Science in Christian Perspective
Culture Ill. Biblical
Absolutes and Certain Cultural Relativisms
KENNETH L. PIKE
Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc.
From: JASA 31
(September 1979): 139-145.
The Choice to Sow while Letting Others Reap
There is in Galatians 6:7 a law of God's universe: what you sow you reap. God made this law; it works through cultural, psychological, and social channels. The tragic thing about it, from my point of view, is that it works to the third and fourth generation (or more). What I sow, somebody else may reap through cultural structures and relationships; and the children of the criminal, or of the negligent, or of the divorced, suffer difficulties along with or because of their parents. This seems to me to be an empirical fact. If somebody gets in trouble with the law and goes to jail, the wife has to work, the child may be forced to the streets where he gets into trouble; then his children, in turn, may get into trouble; and this can, in fact, carry on for two or three generations, physically, culturally, and psychiatrically. Notice, however, that although it says in Exodus 20:5 that God visits the iniquities of the parents onto the heirs, as is visibly true, it does not say that He punishes the great grandchildren for the greatgrandparents. There is a vast difference in those two terms between punishing and visiting.
By this statement in Exodus, God acknowledges His responsibility. I am glad that He doesn't refuse to take some responsibility for this frightening situation, since He made the laws of cause and effect in culture. On the other hand, we want to balance this view by comparing Exodus 9:12 with Exodus 8:15. In the one we learn that in some sense God hardened the heart of Pharoah, but then in the other we find that when Pharoah saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart himself. Here we have a double way of looking. Pharaoh hardened his heart; God hardened his heart. I am suggesting that God made the laws of cause and effect, which-when brought to bear upon Pharaoh with whatever he was-led him to harden his heart by his own choice.
There are extremely difficult philosophical problems involved in seeing how these two aspects can co-exist
without logical contradiction. This has been discussed extensively by Donald M. MacKay in numerous articles and in Freedom of Action in a Mechanistic Universe, (Cambridge: University Press, 1967). He argues (11-14, 17, 19) that determinism requires an unchanging base of prediction; but that if the subject knows about the prediction, then the fact of his knowing changes the basis of the prediction, and hence the former prediction is now invalid. Hence (21) "Even when a detached observer can predict an action with complete certainty, this does nothing of itself to prove that the agent had no freedom to do otherwise;" standpoint (27), or perspective, affect the discussion and logical validity of belief. Furthermore (in "The Sovereignty of God in the Natural World," Scottish Journal of Theology 21, 1, 13-26, 1968), he says that an "author" standpoint differs logically from that of the characters in a play; the author knows all from the beginning (so that a thousand participant years may be but a single day for the author), but the characters from their standpoint do not, and have time ahead of them with freedom from their perspective. Hence there remains logical indeterminacy for the characters. Yet at the Incarnation there comes into the scene a "Creator-Participant" which leaves us with logical problems and deep mystery. I shall leave such discussions to MacKay and others, as being outside my range of competence.
I once knew a Christian woman who was engaged to marry a non-Christian professor in a large university. The mother of the woman was deeply concerned. She asked me to talk to the woman (who had been a student of mine). So I did. I said: "I have no arguments to make about what you already know; what I want to do is just to tick off one or two questions to see if you have thought about them. The minute I find that you have thought about one, I am dropping it and going on to others." Eventually I asked: "When you have growing children, suppose they say to you: 'You tell us that we get to heaven by believing in Jesus-is Daddy going to heaven?' What are you going to tell them? If you say yes, but don't believe it, you have problems with yourself. But if you say no, your children will have problems. Or suppose that your children say to you: 'Daddy doesn't go to church, why do 1 have to go to church?' Your children will have other problems. Then their children are going to have problems, which may pass on to their children. What I am asking you is, have you considered the effect, not on your children, but on your grandchildren?" She started to cry, and broke the engagement. (Later the man was converted, they married, and have a happy family.)
The grace of God through forgiveness can cut out some of our sinful mess just as-perhaps-you can erase a tape recording. But if 1 am driving an automobile carelessly (or in a drunken fashion), and if (God forbid) I run over and kill a child, grace does not necessarily bring the child back to life, even while it forgives me. But this result may not necessarily satisfy the father of the child, nor prevent his reaping anger or hostility to God because of me. He still reaps from my careless sowing.
