Recalling his preaching mission at a well-known secular university, a prominent evangelist recently commented in private conversation about the shocking pornography displayed in dormitory rooms, and the widespread sex immorality confessed by students. “I sent my daughter to——College,” lamented another evangelical leader, “and now I’m told that all the social decencies I have insisted on are prudish!” Remarked a New York lawyer: “If you send your daughter to——, you must expect her to come home holding a cigarette in one hand, a cocktail in the other, and strutting a cynical attitude toward our American ideals.”
When education professedly dedicated to truth is indifferent to moral purity it becomes but an enterprise of sophistry and sham. By whatever disciplines and standards it upholds, every school implies approval or disapproval of a given way of life.
Christian institutions, too, would belie their heritage and purpose were they not interested in preserving scriptural standards of conduct as well as of doctrine. A church constituency has a right, therefore, to look to a Christian campus for higher social mores. Among church-related institutions the issue in debate is not whether but rather which criteria best reflect evangelical sanctification. Is the evangelical safeguard against the immorality prevalent in secular circles a campus code that stipulates “no card-playing, no smoking, no movies, no dancing, no drinking”? Some schools feel that annual student subscription to these regulations is as essential for protecting evangelical vitality as is annual faculty subscription to a doctrinal platform.
Sometimes, however, an almost anti-intellectual approach to Christian education lurks in the shadow of this separationist emphasis. When the genuineness of evangelical higher education is discussed, the first test of Christian fidelity becomes an institution’s published checklist of “don’ts.” While devotion may be formally pledged to integrating thought and life within Christion perspectives, the “code” tends to outweigh these concerns, and hence displaces them as the hallmark of Christian education.
The customary fundamentalist restrictions are, of course, no guarantee of pure doctrine; many of the unorthodox cults reverence even more stringent codes of conduct. But even where orthodox theology prevails—as in the early days of Harvard under Increase Mather—puritanical prohibitions and rigid controls may breed student resentment and may nourish doctrinal revolt as well. It is always difficult to show, of course, that students—and graduates—“go wrong” only because of certain restrictions, and that a similar outcome would not have followed under contrary conditions. Perhaps it is just as risky, however, to credit only “the campus code” for the moral uprightness of students and alumni.
Too often it is forgotten that the evangelical academic task fulfills its first area of responsibility through an earnest exposition of a Christian world-life view. By launching the whole content of the curriculum into this orbit, Christian scholarship will relate life’s claims and experiences totally to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Nor does evangelical education attain its fullest sphere of achievement while the indifference of secular to Christian education remains unchallenged by competent evangelical literature in many fields of learning. Evangelical scholars are too often content merely with raising up isolated pockets of resistance. Even here, in some areas, they fail to dispute the entrenched biases effectively. However much smokelessness and dancelessness may predominate on campus, evangelical education has not seriously pursued its primary task until the academic community grapples with higher issues than the mere repudiation of wide reaches of the cultural setting.
The real risk in the usual fundamentalist articulation of campus regulations is fourfold:
1. Interest in abiding revealed moral principles and precepts becomes secondary in the scramble to equate biblical ethics with specified avoidance of contemporary practices. Ironically enough, many fundamentalists fall into much the same error in this regard as most liberals. By concentrating on particular programs—the liberals in social ethics, the fundamentalists in personal ethics—both groups fail to center ethical concern in divinely revealed imperatives.
2. Reference of right-and-wrong conduct simply to a legalistic code of negations minimizes individual spiritual decision and blunts the development of the “good conscience.” Sometimes we hear that college students today are so immature, and by nature such confirmed legalists, that codes are necessary. As one evangelical educator has said: “One can tell them earnestly all the reasons for or against a given practice, and the next question still remains, ‘Well, can we do it or can’t we?’ Conscientious students expect a list of regulations. Maintenance of a simple set of rules obviates endless discussion and quibbling.” Another evangelical leader asks: “Who should set standards in the home—parents or children? In a college, administration and faculty, or students?” But this line of justification fails to indicate how such codes really help students overcome ethical immaturity. In a statement on student standards a leading college puts the matter this way: “Entering … necessitates signing a pledge to abide by the College regulations. Once such a pledge is signed, personal integrity dictates the only course.”
