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Dr. Joseph Fletcher, an Episcopal theologian and author of “Situation Ethics—The New Morality,” was in Louisville, Kentucky in December of 1966. My next door neighbor invited me to go and listen to his presentation on this subject, and they gave me a copy of his book. The summary on the back page of the book says: “The sensational deductions which the author draws from this premise include the bold statement that any act—even lying, premarital sex, abortion, adultery, and murder—could be right, depending on the circumstances.”
The amazing thing about Mr. Fletcher’s theory is that he claims this is what Jesus taught. He said “Jesus and Paul replaced the precepts of Torah (Law) with the living principle of agape—agape being goodwill at work in partnership with reason” (p. 69). He said that Christianity is corrupted by pietism (which he defined as individualizing right conduct), moralism (which he defined as “trivializing over whose wife one sleeps with”) and Legalism (which means that the Bible is an absolute standard of right and wrong).
First, I would say that Jesus personalized morality by claiming to be without sin (Jn. 8:46; Heb. 4:15), therefore not violating God’s law. If Mr. Fletcher is correct, then Jesus corrupted Christianity!
Passages Mr. Fletcher used to prove his theory are abuses of Scripture. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, He was doing what was lawful (Mt. 12:12; Dt. 23:25). When the disciples plucked train on the Sabbath, Jesus said they were guiltless (Mt. 12:7). He used David’s violation of the law as an argument against His accusers. They were condemning the disciples of Jesus for doing something that was permitted, but defended David doing what was unlawful (Lev. 24:5-9; 1 Sam. 21:6). They showed mercy toward David, but none toward those they wanted to condemn.
The second major error in this doctrine is the misunderstanding of love. He said, “Unlike all other principles you might mention, love alone when well served is always good and right in every situation. Love is the only universal” (p. 60). But “for the situationist there are no rules—none at all” (p. 55). In answer to the question—Is adultery wrong? His response was “I don’t know. Maybe. Give me a case. Describe a real situation” (p. 142). He said “If people do not believe it is wrong to have sex relations outside marriage, it isn’t, unless they hurt themselves, their partners, or others.” He said, “We follow law, if at all, for love’s sake; we do not follow love for law’s sake” (p. 70).
Jesus clearly contradicted Mr. Fletcher’s definition of love. He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments… If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me” (Jn. 14:15,23,24).
Situation ethics is described by Paul as those who are “lovers of themselves,...lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:2-4). The “new morality” is the old immorality Paul described in the first chapter of Romans. Men who professed themselves to be wise become fools “and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man– and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things...who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever...being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness…”
It is true that circumstances determine our actions in many things, but the Bible sets forth the principles that must be applied and we must lovingly apply those principles. One who rejects the Biblical principles does not have a law, for love is not a law. Love for God is what motivates us to obey His law.
Copyright Midway Church of Christ 2014 This page last modified July 03, 2014