This is part one of a three-part series on the necessity of having boundaries in the believer's life dealing with the necessity of standards, the danger of standards, and how to deal with differences of standards.
As a young fundamentalist growing up in Independent Baptist churches, one of the greatest struggles that I have seen and have struggled with myself was the issue of standards. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of standards, Evangelist Paul Crow in his book "Cliff and Fences" gave this definition for a standard:
A manmade rule for life that is laid down with the intent of preventing the person abiding by that standard from violating a bible principle.
Standards in independent Baptist churches included women wearing dresses, guys not wearing shorts, no facial hair on men (hopefully not the women too), not going to theaters, strict TV watching standards, conservative music, no drinking, no dancing, no smoking etc. Sounds like a long list of do's and don'ts huh. One of the main burdens of Sound Tradition is that we examine the traditions handed down to us and examine them biblically. Often times what happens when we see excesses in areas like standards is that we throw out the entire concept altogether. Our burden is that we not throw out the baby with the bathwater. I will not be dealing with any of the specific issues listed above at this time to determine whether any specific one is biblical or not, but I would like to deal with the concept in general. In the next three articles, I will be dealing with the necessity of standards, the dangers of standards, and how to deal with believer's who have different standards.
The need for Holiness
The basis for standards in the believer's life comes from the principle of holiness found in 1 Peter 1:15-16 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. Holiness is being set apart. Biblically, it is being set apart from sin and set apart to God. The basis for this holiness is God's holiness. This inner holiness will have an impact on the way we live. Notice that the verse says we are to be holy in all manner of conversation. That word conversation means lifestyle.
This lifestyle is in direct relationship to God's holiness. In the book of Malachi, God has a dialogue with the children of the house of Judah. He directly confronts them for their sin of marrying pagan women in Malachi 2:11 Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god. Notice in this passage their actions had a direct impact on God's holy reputation. It says that they profaned or made common the holiness of God by marrying the daughters of a strange god. Paul Crow made the following observation:
The more the outward distinctions between the lifestyle of the Jews and the lifestyle of the surrounding people became blurred , the more obscured God’s holiness became.
Our personal holiness has a direct impact on God's reputation and that holiness shows up in how we live. Now clearly, holiness is not defined by the outward actions of a man alone. Jesus said that it is "not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man" (Matthew 15:11). A man can have all the right actions and have a heart that is far from God. Jesus was making the point that foods and drink do not make us impure, but rather our hearts.
One of the best analogies for standards is the comparison of cliffs and fences. I have never been to the Grand Canyon, but I have ridden over mountain roads through the Himalayas. Every year, truck drivers who had too much to drink, drive off these cliffs into the Trishuli river down below because no barriers have been erected. Fences serve as a protection to keep us from going over the cliff.
Commands in the bible such as "Flee fornication" are the cliffs. If we go over them, we have sinned and there will be a consequence. Prov 6:32-33 tells us what that consequence will be: But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: He that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonor shall he get, and his reproach shall not be wiped away. Cliffs are dangerous and we should desire to stay as far away from them as we can.
Standards serve as fences that keep us from going over the cliffs. Specifically in the case of human passion, we can lose control of our emotions and they can take us over that cliff if we are not careful. Standards such as not kissing, side hugs, not holding hands, not being alone in a room together may not be required but they protect us from going over the cliff. Again, I'm not necessarily advocating any or all of these things. I am just saying that there are things we can do to help keep us from going a direction that will hurt us.
Deuteronomy 22:8 illustrates this point well. In ancient Israel, houses had flat roofs. According to the law, they were supposed to build a wall around the top of that flat roof. Now for any adult, it would be obvious that we should stay away from edge and so a wall would not have been logically necessary; however, God commanded that it be built for protection. Sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes a child might get up there and stray too close to the edge. Sometimes we don't pay attention; so the wall was necessary. The heart and wisdom of God are for the protection of people from potential dangers that might arise in life. Standards are like that wall on the roof.
They are not designed to make us holy, but they still have a purpose. Having external standards does not automatically make us legalists or Pharisees. One of the best examples of this is Joseph. Genesis 39, gives us the story of Joseph and Potipher's wife. Potipher's wife clearly wanted Joseph to sin. Notice what she first enticed him with: And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me (Vs 7). She approached Joseph with an opportunity to go over the cliff and sin by committing adultery. When he refused, she kept on inviting him to be with her, but notice how she approached it after that first attempt. She begged him to lie beside her and then at other times to just be with her and each time Joseph still refused. Joseph laid down some standards in his life: not to be with her or to lie beside her in the bed. These standards would keep him from committing the sin with her of adultery. In Joseph's case, these standards were not legalism or Pharisaism because they came from his relationship with God. When telling Potipher's wife why he would not do these things, he ended by saying "how then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God" (Vs 9). The difference between a holy Christian and a Pharisee is the source of their lifestyle. The true believer does what he does because of his relationship with God not to get a relationship or make himself greater in God's eyes.
Circling back to our definition of a standard, we must keep in mind that standards and fences are manmade. The standards we live by are not "Thus saith the Lord," but designed to keep us from violating the clear commands of scripture. Because of this, there is a sense in which our standards may differ. I will discuss this more when we talk about how to deal with differing standards.
So what should we take away from all this? Holiness is meant to have a practical impact on our lives which includes sometimes erecting practical fences to keep us from sins. They serve an important purpose in our lives and should not be ignored. We must avoid the extreme of throwing out all standards just because we see inconsistancies or even unbibilical reasoning behind the reasons some people give for having certain standards.
Crow, Paul. Cliffs and Fences. Booksurge.com, 2008.