Chapter and Verse

by Rick Shrader

In the area of morality we find exactly the same thing. Man cannot escape the fact of the motions of a true right and wrong in himself; not just a sociological or hedonistic morality, but true morality, true right and wrong. And yet beginning with himself he cannot bring forth absolute standards and cannot even keep the poor relative ones he has set up.

Francis Schaeffer1

More and more we are hearing that moral wrongs are only those things that are specifically mentioned in a specific chapter and verse in the Bible. All else, we are told, is morally neutral and amounts only to personal preferences and cultural or religious mores. Sure, one thing may be better than another in a given situation, but unless the Bible specifically mentions the thing in question, it cannot truly be said to be moral or immoral. So we hear it being said.

Such an idea is already having devastating effects on our society as well as on our Christian faith. It is no wonder that people are offended at the suggestion that something they are doing may be wrong. Even Christians are retorting with “show me chapter and verse” when confronted with bad habits, suggestive language, questionable viewing material as well as extra-biblical beliefs that are not specifically named in the Scripture. I suppose they are also offended when a preacher applies Scripture to today’s life situations.

The implications of such thinking are sobering. If nothing is moral (positive or negative) unless it is specifically mentioned in the Bible, the world is basically unaffected by sin, except for the ones God has labeled for us in the Bible. The whole world is basically neutral toward right and wrong. In addition, man is basically innocent until God pronounces him sinful by naming certain things he is doing as sin. Until that time, his actions are not immoral and therefore are not an offense to God. Even the Rich Young Ruler was morally just because he had kept the law from his youth. It was only Jesus’ command to sell all he had that, at that moment, made him become disobedient to God. If only specific things mentioned in specific chapters and verses constitute moral behavior, churches ought to quit wasting money on a preacher who, after he reads a text, begins to add his own words, thoughts and applications. They ought to just play audio tapes of the Bible and leave it at that.

When the Bible makes statements such as “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” how is the reader to understand it? Is he to search his concordance for some references to “appearance” and “sin” in the same sentence with “adultery” or perhaps “murder?” How about when Paul tells Timothy to “depart from iniquity?” Is Timothy only obligated to depart from things that are specifically mentioned in a verse beside the word “iniquity?” Or are we to realize that God wants us to apply a book “once delivered to the saints” to all forms of iniquity that appear in whatever age Christians will be living? I think so.

The fundamental issue at stake in the chapter and verse mentality is a fundamental doctrine of the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans. Before there was the Word of God and even now in places where the Word of God has never been taken, men have always been guilty before God because of their transgression of God’s Moral Law. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves” (2:14). The way Paul “proves” “that they are all under sin” (3:9), is by showing that all men are always violating God’s Moral Law in decisions they make every day.

It is when men discard a belief in a moral Law Giver, that they begin discarding morality, not once they find a Bible. Bruce Lockerbie wrote, “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.”2 It is at that point that man insists before God that his actions are “natural” and therefore right (of course he never stops to think that something can only be called “right” if there is also a “wrong”). This is like the child who insists he should not be punished because he didn’t hear Dad say such and such was wrong. In short, how can Paul say that there is “none that doeth good” if man first had to violate a written law? If true, man truly was not guilty of sin until Moses. But Paul has already thought of that!

After stating that all men sinned in Adam (5:12), he says, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression” (5:14). And why did they die before any written revelation of God was given? The notes in The Believer’s Study Bible say, “The continuing effect of Adam’s sin on his posterity is clearly evident. The point of the verse is that when the Mosaic Law was given, the offense of sin, which all men intuitively recognized (2:15), was expressed clearly in written form as revelation from God.” Men’s actions have always been (and always are) bent toward sin, the violation of God’s Moral Law. Through the conscience of his own violations to this Law, God brings the sinner to a place of receiving the Good News in chapters and verses!

In reaching our generation, we must not lose the high moral ground! This is God’s ordained method of showing a sinner his sin. And we must accept the denunciations of “moralizing” that come with it. Recently, Robert Bork wrote of the demise of morality in our western culture, “When religion faded in England, the next generation insisted upon the strict demands of morality, not realizing that they were living on, and using up, the moral capital left behind by prior religious generations. Gradually, the imperatives of morality faded. We have entered a period in which morality is privatized.”3 Have we not also “privatized” morality into chapters and verses? Are we not also using the “moral capital” of a generation more moral than ourselves? Soon, the fund will be dry and we will have little of conviction to say to our own generation.

1. Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1971) 127.
2. Bruce Lockerbie, The Cosmic Center (Portland: Multnomah, 1986) 52.
3. Robert Bork, “Conservatism and the Culture” The Intercollegiate Review, Spring, 1999. P. 6.

There was an interesting interview on Fox the other night. Catherine Crier interviewed Dr. Laura Schlesinger concerning the state of America’s families. Dr. Laura is pretty tough in her comments and defends the traditional family without apology. She commented that it is a strange thing to see Americans, in an attempt to feel compassion for those in broken homes, literally throwing away the traditional family. In her Jewish manner she said, we put the normal thing, the good thing, over in a corner and then we spit on it! We seem to think that since broken homes exist and are even common, non-broken homes can be discarded. If the broken has become acceptable, must the ideal for which we strive be thought unacceptable?

I am a pastor as well as a father. I am commissioned by God to take care of both a home and a church. I identified with Dr. Laura’s comments in more than one way. It is difficult to maintain a traditional home and family when the world seems determined to make the traditional the non-traditional. What has always been normal now becomes abnormal and shoved into a corner of irrelevancy. It seems society no longer considers the traditional family and home to have any right to speak or lead by example. We have been fooled into thinking that the only wise counsel is out of failure, not out of success.

As a pastor I often feel the same dilemma. To say “traditional church” is to say “out of touch” or “stodgy.” It is viewed by some as being too ideal, too pious to be of any help to “real” people. Surely, some say, if the church does not have difficult carnality showing through, it has little comfort to offer the down-trodden and hurting of our world. But as the comfort for our sin comes from a Wonderful Counselor who was perfect, so should His church strive to be like Him.