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Are Christian Morals Changing?

By William R. Cunningham
November 25, 2007

Introduction

I was severely shocked when I saw the cover of a Jet magazine (June 25th, 2007).  On the cover of that issue is a picture of Kim Fields holding a newborn baby, and Christopher Morgan.  The headline reads, “Single, Happy and in Love: Kim Fields Reveals Life with New Baby and Beau.” Normally a title like that would not alarm me.  However, this one did because Kim Fields and Christopher Morgan are not married!  Now in today’s society that isn’t as much of a big deal as it was several years ago.  I remember when it was a bad thing for a woman to have a baby out of wedlock.  It was considered disgraceful for a woman and her boyfriend to have a baby.  However, here it was on the front of a very popular African American magazine.

The title reads “And Beau” instead of “And Boyfriend” perhaps to make it seem like it is something different.  However, she and her boyfriend had a baby.  She’s a grown woman, but does that make it acceptable?  It seems clear to me that the publisher of the Jet Magazine is not concerned about the morals involved in this type of situation.  Why should a young girl concern herself with getting married and having pre-marital sex when it doesn’t seem to matter?  After all, it’s on the cover of the Jet Magazine.  I personally love the Jet Magazine, because it is the closest thing to a newspaper that I read.

That’s not the worse of it.  The article begins with, “Family means a lot to Kim Fields.”  That is quite odd here because the child was born outside of a marriage relationship.  Mr. Morgan can walk away from the relationship anytime he wants.  There is no real commitment, no binding agent if you will.  Sure they may really love each other and really intend on spending their life with each other.  However, if that’s the case, then why not get married.

The article also goes on by saying, “Fields and Morgan are not married, but they consider themselves a family.”  The article continues with, “Though the two really hit it off that day nearly three years ago, they have not decided on a wedding date. ‘It’s something that we both want and have that absolute peace that neither one is going anywhere,’ Fields says.”

Now I am in no way condemning Kim Fields and Christopher Morgan for giving birth to a child outside of marriage.  I have come to realize that human behavior is an extremely complex thing.  Sure it is possible that the two of them found themselves in a passionate moment that led to a sexual encounter, which produced conception.  We can’t condemn them or anyone for that, and surely we can’t condemn the child.  However, none of that makes it right.  But what is right?  By whose standards do we judge Kim, Christopher and anyone else?  Of course we have to look at things from a Christian perspective.

However, if we are not careful then we will say that Christianity is changing.  We might think that Christianity is changing because of the changes in our culture.  For example, things that were taboo several years ago are becoming increasingly acceptable today.  There was a time when you would never have had such a thing on the front cover of a magazine.  It was considered shameful for a couple to have a child out of wedlock.  The child would have been called illegitimate or a bastard.  Even in the Christian churches we see the affects of those changes.  Some of the things that were vehemently preached against are now being embraced or tolerated at the very least, e.g., homosexuality, illegitimate children, and pre-marital sex.

Is Christianity indeed changing?  Is Christianity affected by the time period and society?  In this study we are going to look at these questions and shed some light on the concept of the changing Christian morals.

What is Christianity?

Before we proceed, I think it is very important we establish what is meant by the term, “Christianity” or “Christian.”  A true born again Christian from a biblical perspective has the following traits.

  1. Is born again, i.e., regenerated
  2. Has put her faith in Jesus Christ for salvation
  3. She believes that Jesus died on the cross for her sins
  4. She believes that Jesus is the son of God
  5. She believes that Jesus rose from the dead and is with the Father now
  6. She pursues righteousness and the Kingdom of God

In general a Christian is someone who has been born again in the heart and is indeed a new creation in Christ and strives to please the Lord—not because of rules, but because of the indwelling Holy Spirit that causes a type of affinity to God and his ways.

Let me give you some of the definitions of Christianity from various sources.

  • The Christian religion, based on Jesus Christ, the only Savior and mediator between God the Father and sinful humankind. (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary).
  • the religion derived from Jesus Christ, based on the Bible as sacred scripture, and professed by Eastern, Roman Catholic, and Protestant bodies (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition)
  • The MacMillan Encyclopedia of World Religions shows that Christianity is complex and not easy to define.
  • The New Dictionary of Christian apologetics also shows that Christianity is complex and difficult to define.  It distinguishes between several forms of Christianity, e.g., Roman Catholicism, Protestant, and Orthodox.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s define a Christianity a faith based on the redemptive act of Jesus Christ for our sins.  It is founded on the fundamental belief that Jesus is the son of God, he died on the cross for our sins, and that he rose from the dead.  Christians are those who put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and are truly born again by the Spirit of God, which compels to pursue and live righteously.

