Preserving Distinctive Morals

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

The Bible clearly teaches that God's people are to be distinctive. They are to be a peculiar people" (I Pet, 2:9). They are to be to the world as "lights" in the midst of darkness (Phil. 2: 15, 16). They are to be separate from the world (2 Cor. 6:17, 18).

Particularly should God's children be distinctive in their morals. We are to be an example in morals (I Tim. 4:12). Our life is to be so transformed (Rom. 12:1, 2) that we can be called "new creatures" in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). We must not conduct ourselves as we did in our pre-Christian state (I Pet. 4:4). This peculiarity in morals will result in the world hating us (1 Jno. 3:13), for if we were "of the world," the world would love us as its own (Jno. 15:19).

One of the constant dangers which we face is the danger of conforming to the world about us. There probably is no area where the danger of conformity is greater than in the area of morality. The stock argument of the conformist is "everybody else is doing it."

We are going particularly to deal in this discussion with the so-called "New Morality." It is under this label that insidious efforts are now being made to undermine the morals of decent and Christian people. A complete exposure in plain language should do well, since it would awaken parents to what dangerous doctrines are being taught their children and should alert our youth to the latent dangers in the sophisticated threat modernism now makes to morals.

History of Man's Search for a Moral Standard

Solomon declared that he sought to find "what it was good for the sons of men that they should do under heaven, all the days of their life" (Ecc. 2:3). The word "ethics" simply has to do with what one "ought" or "ought not" to do. The Bible has much to say about ethical duty. Jesus taught the Pharisees that they had left undone many things that "ye ought to have done" (Matt. 23:23). Paul discussed how men "ought to behave themselves in the house of God" (1 Tim. 3:15). Paul asked brethren to pray that he might "speak boldly, as I ought to speak" (Eph. 6:20).

Men have called this moral obligation expressed by the terms "ought" or "ought not" by several different names. Most often, perhaps, it is called "ethics." Immanuel Kant called it the "categorical imperative." Emil Brunner calls it the "divine imperative." But regardless of what it is called, ethical responsibility simply means what you "ought" or "ought not" to do.

Atheism has no moral standards whatsoever. If an atheist is moral, he is moral in spite of his atheism. There is nothing in atheism to make one moral. Any atheist who lives a moral life has borrowed his moral standard from the Bible. When faith in God and the Bible is destroyed in the hearts of our youth, the atheist has nothing to put in its place. He leaves the pitiable boy or girl impoverished with nothing at all upon which to build a moral life. When we permit our children to be taught that they are nothing more than an improved strain of animals, we should not be shocked or surprised when they begin to act like animals.

There are a rising number of people who would remove our ancient landmarks in morals. They would take away our moral codes and principles which have been predicated upon the Bible. That with which they would replace a Biblically oriented morality is called "Situation Ethics" or the "New Morality." Joseph Fletcher, author of SITUATION ETHICS, indicates that this so called "New Morality" has steadily gained momentum since 1932. Fletcher said, "Ethical relativism has invaded Christian ethics progressively since the simultaneous appearance in 1932 of Emil Brunner's THE DIVINE IMPERATIVE and Reinhold Niebuhr's MORAL MAN AND IMMORAL SOCIETY" (p. 45).

Discussion of the "New Morality"

1. Names Given to the "New Morality": The term, "New Morality," appears first to have been used by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church on February 2, 1956. Since then, this likely has become the most widely accepted term to describe the new concept in ethics. Actually it is a misnomer to call it the "New Morality," for it might better be labeled the "New Immorality." It is merely the old immorality with a new name. The modernists are good at renaming things though. They have sought to lend respectability to the "New Modernism" by labeling it "Neo-Othodoxy," or the "New-Orthodoxy." But it is not "Orthodoxy" at all; it is rank modernism. And the "New Morality" is but a ruse employed in a vain effort to give immorality greater respectability.

Nearly as popular as "New Morality" is the term "Situation Ethics." This is the title of the book written by Joseph Fletcher, which might be described as the Bible of the "situationist." Other terms employed in describing the "New Morality" are "Contextual decision making," "Casuistry," "Neocasuistry," "Libertinism," "Neo-Libertinism," "Occasionalism," "Actualism," "Pragmatism," "Ethical Individualism," "Ethical relativism," "principled relativism," "Existential ethics" and "the emerging Christian Conscience." All of these terms are used to describe a moral system of which the Christian must be exceedingly wary.

2. Exponents of the "New Morality": There are at least two ways to define: denotatively and connotatively. We are attempting now to define the "New Morality" denotatively. Shortly we will show what the "New morality" connotes.

