In most spheres of life, we welcome standards. They provide safety, uniform levels of acceptable performance and guidelines for behavior. Take, for example, the manufacturer who is interested in selling a product on a long-term basis. Such an entrepreneur must maintain rigid quality controls to secure and keep long term satisfaction with his product. Should he let down his standards in production or in handling consumer concerns, it would mean ultimate loss of business and profitability or, to put it another way, the success or failure of his venture.
The world uses standards. Though many consumer products are shoddily made, and with a philosophy of “planned obsolescence,” they do not survive in a market place of fair competition. Purchasers with discernment look for quality, value and service, and thus impose certain standards on that which is acceptable to the market at large. Manufacturers who ignore these consumer-mandated standards do so at their own peril and will not survive.
In the medical community, professional health providers must meet exacting standards of education, peer review, on-the-job performance and licensure. Though these various standards do not guarantee quality health care, the public and our governmental agencies use them to weed out quacks, incompetents and charlatans. Who would desire to have brain or heart surgery performed on them by a health care provider who never mastered or understood anatomy, or came to the procedure with no prior skills or experience?
Picture the sports enthusiast watching a professional baseball, basketball, football, or hockey game, when suddenly all rules (standards) are eliminated. He would be amazed at the poor batter who insists on six strikes instead of three, the football team that plays with twenty players instead of eleven, or the basketball player who uses a stepladder to facilitate his “slam dunks!” Standards provide the parameters necessary for uniformity, fair competition and predictability.
Without the “rules of the game,” anarchy would reign and no game would be like another. The world’s standards change culturally or socially and these mandated standards, however useful and necessary for various spheres of life, are fickle and transient. Whereas our God is holy and immutable (changeless), the standards of men seemingly change with the wind. For example, clothing styles acceptable to society are in a constant state of flux. The music crowd of this generation would laugh hysterically at the music crowd of the Roaring Twentiesa . The “evangelical” believer of today may look on the dress of pre-World War II believers with condescending amusement and conclude they were unnecessarily austere.
Various forms of social behavior also seem to undergo changes in standards, or acceptable norms. The strictly observed “courtship” of the past, which was guided by parental rules and guidelines, seems old-fashioned to today’s youth, who often choose serial dating, unfettered petting, and brazen fornication. Physicians and nurses who would have been arrested and incarcerated forty years ago for the same procedure, are now enriching themselves through the socially acceptable abortion of pre-born children. Divorce, which was unheard of among believers fifty to seventy years ago, or at least discussed in hushed tones, is now becoming prevalent in our circles. A believer of Fanny Crosby’sb day would be horrified to hear the average Christian teenager’s tape and CD collection of today.
Sensual performers, driving beat and worldly music styles would have been rejected by God-fearing folk of yesteryear, but such musical tastes are common and acceptable to contemporary professors. What the average American believer now watches on his television during the course of an average week would have been grounds for church discipline several generations ago.
a 1920-1929, a decade of great cultural change in the United States.
b American hymn-writer and poetess, 1820-1915.
Whereas society at large can be expected to follow the dictates of the flesh and depraved human natures, believers must march to the beat of a different drum. Our contemporary culture looks with a patronizing disdain on our godly American forebears, considering themselves enlightened and freed from the shackles of Judeo-Christian ethics. It reminds one of Paul’s conclusion: “but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21b-22).
Christian standards should never change. What is the lesson in all of this? Man left to himself will do “that which [is] right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). His standards will be flexible and of a temporary nature. They will change with the whims and ways of each generation and, over a period of time, will even be contradictory of preceding cultures! Christian friend, the question is not how you and your manner of life are acceptable to your mutable generation, but to your immutable God! We can find small comfort in the fact we fit in with the mainstream of professing Christendom: “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!” (Luke 6:26)
Standards of dress, behavior, etc., will always be followed. The question is whose standards do you observe? Because our inborn fleshly temptation is to follow the standards of the world around us, God warns us repeatedly to resist these inclinations:
“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2);
“For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2).
Israel failed to heed God’s warnings about standards that would effectively separate them from Canaanites and Philistines if they were observed. Israel’s desire was such that they wanted to be like all the other nations of the earth (Judges 8:20). The pressure to conform is as old as human history. Godly standards set Christians apart.
Standards observed for their own sake become legalistic and Pharisaical. However, godly standards of dress, behavior, music, church order, separation, etc., observed to please the Lord and formulated on the basis of scriptural principle, effectively set us apart as a peculiar people who live lives considered inscrutable by our peers.
Do not pride yourself, my friend, on your liberality or your broad-mindedness. We must concern ourselves with obtaining God’s approval, and not that of society, on our standards. Godless Israel persecuted and stoned the prophets who tried to call them back to standards of decency, morality and God’s order. Most will be irritated with prophetic calls for repentance and a return to the ancient landmarks established by our fathers. Only a few will tremble at God’s Word and will pay the price of ostracism, rejection, scorn and ridicule heaped on them for following standards considered old-fashioned and out-of-date. Popularity and social acceptance by their very nature cannot be the criteria of the right or wrong standards, but rather “What saith the scriptures,” or “What will please the Lord,” not “What will please the world around me?”
Those who fear God and eschew evil will seem eccentric to their contemporaries. Their standards of life, because they conflict in so many ways with their world, make them objects of curiosity, defamation and misunderstanding. They become a spectacle to a laughing society. “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men” (1 Corinthians 4:9).
We would all do well to take personal inventory on our manner of life. We all live by standards of some kind, formulated after some criteria discerned or not. Personal holiness, denial of flesh, scriptural principle, separation from sin and the world, and pleasing God have got to be our motivations for establishing standards of life. If they are not, we will look like, think like and act like the God-rejecting world whose standards we have unwittingly followed.
- Ronald E. Williams
Hephzibah House, Winona Lake, IN