By Calvin George
This article is in part a refutation of an article that I recently read entitled "Standards, Standards, and more Standards!" As the title implies, it mocked standards of separation from the world.
It cannot be denied that some who have standards are judgmental and look down their nose at others. Yes, some are inconsistent or even illogical in their standards. In certain instances, some standards are really personal opinions that may not be based on any biblical principals. Some standards are based on the culture (however, we should keep in mind that culture should adapt to the Bible, and not the Bible to the culture). Still others think that the longer their list of prohibitions is, the more spiritual they are. Some who promote standards of separation emphasize the external and tend to overlook the internal. Some are squeaky clean as far as outward appearance and actions, yet they are filthy on the inside. It is certain that we will never reach the point where we will satisfy everybody. BUT HOLD IT–does this mean we should throw our hands up, act like God never intended Romans 12:1-2 to be in the Bible, and should each one of us do that which is right in our own eyes? God forbid!
We are living in a generation in which Christians think like the world, act like the world, dress like the world, talk like the world and even smell like the world. We are inadvertently sowing seeds of degeneration in those who look up to us. I'm sure you've heard the statement "What we do in moderation our children will do in excess." I find that to be true at least 95% of the time.
Let’s face it. We think we are so spiritual, yet we are so carnal. We think we are so holy, yet we are so worldly. We borrow our philosophies from the world. We think in terms of the world's fashions and fads instead of "What sayeth the Scripture." God have mercy on us.
The problem in our churches is not that there are too many attempting to go to extremes in their desire to be holy. Our churches are permeated with ungodliness. Our pews and pulpits are filled with those who are attempting to see how close they can get to the world and hopefully still be thought of as a Christian.
Many Christians know that something they are doing is sinful, yet they are simply not willing to give up their favorite sins. Even though our Saviour gave His all, they are not willing to surrender all at the Master's feet. What a sad commentary on the Christianity of our generation!
But alas, the few who try to take a stand are often ridiculed and scorned and considered to be the problem. Since they still have faults, they are demonized so others can justify their worldly mentality. They are often maligned so that those who don't take a stand can soothe their conscience.
Many who ridicule standards of separation ignore the biblical commandment to avoid that which may offend or may cause a brother to stumble (1 Cor. 8). Maybe they forget that 1 Cor. 10:23 is still in the Bible: "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not."
Some portray Christians with standards as being wishy-washy and describe them with colorful descriptions as follows: …bitterness, unforgiveness, uncontrolled anger, bearing evil reports, judgmentalism, self-righteousness, pride, unkindness, etc… I will admit that the above list I borrowed describes nearly perfectly a few I know who have standards. However, that does not mean that nearly all are that way, or that it excuses the rest of us from obeying God's Word and making a difference.
One thing I've learned in the few years I've been in the ministry is that people often won’t end up doing what you expect them to do. That is why pastors and leaders in different ministries need to have guidelines for workers, including standards of separation from the world. Part of that is because the leader must give an account for that ministry, he represents it and he must have a clear conscience about how things are conducted. I will use the music ministry in the church I'm pastoring as an example. My first Sunday in the church was the former pastor's last. I'll never forget the lady church member who sang a special. She wore a miniskirt and sang a song about how we should care about everybody, including those who have Aids (there was nothing really wrong with the lyrics, but it was not a Christian song, therefore it was inappropriate). One of the first things I did when I took the church was to distribute a sheet with some new guidelines that had to be followed by those who wanted to participate in the music ministry of the church. I could not have a clear conscience if I was pastoring a church in which I couldn't do anything about ladies getting up to sing specials in a miniskirt or a low-cut blouse, or have men sing with long hair, an earring, or wearing a T-shirt and tennis shoes (unless they were really poor and that's all they had to wear). When I first took the church, I had a serious problem with a woman member coming to church with no bra beneath her blouse. As a result of taking a stand and preaching on "women adorn themselves in modest apparel" (1 Tim. 2:9), one family is no longer faithful or as active in the church, and we no longer have a choir. Taking a stand was not easy–and it came at a price–but I believe that what I did was biblical and necessary.