Trying to Match God's Absolute Character
When we are looking for absolutes, the big one is God Himself. If we lose track of this fact, I think we are in very deep trouble in any discussion with a cultural relativist or a situational ethicist. When I say that God is our ultimate absolute, I mean that God made and sustains all other absolutes, whatever they may be, as well as all relativisms, whatever they may be. In this sense, any relativity is ultimately to be seen relative to His character. And the demand on us as Christians is to be like God in character. The demand is that as our heavenly Father is, so we should be (Matt. 5:48). I accept that fact, and I fail bitterly. But I am glad of the beatitudes that tell us that if we hunger and thirst after righteousness, God will ultimately take care of us, satisfy us, and give us some of that character of God which we hunger and thirst after. God does, in fact, use our intent and our struggle as a channel of grace to get us moving toward this goal, working again through cultural opportunity and cultural failure. Any situation which I discuss must include an aim at an absolute, reflecting our understanding of God's model of Himself, God's model through Christ, and His demand upon us through Christ and the Word.
Sin as Following my Own Judgment Instead of God's
"Is it sometimes right to do wrong?" I quote a crucial question from the cover of a booklet reporting a debate between Joseph Fletcher and John Warwick Montgomery. (Situation Ethics, True or False (Minneapolis: Dimension Books, Bethany Fellowship Inc., 1972). For further discussion of such matters see Marvin K. Mayers, Christianity Confronts Culture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974) Montgomery refers to "ambiguous ethical situations" (46) in which (following materials of William May) "sinful human situations require a choice to be made between conflicting absolute moral demands" in which "the 'lesser of evils may have to be accepted, but it is still in every sense an evil and must drive the Christian to the Cross for forgiveness" (46-47). Fletcher presses hard to have Montgomery say when and why one should kill a tyrant, or interrupt a pregnancy, or lie (49-50), insisting that it "is ethically foolish to say we 'ought' to do what is wrong!" (53, and cf. 70, 80, 82). Yet Montgomery has little more to say in reply than that "I am still committing wrong" even if "I am forced to do this" (51, and cf. 64-65- 70, 82).
Fletcher, in his earlier principle work on the subject, Situation Ethics, The New Morality (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press,  1974), quotes Karl Barth as saying that " 'there are situations in which the killing of germinating life does not constitute murder but is in fact commanded' [italics by Fletcher]. This puts Barth in the anomalous position of saying that to obey God's command (to act lovingly) is to do something absolutely wrong. Clearly this is theological-ethical nonsense" (62).
My own philosophical-theological competence is not adequate to handle this issue. I asked for a comment on it from Dr. Terry Schram (brought up in the Calvinist tradition, graduate of Calvin seminary, with a doctorate in theology from Utrecht). In connection with the issue just summarized, I asked: "Can God command you to do what is wrong?" His response: "No, because 'wrong' can be defined only in terms of disregarding God's command." Sin in not essentially the breaking of a commandment, but the following of one's own judgment against God's. This, for him, is a more basic category than breaking a commandment. The command simply provides the occasion for deciding between my own judgment and God's judgment in a concrete situation. Sin may exist apart from the law, but the law serves to expose it, since it shows us God's judgment. If we go against that judgment, then we have chosen to disregard God's view of the matter.
As for Adam's situation, a sort of classic case in Schram's view, the fruit was not in itself evil. But there was a prohibition which provided a test as to whether Adam would follow God's command or his own judgment when a decision between the two had to be made. He wasn't deceived. He chose to follow his own judgment and go along with Eve rather than to take whatever risk he saw involved in following the command. The decision was not made in the abstract but in a complex situation where the apparently easy command forced him to choose between what God had said and what seemed sensible to him.
The practical Pauline view, according to Schram, is that whatever is not of faith is sin. And faith is personal
response to God. The clash was between God's judgment through a command and Adam's own judgment; the clash is between God's judgment expressed in a variety of commands and my own judgment as I view a given situation and would rather do things my way. Thus truth about God provides an occasion, just as the command provides an occasion; and in Romans 1:18 people who knew something of God and didn't follow it were in trouble.
But, he says, life is too complex to formulate positive commands for every situation; rather general commands
signal danger points, such as "Don't play in the street." The response to God in every situation is the important concern, and the essential choice is between God and myself. That the creature could prefer itself to its Creator sounds silly in theory, says he, a contradiction of its own status. In practice, it is sin. The possibility of sin is given in God's creation of us like himself. He made us (we "are" in response to him) free (we can follow him or contradict him). The free moral agent can acknowledge his Creator but can also choose to ignore Him, following his own judgment when it varies from God's. That is sin.
As to the possibility that God could command you to do something that is wrong, Schram said that in this connection he could think only of specific commands contradicting general ones. For instance, "don't kill," which is the general command, was negated many times: by the order to kill Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen. 22:2-14), or the requirement to kill people who sacrificed their children to Molech (Lev. 20:2, 4-5), or to kill mediums (20:27), or those who cursed their father and mother (20:9), or were caught in adultery (20:10), or in homosexuality (20:13), or in blasphemy (24:16). All of these are in the same context of the general command not to kill. So, it seems to him, human life is not an absolute and the general command does not in itself define the boundary between "right" and "wrong." God gives life and takes it away. He can do it by the hand of man if that suits a situation better in His judgment. "Wrong" is refusal of God's judgment of the situation.
This, it seems to me, still leaves us with dangers in the Crusades (which, in my opinion, were dreadful); and during the Inquisition there were people, I suppose, who thought they were thereby doing God's will-as Jesus promised that the time would come when some people will kill us, thinking they are doing God's service.
A Mennonite pastor and I are close friends. He is himself deeply pacifist in a background of centuries of conviction. We understand each other well enough so that we could move in fast on a tough problem. I said: "Let us grant for the moment that pacifism is correct, taking it unchallenged; then how do you explain the order of God in the Old Testament to kill people-men, women, and children so that 'in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes. . .thay they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the Lord your God' (Deut. 20:16-18)." His reply: "It was like the law about divorce, which Jesus referred to, where Moses because of the hardness of their hearts, gave them permission to give a bill of divorcement (Matt. 19.8), although it was not so from the beginning." In that dispensation, the pastor went on to say, God dealt with them differently. Since, however, the Mosaic regime was in itself a special situation, with its special moral responsibilities, I then wanted to know how he would differentiate this dispensational situationalism (or perhaps dispensational relativism) from the kind of situation ethics of Fletcher, of which we both disapproved. How do we differentiate responsibility under progressive revelation from situational ethics, when we see responsibility changing over time and place? To this extremely tough question, the Mennonite replied that the absolute is in the character of God. (This I agree with heartily and have always started with as I did above.) Thus, in teaching a child mathematics, we do not demand of him calculus at first; we say "good" when he comes home with a problem done in long division. And he added emphatically that God is rational, and deals with people rationally, not like a machine in which if X happens, Y immediately slaps the offender. (That is, God is not a
What you sow, you reap. God made this law; it works through cultural, psychological and social channels.
machine, with artificial or merely coded laws to go by.) So again I asked how
this differs from situational ethics. The Mennonite pastor's view was that he
does not wish any view to go so far as to lose balance, and that
in his opinion, does so.
To look toward such a balance I would like to mention again one of the principles above: The absolute is in the person and character of God, and into this pattern we must try and pray to grow. But this character is seen by us at work through cultural situations; in action as applied to Old Testament characters and scenes, and New Testament ones; and in Person in the acts of God incarnate-Jesus and in His words and philosophical comments. For me, it is important to recall that the world was made through Him, that John 3:16 was spoken to a "college professor--a teacher in Israel, and that those of us who are university professors must recognize Him (I blush to say it) as overwhelmingly our academic superior. But Fletcher, on the contrary, will take no norms or lessons from Jesus on such matters. He says (in Fletcher and Montgomery 1972:55): "he [Jesus] said nothing directly or even implicitly about [the question of situational ethics and absolutes in relation to] it. Jesus was a simple Jewish peasant. He had no more philosophical sophistication than a guinea pig, and I don't turn to Jesus for philosophical sophistication."
Loving Oneself and Neighbor
In the preceding sections we have related especially to the first commandment-to love God with mind (Matt. 22:37), as well as heart and soul. We now turn to the second, to love "your neighbor as yourself." This, I feel, is another absolute-but beyond my capacity to grasp in philosophical principle or in empirical detail, or to implement adequately; and it is beyond my capacity to specify adequately its demands in relation to varying cultural
situations. But the command to love with mind requires that we struggle, even in such mental weakness, with the meaning of loving a neighbor.
There appears to have been a general slippage in the understanding of many Christian college students. I asked members of a Bible class of university students in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to list absolutes. One of them suggested two: the love of God and the love of neighbor. As for the first, he saw that Jesus Christ was the same yesterday, today, and forever-something of His character does not change. As for the second, he raised the question as to how to answer dorm mates who may claim that homosexuality is not hurting the neighbor. To this my reply is that they are in fact distorting the second commandment; the command is not just to love the neighbor-certainly not to destroy one's self-but to love him as yourself. There is an unfortunate rumor floating around among such students that it is selfish to take interest in or care for one's self. On the contrary, we are told "to keep the commandments and statues of the Lord. . for your good" (Deut. 10:13), or "for our good always" (Deut. 6:24). It is not enough not to hurt your neighbor; it is also important that we do not damage our inner conscience, our own peace. We must not damage our chance to conform ourselves to the image of God or to our own ideal.
For example, when my son was very small he came in one day and said: "Mommy, can Johnny have a cookie, and can I have one too?" This, in my view, is loving your neighbor as yourself; what you want for yourself you want for your neighbor. You do not say: "Mommy, please give Johnny a cookie, but don't give me one, because that would be selfish." God doesn't play the game that way, as far as I can see.
As another example, consider an orchestra. Suppose some hoodlum comes in to have fun and you allow it, ignoring yourself since he is, after all, your neighbor. He stomps on the cellos, he takes a hatchet to the kettledrum, he breaks the flutes over his knee. And he goes away feeling that he has been very smart. But he has destroyed the aesthetic satisfaction of that group of orchestra players, who, for their own aesthetic satisfaction, must be concerned for the welfare of the whole, and in addition must keep to the rules, follow the notes (unless it is an improvisation situation), keep in time and in tune. So when God said these rules are made for your good, it is also for my good today, for my long range situation in heaven, and for my character that I want conformed to the image of God. But in relation to rules of this type, for the orchestra's good there may be flexibility under invention; there may be occasionally even pleasing disharmonies which a good current composer can work in (if they go past fast enough), by making them adequately related to the matrix of time, place, and culture which give the emic framework within which pleasantness is constrained or felt.
Here, then, I am in disagreement with Fletcher who says that ([19661 1974:105) "Agape's desire is to satisfy the neighbor's need, not one's own, but the main thing about it is that agape love precedes all desire, of any kind" (and for neighbor-priority over second-place self, see also 110).
Individualized versus Generalized Love and Ethics
Basic ethical problems remain, of the kind that Fletcher is especially sensitive to: Would you, for example, have hidden a Jew from a Nazi? One of my friends in the Netherlands had a father who was a pastor who helped to shelter Jews from the Nazis. Her fiance was involved in the group. And one day he said to her: "Honey, it is very dangerous. If you want, we will stop." She said: "No-it is our responsibility; let's keep on." Then one day the Gestapo came and knocked at the door. He ran to the second floor to jump out. He jumped. But it was cold, and there was frost on the windowsill. He slipped, fell, and hit his head on the pavement below, becoming partly irrational. The Gestapo quizzed him there for two hours without taking him to the hospital. He died.
In this general situation, what should they have done? Did they have to try to deceive? I suppose so. But I do not know how to take care of the philosophical problems which this raises.
Fletcher's answer is that situation ethics "holds flatly that there is only one principle, love, without any prefabricated recipes for what it means in practice, and that all other so-called principles or maxims are relative to particular, concrete situations." If it has any rules, they are only rules of thumb ( [19661 1974:36 and cf. 26, or 55 for "maxims, never rules"); but these are relative to love as an absolute, since there "must be an absolute or norm of some kind if there is to be any true relativity" (44); and "In Christian situationism the ultimate criterion is. . . 'agapeic love' "(45).
Here it seems to me that Fletcher is approaching part of a truth: that scriptural Old Testament laws such as the one enjoining us not to kill are general guidelines qualified in the Scriptures themselves, as the one not to kill is overridden there by the command of God to kill under circumstances summarized above. In this sense, the evangelical, it seems to me, is in some agreement with Fletcher in principle. There is an emics to structural situations, a pattern of times, seasons, growth, dispensations, or structures which allow for special application of principles, or a hierarchy of principles, such that it is good to do good on the Sabbath, to save life rather than kill, as Jesus implied so clearly when rules were challenging God's underlying intent (Mark 3:4, Luke .6:9).
There is an unfortunate rumor floating around among students that it is selfish to take interest in or care of one's self.
But I have three deep disagreements with Fletcher. The first I have
for our current purposes-that for me the first commandment takes
the second, in that the top absolute lies in the person, character and opinions
(judgments) of God, with the command to love one's neighbor taking second place
rather than being absolutized to the first. A second disagreement
is that I accept as binding on us the command to love one's neighbor as one's
self. I interpret this to mean that we are to love our neighbor but
also to love
ourselves on a par with our neighbor.
I turn now to a third area of disagreement: For me, a prime responsibility of love is appreciation and (deep, emotionally costly) concern for the individual next to me; concern for a nameless faceless mass of persons must not stop me from concern and service to a specific individual in need, even though it may appear to block some potential for service or (superficial) concern for a larger whole. (But neither should service to a few individuals block a part undefined-of my attention to the service of larger society at home and abroad.) I would seem, however, to thereby fall under the condemnation of Fletcher when he says ([196611974:92): "What untold foolishness and moral blindness have been caused by the individualizing error of pietism!"; by casting aside "breadth of vision and imaginative foresight" love "is ethically crippled," and "the name for it is sentimentality" (92).
The extent to which Fletcher pushes this view is seen best in his radical complaint (97) about the story of the anointing at Bethany (cf. Mark 14:3-9, Matt. 26:6-13, John 12:18). Fletcher labels the action "impetuous, uncalculating, unenlightened sentimental love" by a "thoughtless but sincere woman." I, rather, would see it as an extraordinary spending of one's life's reserves (from the only "bank" in which she could readily hold such reserves in her cultural situation-goods costly but taking small space, and sellable for cash under emergency), in an act to highlight compassion of person to person: an act to go beyond words when hurt was felt, and sympathy needed to be expressed in the face of dark clouds foreshadowing attacks upon Him unto death. Such sympathy and personal relating is the ultimate essence of love (for me) and it vastly overshadows an impersonal casting of alms of the same amount to throngs in the street, to try to rid oneself of an abstract conscience obligation. I suspect that Jesus felt that this woman with compassion had a character which was approaching the character of compassion of God Himself-and she was moving further into His image.
In order to make his point, however, Fletcher insists that the Gospel accounts are wrong, and that "We do not have to conclude that he [Jesus] ever said anything at all like, 'You always have the poor with you.' " Fletcher states, rather, that "If we take the story as it stands, Jesus was wrong, and the disciples were right," because they say "that love must work in coalition with utilitarian distribution, spreading the benefits as much as possible." But here, again, I am in sharp disagreement, not only with Fletcher's handling of the text, but with the principles he purports to approve. For me, there are personal values, indicated above, which are under some circumstances (of which this annointing was one) in which love for the individual must override the crass materialism of mathematical subdivision of the available "pie."
It is inconceivable to me that Fletcher himself can be assumed to have followed out his own principles. Did he wear shoes when he lectured (or jacket, or tie), when people Who are hungry in Asia could have used the cash from their sale to secondhand stores? Did he eat any meat that week, when soybean meal could have kept him alive for that period, so that the food cash that his diet represented could have kept numerous Asians alive for that week? Did he read a book, paid for by someone's money; or write one; or help a relative to go beyond the second grade; or travel by air, train, or car instead of by foot; or do any one of a thousand other things (if not these) which distribution might conceivably have eliminated? If not, he has neither demonstrated kindness-love (t Cor. 13) nor giving-body-to-be-burned love. Fletcher has objected to the inconsistencies in the handling of rules by others in relation to the
Concern for a nameless faceless mass of persons must not stop me from concern and service to a specific individual in need.
commandments, but has not discussed here his own inconsistencies. Nor
has he commented
on the possibility that the statement of Jesus (that the poor are always with
us) may well have been a sad but empirical always-to-be-with-us fact, due to the
nature of populations breeding up to the level of their food supply. Certainly
in our own generation we have not blocked that headache; and even the
of medicine, to the degree that it has been effective, leads to more population
almost exponentially, with parents-who-are-kept-alive adding to the spiral.
Cross-Cultural Differences in Conscience
Now I return to specific problems of cross-cultural conscience (related to those mentioned in Part I), against this background of the more general problem of biblical commands in their absolute and their relative aspects. In the Philippines some time ago, one of my colleagues of the Summer Institute of Linguistics reported a difficulty met by a missionary who had a dog. The local people were deeply bothered because the missionary talked to the dog. This, they said, was incest-because a dog cannot talk, and talking to one was therefore unnatural (except, that is, for a "Scram!"). Since incest is treated there as unnatural and wrong, by culturally carried conscience, and since talking to a dog is unnatural, therefore talking to a dog seemed to them to be basically a variety of incest (or some kind of member of a class of activities sharing a moral component with it). So he himself stopped talking to the dog. In this he was wise (following I Cot. 8:7-13, 9:1-4), since one does not want to damage the conscience by attacking it in its cultural manifestations before it can be brought face to face with scriptural principles that might modify that stance in detail (but not force change either in the neutral or the good aspects of its own idealism). But later these people would have to face the problems of cross-cultural conscience if, for example, they were to go to Manila and meet Christians who did in fact talk to dogs. Then the theory of conscience would have to be brought to them-by asking if talking to a dog hurt the dog, or anyone else. If they were to then say no, but if they were in turn to ask if they themselves then ought to talk to dogs, the answer to them would be that no such requirement is upon them (any more than Christian Jews needed to eat pork if they did- not wish, or Gentile converts needed to eat food offered to idols if it bothered them).
Later I was in Ecuador working on an alphabet in the jungle. The head of an economic mission to Ecuador from the United States came out to the jungle to visit us. I was walking along the paths telling him how we tried to find patterns of sound so that we could make an alphabet and that to analyze the grammar, getting ready for Bible translation, one must study the way they talk, analyze their stories, and in so doing discover what their rules of grammar are. He replied: "Why don't you teach them incest?" I said: "What does that have to do with it?" He answered: "You are breaking the laws of grammar!" But he was unable to grasp the fact that there were no written grammar rules for that language; we were discovering them and describing them. Laws of grammar are unconscious rules underlying the way such people talk. We were like surveyors, not passing laws. He completely misunderstood this, and had begun to think of something like the English ain't which he apparently felt was "wrong." He thought that since there is a rule of grammer forbidding the use of am 't, it is therefore unnatural to say am 't. The use of ain't, then, is going against naturalness, and since incest is against naturalness he equated ain't with "non-naturalness," and he equated our making an alphabet with breaking the laws of grammer and hence with incest. If such a sophisticated person could make such an equating, we should not be surprised when preliterate persons confuse issues of conscience.
Another problem: Some of us use Christmas trees at Christmas. I do. I suppose they have been "baptized" in a sense by most of us. It does not bother my conscience that a
It is worthwhile for us to ponder carefully how many specific commands in the Bible each of us has disobeyed this day on cultural grounds.
Christmas tree may at one time have been a part of worshipping some pagan god
of a Germanic group-it is just pretty. Now the closest I have come to
similar happen elsewhere was on an All Saints Day in a Mixtec Indian village.
They had a kind of altar to the spirits of the dead, who supposedly came back
and ate the spirit of the food; after the spirits ate the spirit of the food,
you could eat the "remainder" of food and enjoy it. It
turned out that
the believers where I was did not want to be discourteous to the community, but
they did not want to set up their own altars, so they set up private
stands," where they could exchange foods with a clear conscience, eating
what was offered to them, but returning food from a
General Evangelical Treatment of Some Scriptural Commands as Cultural Rather than Theological
In the light of such problems it is worthwhile for us to ponder carefully how many specific commands in the Bible each of us has disobeyed this day on cultural grounds including instructions which we have trained ourselves not to refer to as commands. There is a strong probability that every one of us has recently disobeyed (by deliberate choice) clear, explicit, statements in the New Testament on cultural grounds. Once we see this clearly, we should then be a little more careful about accusing others in relation to a different list of such items (which do not happen to apply to us). How many of you greeted the brethren with a holy kiss this morning when you came into the room (I Thess. 5:26, Rom. 16:16, I Cor. 16:20, II Cor. 13:12)? I did not and do not intend to in our culture; it would not be viewed as holy. Yet if I were in some culture very long where it is seen as appropriate, I might do it. Jesus once chided a man for discourtesy when he did not give Him a kiss (Luke 7:45); but if Jesus were to come into the room today, I doubt very much indeed that I would give Him a kiss; it is much more probable that we would offer to shake hands with one another.
