Volume 32, Number 4
In the last issue of the Witness we focused on doctrinal violations in the church. Our current theme will concentrate on the need for strengthening morals within the church. The word “morals” has to do with conduct–the distinction between right and wrong. The word “doctrines” has to do with beliefs–the distinction between correct and incorrect tenets of faith.
All human beings have a basis of authority which becomes the foundation for thinking, decisions, and actions. As explained in the last issue of the Witness, within professing christendom there are three common bases of authority–church tradition, human reason, and the Bible itself.
When the Bible speaks concerned Christians take note of what is said–and so, when we speak about strengthening morals we speak of support for right behavior as defined by God in His holy Word.
In our day there are those who insist that we need a new morality to replace the old standards. Our society and especially the media, is comprised of many people who have no biblical convictions at all. The moral standards of some in our culture are about like those of an alley cat–and they sometimes seek to impress their values upon the minds of all who will listen.
In earlier days, divorce was disgraceful; heads of families did not encourage mothers of small children to work away from home; drug abuse was limited primarily to alcohol addiction; homosexuality was viewed as a perversion and millions never even heard of lesbianism. Today, our society has enshrined ugliness; the ability to shock has replaced the desire to uplift and inspire; the media is trying to challenge conventional standards of decency; children of divorcees are bouncing between parents like Ping-Pong balls.
Jesus says that moral conditions on earth (just before He returns) will be like they were in the days of Noah. Those were days of great wickedness and corruption and violence. Genesis 6:5 says The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” Jesus says also that the last days before His return shall be much like conditions were in the days of Lot. There was unrestrained buying and selling, gourmet eating and drinking, and crude sexual Immorality (Luke 17:28-30). The Apostle Peter says that “Lot was tormented in his righteous soul” as he observed their “unlawful deeds” and their “filthy conversation” (2 Peter 2:7-8). Lot was distressed and vexed by the awful immorality evident all around him.
Moral standards in America have gone down more in the last few decades than during the entire century preceding our present age. There is more greed and swearing and fighting and cheating and stealing and immodesty and adultery and easy divorce and suing at the law–in our day–than at any other time since the creation of Adam and Eve, with the possible exception of the days just before the universal Flood described in the book of Genesis.
Multitudes in our churches announce that they believe in life after death but live as if material gain is really the only thing that counts. Consumerism Is one of the key sins of the latter part of the Twentieth Century. Shopping malls make it easy to get caught up In one of the great evils of our society. Attractive items are displayed. They can be purchased with a credit card-and shoppers buy and buy and buy–and then later have yard sales to get rid of their accumulated junk. It is immoral to spend money we don’t have to buy things that we don’t need.
The area of morality, however,, that Carl Zeigler spoke about at a BRF meeting many years ago, centers around marriage, home and sexual morality. (His message is included in the pages that follow.) The Bible emphasizes the significance of the Christian home and family. One noted Association defines a “family” as “two or more people who reside under the same roof and have some kind of commitment to the future.” This loose definition lets room for a man and a woman to simply shack up together under the same roof without the commitment of marriage. It allows for homosexual partnerships, It includes communal living where each is free to co-habit eating and drinking with the other. Multitudes are saying that we can no longer think of a family as a male husband and a female wife, who live together for life and seek to bring up a godly family.
The “family” was originated by God at the time of the beginning of the human race. The key Bible passage is Genesis 2:24. God says “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” There are some obvious conclusions from this passage:
a) Marriage is to be monogamous (one man and one woman, a man and “his wife,” not “his wives
b) Marriage is to be permanent (“joined to” speaks of a binding commitment, like epoxy glue).
c) Marriage is to be heterosexual (the instruction is given in the context of a man and a woman, not two men or two women).
d) Marriage is to be a separate unit (to ‘leave” means “to abandon the former relationship”).
The highest and purest and happiest form of human relationship has always been that which God instituted–the uniting of one man and one woman in a binding marriage commitment for life. God intends some to remain single. Singleness allows for more dedicated-service in the Lord’s work (1 Corinthians 7:32-34), but remaining single Is the exception rather than the rule.