3. Forthwith to equate “the separated life” with avoidances is to devalue the biblical virtues such as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, self-control, and so on. After all, the essence of Christian personal ethics lies in the exercise of positive virtues, not in the mere avoidance of evils. Abstention, unfortunately, is sometimes combined with a carping lovelessness and pride, so that the minister who smokes, for example, may be automatically shunned as “the devil’s henchman.” The avoidance of certain social practices need not, of course, produce a negative mind-set. And while many evangelical schools enforce their own “rules,” they avoid pronouncements like “for a Christian these practices are wrong.” The major problem is still that of mislocating the primary criteria of Christian morality in what is outward rather than inward. Christian living at its highest is not something achieved through a simple boycotting of the world of culture. God’s people ought to identify the life of sanctification primarily in terms of biblical criteria, rather than by requiring particularities of Christian behavior for which no direct biblical mandate exists. “I am fed up with the fundamentalist’s confusion of taboos with a separated life,” writes the head of an evangelical academy. “I wish that we could put taboos in their proper place and realize that separation means separation from such things as malice, gossip, selfishness, pride, and the like.” The biblical emphasis falls rather on loving of God with the whole heart, and neighbor as oneself; it underscores daily self-denial in the interest of Christ-likeness. New Testament morality, indeed, is not without its “negatives”; they speak, however, from the shadows of the Ten Commandments which devout love fulfills: “Let him that stole steal no more.… Speak evil of no man.… Thou shalt not bear false witness.” The mainspring of New Testament ethics is the lordship of Christ, transforming the believer’s life by the Holy Spirit.
4. To elevate culturally-relative rules of conduct to a place of fixed absolutes is to distort moral values. This mistake is the peril of insisting that loyalty to a revealed Bible and to the fundamentalist code are one and the same package. Such exaggeration invites inevitable revision of rules on the basis of enlarging experience, and encourages the possibility of personal disillusionment and ethical instability. Probably not a single rule of Christian moral conduct not specifically taught in Scripture is universally recognized among believers as valid and binding. An atmosphere of external restraint, which legislates decisions for young people in advance, and dictates rather than develops their attitudes, throws them into confusion when they face new cultural phenomena (like television). The challenge of dedicated discrimination provides a far sounder preparation for assessing individual and group responsibilities.
Nonetheless a place must be found for specific standards on a college campus—provided, however, that the philosophy of conduct is properly elaborated. Because mid-century moral ignorance and deterioration have penetrated everywhere, college students today are ethically less mature than in previous generations. As a result, statements of bare principles without some particularized applications leave immature students confused in the face of specific situations; many reach for a guidance, therefore, that moderates between paternalism and liberty. A church, more often than not, best guides its members by “counsel” rather than a code of particulars; a student body, however, usually settles back to the lowest common denominator of campus conduct. Some uniform criteria would seem to be quite essential, therefore, to preserve, let alone encourage, a spiritual and ethical tone. “I am personally persuaded,” writes the dean of an evangelical divinity school, “that original sin makes standards on campus just as necessary as motor vehicle laws on the statute books of the states.” Chapel attendance, perhaps, ought to rank above all other requirements.
Drinking and smoking are now more easily condemned than other practices because medical opinion confirms their detrimental effects on the body. Indeed, the lack of social conscience is such today that the evangelical community stands increasingly alone in protesting the matter of liquor. Instead of merely promoting a bias against drinking and smoking as “sinful,” the Christian college is especially obliged, it would seem, scientifically to demonstrate to its students the effect of alcohol and nicotine on the body. In regard to movies, some evangelical colleges ban all theater attendance but allow discretion of conscience in watching television. But, notes a prominent administrator, “I would rather pick a good movie now and then, such as War and Peace, The Old Man and the Sea, or The Mountain, than waste my time with TV.” To forego all motion pictures because many are considered harmful is as unrealistic as to forego the reading of books, even good ones, because many books are wicked. Should the evangelical community perhaps encourage the production of films like The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur?
It is possible, we feel, to overcome the liabilities of a code if, as a projection of Christian conscience at a given time in history, it serves to protest specific cultural evils (sexual interpretation of the dance, liquor traffic, disrespect for the body implicit in smoking in view of medical research, and so on). The decision to protest by total negation ought to be optional and personal. On a voluntary community basis the college family may indeed venture total negation. It ought not thereby to imply superiority over other Christians, however, who withstand the cultural milieu in some other way than by asserting a total incompatibility between Christian witness and social context. The latter may still preserve the principle that the demands of the Christian life are basically inward, and require active participation in godly virtue, and the active reclamation for Christ of all the lost spheres of culture.
Some educators consider the signing of “a code of conduct” pledges a mechanical and upscriptural procedure; its main service, they feel, is to provide the dean’s office with a convenient device for student expulsion in the event of habitual infraction. On the other hand, some administrators who rely for campus conformity on “a strong spiritual emphasis”—involving required attendance not only at daily chapel and Sunday services but also at midweek prayer and stated evangelistic meetings—as an automatic device for “staying with the rules,” sometimes seem merely to substitute one form of external pressure for another. One educator thinks a possible solution might be to provide students with a guidebook that incorporates a suggested way of life embracing both positive and negative elements. These would have the force not of legal but of moral sanction.
America’s need for a Christian university has been discussed from time to time. In such a venture the courageous shaping of ethical claims on campus will be a prime responsibility. Evangelical youth needs and wants the perspective of a high morality that issues not from the regulations of men but from sustained devotion to the eternal commandments of God.
A Growing Ten-Year-Old And A Caution For The Future
One of the biggest ten-year-olds you will find anywhere is the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, which is celebrating its birthday by pressing for a new budget of $7 billion plus. How the strapping child has “growed” is indicated by recalling its first-year budget of $1.9 billion, which has since nearly tripled to a soaring $5.4 billion. Over the same period personnel has more than doubled—from 34,000 to 80,000. Nine out of every ten workers in the nation have a direct connection with the department under the Social Security program. After former secretary Abraham Ribicoff resigned last year in order to run for the Senate, he declared that the secretary “wears 20 different hats a day, runs 110 separate programs and is responsible for 75 separate budget items, and the list is growing all the time.”
Department officials face continuing charges that they are bent on promotion of a cradle-to-the-grave welfare state. They are forever climbing Capitol Hill to explain and defend department operations and legislative requests. HEW growth is accompanied by rapid transfer of wants to needs in the minds of the citizens. And more and more the federal government is looked to for the satisfaction of these “needs.”
This is not to say that HEW does not perform many fine services. But it is to express concern over the drift to paternalism reflected in its operations. It is to raise the question of whether much of this government service is to fill a vacuum left by the Church. And it is to express a hope that the citizenry will not barter away political freedoms because of personal insecurities. Let the Church more faithfully and zealously point the citizens to the ultimate paternalism which is also productive of ultimate freedom. It is found in the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A Little Something About ‘Something For Nothing’
Americans are inching toward acceptance of revenue-raising gambling. While many states have legalized racetrack gambling, the legislature of New Hampshire has now passed a bill to permit a state-operated racetrack lottery. The estimated $4 million to be obtained is nobly designated for educational purposes. This will appeal to those interested in education. It will also appeal to those who have the gambling instinct to get something for nothing—and to those psychologically sick people who gamble to lose.
In contrast to a straight lottery in which the winner is determined by the drawing of a number or by a number which regularly appears, as a stock market index, in a racetrack lottery drawn numbers are placed on horses, the winning horses determining the winners. The New Hampshire proposal will therefore also appeal to racetrack interests—and to the liquor interests—since tickets for the lottery will be sold only at racetracks and government-controlled liquor stores.
Unless anti-gambling interests move swiftly, the swelling tide to raise state revenue through legalized gambling in various forms will not be stemmed. Unfortunately Protestant clergymen known for their shoulder-to-shoulder opposition to gambling will get little help from their Roman Catholic colleagues who condemn gambling only when it is done in excess. There are fortunately many non-churched Americans who intuitively, and because of attendant evils, oppose gambling. The cause is not hopeless if opponents of gambling will arise and close ranks.
