[27]   Conclusion: Discernment & Tolerance

STORY: Two good Christians have been friends for over 10 years. During lunch after one Sunday service, their conversation turned to news about capital punishment. They had opposite opinions so they argued about whether a Christian should support or oppose capital punishment. Both had good arguments but could not convince the other. After an extended 2-hour lunch, they were no longer friends. What do you think is wrong?


·         A 1994 survey of 3800 church kids aged 11-18 reports that 22% thought that the best philosophy of life is to do whatever feels or seems right, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else and another 16% were not sure. This means that more than one-third of church kids do not submit under ethical absolutism of God’s commands. Some of them may be reacting like this out of ignorance but certainty some do not believe in the moral standard set by God.

122.     When there is no explicit guidance from the Bible, how do Christians decide on questions of morality?

a.   Some actions and behaviours are clearly described as sins in the Bible (in the sin lists). However, many things are not inherently immoral; they are often described as “disputable matters” or “grey areas.” Biblical examples include eating meat offered to idols, and observing one day as special above another (Ro 14). Modern examples are drinking liquor, and card playing. However, there are different shades of grey and Christians need to put obedience to God above personal liberty.

b.   Different levels of ethical actions (from lesson 2):

[Note: the colours are from the US scale of alertness to terrorist attack.]



Grey Scale






immoral act

described as sin in the Bible

theft, greed, lie, slander


dark grey

improper act

can lead to sin for you or others OR objected by most Christians

smoking, wearing sexy clothes


light grey

inappropriate act

will not lead to sin but objected by more than a few Christians

using foul language, showing off



morally neutral act

may be objected by a few Christians

wearing jewelry, MOST ACTIONS



good and virtuous deeds

commendable by God and man

generosity, apathy


·         A Christian need to know the limits and be considerate about the consequence of his/her actions.

A note about earrings for men

Women may wear earrings to improve their appearance or attractiveness, particularly in formal occasions. However, such a practice is not common among men. As a result, many Christians object to Christian men wearing earrings. If in the future, wearing earrings is a common practice for men to improve their appearance, then perhaps the practice will not be as objectionable.

Are there proper reasons for men to wear earrings? Yes, for those who wear them as a symbol of their cultural adherence, for example, aboriginal people, and perhaps black people.

Other than this, all other “reasons” are probably unacceptable for Christians. They include: (1) to indicate that they are homosexuals, (2) to indicate that they rebel against tradition or against authority, (3) to follow others as a fad. The first reason shows the person as a persistent sinner; the second reason shows rebellious personality, also a sin; the third shows ignorance of following a fad without understanding its symbolism.

c.   Most daily actions are not specifically dealt with in the Bible. However, when making a decision whether an action is right or wrong, there are general Biblical principles to consider:

(1)  In relation to the Lord:

o        Can I do this as unto God? (Ro 14:8)

o        Does this bring glory to God? (1Co 10:31)

o        How do I feel about this, in the light of my coming appearance at God’s judgment seat? (Ro 14:10,12)  We are to account for our stewardship (of time and wealth) before God. If money is involved, the question will be: is this a proper use of wealth?

(2)  In relation to self:

o        Do I have a clear conscience to do this? (Ro 14:5)  If the behaviour does not result a fully settled mind, then it violates our conscience and becomes a sin. However, beware of self-deception and hardened heart. (Ro 14:22-23)

o        Is it profitable (1Co 6:12) or is it harmful to me? We must keep the temple of God (our bodies) in good health (1Co 3:16-17).

o        Does it enslave (1Co 6:12) and lead to addiction?

(3)  In relation to others:

o        Does it edify my brothers and sisters in Christ? (Ro 14:19)

o        Will this cause others to stumble and lead others astray in faith or morals? (1Co 8:13; Ro 14:20-21) Notice, however, that the “stumbling” refers not to mere dislike but to actual commission of sin or loss of faith.

d.   The overriding principle is to seek God’s guidance.

General guidelines on ethical decisions (Feinberg:44-45)

1.     Am I fully persuaded that it is right?  Ro 14:5,14,23

2.     Can I do it as unto the Lord?  Ro 14:6-8

3.     Can I do it without being a stumbling block to others in Christ?  Ro 14:13,15,20-21

4.     Does it bring peace?  Ro 14:17-18

5.     Does it edify my brother?  Ro 14:19

6.     Is it profitable?  1Co 6:12

7.     Does it enslave me?  1Co 6:12

8.     Does it bring glory to God?  1Co 10:31

True freedom:

“The freedom of grace is not licence to sin, but a call to spiritual liberty which is bounded by the grace of Christ.” (Gal 5:13-25; Ro 6)

1.     True liberty excludes the practice of those things which are distinctly sinful. (sin lists: Mk 7:21-22; Ro 1:29-32; 1Co 5:11; 6:9-10; 2Co 12:20; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 4:31; 5:3; Co 3:5; 2Ti 3:2-4; 1Pe 2:1)

