Mere mention of the new morality, another name for situation ethics, brings many things to mind. We think of co-eds shacking up for the semester at the pads of their lovers. Our minds wander to San Francisco and the topless waitresses serving drinks to gawking customers. Sometimes we are shocked by the news media’s lurid description of Off-Broadway and its nudism. The beach does not escape the trend. Even inchurch we are distracted by the bare knees of the mini-skirted lass sitting in the pew across the aisle.
True, this has something to do with situation ethics.
Yet, the subject is broader than sex. Sometimes we mistakenly correlate the new morality with sexual promiscuity and leave it at that. On the contrary, the effects of this perverse view of ethics can be seen in many ways today. Public swearing, the carnival atmosphere on the Sabbath day, the clamor for a new theology and liturgy in the church, drug addiction, civil disobedience, liberalization of abortion laws, birth control, corruption in high offices of government, stealing and looting, to name only, a few, have their roots in this view of morals.
The truth of the matter is that unless we come to grips with this philosophy of ethics, we will not be able adequately to understand the times in which we live. What is more, unless we understand the philosophy behind the evil practices of our day, we will not be spiritually strong enough as covenant youth to reject them and walk righteously in the midst of our evil age.
Situation ethics flies under the banner of the new morality. These two names are used interchangeably to designate this approach to morals. Purposely, however, we have chosen to use the term situation ethics. There are two reasons for this preference. The first is that the name new morality is really a misnomer. Inherent in the idea of morality is the right view of conduct. We say that something is moral when it displays right conduct. On the contrary, something is immoral when it contradicts proper conduct. The practical outcome of the new morality is an abundance of immorality. The same thing applies to the designation new. In all honesty this view of right and wrong is very old. It is as old as sin itself. In the days of the Apostle Paul, some cried out, let us sin that grace may abound, Rom. 6:1. John Calvin had to contend with the Libertines who advocated the right to sit at the Lord’s Supper as well as the table of devils. The new morality is the same old whore described in Rev. 17:4, 5, “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand, full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication. And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” The only difference is that sometimes in history she wears a more seductive dress. In our generation she is the most enticing.
The second reason for our using the name situation ethics, is that it is more descriptive. When we speak of ethics in a limited sense, the emphasis is not on the conduct and activity of a person, rather it is upon the philosophy or outlook on life that produces this activity. The relationship between ethics and morals is that between cause and effect. It is at once obvious that one has to have the right ethics if one is to have correct morals. If someone will act unethically, his conduct will be immoral or vice versa.
The adjective “situation” added to ethics, indicates that those who advocate this science of right or wrong lend a great deal of credence to the situation. We will see how this is done, D.V., in future articles. For the present however, we may observe that the adherents to this view of ethics insist that nothing is wrong or right of itself, nothing is right or wrong because it conforms or fails to conform to a certain standard, code, or law, rather the rightness or wrongness of any act must be determined by the situation in which the act was performed. They reject legalism, in which certain acts of behavior are condemned and others are extolled. At the same time they also reject anti-nomianism (without law) for this leads to unbridled license. They insist that the Christian must be motivated by the law of love, not as it is spelled out in a code of ethics, rather as it is a dynamic power in one’s whole life. The only law that exists for the Christian is the law of love. This law must be the governing rule for the Christian’s life. Since no acts are in themselves wrong or right, the Christian must determine for himself on the basis of the love of God and the love of the neighbor whether he should do or not do a certain act.
A SUBTLE VIEW
If one takes time to read seriously the line of argumentation put forth by the adherents to this view, he cannot help but conclude that this approach to ethics is very subtle and for that reason, dangerous. It is not true, for example, that they blandly cast aside the Word of God and ignore it. They distort the Word of God and do violence to proper interpretation; yet the subtlety lies in this, that they claim to be the faithful adherents to the Word of God.
To illustrate this briefly (documentation will follow later), they point out that Christ distilled the entire law to its simple form of love God and the neighbor, Matt. 22:37-39. The key word is “distilled.” We ask, is this text a distillation or a summary? The difference is crucial. They interpret Paul’s reference in I Cor. 6:12, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient,” as meaning that according to the law of love; Paul claims he could do anything he wanted to, only he recognized that expedience or “the situation” had to be considered. They say that David’s act of breaking the law by eating the shewbread was condoned by Christ in Luke 6:1-5, the reason being that the situation warranted this act. Similarly, Rahab told a lie, but is still considered one of the heroes of faith, Heb. 11:16, the situation making all the difference.
