What Should I Do?
By Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
As life and family issues continue to expand, it’s often difficult to sort them out. Even church bodies differ on a particular issue though they claim to have the same Bible.
On that point, remember this: It is not a coincidence that every church body that permits or endorses abortion, for example, rejects the Bible as being entirely the Word of God. They often say the Bible “contains” the Word of God, and, in doing so, permit the rejection of verses that may get in the way.
Learning this distinction on the use of Scripture is an important first step in discussing these issues.
An Example of Selective Truth
Years ago, I was asked to serve on a panel to discuss capital punishment. When asked my opinion on the matter I said, “God permits capital punishment. My concern is whether we can adjudicate it fairly.” That’s all I remember saying.
A woman approached me afterward, clearly agitated. Scolding me she said: “I can’t believe you call yourself a ‘man of the cloth.’ How can you say that God permits capital punishment?”
I replied, “What do you make of Genesis 9:6, which says: ‘Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind’?”
She replied, “That’s a cultic god.” I then realized she believed the Bible “contained” the word of God. I asked, “How would you describe God?” Her reply: “God is love.”
I responded, “Nonsense, that is a cultic god.” I stunned her. I continued, “If you can pick and choose the verses you want to keep, then so can I.”
Despite my lapse into sarcasm, we had a thought-provoking conversation after that. That experience, however, illustrates the challenges we face when witnessing to the truth. As Pontius Pilate once asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). People are always challenging!
For more than 35 years we have fielded thousands of questions on a host of life and family issues. People typically do not look for Bible studies and long explanations. They want quick and concise answers.
The problem with short answers to complex issues is that it ignores foundational reasoning from which a conclusion is drawn. Simply stated, people want shortcut answers but don’t care about the pertinent foundational principles and how they apply to the situation.
The problem with shortcuts is that they focus on the application and neglect the principles.
An Example from Home Construction
When you build a home, you need a foundation – a good foundation. You do not want the footings to move. They must not be built on the subsoil, not the topsoil. Topsoil contains decomposing organic material, which is why it is typically darker than subsoil. Those nutrients continue to decompose and, if you put a footing on dark soil, it will – in time – shift, since the soil decomposes.
The most famous example of a bad footing is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. That is what happens when your foundation is not right.
A good foundation, however, provides stability upon which you can build your house.
Foundations and Applications
When we make decisions, we begin with a solid foundation. That foundation is known as a “principle” – an unchangeable truth, applicable in all circumstances. There are never any exceptions to a principle. A principle is valid for the rich and the poor and in the best of times or worst of times. A principle does not change with politics, and it cannot be altered by a court ruling or even a new church decree.
In decision-making, a principle is like a building’s foundation. If it is weak, unclear, or changeable, it will not endure. It will be weak and unstable, and eventually, the whole building will suffer for it.
When you have a solid principle in decision-making, you can then make applications. An application is how you put a principle to work. The strength and validity of the application directly correlate with the strength and validity of the foundation (principles).
Love God + Love Others
Scripture teaches two foundational principles on which all other directives are built: love God and love others. Jesus said so plainly when challenged by a law expert:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36–40)
Principles are clear, general, and non-specific. The rest of Scripture answers the way we “love God” and “love others.” John tells us that we love God when we obey his commandments and love others (1 John 3:19-24; 5:3). Doing God’s will is an expression of love for God. Picking and choosing God’s commands to follow or reject essentially replaces God with our own sin-impaired judgment. In that way, we set ourselves up as “other gods before him.”
As a simple rule of thumb, a principle tells you what the end result should look like (either loving God or loving others), and the application can reflect a variety of paths or ways to get there.
The Role of the Commandments and Other Directives
So, what do we make of the Ten Commandments and the other directives of Scripture? Consider how Jesus handled the command, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” That command, on the surface, was an application of the way we demonstrate love for God. The Sabbath was a time to honor God and reflect on his majesty.
Going deeper, however, it also was an application of the way we demonstrate love for others. The day of rest and rejuvenation was meant to benefit people (Mark 2:23-28). Do you see how, on the surface, eating the consecrated bread from the temple seemed to violate the first principle? Yet, caring for life and caring for ourselves are also ways to love God and to honor the second principle.
I like to picture Biblical principles and applications like a pyramid sitting on a foundation. The base (foundation) serves as the unchangeable and absolute dual principles to love God and love others. As you progress up the pyramid, the issues which become vaguer require a wider implementation of more applications from lower on the pyramid.
For example, Internet pornography. Neither “pornography” nor “Internet” are found in the Bible. That doesn’t mean the Bible is silent on such matters. Rather, as we seek to “love God” and “love others,” we go further down the pyramid to discover what stronger applications come to bear on the matter. Obviously, the command relating to adultery applies. As you dig deeper into Scripture you learn that misguided passions of the heart can be adulterous (Matthew 5:28; 1 John 3:15).
What Does This Mean?
Many of today’s life and family issues terms are not used in the Bible. You will not find terms like “abortion,” “gender dysphoria,” “euthanasia,” or “embryonic stem cells” in the Bible. What you will find, however, are stronger applications further down the pyramid upon which we draw out what it is that demonstrates love for God and love for others.
One final note: Principles never clash. Someone may argue that to “love others” means we must embrace same-sex relationships, or a woman’s right to choose abortion, or to permit people to terminate their own lives. The problem is that to do so ignores the weight of evidence contained in all of Scripture. Sifting through the arguments and the logic of new life and family issues requires us to burrow deep to discover the core issues or foundations of any position on any issue and hold them up to the standard of God’s Word.
At the heart of most life and family issue debates is a challenge to the authority of Scripture. Certainly, one can adopt the position that certain passages could be attributed to a “cultic god.” That does not validate the position. It is just a position. In the end, we have a standard of truth that still endures after centuries of challenges. It has weathered the past storms, and it will weather the current storms (1 Peter 1:25). As we respond to God’s love for us in Christ, we can turn to his word and find the answers there. In a world of sin, however, the right answer can sometimes be the most difficult answer.
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