The above title may sound like something out of our distant past.
'Situation Ethics?', someone might say, 'Isn't that something only
advocated by humanists and atheists?' It was Joseph Fletcher, an
Episcopalian and professor of Social Ethics who said such things as, 'As
we shall see, Christian situation ethics has only one norm or principle or
law….that is binding and unexceptional, always good and right regardless
of the circumstances. That is love… Everything else without exception,
all laws and rules, and principles and ideals and norms, are only
contingent, only valid if they happen to serve love in any situation' (Situation
Ethics, p. 30). 'love only employs law when it seems worthwhile.' (p.
71) 'Even a "pearl of great price"---whatever it is-might be
sold for love's sake if the situation demands it.' (p. 121) 'Paul
was certainly obscure and contradictory about the problem of the justice
of God…But the real error in it, by which all them are victimized
(Paul…), is the intrinsic theory under which, logically, a thing is
either good or evil…..what is sometimes good may at other times be evil,
and what is sometimes wrong may sometimes be right when it serves a good
enough end-depending on the situation.' (pp. 122-123) 'In short, is
there any real "law" of universal weight? The situationist
thinks not.' (p. 146)
The purpose for this lesson, is
that the above ideas are making inroads into the Church. Cecil Hook, wrote
a book entitle Free In Christ. In the fifth chapter of that book he
writes, 'Even the most rigid of God's laws were not always inflexible.
There are examples showing that in certain circumstances there was elasticity
in the most absolute laws.' (p. 34) 'These "violations"
became good because of the higher motives which prompted them…Sometimes
it is easier to keep legal specifics than to make responsible decisions.' (p.
37) In this lesson I want to address some of the errors which Hook and
others are spreading.
I. Commands And Love:
Both Fletcher and Hook are under
the impression that commands revealed in the Scriptures may not always be
the loving thing to do. Even denominational writers can see the error in
this. Peter Wagner, in Eternity Magazine wrote, 'Fletcher says that love
is the only norm of ethics. But what is love? How is it's context defined?
We need the rest of the Bible to guide us as to just what the law of love
expects from us.' (February 1967)
Points to Note:
1. To Love God and your neighbor as
yourself are commandments (Matthew 22:36-39). In addition,
these two commandments do not override all other commands, rather they
embrace and include every law of God (Matthew 22:40 'On these
two depend the whole Law and the Prophets').
2. Notice what Paul said, 'For
this, "You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall
not steal, you shall not covet," and if there is any other
commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "You shall love your
neighbor as yourself."' (Romans 13:9) Regardless of the
situation, love will never prompt one to commit adultery, murder, steal or
transgress any law of God! 'Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love
therefore is the fulfillment of the law.' (Romans 13:10) What will
love always do in reference to the commands of God? Will love violate
them? Or will love fulfill them?
3. The very definition of love argues
against love ever involving itself in something that is sinful, 'Love…does
not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth' (1
Corinthians 13:4-6). The 'truth' isn't something which is left up to
each individual to decide upon for themselves, rather God has already
defined what is and what isn't truth, that is, the Word of God is truth (John
4. Jesus knew all about grace,
mercy, and love and yet Jesus never argued that love takes precedence over
the commands of God. Rather, He argued that every command of God is an
expression of authentic love (John 14:15 'If you love Me, you will keep
My commandments.') John wrote, 'but whoever keeps His word, in him
the love of God has truly been perfected' (1 John 2:5). It is obvious
that both Fletcher and Hook completely misunderstand what is means to love
God and others.
Hook argues that while the Bible condemns lying, 'But the Bible gives
record of other persons who were dishonest and were not punished…Rahab
lied and deceived in protecting the spies (Joshua 2:1f). Yet she is listed
among the heroes of faith for that very reason.' (pp. 34-35)
Points to Note:
1. It is dangerous to argue
that simply because a person wasn't immediately punished that God approved
of their behavior (Noah's drunkenness-Genesis 9:21; Sarah's lack of
2. Others were punished! (Acts
5:1-11) And it could be argued that Rahab as well as Ananias and Sapphira
were all seeking a good end, that is trying to help the people of God.
3. And let it be noted that nothing
in Hebrews chapter 11 commends Rahab for her deception. Rather, the text
says, 'after she had welcomed the spies in peace.' To say that she
is praised for her deception, makes about as much sense as saying that she
was praised for being a harlot. If we can say, 'Rahab lied and deceived,
yet she is listed among the heroes of faith' (lying isn't always wrong),
why can't we argue, 'Rahab was a harlot, yet she is listed among the
heroes of faith as being a harlot', therefore adultery and fornication are
not always wrong.
4. In addition, those mentioned in
Hebrews chapter 11 are not praised for their sins (Noah, Abraham, Sarah, David).
Is David praised for his adultery? (11:32)
III. Tired, Worn Out Arguments:
Fletcher and Hook both attempt to
undermine the Word of God by using the same old worn out illustration.
They would contend that lying isn't always wrong, because if someone
breaks into your house, lying about the whereabouts of the other family
members isn't wrong.
Points To Note:
1. Who is going to have a
conversation with someone breaking into their house? Aren't you going to
spend your time calling the police, getting the gun and so on?
2. If you tell them there is no one
home, do you think they are going to believe you?
3. Hook thinks that defending
yourself (killing or injuring the attacker) and lying are moral
equivalents. He needs to spend more time reading his bible. Self defense
has always been right (Exodus 22:2).
4. But if such men are right,
then deception and lying are always right when it comes to our own
personal safety. Therefore, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego needlessly
risked their lives when they refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar's image (Daniel
3:16-18). And Daniel should have known that he could have lied, and
claimed that he wasn't praying to God, in order to escape from the lion's
den (Daniel 6:13f).
5. And what about Peter's denial of Jesus?
Wasn't Peter's life in possible jeopardy?
IV. Matthew 12:1-8:
'David and his famished men,
fighting for a just cause, could not have been denied the only available
food with mercy.' (p. 36)
Points To Note:
1. Such is an irresponsible
use of Matthew 12:1-8. Is God (Jesus) arguing against His own laws? It is
clear that Jesus is not trying to justify the actions of guilty men, for
His disciples had done nothing wrong (12:7 '..you would not have
condemned the innocent').
2. Jesus brings up the example of
the priests, not because God gave two laws which conflicted with each
other, and one therefore overrides the other. But rather, because the
Pharisees' interpretation concerning what constituted work on the Sabbath
Day was incorrect. Their interpretation would have condemned their own
priests. (2 Samuel 6:6-7).
3. The example of David is not
introduced to justify what David did, for Jesus plainly says, 'which
was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him' (12:4). But the
Pharisees had excused David's actions in their commentaries, they held the
same view as Hook and others, that the 'need' or the 'good end' justified
setting aside God's law. Jesus doesn't agree! His point is that the
Pharisees were condemning His disciples for doing something that wasn't
wrong (12:1-2) and yet they let David off the hook for doing something
that was clearly wrong.
4. To argue as Hook does, you would
have to conclude that God is inconsistent and arbitrary. David is excused,
but Uzzah was struck dead, and yet both of them were sincere, both were
attempting to create a good end
V. The Sabbath Day:
Hook argues that when Jesus healed
on the Sabbath Day, that Jesus was in fact violating the Sabbath command.
'Jesus explained, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the
Sabbath." The law was made for the good of man. Man was not made to
fit arbitrary laws. If, in a specific instance, our efforts to keep the
law hinder or prevent the principles of justice, mercy, faith, or love,
then the higher principle must take precedence. The principle is greater
than the law intended to promote it.' (p. 37)
Points To Note:
1. Jesus did not violate the
laws concerning the Sabbath Day. Rather, He was only transgressing the
Pharisees' interpretation of what constituted work on that day. Doing good
on the Sabbath had never been forbidden (Matthew 12:11-12; Leviticus
23:3; 23:27-28; 36-37).
2. Hook is accusing Jesus of
deliberately breaking the laws of God, to prove that they weren't binding
in all situations.
3. Healing on the Sabbath was right,
not merely because of the 'good end', but because it had never been wrong
to begin with.
4. He also accuses God of being
short-sighted in the laws that He gave. Why would God give a law, if He
knew that such would prevent people from extending justice and mercy? If
God truly knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), then
couldn't this same God design legislation which would work in any given
5. What Hook is also saying (as does
Fletcher), is that human wisdom and reasoning must often take precedence
over divine revelation. Such men keep telling us to look for the higher
principle. But what is the higher principle underlying Paul's condemnation
of the works of the flesh? (Galatians 5:19-21) What is the higher
principle in the following passages? (Matthew 6:33; Luke 14:26;
Revelation 2:10 'Be faithful until death'; Matthew 7:21 'but he who does
the will of My Father who is in heaven'; 7:24 'Everyone who hears these
words of mine and acts upon them.') (Isaiah 55:8-9; Proverbs 16:25; 3:5).
6. We have been given Divine
revelation for the precise reason that man, with his own wisdom, is blind.
God ways are not always our ways
He claims that he isn't defending
euthanasia, but before this statement he had talked about the family dog
they had put to sleep and then says, 'If we can show such compassion to an
animal, can we not let one whom we dearly love die with dignity and
mercy?' (p. 38) He says, 'Perhaps we should re-appraise the matter
of suicide in this context…In fact, he links the death of Christ to this
topic, 'He consented to die and accepted the responsibility for it.' (p.
39) Concerning abortion, he writes, 'Abortion is a big issue now. It
is not mentioned in the Bible. No one can prove when life begins by the
Bible. And that is not necessary, except for the legalist. In each
circumstance, a decision can best be made by asking, "What is the
most loving, just, and merciful choice for those involved, both for the
unborn and the mother?"' (p. 39)
Points To Note:
1. The Bible does define when
life begins, if physical life is present then the soul is present (James
2:26 'the body without the spirit is dead').
2. The baby in the womb is alive and
he or she is a real person (Luke 1:41; 2:12), just as real and
human as the baby outside the womb.
3. Please note what this man is
advocating (whether he completely realizes it or not). If his definition
of love and mercy dictates that the child should be aborted (because if
would cause embarrassment to the mother or family, put a financial strain
on the family, the child would be born into poverty, an unloving family,
and so on), then love would demand that all children in similar
circumstances must be aborted. Fletcher does come to this
conclusion, 'no unwanted or unintended baby should ever be born.' (p.
39) In cases of rape he argues, that the baby 'is no more innocent, no
less an aggressor or unwelcome invader! Is not the most loving thing
possible (the right thing) in this case a responsible decision to
terminate the pregnancy?' (p. 39) Please read Deuteronomy 24:16.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ.