Which Is It?

“The end justifies the means” OR “The end does not justify the means”

It is both sad to say, and hard to say, but all to often it is true and must be said, that we live in a world in which it has become increasingly more evident that people, politicians, and businesses are increasingly forsaking the Golden Rule and replacing it with the relativistic rule that ‘the end justifies the means’. In other words, the expectation of achieving both personal goals, ideological goals, and numerical goals justifies practices and policies that may in fact be very wrong. With this relativistic rule success in the form of profit, promotion, or policy becomes its own justification. Without an ethic of moral respect and integrity in place the only protection we have against unjust means is that the means chosen must be illegal. But sad to say, legality will never stop those bent on illegal or immoral practices. Simple illustrations include such things as credit card an identify theft; insider trading; padding an expense account; cheating on exams, and misrepresenting or twisting the truth about anything.

In the most despicable application of ‘the end justifies the means’ today (rejected by 99.99% of the world) is the fanatical religious movement of ISIS, and other groups like it, committing unspeakable atrocities that horrify any sane mind their attempt to create their fanatical Islamic state and ultimately control of the world. In their case, neither the means nor the end can be justified. Universal condemnation is the only acceptable and expected response.

Closer to home and far less dramatic, the affects of unjust justified means has turned many of our own people to a spirit of hopeless skepticism. We know there is a rampant lack of integrity at large in our society and we have come to expect it. Our trust quotient has been severely damaged in recent years and so we question the claims of most advertisements we hear. We are forced to research the integrity of websites we buy from. We approach strangers or strangers who approach us, with caution. And we believe we are being lied to in political speeches when we hear the word ‘transparency’. There is a growing skepticism across the land that causes us to believe that what we are seeing and hearing from our leaders may well not be what we will ultimately see, or what we had hoped for. We are learning well that the end (goal) does not justify the means, nor do the means justify the end (goal). It’s a case of double-jeopardy.

My questions are many living in our supposedly cultured society filled with tongues as sharp and deceptive as serpents and hearts as hard as granite, and as black as the darkest night. How long can it stand? How long will God allow it to mock Him to His face? When that society reaches the place where it believes that wrong is right and right is wrong; and teaches it to be so, and expects it to be so, and requires it be so, that culture places itself in the tenuous position of tottering on scale of God’s justice. Such ungodly ends and means will never be justified. The words of Isaiah keep ringing in my ears, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

Bringing this issue even closer to home – to the churches we worship in, we have no justification to point our fingers at ‘them’, when we fail to understand that our Biblically defined ends will never be justified by cultural means.

Jesus clearly tells us to love Him and His Father, to love another as He loves us, and to love our neighbors as our selves, and to deliver the good news of the gospel to them. He doesn’t tell us to measure our success by counting the heads in our pews and comparing our numbers with the church across town. Paul tells us to serve one another in love and to walk by The Spirit. And, through The Holy Spirit, Paul gave Timothy and Titus qualifications for church leadership, most of which relate to Godly character and faithfulness to peach God’s Word, with none of them relate to measuring the success of their ministries by counting heads.

The Book of Acts records the remarkable expansion of the Gospel of Christ by the movement of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, into Syria (Antioch), and Turkey, Macedonia, and Greece, and finally into the capital city of Rome itself. Can it be refuted that, that was and still is the divine model for ‘success’ in God’s eyes.

But, in our day, God’s biblical strategy has been replaced in many places with a kind of church growth strategy designed to measure ‘success’ in terms of numbers (numbers of people and amounts of money) used to achieve its expansion. I read a news report last week of a ten million dollar church building in Florida that was just torn down because the shrinking congregation of several thousand could no longer support the massive debt. My question is simply. “Does the cultural means for building The Church justify the end?”

When we loose sight of ‘the goal God set for us’, the means can quickly become very fuzzy. Please be reminded that church leaders and church members have no power at all to sanctify ungodly cultural means by the fact that the name ‘church’ is written over the front door. The record of gospel expansion in Acts is straightforward, and I believe it is still the acceptable and approved means of church growth today, that is: “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:47), saved by The Spirit of God through the faithful witness of His newly born church members, members born as true members of Christ, who faithfully shared the Good News of sins forgiven in the death of Christ, and newness of life through the power of His resurrection and the indwelling of God The Holy Spirit.

I think we’re seeing a lot of church growth today that is designed to appeal to and appease the spirit of man and the emotions of people rather than ‘church growth’ driven by The Spirit of God.

Measured by today’s standards Jesus’ ministry was far from “successful”. His ministry was impressive, but not very successful by today’s standards. His miracles and His teachings drew large crowds, but when He challenged them to turn from their sinful ways and follow Him He ‘lost the larger number of would-have-been followers’. If He had just made it a little easier and a little more man-centered, and a little more self-approving, can you imagine how many people would have been following Him?

Jesus spent much of his time with a small band of men who were themselves slow to understand who He was and why He came, and at key moments those disciples failed Him. One betrayed Him and the rest fled when he was arrested. Even after He rose from the grave and appeared repeatedly during those forty days – to more that 500 on one occasion – there were a only one hundred and twenty doing what he had instructed them to do a week or so later. By today’s infectious cultural standards that was not a very impressive number. Was Jesus ‘successful’ or not? Can a church today of one hundred and twenty be a true success story before God. The answer depends on the criteria used to measure it. Is it called together by The Spirit of God? Or is it gathered together by a group of well intending men and women who are not depending on The Spirit of God? People who believe that the means justified the end.

The truth is, there are significant dangers in pursuing any measurements of ‘the church’ that are not based in God’s Word. There are many subtle dangers all around ‘the church’, in our surrounding, encompassing cultural. And, infusing any of those culturally values or means into ‘The Body of Christ’ is a sure-fire way of loosing the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit and the blessings of God.

The world around us may look at the church as poor examples of what we preach, and they can do so with just cause because of the multiple moral failures of its leaders and members alike, its money making ministries, and the conflicting messages being delivered. Weakened by the influx of unbelievers recruited into churches driven to be bigger than the church in the next town or state, and dumbing down the truths of God’s Word, pulling the teeth out its divine truths (truths that take fast hold of the sinful soul and the redeemed soul alike), and turning the holiness of the service of worship in which God’s people express their love and devotion to Him, submitting the whole of them selves mind, body, and spirit to Him as their reasonable service today and tomorrow and the next day and for a life time, into an ethereal experience (i.e. an emotional experience typically driven by musicians that raptures believer and unbeliever alike from the mundane into a state of spiritual ecstasy that falls far short of a Biblical definition of worship acceptable to God).

It is only in compliance with God’s Word in any and every sphere of life, including life in His church, that it can truly be said that the end justifies the means.

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. (Psalm 119:33)

Pastor Ralph Wetherington