Following this “argumentation” from Scripture, those who advocate this view of ethics resort to all kinds of subtle reasonings to justify conduct that is contrary to Christian behavior. Since nothing is wrong in itself, any act could be right, it just depends on the circumstances. Murder of the neighbor in order forcefully to take his possessions might be wrong in one circumstance (a lazy man wants money for his beer and doesn’t want to work for it), but in another instance it might be justified and motivated by love (a poor black man, the victim of discrimination, wants a decent meal for his family). Pre-marital sexual relations might be wrong in one instance (a young man or woman who promiscuously spends the night with anyone) or it might be properly motivated in another (a young couple engaged to be married, but completing their schooling). Telling a lie may be wrong for some (simply to be kept from being penalized by the law) or right for another (to keep a mental patient from being overly burdened). So we could go on and on.
This is subtle reasoning because on the surface it has the semblance of credibility both scripturally and morally.
ITS INHERENT EVIL
If we are going to evaluate meaningfully this approach to morals, we must have certain guide lines to follow. Since ethics and moral conduct deal with the fruits of faith or unbelief, we must at once look deeper than the act itself and ask what is behind this act. What dominates the thinking of such individuals to allow them to act this way not only, but also to provide them with the conviction that this view of ethics is the only real, correct, and Christian view? What then must guide us in making such a study?
There exists a close relationship between Scripture, doctrine, and ,morals. In fact, we may picture this relationship as a pyramid, the broad basis which serves as the foundation of the structure is the Scriptures. The Bible is the revelation of God. Morality is not determined by man’s relationship with man, rather it is first of all God’s relationship to man then man’s relationship to God, followed by man’s relationship to his fellow man. God determines what is right and wrong, not man. Hence His Word, the revelation of His will, is determinative for morals. Our ethics must be Scripturally orientated or it fails.
The central message of the Word of God is not how man should behave, rather it deals with the revelation of God. The Bible tells us that God is the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth, that we are totally depraved and subject to condemnation and death, that Christ is the Son of God come into the world to redeem His own from sin and death, that the way of salvation is through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ, that God in Christ gathers His elect people unto Himself by the preaching of the Word and strengthens them daily until the end when He shall reign as King in the new heavens and new earth. This is called doctrine, the doctrines of God revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
Following such a correct understanding of God; Who He is, and who we are in Christ Jesus, the Christian is in a position to follow God’s instruction and do His will in gratitude to Him for revealing these secrets. Ethical conduct, moral behavior follow as the sublime apex of God’s revelation, for by it His name is glorified now and forever.
From this it is obvious that if one’s view of the Holy Scripture is wrong, his doctrine will be wrong, and inevitably his ethics and morals will be wrong too.
This is the heart of the error of those who maintain situation ethics. They have a wrong view of the Scriptures, and this is a fundamental and fatal error. Because they view the Scripture as a human account of God’s Word they take liberty with exegesis, relegate much to myth and folklore, construct their own doctrine of God, man, Christ, salvation, the church, and the end of all things. When man believes the lie about God, he will inevitably have a superficial view of human conduct.
There must be no doubt in our minds that this system of ethics is the one that is now and will be advocated by the anti-Christ. Proud man rejects God as revealed; he wants to be his own god. Since he believes that he is not a dead sinner, only a sick one, he rejects the atonement of Christ and the sovereignty of divine grace and substitutes the medicine of modem psychology and social gospel. If God is not a personal God, Who is worthy of praise and worship, religion is reduced to human philanthropy. The natural man wants only one thing, to be able to sin and silence his conscience before the God he knows to exist, but Whom he rejects. When the church teaches an ethics that tells man to sin with impunity, you have the lowest form of depravity found on earth.
We are reminded of the word of Peter, “But there were false prophets also among the people even as there shall be false teachers among you, who shall privily bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord, that bought them and bring upon themselves swift destruction. . . .for when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh through much wantonness those that are clean escaped from them who live in error; while they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage,” II Peter 2:1, 18, 19.
“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and hope to the end. . .as obedient children; not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation”, I Peter 1:13, 14.