Americans, particularly Christian Americans, and more specifically, Southern Baptists, seem to be woefully confused about a couple of terms. Culture has merged ethics and morality so that we treat them as synonyms. They are not.
Ethics, from the Greek word ethos, is the underlying foundation of a culture, a nation, or an organization that defines what is right as against what is wrong. It is the guiding principle against which decisions are made, judgments are weighed, and right is determined. Ethics declares what is right. Ethics reflects absolute truths.
Morality, or mores, on the other hand, is the actual behavior of a culture, nation, or group. Despite what ethics demands, how do they actually behave? What do they do? Is their behavior consistent with the guidelines of their underlying system of ethics? Morality reflects behavior. Morality should be borne out of ethics. Ethics justifies morality, not vice-versa.
Ethics defines the absolute truth; morality is behavior based on that truth. Ethics says life is valuable and should be protected. Morality acts to defend life. When a given culture, or individual within that culture, acts in defiance to the accepted ethic, they are acting immorally and that failure is judged. Murderers are punished for violating the absolute conviction of our ethic that life is valuable and to be protected.
In America, we’ve allowed ethics and morality to become commingled. Instead of standing firm on a foundation of accepted, historic, and civilized ethics, we’ve allowed the actual behavior of culture, or its desired behaviors, to redefine our ethic. Rather than adhere strictly to what our ethics demands, we’ve allowed society’s actual behavior to dictate a change in our ethic. We’ve allowed the erosion of absolute truths because of the overwhelming actual behavior and desires of, often, merely the most vocal. (Consider how American culture and government has redefined “marriage”.)
Russell Moore’s article entitled Why Would A Church Support Abortion? highlights the preeminent example of how we’ve allowed culture’s behavior to redefine an absolute ethic. But behavior doesn’t define absolutes. Ethics defines absolutes.
Moore’s article, while highlighting the egregious reality of legalized infanticide in our nation, though, also reflects another kind of “morality dictating ethics” circumstance that should bring shudders to the Bible-believing Southern Baptist.
In his article’s opening statement, Moore identifies what is a failure of Southern Baptists to behave on the basis of our ethics. Instead we have adjusted our ethics to allow a behavior because that’s how we want to behave.
“This year my organization joined with our Roman Catholic allies in filing a legal brief with the Supreme Court asking the court to uphold Texas’ laws regulating the abortion industry.”
While Southern Baptists’, and Dr. Moore’s very vocal stand on the horrors of abortion can, to a certain extent, be applauded, what Moore has done, and Southern Baptists have allowed, is the tacit redefinition of a much more fundamental ethic–more fundamental even than our historic stand against abortion. While we must always stand on the side that defends life because we know, with certainty, this is an ethically-prescribed Scriptural absolute, and while their stand is, rightly so, driven by our Christian ethics, being proper moral behavior, regardless of how the culture may react to abortion, or what culture may demand with regards to it, we have allowed our ethic of the Gospel to be compromised.
In aligning with the Roman Catholic Church, albeit to pursue the unquestionably noble purpose of standing against abortion, the SBC has yielded our stance on the Gospel. By association, we present to the world the impression that our pursuit of correcting social errors is more important than the actual Gospel we believe that ethically motivates us in our stand. The Gospel is our ethics. Our stand against abortion is our moral behavior.
In our zeal to pursue a righteous agenda, we are sacrificing a much more valuable, and divinely decreed, agenda. Our Gospel witness to a lost and dying world is tragically compromised by our eager alignment with Rome. There is no social agenda that outweighs the eternally more important truth of the Gospel.
When we stand with the Roman Catholic Church, we declare to the world that the behavior we desire in the world is more important than the ethic that drives us. We imply, by that association, that Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists are just different “flavors” of Christianity, and that, united, we are boldly standing against an evil in the world.
But we’re sacrificing the Gospel by doing it. We’re implying that we accept Catholicism as Christian. We do not. We historically have not. A little thing called the Reformation occurred 499 years ago that prompted a “protest” against the false gospel being declared by the apostate Roman “church.”
At the time of this writing, Dr. Moore has posted an article in The Hill, in which he stands with the Little Sisters of The Poor in their Supreme Court case against requirements of ObamaCare that they provide certain contraceptives.
Regarding the alignment of a Baptist with Roman Catholics, he says, “After all, whatever our disagreements in America, most of us agree that the government shouldn’t force our fellow Americans to violate their deepest religious convictions for no reason at all.”
That may sound right, but is it? Turn on the news and we can see the results of “deepest religious convictions” being acted out in Brussels. No thinking American wants those “convictions” protected.
While the Little Sisters are not likely to suicide bomb an airport, it is not necessary that we align with Catholics whose fundamental religious beliefs are staggeringly different than ours, in our stand for religious liberty. We should, rather, trust that our God is in control. Our obedience to Him demands our reliance on Him, not on the results of a Supreme Court ruling.
Our Gospel witness is the most important thing (or used to be) about Southern Baptists. It is more important that we not yield on that ethic than that we align with any other group to fight for or against any cultural, moral behavior. Our ethic demands obedience to our God and His Gospel.
Moore also lets pass without comment that the “church” in his article has a woman pastor. Our Christian ethic, based on Holy Scripture, tells us that a woman cannot be a pastor, nor can an assembly led by a woman be considered a “church.”
Southern Baptists have historically stood on the absolute belief that Jesus builds His church according to His requirements. He defines who is a pastor and what is His church. Yet Moore lets this ethical absolute pass by unmentioned, all for the larger cause, the fight against abortion.
For Moore and the ERLC, it seems acceptable that we sacrifice the fundamental ethic of our faith, the Gospel, for the sake of any and every noble pursuit within our culture. He seems, even, to justify the alliances of what he calls “my organization” with this comment, “After all, Catholics and evangelicals have been working together for decades to uphold the sanctity of human life.”
Dr. Moore, this is exactly the sort of “well everybody’s doing it” argument we might expect to hear from a child who wants to engage in some behavior that meets with parental disapproval. That evangelicals and Catholics have worked “together for decades” neither justifies it historically nor does it alleviate the sacrifice of our Gospel witness by continuing in the error.
Southern Baptists believe (for those who are actually still taught Scripture, and doctrine, and such) in a sovereign God. We are saved by a Savior and a LORD who demands our obedience in all things He has commanded us. Because He is sovereign, when He compels us to stand against the horror of abortion, He never says “sacrifice my Gospel if necessary.” We can rest assured, as we have for more than decades, that His will is supreme, will be accomplished, and requires our obedience.
Our acquiescence in sacrificing the supreme ethic of the Gospel is outright disobedience. We do not need unholy alliances to stand against abortion. We do not need alliances to fight for religious liberty. We need God and God alone. We tarnish our witness to the Gospel by making our alliances with false “churches” and false gospels. God demands our obedience, but the supreme standard against which we stand is the ethic of our Gospel, not the moral issue for which we fight.
Just because evangelicals are jumping off a cliff, Dr. Moore, doesn’t mean the SBC should too. Our ethic is the Gospel. Our morals, alliances, energies, and ambitions come from that. We don’t need any other help. We just need God.
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]
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