I don’t like to think of Christianity as a religion.  The word religion has the following definition (from www.dictionary.com).

  1. A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. 
  2. A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion. 

The problem with Christianity as a religion is that a religion is man-made.  We decide the tenets of a particular religion.  Christianity was not developed by man, but rather is being discovered by man.  Christianity is the same today as it always has been since the word of God does not change, and what Jesus did has not changed.  However, our understanding of the faith offered to us by God is increasing as we learn more about God through his revelation to us.

We cannot establish what Christianity is except to agree upon a set of beliefs based on the revelation of God.  We cannot make Christianity.  Christianity is not evolving, but rather our understanding of it is.  Therefore, to speak of Christianity as a religion implies that we make it up and that it is evolving as we evolve.  Such could not be farther from the truth as that would make God and his word different from generation to generation.

I prefer to think of Christianity as a way of life.  I don’t mean it in the sense that we can live a particular way and call ourselves Christian.  The way of life that I speak of here is revealed to us by God.  It is a particular way (See Matthew 7:13-14) that has been established by God and given to us to abide by and conform to.  This distinction is important for us as we investigate the changing morals of our society and how that affects Christianity.

Based on the definition of Christianity, a Christian has an affinity to the way of God.  This is not merely because he mindfully attempts to live by the rules of the faith, so to speak.  Rather, it is because of the Holy Spirit that is inside of him, that regenerated him, and compels him to a life of righteousness.  This is why I call Christianity a way of life—not merely a way of life but a “way” that we follow.

  • But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. (Acts 19:9 NKJV)
  • And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. (Acts 19:23 NKJV)
  • I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, (Acts 22:4 NKJV)
  • But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. (Acts 24:14 NKJV)
  • But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.” (Acts 24:22 NKJV)

We see in the above scriptures that Christians were not called Christians at first.  They were known by followers of the Way and they were characterized by the Way.  They followed the Way because they put their faith in Jesus Christ and were regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

So I suppose the important thing that we need to consider when speaking of morals is to define the Way.  The Way was established by God, not man.  The Way is not a set of religious guidelines or rules that adherents must follow in order to be part of the religion.  Christianity surpasses that concept in my opinion.

Morals

Let’s take a closer look at morals.  What are morals?  The following definitions for the word “moral” were taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.

Of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior ethical 〈moral judgments〉
     b      expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior 〈a moral poem〉
     c      conforming to a standard of right behavior
     d      sanctioned by or operative on one’s conscience or ethical judgment 〈a moral obligation〉

The following are from www.dictionary.com.

  • Of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical: moral attitudes. 
  • Expressing or conveying truths or counsel as to right conduct, as a speaker or a literary work; moralizing: a moral novel. 
  • Founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom: moral obligations. 

Now upon preparing this document for presentation to the congregation, I find myself asking the question, “Where do morals come from?”  One could say that the bible is where we can find teachings of morals, but that, in my opinion, leads to a set of rules and thus a religion, which I believe Christianity is not.  I found the following article upon searching the web for information on the topic of morals.  Here is the first part of the article.

The Bible as moral book
The bible is a large text, but not as large as (for example) Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Looking for morals in Lord of the Rings I find many direct morals to learn. There are many stories of people, events and actions and from these in any book we can find morals. However the Lord of the Rings does not attempt to present itself as a book primarily concerned with morals:

  • Because the people in the book all have their own aims, which are relevant to the topic of the book, and not to anyone outside the scope of the book, which is in "Middle Earth" during times of war.
  • Using characters from within this book we would find many seemingly contradictory morals. For example, for the side of Good, there is much killing to be done, yet part of the morals is that the bad guys kill people.
  • People interpret the "real meanings" behind various stories in hugely varying ways.

