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Situational Ethics and WWJD? - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Apologetics - A Reasoned Defense of the Christian Faith

Today, many Christians are turning back to the puritans to, “walk in the old paths,” of God’s word, and to continue to proclaim old truth that glorifies Jesus Christ. There is no new theology. In our electronic age, more and more people are looking to add electronic books (ePubs, mobi and PDF formats) to their library – books from the Reformers and Puritans – in order to become a “digital puritan” themselves. Take a moment to visit Puritan Publications (click the banner below) to find the biggest selection of rare puritan works updated in modern English in both print form and in multiple electronic forms. There are new books published every month. All proceeds go to support A Puritan’s Mind.

A case for WDJD not WWJD!

Errors which infiltrate Christ’s church are often subtle. They do not necessarily parade themselves as bald-face errors, but errors mixed with the truth. In this way errors appear in the beginning to have a small “bite.” The error creeps in unnoticed and deposits a small amount of doubt, or a new perspective on an old truth. Later on though, the error develops into a ghost which possesses the ability to haunt a given congregation, or group of likeminded churches for years, or even decades.

A distinction must be made. Errors cannot initially be labeled as “heresy.” When some zealots are exposed to a pernicious error, they instantaneously brand it as “heresy” simply because it is not according to the truth of God’s Word. But error and heresy must be prudently defined. They cannot denote the same thing, lest, everyone of us be damned, for heresy is damning. If a man is a heretic, he will be damned for holding to some unorthodox point of doctrine which is in extreme conflict with the orthodox doctrines of historical Christianity. Heresy is a grave wickedness against the God of heaven. For instance, if someone did not believe Jesus Christ was God, he would be holding to a heretical doctrine, possibly the heresy of Arianism, as the Jehovah’s witnesses do. Or if a man denied the Trinity and believed that there is One God in One Person as the Jews do. These are damning heresies since they subvert the very essence of Christian doctrine and the Holy Scriptures.

The subject in this article is one of error, not heresy; though there is a grave possibility for this error to turn into heresy. In our culture the quest for novelty never ends. Even within the ranks of the faithful, many have attempted to publish Gospel truths before men in new and unique fashions. The attempt at reminding the Christian to keep his eyes on Jesus Christ is threatened by the world in its ability to entertain us so easily with movies, TV and other aspects of the Media. Our pop culture easily wins us to their side because they fabricate a lifestyle of fantasy, fun and pleasure. The children of today’s church are growing up in this pleasure-filled aspect of post-modernism which causes them to feel their way through life instead of think.

As a result of rubbing shoulders with the pop-culture, a new “Christian fad” has arisen. The next generation of the church has been swept up in a movement centered around the slogan “What Would Jesus Do?” The movement has immersed the Christian church in its bracelets, necklaces, rings, advertisements, tracts, books, T-shirts and the like, which all promote an idea which I believe is an error. Interesting enough, this error is in contrast to the secular pop-culture in that it promotes thought, as well as feeling.

The slogan for this movement is “What Would Jesus Do?” This sounds harmless enough. This short, pithy jingle endeavors to aid Christians, especially teenagers and younger, in whatever situation they may find themselves. They should give thought to the question, “What would Jesus do if He were in my shoes or in my situation?” For instance, a group of teenage boys attempt to convince a younger boy that he should try a marijuana joint. Here is when the boy should stop and think, “What Would Jesus Do?” What of the teenage girl who is pressured about “making out” with her “boyfriend”. She ought to stop and think “What Would Jesus Do?” In an effort to be reminded about this slogan, they would no doubt be wearing their wrist bracelet with the acronym “WWJD” staring them in the face, or their gold necklace with the same letters, or their T-shirt embroidered with “WWJD?” on the pocket. Here they would find solace in the question, and hopefully they will make the right choice in that given situation.

Some may be asking why I am writing a rebuking article on the jingle “WWJD?” Is this necessary? Ought the girl who is pressured about a sexual encounter, or the boy pressured about smoking a joint think about the way Jesus would take as His “way” out and imitate Him? Should they mimic the Lord and do what he would do in such a situation? Actually, no, they are not. Some will think that statement is foolish. However, they are mistaken for a number of reasons.

The matter at hand is not simply asking the question “What Would Jesus Do?”, but rather, why are they asking this question in the first place? The question itself is irrelevant. It is actually quite meaningless. How could we possibly know what Jesus would do in any situation? How do we know that when Jimmy fantasizes about what Christ would do with a joint, he is right? Can he know? Is it all simply conjecture on what Jimmy thinks? – of course it is. But there is an answer. The answer is to be reminded about what Jesus did do as recorded for us in the Scriptures. Christ’s will for Christians (for all men) is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. All we need to live a holy and righteous life before God is contained in the Bible. The question “WWJD?” is a wrong question. The question should be “What Did Jesus Do?” What did Jesus do when confronted with temptation? What did Jesus do when exposed to immorality? What did Jesus do when Pharisees ridiculed him? What did Jesus do when men sought to kill him? The question must not direct Christians away from the Bible, but rather to the Bible.

The “WWJD?” movement is pulling people away from the Bible more than they are encouraging people to read the Bible. The bracelet worn with the “WWJD” letters on it do not press the young Christian teenager to pick up his Bible in a given situation (if he owns one), but rather to come up on his own, or what he thinks to be the truth. It begs the question, “What do I think Jesus would do in a given instance?” There is a grave problem here since what I think may not align wit the what the Bible says. Ask 10 teenage boys to give an answer on “how far” one should go on a date with a girl and you will have 10 answers. But what does the Bible say? What is recorded already in the Bible for us? Christ has already given us 2 important tools as Christians to follow Him in holiness: 1) He has given the testimony of his own life in the Gospels and Acts, and 2) He has given us all the commandments and guidance we need in the Bible as a whole as we rightly apply His Word to our lives. Imagine the teenage boy again having to answer the “WWJD?” question in a given situation. How much of the Bible does that boy know? How much of the Scriptures has he memorized? Will he answer with what he thinks he ought to do, or by what the Scriptures command him to do in order to please God? Has he been catechized or is his Sunday school teacher just as inept at answering biblical questions as he is?

Unfortunately, the “WWJD?” movement is teaching people to rely on situational ethics as a means to please God. This is a grave error which leads to relativism and a disregard for the Word of God, rather than an enforcement of reading it. Situational Ethics teaches that in a given situation, the situation itself will determine the course of action. Here the “WWJD?” movement and the propagation of situational ethics go hand in hand. Decisions are based on what the person believes Christ will do in a given situation, rather than relying on what the Word of God already states and commands believers. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification…” (1 Thess. 4:3) “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7) “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7) The Word of God consistently reemphasizes its own truthfulness, guidance and efficacy. It is the determination by which all answers are principally explicitly or principally derived.

The “WWJD?” movement reinforces a neglect or distortion of prayer. By relying upon one’s own interpretation of a fictional event in the life of Christ as it is applied to a given situation, prayer is removed further from the Christian’s mind. Instead of a reliance on God through prayer, that He would bring to mind what has already been memorized or understood from the Word of God, the “WWJD?” disciple relies on himself and, again, his own interpretation of a fictional event applied to the life of Christ. Or, prayer is used to aid the person in attempting to realize what Jesus would have done in a given situation. Here, wisdom is requested, but in lieu of an event that never happened in the life of Christ. The prayer may go something like this: “Please Lord help me figure out what Jesus would have done if He were in my shoes in this situation.” Rather, prayer ought to be zealously sought in order that the Biblical pattern of holiness may be seen as it is described in the Bible. “Pray without ceasing” is the directive of the apostle Paul (1 Thess. 5:17). And Luke 18:1 states, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” There are thousands of examples of holiness, not only explicitly stated, but also explicitly described through the lives of saints who have previously runt he race before us with diligence in prayer. Instead of praying to God to help us know “WWJD?” let us seek the throne (Heb. 4:12), and the Word (Psalm 119:103) to value what Jesus already accomplished, and what others who followed Christ also did and said.

A more serious problem is a negligence to regard the authority of Scripture alone. The Reformation’s emphasis on Sola Scriptura is discarded by the “WWJD?” movement. To rely on a an account which is sorely relative, and imagined by the “WWJD?” disciple, is to disregard the Scripture’s sole authority over the life of the believer. Christians ought never to rely on what they think may be true, but what is certainly true as stated in the Scriptures. Situational Ethics and the “WWJD?” movement create a fictional theater in the mind for those followers of the jingle. For example, a young boy is pressured about smoking a joint. He is armed with a few notions about who Christ is and what He did on the cross. He knows Jesus was God and that He was sinless. He is then exhorted to fantasize about what Christ would do in such a situation given his understanding of Christ. The story then begins in the theater of the mind and a fictional account of what “could be” is expressed by the young boy. Statistically, he could come up with a rather sound fantasy. However, the Bible does not instruct us to imagine our way out of a situation, but to fight using the Sword of the Spirit and the Armour of God (Ephesians 6).

The error of the “WWJD?” movement is the gradual decline into situational ethics at the expense of the Word of God. How difficult would it be to change the slogan and begin again with “What did Jesus Do?” In the acronym it is a change of one letter (WWJD? to WDJD?)! The difficulty would be enormous for 2 reasons: 1) The place of the lax mind in 21st Century Christendom, and 2 ) the amount of capital involved in recalling the old campaign jingle and exercising a new one. Studying is too difficult. It is far easier to imagine what Jesus would have done, that to “…search the Scriptures…” (John 5:39). Searching the Scriptures implies a nobility that few desire (Acts 17:11). And imagine the amount of capital that it would take to wipe out the wrong teaching and replace it with the truth? It would be a matter of willingness for “Christian” bookstores to possibly drop in their sales with all this paraphernalia, and to promote the truth. Pastors would have to recant their supporting sermons. Books would have to be rewritten. Parents would have to rethink all they have embedded into their children’s minds concerning the ideas they have belabored to teach them for years. And all the current stock in Christian bookstores would have to be discarded.

I suppose in rethinking this issue and all that it entails, all the damage it may have done to people’s lives, all the false ethical situations it may have created, and all the sin it may have caused, those who propagate this jingle should ask the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” No, I think not. Rather, they ought to bow before the special revelation God has given us in the Scriptures and in the person of Jesus Christ His only Son. Otherwise, the error may turn into a heretical stance rebelling against the revealed will of God in the Bible – becoming secularists. The road to situational ethics is being traversed even now. We need, again, to recapture the thrust of the Reformation in its authority of the Word of God. We must teach the next generation not to rely on their own ideas about Scripture, but on the Scripture itself.

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