Situation Ethics

By Paul K. Williams

I am sure that all of us have noticed, sometimes with alarm, an erosion of the old, accepted moral values in America. Things which once were taboo have now become accepted. Sex before marriage, uttering profanity in movies and television, and even homosexuality are outstanding examples. Things just are not the same anymore.

It is curious to me how American religion has reacted to this. In fact, I have been greatly disappointed. Leaders in the largest denominations, instead of speaking out in opposition to this loosening of moral standards, have brought forth a new concept which condones, even encourages, much behavior which is both against the old accepted standards and, more serious, is against the teachings of the New Testament. They have dressed their doctrines tip tinder the names of “The New Morality” and “Situation Ethics.” I am sure that you have encountered both terms.

A Religious Leader Explains

Recently while watching television I heard one of these religious leaders explaining “Situation Ethics.” It was his contention that the only unbreakable law given by God is the law of love. He said that all other laws of Christ are relative and are to be interpreted according to the circumstances. This is why the doctrine is called situation ethics — each situation calls for a different response. The thing which governs is love. Under certain circumstances it may be “right,” in the view of the situation ethics proponent to commit fornication, to lie, to steal, even to rape. Just as long as the person is operating according to the Bible principle of love, he can violate any of the laws given in the Bible.

I flatly charge that this doctrine insults God, deifies man, and perverts the Bible concept of love. Let me explain.

Insults God

First, this doctrine insults God. It says that Gods word does not furnish us everything we need in morality. It says that going by the Bible is not always the best thing-that we must be willing to violate Gods word in the name of love.

What kind of God do you worship? Do you worship a God who makes mistakes? Do you believe in a God who cannot give perfect rules tinder which man must live? Well, I dont! I worship the God of the Bible-the maker of Heaven and earth, the creator of man, the One who knows everything about man and who has o the power to make perfect rules. I worship the God whose word is described in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

The word of God can be depended upon in every situation, because the One who wrote it knows everything. He does not make mistakes. And when He wrote that “all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8), I understand that He does not want me to lie — even in the name of love. When He writes, “Flee fornication” (I Cor. 6:18), I understand that no matter how much I may love that girl, I must not take her to bed until we are married.

God is not a God of mistakes — but the doctrine of Situation Ethics makes Him a God of mistakes. Gods law is perfect. We had better not question it. We just need to obey it!

Deifies Man

Second, the doctrine of situation ethics deifies an. While it downgrades God, it elevates man to the level where lie is supposed to be able to see the final results of his actions. He would have to be able to see all the results of his actions, or else how could lie be capable of judging, even on the basis of love, what action is best tinder the circumstances?

Let me illustrate. In the television lecture the story was told of a German bishop who told a lie in order to save a criminal from being executed. After the lecture a panel discussed this incident and were agreed that the bishop did right, even though lying is against Gods law. Now I want to know: On what basis could the bishop, or the people on the panel, judge? They could only judge on the basis of the final result. If everyone began to lie in order to protect people who might be executed, what would be the result? And is it always best for a person who is a criminal to escape execution? Unless all these possibilities are taken into consideration, and the final result of ones actions are thoroughly known, one cannot take the law into his own hands and decide – whether on the basis of love or not!

Man has a bad tendency to think too highly of himself. The doctrine of situation ethics is a perfect example of it. God has made the rules, but man thinks be has the intelligence and knowledge and judgment to break them and do a better job than God can! That is real arrogance! It makes God fallible-and man infallible. Certainly this doctrine must stink in the nostrils of God.

Perverts the Bible Concept of Love

Third, the doctrine of situation ethics perverts the Bible concept of love. It assumes that you can love God while breaking His commands. But that is impossible! Jesus said in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” In John 15:14 He said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Bible love is fulfilled when we have a spirit of obedience-not rebellion; when we desire to do everything that Gods word commands. You cannot separate Bible love from obedience. A person can obey some commands without loving God, but you cannot love God without trying to keep all of His commands. Love without obedience is not from God.

God takes a different view of sin from what we do. What harm did Eve do when she ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? The only harm was that she disobeyed God. She thought that good would come of it-she would increase in knowledge and taste something that was good for food. But God had told her, “No.” The result was her punishment. No amount of reasoning will excuse us today when we break Gods laws. Sin is still the transgression of the law. (I John 3:4)

The situation ethics proponent says, in effect “Let us do evil that good may come.” He says: “Lie to protect the guilty man so he will not be executed.” But Paul took care of that argument in Romans 3:8. He says that the man who says, “Let us do evil that good may come” has a just damnation!

The Truth

What then is the truth? It is the opposite of what the situation ethics proponent says. God is infallible. He knows everything and has given us a perfect law which will guide us perfectly under every situation. Man is fallible. He cannot know as much as God knows and cannot know enough to decide matters of right and wrong. He must depend upon Gods law to teach him what is right. And the love of God means keeping His commands. I John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.”

We need to cultivate a spirit of humility, submission and obedience to God. We must not allow ourselves to think too highly of ourselves. We must just obey God and trust that the results will be pleasing to Him.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 45, pp. 8-9
September 21, 1972