Sometimes a leader will impose some standards that we do not understand. I went through that when I started a Spanish ministry in Denver. The American pastor at that church told me that the man who wanted to play the guitar had to shave his well-trimmed beard off if he was to help me in the Spanish ministry. I never understood that rule, and probably never will. The Bible says Jesus had a beard. The closest I come to understanding this rule is that hippies in the 60's often wore beards, so beards could give off the appearance of evil. Also some professional positions in important companies require that their staff be clean-cut (a cultural thing I guess). Even though I didn't agree with this rule, for the sake of the ministry I tried hard to keep quiet about it and to not ridicule the pastor for imposing it. One thing we need to drill into our thick heads is that we won't always understand all the rules that we have to obey, whether in the ministry or in everyday life. To illustrate this, think about what happens when you fly. You are ordered by the flight attendant to put your seatbelt on. You can argue all you want, saying, "What good will the seatbelt do me if we crash and burn or if the airplane plunges into the ocean? It doesn't make sense. No, I will not wear the seatbelt." What would happen next? You would be asked to get off the plane, if it is still on the ground. So although you don't understand or agree with the rule, for the sake of accomplishing your goal of getting from point A to point B, you submit to the regulation. So it is in God’s work.
There are some areas in which we need to be very careful as we take a stand against sin. We need to be careful about the spirit in which it is done. We need to be careful that we do not demonstrate a sense of superiority nor arrogance, but rather a broken heart. I did not have the privilege of hearing John R. Rice preach (he went home to Glory in 1981), but I am told that he would often preach against sin with tears. Our Saviour also preached in this manner (John 11:35), as did the apostle Paul (Acts 20:31; 2 Cor. 2:4). We should not stand against sin with the intention of elevating ourselves, as if we were trying to pass ourselves off as more spiritual than other believers. The Bible warns us that "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12), and "Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
We need to be very careful in the area of proclaiming our personal opinions and preferences. I'm not against sharing personal opinions from the pulpit (I do it all the time), but these personal preferences should not be preached dogmatically as if it was a commandment or a principle clearly delineated in the Scriptures. I have heard preaching against coffee, Coca-Colas, ham, etc., that was preached in an attempt to make it seem as if it was based on a Scriptural principle or commandment. The Bible warns us about this in Matthew 15:9 "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
When it comes to standards, we need to approach each issue asking ourselves, is this sin? That is the root of the matter. If there is doubt as to whether something is sin, we should abstain from it (Rom. 14:23). If it's sin, let’s totally abstain from it, and warn others. If it’s an opinion that cannot be clearly backed up with a scriptural principle, let’s be honest about it and declare it to only be our opinion.
Preachers need to get back to preaching against sin. We need to preach that sin is black, hell is hot, and eternity is long. God vehemently hates sin. There should be repugnance for sin (but not the sinner–sinners are precious souls for whom Christ died).
Preachers should preach more against sin, but it should not replace preaching the gospel. The central theme of our preaching should always be the Lord Jesus Christ.
Much is said about the importance of love. Of course it’s important. The Bible tells us in 1 Cor. 13 that if we don't do what we do with love, we are fooling ourselves. Accusing those who take a stand related to holiness of lacking love is the oldest exercise in futility. The apostle Paul was accused of being unloving (2 Cor. 11:11).
I have preached many times that the biggest reason people decide to reject the gospel and go to hell is because of Christians. Not only do they not share the gospel with others, many Christians of our day are hypocritical and bear the stench of sin. This type of Christianity is repugnant to the unsaved, especially if the Holy Spirit has been dealing with the unsaved individual concerning his sin. A Christianity that demands and demonstrates holiness and love will probably not attract the unconverted who are not convicted about their sin, but it will attract those who are tired of living in sin and are contemplating coming to the arms of the Saviour.
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: MANY SHALL SEE IT, AND FEAR, AND SHALL TRUST IN THE LORD. Psalms 40:2-3
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. THEN WILL I TEACH TRANSGRESSORS THY WAYS; AND SINNERS SHALL BE CONVERTED UNTO THEE. Psalms 51:10-13
Standards DO matter.
May "Oh to be like Thee, Blessed Redeemer!" be our prayer and our song.