 All the same things and more can be said of the Bible. Principally the Bible does not set out to teach morals, it is a holy book, and aside a few generics such as "Love thy neighbor" there are very few direct moral teachings in the Christian bible.1

Though I do not agree with the conclusions and many of the statements of this article, I must admit that I agree with the statements shown above.

Another article that I discovered was “Is the Christian Life About Ethics And Morals?” by Charles Crosby (accessed 11/23/2007 at http://ezinearticles.com/?Is-The-Christian-Life-About-Ethics-And-Morals?&id=704998. The following is a quote from the article.  I am quoting this source because it is an instance of an idea that I have with regards to morals and the Christian Way.  I will explain shortly.

They do think that to live the Christian life you have to live your life to a set of ethical and moralistic ideals. Now are they right or just plain deceived? Just plain deceived is the answer to that question, and all of them, both secular and ‘Christian’ alike. In fairness, the secular element is deceived but the so called Christian element is deluded. Is there a difference? Oh yes, most definitely.

How are they deceived and deluded? They are deceived and deluded because they think Christianity is a religion and they listen to what those men of the Christian Religion say instead of reading The Holy Scriptures for themselves. This means that their faith is in men of religion, the Christian Religion, and not in God, so their belief is in vain. It also means that the secular world is fooled into thinking that these men are, who they say they are, i.e. God’s representatives on earth, but nothing could be further from the Truth.

Mr. Crosby goes on to say,

Suffice it to say we now have a large group of people who have been called by The Father, but because they have gone astray they turn to something other than God. In fact they turn to lots of other things other than God and all these things can be encapsulated under the all embracing umbrella of religion - The Christian Religion, and with religion comes demonically inspired man made customs, traditions (Biblically known as the traditions of men), form, rituals, morals, ethics, fancy robes, funny hats, and loads of rules and regulations. Within the Christian Religion they even incorporate the Ten Commandments and endeavor to keep them just as the Jews did in Old Covenant times and by doing so trample all over The Lord Jesus Christ’s Sacrifice.

If we think of Christianity as a religion, then we must subscribe to a set of rules that are established by men.  Sure, those men may say that they developed their rules from the biblical text or that God inspired them with the rules.  However, ultimately those rules are from people and those people have biases, presuppositions, and prejudices like anyone else.  So no religion is useful with regards to the Christian faith, which primarily deals with our relationship with the Father.

Morals and Christianity

It is now difficult to talk about morals and Christianity, since morals are derived from humans and Christianity, i.e., the Way is established by God.  Christians therefore strive to follow the Way of Christ not morals handed to us by men and women.  This does not mean that we do not aspire to be moral people.  My point is that we have to realize that morals are indeed relative and therefore changes with social changes.  This is why the celebration of an illegitimate child on the cover of a popular widely distributed magazine is acceptable.  This is why our culture is more tolerant of sex outside of marriage (casual sex) than it used to be.

Not an Issue of Morality

Christians therefore are not trying to be moral people because morals change as time passes.  If we try to be moral then we will find ourselves committing sins now, but not in the future.  What I mean by that is that things that are considered immoral now may be considered moral tomorrow.  Therefore, the lifestyle of a Christian would be a roller coaster ride if we attempt to live morally.

Instead the Christian seeks first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33).  If I was to define true morals, then I would have to say it would be the Way.  The Way is defined by God.  Jesus Christ revealed the Way to us when he taught the people in parables.  He painted a picture of what those in the Kingdom of God “looks” like.  He painted a picture of what the Kingdom of God is like.  There were no rules that defined it, though there some absolute statements, e.g., love your neighbor.

Even in the statement, “Love your neighbor” could be interpreted in a number of different ways based on a culture’s understanding of love and acceptable ways of expressing it.  Do you see what I mean?  It is even difficult to talk about love in a moral concept because it is not only different at different times, but also in different cultures at the same time.

Christianity is not a religion and it is not founded on morals, nor does it point us to morality.  So what does the Bible mean when it refers to immorality? Most of the scriptures in the bible that deal with immorality actually deal with sexual immorality. However, if immorality is a set standard then whose standard does the bible refer to?  This goes back to what we have established thus far.  Morality is based on the standards of a society, group, or people.  I dare say that the ultimate morality is defined by the Way, which is God’s way.  The ultimate morality is how the children of God are to be.

The Ultimate Way

So I suppose that when the bible refers to morality with regards to God’s law and expected behavior, then it is referring to a violation of God’s Way, whether in ethics or behavior.  Sexual immorality could mean sexual acts that are not consistent with God’s Way.  What that is, is beyond the scope of this discussion, but we will discuss that at some other time because it is a very important related topic in principle.

C.S. Lewis in his book, “Mere Christianity” noted that there is a universal standard that we are all aware of.  He states,

These, then, are the two points I wanted to make.  First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.  Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way.  They know the Law of Nature; they break it.  These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.2

By saying that Christianity is not a religion and does not point us to morality should not be understood as Christians can live anyway they want.  On the contrary!  That is the point.  We do not live anyway we want and therefore are beyond a set of morals (human accepted standards).  We are (the emphasis on “are”) new creations in Christ.  We struggle with sin, of course, but that doesn’t mean that we are not to live according to a standard.

We strive to be totally in accordance with that standard.  We strive to be more and more like Christ.  Morals will not get us there, because morals change.  What was once immoral may be moral tomorrow.  The changing face of the morality in America is evidence of that.  Kim Fields and Christopher Morgan have an illegitimate child.  The act is considered immoral—or is it?  They are not married, but they have a relationship and perhaps are really committed to one another.  However, the fact that they are not married could mean that there is really no true commitment.  As I said earlier, if they both believe that neither will go anywhere, then why not get married to express that formally?

Christians don’t strive to live morally.  Instead we grow in the Way of God.  We mature in our faith as the Holy Spirit guides us.  We make mistakes, wrong decisions, and we still sin.  Morality will not help us to live righteously.  Righteousness is established by God and doesn’t change because God doesn’t change, i.e., he doesn’t change his mind about what is right and wrong.  We make up our own way and therefore create our own morality based on the conditions of society.  Christianity is not defined by such a paradigm.

The Lion and the Big Cat

Let me give you an example.  Is a lion living to a set of standards set by someone or something else or is a lion just being a lion?  A trained lion is being forced into living a set of “moral” standards.  The lion’s new morality is set by his trainer.  However, one day that lion may forget the morals and in one moment be total lion and hurt or maim someone.  Should we blame the lion?  I saw a television show called, “When Animals Attack” (if I remember correctly).  One of the situations was a man who was attacked while in the lion’s cage.  I believe it was a circus.  The lion bit the man and was holding him for about 45 minutes while the man’s brother was trying to poke the lion from the other side of the cage until he let go, but he didn’t.  Eventually, the lion grabbed the man’s neck and tried to drag him back into his “den.”  However, by that time someone came with a tranquilizer and shot the lion and the man was freed.

Should we blame the lion for what he did?  Should we say, “Bad lion?”  No we can’t.  That lion was doing what lions do.  He identified the man as food and was going to eat him.  We would say that it was immoral of the lion, but at that time the lion was not living to our standards, but instead according to his own built in standards.

That built in standard is what I consider to be the Christian way.  It is built in because the Holy Spirit dwells within us and creates that affinity towards God.  Sure we may behave other ways, but ultimately we have this yearning for God.

Conclusion

We have to do more than strive to live according to someone else’s standards or morals.  We have to be who we are in Christ.  We have to be holy, because God is holy (See 1 Peter 1:16, Leviticus. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7).  So the Christian lifestyle is one of being not mere conforming to someone’s standards.  If we try to conform to someone’s standards then we may find ourselves following men instead of God.  I believe that the conscience of a true born again Christian will rise to alert him of an action or thought that is contrary to God’s Way.  This Way is not a set of rules and standards.  This Way is just the way that God is and how we should be because of that.  A human is a human regardless of how much he tries to be a duck.  A Christian is a child of God regardless of how much he tries to follow the way of man.

Christianity, again, is not a moral thing, but a life—it is a Way, namely God’s Way.  If you want to know what a Christian should “look” like then see Jesus.  Jesus revealed the Way to us.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6 NKJV)

Let’s just be like Jesus, since the Spirit of God is already in us—if indeed you are born again.  Amen.


Crabtree, Vexen, Criticism of Christian Morals, http://www.vexen.co.uk/religion/cm.html, accessed 11/23/2007

Lewis, C.  S., Mere Christianity, Scribner, New York, NY, 1952, page 7.

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