Friday, March 23, 2012

Facing Utilitarian Giants In the Church

By: Min. Angela Lee Price
New members often come to church from various backgrounds and with different theological beliefs. As a former Assimilations Director, I have encountered new members who were heavily influenced by the world and its various forms of relativism or utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the belief that there are some general moral rules but no absolute ones. It is not the rule, but the results that determine whether an act is good or bad. What is true of new believers is that most do not know very much about the Bible. However, they do know a lot about Pop culture. They may not have heard the names Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mills, and G. E. Moore, but it is likely they were introduced to a variation of their ethics of pleasure in songs like Janet Jackson’s 1986 hit, “The Pleasure Principle,” or in Earth, Wind, and Fire’s hit song, “Joy and Pain,” or in popular sayings like “If it feels good, do it,” or “By any means necessary.”
The influence of relativism is likely to surface in the well-informed utilitarian in the discussion of religion. It is easy to hear such new members say that most religious television programming is good since people come to Christ because of it. It doesn’t matter if the perspective is orthodox or not, aberrant or heretical, the result is good and so the ends justify the means. The well-informed utilitarian would say that New Age gurus Deepak Chopra and Iyanla Vanzant, for example are great spiritual advisors because Oprah Winfrey has endorsed them and they are popular. Their brand of spirituality is good to the well-informed utilitarian because a vast number of Americans have accepted it.

I would begin countering utilitarian beliefs in the church through prayer by asking God what is needed individually and systematically in doing so. New members are encouraged to attend new member’s classes to obtain a better understanding of essential Christian doctrine and beliefs of the church. It is there that our church introduces new members to what we believe. We tell them why an on-going systematic study of the Word of God is so vitally important to their spiritual growth. A great place to begin countering utilitarianism is by focusing on God, His nature and character. He is the source of absolute truth. God does not change, for He is the “same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Secondly, I would focus on Jesus Christ as being God and the only way of salvation. Relativists insist that Jesus is a God and not the God. Relativists insist Jesus is a way and not the way to get to heaven. However, Jesus has said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can get to heaven but by me” (John 14:6).

Third, I would show the well-informed utilitarian examples from the Bible of how God honored the minority report. G. E. Moore states that murder is neither good nor bad. What makes murder bad is that the majority of humans still value life. Joshua and Celeb were two of 12 Israelite spies who did not go along with the majority. They gave a minority report. Though there were giants in Canaan, they believed God that they could possess the land (Numbers 14). God blessed them. They were the only two adults over the age of 20 who actually made it into Canaan. God killed everyone else for their unbelief. A Christian ethic is deontological. It is rooted in a duty to love God, obey, serve, and trust Him. These are a few of the ways I would counter the utilitarian "giant" in the church.

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