2.     True liberty avoids the practice of those things which tend to enslave (1Co 6:12).

3.     True liberty takes into account the effects of actions upon others (1Co 6:12; 10:23).

123.     How do Christians present their viewpoints to non-believers?

a.   Presenting the Christian viewpoint needs to vary depending on the attitude of the non-believer(s). For nominal Christians or seekers, they may accept or at least respect the authority of the Bible so the Bible can be used and quoted in discussion.

b.   For atheists or people hostile to Christianity, a Christian may need to limit the use of the Bible at the beginning. When discussing with these people, it is important to establish a common ground where discussion can continue. If you insist on the Biblical viewpoint and the atheist insists on the secular viewpoint, then there can be no discussion.

c.   The method is to turn the debate from an issue of morality into an issue that the atheist can subscribe to. For example:

·         In the issue of abortion, we can concentrate our opposition to abortions on the adverse effects of abortion on health, such as the higher likelihood of breast cancer and the severity of post-abortion trauma. We can also raise the issue of defending the defenceless.

·         In the issue of homosexuality, we can talk about “traditional family values” and emphasize that objection to homosexuality is based on the fact that it is an unhealthy lifestyle.

·         In the issue of euthanasia, we can use the example of the Netherlands and discuss the problem of “violating the sacred trust” based on the Hippocratic Oath and the doubt about the integrity of the medical profession.

124.     What are the proper attitudes towards ethical issues of today?

a.   Understand the Biblical principles on the issues:

·         put an effort to understand the issues, read the arguments, search in the Bible, ask for God’s wisdom, make your own judgment, and adopt a proper position

b.   Discern the errors of secular culture based on Biblical evidence:

·         use wisdom to avoid traps of secular culture: beware of wolves in sheep’s skin (Mt 7:15).

(1)  understand that secular humanism, the dominating philosophy in western society today, is a religion by itself, a religion against God

o        Motto: “Man is the measure of all things.”

o        “secular” means eliminating the divine elementary from the world; the intent is to remove (kick) God out of the culture of today

o        “humanism” means establishing man as the centre of the world; the intent is to elevate man to a position of divinity

o        by a process of elimination and establishment, secular humanism accepts man as God

(2)  be skeptical about what secular humanists say

o        1Th 5:21 “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” Paul here refers to prophecies but it is applicable for all things.

o        Christianity, unlike most other religions, is a rational religion. The Bible encourages us to use our brain and our reasoning to see if what we believe is true.

o        Beware of words used by secular humanists: social justice, progress, progressive, fairness, equality, rights, tolerance, diversity, pluralism, political correctness. They misuse the terms in their arguments. They sound good and benign, but Christians must not buy into them. We can ask them to clarify their terms and contradict them if they use the words incorrectly.

o        Beware of how something good is turned into something bad; examples: political correctness into exclusion of religion from public life, acceptance of diversity into suppression of the majority, seeking of freedom into creation of rights

o        Beware of how ideas like freedom, rights, choice are used; examples: emphasizing freedom and choice in abortion, emphasizing equality and love in homosexuality, emphasizing avoidance of pain in euthanasia, emphasizing tolerance in political correctness; understand that rights and freedom cannot be extended without limits and that these are not the highest virtues [if everyone has unlimited freedom to do anything, the world will be in chaos]

o        Many secular humanists started with honourable intentions but they abuse human rights gained (from prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals pushing to same-sex marriage) and they use lies to achieve their objectives (such as the global warming hypothesis).

c.   Practice on what we believe:

·         act and behave according to Biblical principles

·         defend Biblical standards through persuasion (resist peer pressure, stand up and be counted)

·         pass on the Biblical principles to people around us (your family, your children, your church, your friends)

·         as salt and light of the world, exert influence on the society through social action (social activism)

·         Christian counterculture: The origin of the word “counterculture” is from a movement that rebels against the western culture. But we now employ the word to mean the return to God’s values, exactly the opposite of what secular humanists have done. Ro 12:2: Do not be conformed (to the secular values), but be transformed (by God’s values).

d.   Tolerance of different positions on disputable or non-essential matters within the church:

·         For disputable matters (including many issues discussed in this course) that do not involve essential matters of faith, positions can be held tentatively. Your own position may allow revisions when there are new information or new valid arguments.

·         It is also important that we do not pass judgment on others in terms of disputable matters (Ro 14:3-4). If the action of another Christian is truly improper, it should be through private exhortation using Biblical principles.

·         We need to be more tolerant and not legalistic. We should learn to discuss and share on ethical topics but refrain from fierce argument. Differences in opinion should not disrupt our unity and fellowship in Christ. If there is no consensus, we should agree to disagree agreeably. Once again, the saying of Charles Simeon is always a good guideline:

In essentials, unity.

In non-essentials, liberty.

In all things, charity.