There is a war being waged against the family today. The value-systems of people in our communities are dramatically changing. Television is the leading moral influence in the typical American home, and more and more members in our churches are choosing to place themselves under its powerful influence. Values are changing regarding household leadership styles, child raising practices, sexual attitudes and marital arrangements. Brother Carl Zeigler, more than ‘twenty years ago, gave a fair warning–urging that we heed the biblical mandate to build strong families and to stand firmly for sexual purity. We believe that you will benefit from reading the pages that follow.
The Need For Strengthening Morals
By Carl W. Zeigler
Carl W. Zeigler was born on February 1, 1910 and was ordained to the eldership in the Church of the Brethren in 1940. He served as pastor of the Lebanon, PA congregation, and for three decades was a Bible teacher at Elizabethtown College. Brother Zeigler brought the message recorded in this issue of the Witness more than twenty years ago on Saturday, September 13, 1975. Brother Zeigler taught a number of BRF sponsored BBI classes held each summer on the campus of Elizabethtown College.Carl Zeigler died at the age of 77 on October 1, 1987.
There are those in our society who are insisting that our day calls for a new morality to replace the old standards. The guidelines to which many people are listening these days are either from those who make no profession of being Christian, or they come from those who claim to be Christian but deny the basic doctrines of historic Christianity. As Christians, we must agree to accept the teachings of the New Testament in the area of morals and morality. This needs to be done in our homes, in our Sunday School classes, in our preaching, and in our counseling. There is a desperate need for embracing the New Testament teachings in order to counteract the evil influences from much of our educational system and from the electronic media.
Standing for biblical morality begins with experiencing the new birth. Jesus said, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The Apostle Paul says that “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away and all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christian morality is based upon inner motivation. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Again, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34).
Some of us have seen the words carved on the Youth Tabernacle in Ocean Grove, New Jersey: “Sow a thought and reap an act; sow an act and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny.” Christian morality is more than speaking pious words with the lips.
We look now at some of the basic affirmations of the Christian faith in the area of morals.
1. WE BELIEVE THAT THE HUMAN BODY IS SACRED
Our bodies have been made in the image of God. Our body is the place where the Holy Spirit dwells, and any abuse of one’s body (or the body of another) is sinful. It is immoral. In the last several years we have been hearing a great deal about the lifestyle of homosexuals and Lesbians. I have read that twenty-five percent of the people in the entertainment world are in this so-called “gay crowd.” I have been reading of ministers who openly confessed that they were homosexuals and wanted to be ordained. And in some cases, their churches gave them permission. We need only to read Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 to notice that this lifestyle is not in accord with God’s plan for moral living. The Bible plainly says that such persons shall not enter into the kingdom of God. I am not aware of any movement within the Church of the Brethren to endorse the rights of such people, and I hope to God we never will! It is true that there are individuals who need our help. They are sinners and need the grace of God and the love of God to see the error of their way. But we need to recognize that those who continue in such lifestyles are going contrary to the teachings of the Word of God. (Editor’s Note: Readers must keep in mind that this message was delivered in 1975.)
2. WE MUST BE CONSISTENT IN OUR APPROACH TO SEXUALITY
I realize that the attitudes toward sex are rapidly changing in America’s society. Ours is a sex-saturated age, a sex-affirming society-and we see all around us an erosion of the traditionally Christian call to chastity before and after marriage. The New Testament teaches that next to one’s relationship to God through Jesus Christ, the most important human relationship is that between a husband and wife. Sex is a God-given and beautiful privilege within the framework of honorable marriage. Pre-marital and extra-marital sex relationships are wrong and sinful. We must cry against illicit sexual relationships in every home, in every Sunday School class, and from every pulpit. And yet, in spite of the need for much teaching in this area, I know of ministers who openly and privately condone trial marriages so long as the couple says it is based on what they call “love.” Ernest Hemingway wrote, “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after. Surely this is not the teaching of the New Testament!
We need to be admonished again and again to keep ourselves pure. Maybe for too long a time our approach to sex has been too prudish, but I think that now there is a swing to the other extreme. The secret of living a moral life is self-control, Christ control. If Christ is living within us, it is He who controls us, and He determines for us those pleasures which have eternal and abiding value.