In a denotative definition, one simply says "Here is an example of what I am describing." Proponents of the "New Morality" are men like Joseph Fletcher, John A. T. Robinson, Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (modern originator of the "Christianity without religion" concept, which is as absurd as "Christian Atheism" espoused by Altizer), Rudolph Bultman (The notorius de-mythologizer), Paul Tillich, and Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr.

Fletcher, author of SITUATION ETHICS (1966), is Professor of Social Ethics at the Episcopal Theology School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We will be quoting extensively from his book later on in this discussion. John A. T, Robinson is the author of HONEST TO GOD (1963), the book that set off the contemporary debate on morals. He is Bishop of Woolrich in the Church of England.

3. Definition of the "New Morality": The basic theory of the "New Morality" is that "Circumstances alter cases" (Fletcher, p. 36). TIME magazine states, "As to sexual morality, the traditional rules are giving way to 'situation ethics' – meaning that nothing is inherently right or wrong, but must be judged in context on the spur of the moment" (April 22, 1966, p. 42). This doctrine is but an enlargement of the Catholic doctrine of 4(mental reservation," which declares that under some circumstances it is right to lie. Thus, the Catholic cannot consistently oppose the "New Morality." It is merely an extension, into other areas, of his familiar 4cmental reservation" doctrine.

The situationist maintains that there are no rules of morality that must always, under every circumstance, be followed. Fletcher says, "For the situationist there are no rules . . . none at all . . ." (p. 55). Of course, he already has contradicted himself. His rule is that there are no rules! Further he says, ". . . It means, too, that there are no universals of any kind . . ." (p. 64) But this also is a universal. His universal negative proposition is that there are no universals! After having declared that there are no universals, Fletcher, without any explanation or embarrassment states, "Only love is objectively valid, only love is universal" (p. 64).

Speaking of "ethical maxims," Fletcher says: The Situationist "is prepared in any situation to compromise them or set them aside in the situation if love seems better served by doing so" (p. 26). This "New Immorality" is a system of moral compromise. "It holds flatly that there is only one principle, love … and that all other so-called principles or maxims are relative to particular, concrete situations" (p. 36). This makes all ethical responsibilities relative. "The shift to relativism carries contemporary Christians away from code ethics, away from stern, iron-bound do's and don'ts, away from prescribed conduct and legalistic morality" (p. 45). It becomes quite shocking to a Bible believer to see how the situationist applies his "ethics" (?) to a particular moral judgment. We will notice some of their applications shortly.

4. Reasons for the "New Morality": Before we discard our concepts of morality and replace them with ethical relativity, we had better investigate the reasons its advocates give for accepting the "New Morality." Fletcher says that the reasons for the "New Morality" are to be found in modern science, anthropology and psychology. He wrote,

"Perhaps the most pervasive culture trait of the scientific era and of contemporary man is the relativism with which every thing is seen and understood." (p. 43). Further Fletcher said, "No twentieth-century man of even average training will turn his back on the anthropological and psychological evidence for relativity in morals" (p. 76). The reason he gives for discarding the moral system predicated on the Bible reminds me of a bit of instruction given to me by Luther Blackmon when I left to enter college. "Don't learn too much that ain't so!" This precisely is what has happened to Fletcher and other situationists. When they learn so much that they no longer can regard and respect God's law of morality, they have learned too much that is not so.

5. Tenets of the "New Morality": The end result of this moral latitude is degrading and disgusting. The situationist makes every man a moral law unto himself. Fletcher says, "We favor a casuistry in which every man is his own casuist" (p. 84); ". . . every man must decide for himself what is right . . ." Thus Fletcher concludes," any act even lying, premarital sex, abortion, adultery, and murder – could be right, depending on the circumstances" (Cover of his book). And yet they want to call this the "New Morality." You now can see why I said it is more correctly labeled the "New Immorality." Remember that Joseph Fletcher is Professor of Social Ethics in an Episcopal Seminary. Wouldn't you like to have him to teach your child!!!

With the presuppositions of the ethical relativist, one can rationalize and justify nearly any act – under certain circumstances. Fletcher admits that situationists "would favor abortion for the sake of the victim's self respect or happiness or simply on the ground that no unwanted or unintended baby should ever be born" (p. 39). He even charges that the embryo is an "unwelcome invader." Since the embryo is an ((aggressor," it may be forcibly expelled in self-defense!

