Reactive Ethics and Sola Scriptura

 by John Frame

When you write or teach ethics, you may have to resist your natural impulses.

Many Christians come to this discipline with the perspective that the ethics of society and of the church are far too loose today. They determine to develop the strictest ethic that anybody can imagine, or at least to come out on the conservative side of most all controversial matters.

Other Christians come to ethics with a concern to attack “legalism” in all its forms. They have, perhaps, had experience with fundamentalists who impose all sorts of unbiblical restrictions on people’s lives, and they are determined, on the contrary, to be apostles of Christian liberty. So these Christians almost reflexively tend to take the more “liberal” position on disputed issues.

I would urge you to avoid the impulse either to be systematically “conservative” or systematically “liberal.” A biblical ethic, in my view, will sometimes seem “conservative” and sometimes “liberal” in comparison with most polite society. My teaching on the Sabbath will seem very conservative to most California Christians; but I tend to be rather liberal on the matter of gambling, compared to most church teaching I have heard on the subject. I strongly support the Reformed regulative principle of worship, but I am highly critical of many, perhaps most, traditional applications of that principle. So, if you study with me in order to get reinforcement for some partisan position, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.

The point is that we should overcome the kinds of biases mentioned above. The important thing is not to be more conservative than everybody else, or more liberal, but to be Scriptural. Our goal is to say no more, and no less, than Scripture says. If some are offended that our conclusions don’t match their traditions or their view of freedom, then that’s too bad. Sola Scriptura may require us, at times, to offend people in all ideological camps (in love of course)! You should be prepared for that.

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