3. WE MUST RE-EMPHASIZE THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HOME AND FAMILY
Less than three weeks ago I was driving alone one night in my car and I turned on the radio primarily to get the news. But before the news was broadcast, a psychologist was saying that the concept of “family” as we know it is on the way out. He said that we should no longer think of two people living together as husband and wife for a lifetime commitment. He said that situations will arise which were not foreseen at the time of the initial marriage, and therefore one should not be a slave to any one man or any one woman. When I heard this philosophy, I said to myself, “But what about the children?” Is it any wonder that juvenile delinquency is on the rise, especially if parental negligence continues to increase?
One of the best things we can do for our children, as fathers and mothers, is to let them know how much we love each other. The Christian home should be a miniature kingdom of God on earth, where love is evident, and where seldom is heard a discouraging word. Our children need to be brought up in homes where they know that mother and dad will still be in love on into the future.
We also need to set good examples of morality in our homes in other ways. There are some programs on the radio and television which must not be permitted in our homes. Much of it is social sewage. And while some of us would not go to a theater to see such rubbish, yet it has a subtle tendency to find its way into our homes, unless it is very, very carefully guarded.
4. WE MUST CONTINUALLY PREACH THAT DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE IS WRONG
Remarriage after divorce is Scripturally forbidden. Ministers should be most careful not to perform marriage ceremonies for those who are divorced and want to remarry while their first partner is still living. Annual Conference says that performing a ceremony for divorcees is the privilege and responsibility of the minister, and that the minister is to judge each case on its own merits. I find such a route very difficult to follow.
I have vivid memories of something that happened in my home when we lived in the parsonage more than twenty years ago. We had gathered around the supper table for the evening meal, when the telephone rang. The voice said, “Are you Rev. Zeigler?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “I’m in town with my bride. We’d like to come to your house to be married.” I said, “But I don’t know anything about you. My first question is, “Were you married before?’” I could hear some curse words under his breath, and then he said, “You ministers are all alike,” and he hung up the receiver. About an hour later, a young man came to my door, and when I greeted him, I thought I recognized him, and I remembered that he had been previously married. He was a little slow in getting around to his purpose for coming, but finally he said, “I’m wondering if you will perform a wedding ceremony for Sharon and me within a few days.” I said, “But haven’t you been married before?” He said, “Yes, but there were problems. We divorced and now I found a new girl for a wife.” I said, “I’m sorry, but I cannot accommodate your wish,” and he left. Not more than an hour later, on the same evening, a young girl from my own congregation came to our home. I was hoping she would not ask me to perform a wedding ceremony because the man whom she was seeing was divorced and his mate was still living. And when I told her that I could not grant her request to perform the ceremony, she literally stumped her feet as she left the house. Rest assured that I did not sleep very well that night.
What I want to emphasize is that we must teach by example and by preaching again and again and again and again. One of the many things I learned in BBI this past summer, as we studied the Gospel of John together, was just how many times Jesus repeated the same teaching. And if repetition was a good method of teaching for our Lord Jesus (who was a Master Teacher), surely it must be a good method for us to use today.
We have all heard it said that one of the strengths of the Church of the Brethren is that we know how to experience unity in the midst of diversity. Well, I trust that unity will never be achieved at the cost of losing our New Testament emphasis. I have been a member of the Church of the Brethren for 55 years. I have been an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren for almost 45 years. There is no church that gives more opportunity to carry out the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I hope to die within the fellowship of the church. I want no part in any divisive movement within the life of the church. We have already too many divisions. On the other hand, I can be very sympathetic with movements that aim to be a purifying influence in the church. You remember in Old Testament times the Nazarites and the Rechabites. These were two groups of people who (when the Hebrew people arrived in the land of Canaan) recognized that the faith of the Hebrew people was being minimized. They noticed the struggle between faith and culture–and they noticed that the culture all too often was crowding out simple faith. These two movements arose to strengthen the faith of the Israelites, and to help stamp out the inroads that pagan culture was making. I can be sympathetic with any organization that aims to purify the church body. God’s blessing to all.