With this "New Morality," sexual promiscuity is not inevitably sinful. Here is Fletcher's rationalization: "Does any girl who has 'relations' . . . outside marriage automatically become a prostitute? Is it always, regardless of what she accomplishes for herself and others – is she always wrong? Is extramarital sex inherently evil, or can it be a good thing in some situations?" (pp. 17, 18) Remember the writer of the lines just quoted is not a Libertine in a bar on the corner; he is a Libertine in a Seminary! When young preachers who might be expected to be the guardians of the public morals are being taught such moral looseness as promulgated by Fletcher, would anyone deny we are in serious trouble morally?

The Chaplain of a famous all-girls college said: "Sex is fun . . . there are no laws attached to sex. I repeat: Absolutely no laws. There is nothing which you ought to do or ought not to do . . . There are no rules of the game . . . we all ought to relax and stop feeling guilty about our sexual activities, thoughts, desires . . . The good news of the gospel which has been delivered to me is that we have been freed from such laws as evaluative codes of behavior" (PAGEANT MAGAZINE, October, 1965, p. 47). This speech was made by a Chaplain! It sounds like the "line" that someone might use in trying to seduce some young girl. How would you like for such a preacher as this to be your daughter's instructor?

Fletcher declares that man has been freed by modern medicine and urbanization to lead any kind of life sexually that he might desire to lead. He says that "triple terrors (infection, conception and detection) once scared people into 'Christian' sex relations (marital monopoly)," but now modern medicine and the big city make all three obsolete. So do what you will!

The Bible and Morality

One need not have spent much time reading the Bible to see that its teaching and the "New Morality" are poles apart. The Bible does make absolute ethical demands of you. It specifies what the attitude of the Christian must be toward the world and worldly things. When we read statements like those quoted above, it should be obvious that the people of God are going to have to be distinctive morally. We must maintain our distinctive characteristics morally. The Bible teaches:

1. The Christian must not love the world. The apostle John absolutely commands that the Christian "love not the world" (I Jno. 2: 15-17). James teaches that friendship with the world creates enmity with God (Jas. 4:4). Jesus declared that there could be no compromise; you must choose between God and mammon (Matt. 6:24).

2. The Christian must not conform to the world. Paul commands, "be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed" (Rom. 12:2). This passage forever answers the quibble, "Everyone else is doing it." The Christian must not engage in worldly practices, even though the entire world is so engaged.

3. The Christian must be dead to the world. The book of Romans states that, in the process of conversion, one must die unto sin (Rom. 6:2). The unconverted man must be crucified, for it is only "he that hath died" that is justified (Rom. 6:6, 7). After one's burial with Christ in baptism, he is raised a new creature in Christ (Rom. 6:4; 2 Cor. 5:17), and is no longer to be sensitive to the call of the world. Indeed as we sing, one must be "dead to the world, to voices that, call me."

4. The Christian must quit the world. One's death to the world certainly implies that he is finished with the things of the world. Paul commands that "ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk" (Eph. 4:17). Peter taught that "the time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles" (I Pet. 4:3). The worldlings will "think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot" (1 Pet. 4:4).

5. The Christian must flee the things of the world. He must have a healthy respect for the power of sin. The infinite power of God was necessary to break the unbearable yoke of sin. Susceptible man must therefore keep sin at a distance. He must not forever be seeing how close to sin he can get. Paul commanded Timothy to "flee youthful lusts," and he instructed the Corinthians to "flee fornication" (1 Cor. 6:18). There are times when flight offers the only safety.


The Bible plainly declares that the Christian who maintains a Biblical attitude toward the world will find an antipathy between himself and the world; He will have virtually nothing in common with the world. The world will think him "strange" (I Pet. 4:4). The worldling will speak evil of him. Yea, the world will even hate him (I Jno. 3:13). On the other band, if the Christian were "of the world," the world would love its own (Jno. 15:19). Though in the world, the Christian is not to be "of the world." The worldling, though he wears Christ's name, can have no fellowship either with God or Christ.

Thus the Bible makes absolute ethical demands of God's people. The world offers its alternative of moral compromise. The battle lines are clearly drawn. The alternatives (God or the world) are set before us in bold relief. Joshua pressed the issue: "choose you this day that ye will serve" (Joshua 24: 15). Jesus declared, "No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24). It is an either or proposition. One cannot serve God and mammon. God will either be Lord of all in your life, or He will not be Lord at all in your life (Matt. 22:34-40). May God thus help us to maintain distinctive morals in "the midst of a crooked and perverse generation" in order that we might be "seen as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life" (Phil. 2; 15, 16).

   Send article as PDF   

Author: jfm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *