I have written often on the subject of manners.  I was first introduced to the subject by my mother who impressed upon me the need to continue the course, even after she has gone.  Sometimes the lessons were taught at the end of a hickory switch, but more frequently with the ease of comfortable wit and wisdom.  The only regret I have is that I haven’t achieved the level of my teacher.  And I suppose that my pupils will graduate my class with the same fate, as will theirs and so on to each generation.

What we see around us in our land are bad manners.  This is the result of that same downward progression as each generation abrogates the responsibility it has to its children.  Eventually, the freedom to be good is overcome by the freedom to be bad.  And what was once considered bad manners is now the accepted norm whether at the dinner table or in the church pew.

Years ago I read of the English judge John Fletcher Moulton and his treatise on “Law and Manners.”  Lord Moulton proposed that a nation is governed by three domains: Law, which can become totalitarian if kept without restraint; Free Choice, which can become antinomian if kept without restraint; and Manners, which, by self-restraint, keeps the other two from taking over.  A nation’s goodness can be measured by how large the middle area of Manners remains.  When Manners disappears, either totalitarianism or antinomianism will rule the day.

Peter Drucker wrote in the Harvard Business Review,

Manners are the lubricating oil of an organization.  It is a law of nature that two moving bodies in contact with each other create friction.  This is as true for human beings as it is for inanimate objects.  Manners enable two people to work together whether they like each other or not.  Bright people, especially bright young people, often do not understand this.  If analysis shows that someone’s brilliant work fails again and again as soon as cooperation from others is required, it probably indicates a lack of courtesy—that is, a lack of manners.1

Have you noticed these days how quickly people swing from wanting and advocating freedom for every base desire, to demanding accountability and blame for every offense?  Society defends its “right” to distribute and sell child pornography and yet will send an unsuspecting adult to jail for life for giving a child a hug.  States fight for the right to make billions from casinos and lotteries, and yet will send a politician to jail for accepting a $100 gift during a political campaign.  Citizens demand the convenience of drive-through windows at restaurants, and yet will sue for millions if they spill the coffee in their own lap.

T.S. Eliot wrote, “The danger of freedom is deliquescence; the danger of strict order is petrifaction.”2 Without the self-restraint of good manners between them, lawlessness and moral license are battling for the right to rule.  I am afraid that this is true in America’s churches as well.  The middle ground of manners, of self-restraint, of deportment and accountability, is missing even among those who claim Christianity.  Have you noticed that we have more Bible studies and online Christian information than ever, and yet increasingly advocate the removal of specific doctrines or beliefs that might divide or offend?  Have you noticed that law suits and accusations of immorality abound within churches, yet many of those same people are constantly arguing for looser requirements, freedom of self-expression and removal of church rules or regulations?  The friction created by the two opposing forces of legalism and license, with no remaining buffer between is caused by at least four biblical facts.

The heart is deceitful above all things

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9).

Even true believers do not have a healthy respect for their own fallen nature.  We ought to know by now that two things are true within us:  We are made in the image of God with power and ability above all of God’s other creatures; and yet we have lapsed into sin and carry the nature of Adam with us to our death.  Salvation offers blessed forgiveness in this life, but not freedom from sin.  Our sin nature still has to be fought, resisted and overcome by the Word and Spirit of God.  Spurgeon wrote, “Our faith at times has to fight for its very existence.  The old Adam within us rages mightily; and the new spirit within us, like a young lion, disdains to be vanquished.  These two strong ones contend until our spirit is full of agony.”3

Rather than taking responsibility for our own actions, believing that every man is. . . drawn away of his own lust and enticed (James 1:14), we redefine our urges as spiritual.  Norman Geisler recently wrote, “Morally speaking, ‘irresistible urges’ are urges that have not been resisted.  People have died for lack of water and food, but no one has ever been known to die for lack of sex, alcohol, or other drugs to fulfill his cravings!  We have a free choice in all these areas.”4 Madame Roland, in the French revolution cried, “Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name.”5

The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10).

Paul told Timothy that love of money can replace love of godliness, which, with contentment, is great gain.  The error of such people is supposing that gain is godliness (1 Timothy 6:5). The NKJV is more precise: who suppose that godliness is a means of gain! There is nothing more distasteful than observing someone feign spirituality having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage (Jude 16).

If necessity is the mother of invention, the love of money is the mother of all kinds of evil.  Even Christians will twist Scripture without mercy to justify their avarice.  In such matters, where there’s a will there’s a way.  With no self-restraining manners, the lust of the eyes will win every time.  “History shows that, without recognition of a universal moral Good, man readily assumes that what satisfies his lusts and indulges his pride may logically be called good.”6 Because of our generation’s abundance, we are seeing, even within Christian churches, greed and simony redefined as leadership and skillfulness.

Even now, there are many antichrists

Little Children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time (1 John 2:18).

We also underestimate the power of our enemy, the Devil, and his ultimate goal of incarnating himself into the person of antichrist.  If we did not, we would not fall so easily for false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.  And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-14).  It is because they have a form of godliness (2 Timothy 3:5) that we accept them with open arms.

Our churches are silent about the preaching of the coming of the man of sin, of his one-world church and his false prophet working miracles and wonders while deceiving the whole world.  The imminent return of Christ is no longer a deterrent to sin. And yet, Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (1 John 3:3).

The wheat and the tares grow together

The servants said unto him, wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?  But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.  Let them both grow together until the harvest. (Matthew 13:28-30).

Someone said that law without punishment is merely good advice.  In this age of grace, in which God’s judgment is not immediate but longsuffering, people learn that sin does not necessarily bring immediate consequences and therefore God’s laws are mere kind suggestions.  And just as an indulgent parent teaches his child that wrong actions have little consequence, we come to believe (because of God’s grace!) that there are no moral absolutes, but wrongly think of the verse, where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (Romans 5:20).

Today’s grace indulgence sounds more like the famous atheists than the apostle Paul.  It was Nietzsche who said, “Let us beware of saying that there are laws in nature.  There are only necessities: there is nobody who commands.  Nobody who obeys, nobody who transgresses.”7 And it was Bernard Shaw who quipped, “The golden rule is that there is no golden rule.”8 Paul said, rather, that punishment and everlasting destruction will happen when he shall come to be glorified in his saints (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

And so . . .

We are like pupils in a class without a teacher.  It seems all have thrown caution to the wind.  But our Teacher is resident within us and we should not need the same kind of teacher that the rest need in order to keep good manners.  Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.  Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God (1 Corinthians 15:33-34).

Notes:
1. Peter F. Drucker, “Managing Oneself,” Harvard Business Review, March/April 1999.
2. T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1949) 156.
3. Charles Spurgeon, My Conversion (Kinsington, PA: Whitaker House, 1996) 63.
4. Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1999) 27.
5. Madame Roland was executed (1793) by guillotine as a French revolutionary after giving an address near a new statue of Liberty.  The quotation is found in a number of common sources.
6. Bruce Lockerbie, The Cosmic Center (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1986) 52.
7. Quoted by Best & Kellner, The Postmodern Turn (New York: Guilford Press, 1997) 69.
8. Quoted by G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000) 2.