It gains or acquires its value only because it happens to help persons (thus being good) or to hurt persons (thus being bad),” p. 59. There are no things, deeds that are per se good or bad. They become either, through helping or hurting the neighbor. The idea that love is intrinsically good, according to Fletcher, rests in God Himself, “Only in the divine being, only in God, is love substantive. With men it is a formal principle, a predicate. Only with God is it a property. This is because God is love. Men, who are finite, only do love. . . .And in the Bible the image of God, man’s model, is not reason, but love. ‘God is not reason but love, and he employs reason as the instrument of his love,'” page 63. This leads him to write, “If a lie is told unlovingly it is wrong, evil; if it is told in love it is good, right,” p. 65. It is eye opening that Bishop Pike is not radical enough for Fletcher because Pike, “ends with the opinion that a justifiable violation of a sound principle (e.g. homicide is wrong) is never good however “right” situationally!” Fletcher maintains that such a violation is also good.
This is evident in the second proposition, “The ruling norm of Christian decision is love: nothing else,” page 69. In explaining this point, Fletcher reveals his attitude toward the law of God. “But here lies the issue. Is the summary (of Christ, Matt. 22:37-39) to be taken as a compendium or as a distillation: Legalists take it as a compendium, as a collection and conflation of many laws, obedience to all of them being implicit in their coming together as a summary. Situationists, however, take it to mean a distillation, i.e. 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,” p. 71, Love is supreme over law, for, “We follow law, if at all, for love’s sake; we do not follow love for law’s sake.” Quoting Gal. 5:14, “But the whole law is fulfilled in one word, love thy neighbor as thyself,” he insists that the law of the Old Testament is past and impossible to be observed today. Besides, our “real motives can hide effectively behind rules as behind free contextual choices. Law is a common camouflage, and makes a much better disguise. It is harder to hide double-dealing when you have no protective cover of law. Being legally right may mean nothing at all morally, as any acquaintance with money lenders and technical virgins will show,” p. 85.
His third proposition is, “Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed, nothing else,” p. 86. He explains this as follows, “How are we to love justice, how are we to be just about love, how are love and justice related? If to love is to seek the neighbor’s welfare, and justice is being fair as between neighbors, then how do we put these two things together in our acts, in the situation? The answer is that in the Christian ethic the twain become one. Even if we define justice as giving to others what is their due, we must redefine it Christianly. For what is it that is due to our neighbors? It is love that is due—only love (Owe no man anything, except to love). Love is justice, justice is love,” p. 88. Employing the metaphor of ballistics, he distinguishes our love of the neighbor from that of a rifle bullet (one neighbor) to that of a shotgun blast (many neighbors). The justice of love has to be determined by the greatest number of neighbors receiving benefit. “On a vast scale of ‘agapeic (Greek for love) calculus’ President Truman made his decision about the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” This idea of love and justice being one, forms the backbone for a defense of civil disobedience as practiced today, “We have a moral obligation to obey civil law, for order’s sake; and we have a moral obligation to be situational (even disobeying the law) for love’s sake. . . . Law and freedom from law can be duties, but love is the basic principle,” p. 101.
The fourth proposition is, “Love wills the neighbor’s good whether we like him or not,” p. 103. At this point Fletcher makes a few comments of his idea of love, “Agape’s desire is to satisfy the neighbor’s need, not one’s own, but the main thing about it is that agape’s love precedes all desire, of any kind. It is not at all an emotional norm or motive. It is volitional, conative.” Fletcher does not take into consideration the content of the love of God and its relationship to us, nor does he do justice to the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. He limits the scope of love to our own rational ideas of it. This allows him to offer this evil counsel, “A young unmarried couple might decide, if they make their decisions Christianly, to have intercourse (e.g. by getting pregnant to force a selfish parent to relent his overbearing resistance to their marriage). But as Christians they would never merely say, “It’s all right if we like each other!” Loving concern can make it all right, but mere liking cannot,” p. 104. Since Christ teaches us in Matt. 5:43-48 that we love our enemies, Fletcher concludes, “What more, that is to say, do you accomplish with philic love than anybody else? Friendship, romance, self-realization—all these loves are reciprocal. Agape is not. It seeks that good of anybody, everybody,” p. 107. (Note philos and agape are Greek terms for love, and indicate a different quality of the love expressed.)
His fifth proposition, “Only the end justifies the means; nothing else,” p. 120. In explaining this point, he does not say any end justifies the means, rather the only end that is of concern for the Christian namely, love. “What else could make a thing lawful, according to the only law left in the New Testament, i.e. Jesus’ Summary? The answer is clear. Nothing. Nothing makes a thing good except agapeic expedience; nothing can justify an act except a loving purpose,” p. 125. In judging each situation, there are four basic questions to be raised in every case. We must ask what is the end or purpose, what are the means to acquire the end, what is the motive in doing so, and finally what are the consequences. In each instance the guide line of love must prevail. If it does, no matter what the deed may be, it will be justifiable.
Fletcher’s sixth proposition is, “Love’s decisions are made situationally, not prescriptively,” p. 134. According to Fletcher, rules, laws, codes are childish attempts to make life simple. He taunts, “They cannot trust themselves too much to the freedom of grace; they prefer the comfortableness of law.” The tragedy is that a so-called love without its roots in the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, expresses itself in sin under the pretense of love. Such a love is not really a love, it is the license to disobey God. The end of such love, the means of expressing it, the motive, and the consequences are determined by man, not God. When this prevails, man slumps into the cesspools of depravity, thinking he is standing upon the mountain of faith.
The Lord willing, we will criticize this position in our next article. If nothing else speaks to us, let the fruits of this ethics bear testimony before God. Throughout this book, the author, justified murder, abortion, adultery, fornication, stealing, lying, and all the rest.
All this supposedly in the name of love.
Be not deceived, God is not mocked, whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.