Notice carefully, then, that there are (or have been) some habits we abandon on cultural grounds, not theological ones. After we have seen this fact, the argument is no longer between those of us who do and those of us who do not believe that there are conditions in which culture appropriately allows (or forces) changes in instructions or commands, but the argument is rather over which commands, or which elements of these commands, reflect the absolute character of God and must not be changed, and which are legitimately variable in the cultural incarnation of their underlying principles.
Another instance: I am speaking with my shoes on, but Moses was told to take his shoes off-it was holy ground (Ex. 3:5). And when I have been in India, I was not allowed to enter a temple or a mosque, to see it as a tourist with my shoes on. In Japan, for related reasons, one is not allowed to enter a high class restaurant room with shoes dirtied
from the street; they must be replaced by clean sandals. Both of these cultures are closer to the scriptural pattern than we are-and the first makes a strong religious issue of the habit.
It is interesting that Paul's argument about women and long hair (in relation to which, I suspect, many of our wives, with bobbed hair, would come under the classification of having short hair) makes his ultimate appeal to something quite other than theological: to cultural practice ("we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God," I Cor. 11:16), to cultural judgment ("Judge for yourselves; is it proper . 11:13), and to ''nature'' (11:14); this seems to be nature via culture, rather than nature via genetic code, since in fact many societies have men with long hair (e.g. some American Indian groups and some Papua New Guinea areas).
Similarly, I would assume that the demand for a head covering, supported with theological arguments by Paul (I Cor. 11:4-13), is interpreted by most of us as being only culturally related to that time and as not theologically binding on us in our own culture-since we enter prayer groups with women who pray without a hat. (This consensus in many of our Protestant churches reminds me also of the problem about eating blood, Acts 15:20; large numbers of Christians feel no constraint along this line, now that the dominant matrix of Christian behavior is not that of the former Jewish community.)
Presumably, however, there are areas of indeterminacy, where neither our theological tools, nor our sociological or anthropological ones, can yet determine just where the line is to be drawn between cultural demands upon us, and demands in relation to the character of God, or perhaps to His creative ordinance reflecting that character in His demands on culture, or His implanting of genetic responses to culture. In the process of time, the change point (where Christian culture decides that an item once thought to be of theological relevance is in fact at least in part culturally conditioned) may be passed over only with much debate and struggle related to that of Acts 15-and to Paul's later abandonment of some of the conclusions of that conference.
Perhaps the most recent point in general dispute is the relationship of leadership in the church to women. Any conclusions concerning it inevitably have implications for the program of the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Some of our most competent women have been unwilling to teach linguistics. or to speak at our devotional times, because they are afraid that since Adam was not deceived, but Eve was, that therefore they must be vulnerable-and they should be silent and have no leadership in groups which include men. And yet some two-thirds of Wycliffe membership is made up of women. Since, furthermore, brains are genetically evenly distributed, across the the sexes, as far as I know, and since many of our most competent men, who are in the minority, have been elected to administrative office (by women, through majority vote), the major proportion of remaining academic brilliance is left with the women. Yet they have often resisted the acceptance of an academic leadership role because they were afraid because of these cultural and presumed scriptural restrictions on them. Such restrictions seemed to me highly undesirable for Wycliffe, on grounds of "ox-in-the-ditch," if nothing else-whole cultural groups were going to lack the Word translated if the understanding of some men (that these women should not teach a man, for example) were to be consistently applied in the U.S.A. (in our linguistic classes), or abroad (with new believers whom they had won to the Lord).
