April 1980 · Vol. 9 No. 2 · p. 2 

In This Issue: Christian Ethics

Elmer A. Martens

Ethics is an issue for Christians. Sometimes, of course, the rub comes at the point of courage to do what is right. Sometimes the anxiety stems from not knowing how to go about defining what is right.

In the following pages an attempt is made to get a handle on the second problem. Here, as elsewhere, to pose the question carefully is to be well on the way to an answer. Hence, the concern is not to detail a list of right actions, but to show what happens when we go about setting out what is right. By design the articles give primary attention to analysis. We must emphasize that the aim is not to loosen moral moorings, but to describe and analyze in order to be more securely moored. Even so the editorial committee has not in every case reached unanimous evaluations of what follows. We are agreed, however, on the importance of thinking through the issues, especially the manner in which decisions are made.

God has called out a covenant people, the church, who are empowered to be moral and to decide in the light of all God’s revelation what is right. Delbert Wiens leads off the analysis by reviewing one people’s history, that of the Mennonite Brethren, to show that doing the right has meant different things in different settings. Using the imagery of a walled people, a creedal people, and a tourist people, he illustrates stages in decision-making. He wants us to take seriously the church as the locus of ethical definition.

Wiens’s article is broadly interpretative and not without its own controversial aspect as the two respondents, one an educator and the other a pastor, make clear. Wiens’s reply to the respondents illustrates the process of Christians helping each other achieve clarity.

The source book for ethical decision making for Christians is the Bible. The study in Proverbs by Ben Ollenburger shows the importance of the proverb-type approach to the question of right and wrong. The Proverbs, the author argues, offer a way of “seeing.” Proverbs was not intended to offer neat formulas to be followed as one follows a medical prescription, but represent God’s way of bringing us to face how things really are.

LeRoy Friesen’s bibliographical essay introduces us to the ways in which recent scholars have analyzed the subject of ethical decision making. Anyone who has discussed ethics—whether with teenagers or with corporation executives—knows of the complexities into which one is soon brought. A recognition of the complexities is a necessary step toward rightly understanding the biblical answer.