Indeed, New Hampshire’s near neighbor, Maine, has just provided grounds for hope. Its House of Representatives has rejected a bill calling for a semi-annual state lottery, something religious leaders had vigorously opposed at legislative hearings. The measure had urged sale of three-dollar lottery tickets, with half the proceeds earmarked for educational purposes. (Note the pattern.)
“As Maine goes, so goes the nation”? Many a saddened Republican will tell you it just isn’t so. But let the saying now represent a noble, non-partisan hope.
Let New Hampshire and other states as well look northward for inspiration, if that is what is needed for the people of a state to shoulder forthrightly the costs of governing themselves and educating their young. Are we worthy of the name “democracy”? Indeed, are we worthy to be called parents? Apparently the burden of proof is still upon us.
Surely many recognize that the morals of a society are not enhanced when a state caters to the weaknesses of its citizens in order to find an “easy way” to meet its financial obligations.
A Load Lifted But A Nagging Doubt
Dr. J. Irwin Miller, lay president of the National Council of Churches, is one businessman fearless enough to address 2,000 Christian educators on the subject of Christian education. This he did in St. Louis in connection with the annual meeting of the NCC’s Division of Christian Education.
He criticized those Christians who would restrict Christian thought to a limited set of beliefs, then set forth some limitations of his own. Christian education must aim to help man “find his own answers” to the nature and purpose of God, and not try to “indoctrinate” him, Miller said. Well and good, as long as man seeks to make God’s answers his own. But the NCC leader went on to assert, according to Religious News Service, that church education must be based on the “scriptural” assumption “that every man has the gift from God to discern truth,” and therefore must “remind rather than inform.”
The lay president is obviously not a champion of the tabula rasa school of epistemology, and this does not worry us. But what is worrisome, unless he is making a disguised plea for the ontological argument, is the logic that says possession of the gift of discernment of truth (if this were so) is equivalent to possession of the truth itself to the extent that only a reminder is necessary. The Christian educators present must have been relieved to be let off so easily.
Protestant Problem: Doctrinal Disintegration
If the problems of the modern Church are due in part to external pressures, they are due also to internal confusion. With the emergence of liberalism and the resurgence of Roman Catholicism, the present century has witnessed a doctrinal disintegration that has weakened the life and work of the Protestant denominations and blunted their impact on the world. While no one desires a restoration of heresy hunting or a restriction of reasonable liberty in biblical and confessional interpretation, the riotous growth of private opinion, the disregard for established conviction, and the general dogmatic indifferentism and relativism of many circles, can be viewed only with serious misgivings.
As a recent article on the Anglican articles has shown (see CHRISTIANITY TODAY, March 15 issue, p. 18), the mere mention of a confession will give rise to surprise at the very suggestion, to evasion by a purely local reference, to the most far-fetched of reinterpretations, or to a direct refusal of acknowledgment. Indeed, the absurd idea is sometimes expressed that confessional allegiance denotes ignorance or even denominational disloyalty. Is it any wonder that neither the intellectual nor the plain man is impressed by the discordant and disheartened cacophony which passes for the modern theological and evangelistic message of the Church today?
Naturally we do not suggest that everything taught by the fathers was infallibly correct in all particulars. We do suggest, however, that the pastors, evangelists, and theologians of a church show elementary loyalty to a constituted position until there is authorized reformation under the apostolic norm. We do suggest that those who fashion the message and work of their churches according to what is right in their own eyes desist from their irresponsible activity. We do suggest that those whose trumpets do not have a certain sound withdraw from the public conflict of the Word until they can blow the common note, or until the false note is duly corrected.
A distracted world cannot be helped by evasiveness or self-opinionatedness. It demands men of integrity, of conviction, and of faithfulness to their inner and outer calling. Scripture itself warns us that judgment begins at the house of God. A heavy price may well be exacted, not merely in external futility and internal disintegration, but in the divine displeasure, if there is not the prompt and salutary self-scrutiny which discrepancies between nominal and actual profession so obviously demand.
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