I have had standards all of my life. I suppose most people have. My parents had them and as a result we kids had them too. My dad didn’t wear facial hair and to this day believes I shouldn’t either. My mom did not wear slacks and neither did my sister. I could take my shirt off while working outside in the fields or in the garden, but shorts were not permitted. Those were our standards and I lived by them. We had standards in the schools I attended and I also had them on my first job! All of us are familiar with standards.
Christian standards are necessary for several reasons. Some are simple obedience to a Biblical Command. Fornication is not permitted because the Bible clearly teaches that it is not to be “once named among you” (Ephesians 5:3). My standard about not drinking alcoholic beverages is based on several passages, including “wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). So some standards are simply our obedience to a specifically stated command of Scripture. Other standards are applications of Biblical principles. Our standards of dress for ladies is based partially on the principle of modesty. My wife and daughters look for, invest in, and wear clothes that are full enough, high enough, and long enough to satisfy this principle. The reason applications will sometimes vary in this area is because it is a principle that has a more general and open application rather than a set-in-stone one. Isn’t music that way? I have been in hundreds of Independent Baptist churches now all across the USA and around the world. Each of them has varying styles and preferences of music because these standards are based on principles. Wouldn’t it be wise and Christian-like to obey the clear commands of Scripture? Of course it would. Wouldn’t it also be wise and Christian-like to continually think through the Bible’s principles and apply them to our daily lives? Of course it would.
There are other reasons for Christian standards. Some of my standards are unique to me because they are my protection in an area of weakness. For instance, I never use the internet without an accountability filter. This helps me to protect my purity! In my home, we have some standards that are responses to destructive (or potentially destructive) cultural practices. Our children are not permitted to stay overnight with others. I have counseled many teens who were introduced to internet pornography while spending a night with other teens who had access to unfiltered internet material. So we have a standard to help protect us in this area. Some standards are simply a desire to help a weaker brother. All of these are valid reasons to have standards.
We should carefully study God’s word and continually be applying it to our live. We should pray for the Spirit to direct and lead us and we should obey His leading. We should defer to weaker brothers and sisters when it is in our power to do so. We should love those who are more strict than we are and we should love those who are less. Standards are necessary burdens that can certainly advance the cause of Christianity in my life, in my home, and even in my culture (Compare Acts 15:28-29).
However, standards also pose a problem! Or perhaps I should say problems. Here are five potential problems:
- Standards can destroy our joy. When I am so “strict” that I no longer have the joy of the Lord, my standards aren’t advancing but are rather hindering. Examine yourself. Are you always grieved by people who don’t embrace your standards? Do you assume that people who don’t embrace your standards are not as spiritual as you are? Do you criticize them and speak evil of brothers and sisters who don’t embrace your positions? It is not possible to have a critical spirit and to be judgmental and have the joy of the Lord at the same time! Standards have the potential to destroy our joy.
- Standards can discourage us and those around us. I have a pastor friend who is retired now but who has little joy because of his standards. He cannot rejoice in souls being saved because he had a tendency to examine whether the music or dress or presentation meets his standards. I know some evangelists who can be like that! As a result, they become burdened and the standards that were supposed to make them more like Jesus actually robs them of faith and joy. So they are discouraged and others around them become discouraged too. I have seem pastors lose their joy and entire churches follow them simply by allowing their standards to become the entire focus of their life. That is not the purpose of standards at all.
- Standards can distance us from spiritual growth. They distance us from spiritual growth when we begin to depend on them for our righteousness. Am I right with God and have special standing with God because of my personal standards. NO! I am right with God because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been placed on my account (cf. Phil 3:1-9). They distance us from spiritual growth when they cause us to omit weightier matters. For instance, I know men who would never listen to an upbeat, toe-tapping song, but are angry, bitter men who have driven their children away from God! Wouldn’t something be wrong in this matter? Of course it would. Always remember that each of us has a tendency to overlook the weightier matters. Check out Paul’s teaching to the church at Ephesus in chapter 4. He deals with issues of anger, honesty, the tongue, bitterness, kindness, and forgiveness. I would argue that these are weightier matters that we too often overlook in favor of our personal standards. When this happens, we distance ourselves from spiritual growth.
- Standards can divide us from Godly believers and from the ones around us who need Christ. I often am amazed at how many believers are suspect of other believers in the same town who attend a sister church that has slightly different standards. I will often ask if there are any other “good” churches in town. “Well,” I am told, “there are five independent Baptist churches but not really any good ones.” Upon further examination, I am told that it is because their ladies don’t dress like ours or their music is different from ours or they don’t observe communion like we do and so forth. When this happens, our standards have divided us from Godly believers. Furthermore, when our standards divide us from the world around us that needs Christ, that is especially saddening. Jesus said that the world would know we are his disciples by our love one for another – not because of our standards. We have to continually keep our standards in the right perspective and make sure that they are not hindering us from reaching out to the world around us with the gospel. In many of my meetings, the church struggles to reach people because they no longer have any connection at all to those who need Christ the most. In other words, if I have all the standards in the world, but have no impact on those who need Christ this most, something is wrong. The answer is not that I have to change my standards necessarily, but rather that I need to keep them in the proper perspective lest they separate me from other believers as well as from the lost around me.
- Standards can diminish our Christlikeness rather than make us more like our Savior. I always flinch when I am around a person who has dotted more spiritual “i”s and crossed more spiritual “t”s than you can count, but who are harsh, and ungracious, and unkind, and unloving, and who are known for their judgmental and critical spirit to others who don’t follow their personal standards.
- Standards can define us. When we become known more for our personal standards instead of our love for God (it is the greatest commandment) and our love for one another (the second greatest commandment and the key to showing the world that we are disciples of Jesus) we are defined by the wrong thing. The early church was know for “having been with Jesus” and for the power they had in prayer and for the power in which they preached the gospel and for turning the world upside down. Read this gently and wisely: we don’t know much about their music or their dress or their style of worship, but we do know that they could pray down house-shaking and life-changing and miracle-producing power. We do know that they regularly saw souls powerfully converted and added to their number. We do know that their impact was felt from the palace of Caesar all the way to the barbarous island of Melita. And on an on I could go.
Dear friend, don’t be offended by my statements. I am for standards and believe in them and have them in my own life. They are often necessary burdens! However, they are not to be the focal point of my life. Jesus is! They are not to be the goal of my life. Becoming like Jesus is. They are not to be the defining issue of my life. The gospel is. And so forth. Would you join me in praying that we will all develop the standards that we need? And that we would all think clearly about our standards so that they do not hinder the work of God that is so desperately needed in this generation?
I hope you will!
Thanks for reading,