My own view (that at least some of the underlying reasons for the Pauline constraints should be interpreted in terms of their relevance to the cultural situation that made his rules sensible and desirable) has been in part molded by having lived for a time in a culture where some of these rules could be easily seen as needed for preserving rational order. A generation or more ago in the Mixtec culture women were largely non-literate and untrained either by school or home habit to discuss theoretical, academic, abstract, or theological matters. When, therefore, numerous families would gather together (husbands, wives, and children sitting on the floor) to discuss important matters, the women had not yet learned to enter the discussion, nor had they learned to listen. Instead, they would either chat with each other about social matters irrelevant to the basic discussion, or might interrupt with derailing questions. Here, then, was a time and place where it was best for the women to be quiet, and to wait to ask their husbands about matters at home. But such a situation has little culturally in common, or in rational demands on its subculture, with the Wycliffe situation with its large number of trained women-often more erudite than the particular men present for a particular discussion or lecture.
In this situation, I asked for help from a theologian, Dr. (Canon) Barton Babbage, principal of the New College, University of New South Wales in Sydney, where some of the questions had been raised by Wycliffe women. I wanted to know, for example, how the Church of England justified the fact that its prayer book led its people to pray regularly that they might be loyal subjects to a woman-the Queen if a woman is not to have authority over a man. He replied that this relates to governments (but I was not able personally to apply this comment to my own Wycliffe needs). When I asked further, about the fear of some of our women that they might easily be deceived, he replied that it has been suggested that it took only a woman to get the man into trouble, but it took the devil to deceive Eve.
When do We Stop? The Need for Emies When There is Etics
There are many indeterminacies in applying any criterion of guilt-or-guidance in relation to the will of God. Neither Scripture, nor conscience, nor culture, nor the combination of all three tells us in some specific instances precisely what ought to be done. William Antablin has told me, in this connection, that one must take guidance by faith, just as he takes salvation by faithone cannot always see the surface evidence that one is wise or guided by God. Paul Tournier (in Guilt and Grace, New York: Harper and Row,  1962) argues that the "Fear of losing the love of God-this is the essence of our human problem," patterned after the fear of losing love of parents (189) in the way pointed out by Freud. We must learn to accept His grace for us as guilty sinners or our inner state can be destructive. Yet, Tournier says, that a "certain degree at least of disquiet. . .seems to be indispensable for human experience, for vital development, and for recognition of grace." (137). And although "God blots out conscious guilt, He brings to consciousness repressed guilt" (112).
When do we wish to stop seeing all the guilt contaminating our actions, which the psychologists or analysts seem to be able to force to our attention? My answer is to use linguistics as a parable. When one is faced with the pronunciation of a language with sounds very different from those of English, a little bit of phonetics is extraordinarily enlightening and helpful. Difficult sounds are made easy in a few moments or hours (instead of failure after twenty years some times). And many sounds are now heard which before were not distinguished at all. These can be written down to help in the initial steps towards making an alphabet and keeping one from overlooking sounds. If, however, the phonetic training is continued, it may become very damaging. The very help now becomes a plague! The ear gets overtrained to hear many shades of sound which are not useful for an alphabet, since they are not contrastive in carrying the differentiation of words, and they fluctuate randomly since there is no semantic control on their occurrence. How does one guard against this phonetic blessing becoming destructive? We call it phonemics, the technique added to phonetics; the technique consists of studying the way that one ignores semantically-irrelevant deviation from a norm. One learns to focus analytically on the relevant, the significant, the contrastive bearers of meaning. This, then, is a scientific way to get value from phonetics without its curse. One stops detail when further detail does not contribute to the further specification of how to act in a culture (i.e. how to talk intelligibly).
Analogously, in the religious area, perhaps the study of patterns of guilt helps one to see more of his own failures, and hence his many needs for growth in his conformance to the image of God. But too much attention to such error, rather than to the character and will of God, can lead to morbidity, self-looking and loathing, rather than positive acts and communication with God and neighbor. In these circumstances, the emics of grace comes in to turn the focus away from self, after one has reached a crucial useful amount, and on to the will of God, by "looking unto Jesus" (Heb. 12:1-2) Who is the Author of the faith that lets us "run with perseverence the race that is set before us, laying "aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely" as well as "despising the same" which others might think is appropriate to us in our circumstances with our personality, and output. Such grace is given to us limited by and relative to the needs we face, but in turn it has no limit other than the absolute in the character of God.