Only God can create a right principle. It is man's duty and privilege to put principle into practice. Policies are made by men. Policies are changeable. Principles are eternal. It has been said, "Honesty is the best policy." Some practice this maxim as a principle; others as a policy only when convenient. From God's viewpoint there never is a circumstance when honesty is just a policy. It is always a principle, for it is a part of divine character.
A true Christian will practice the principle of honesty under all conditions, even to his own hurt. An unseen defect in a used car, if known by a prospective purchaser, could cancel its sale. The seller, aware of the defect, to his own financial loss will make the defect known, if honesty is a principle in his life. The man who will abide in the Lord's tabernacle and who shall dwell in God's holy hill is the man, "that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not" (Ps. 15:4).
What About Human Relations?
Right human relations is a principle. If the Bible teaches anything it teaches this! Jesus repeatedly declared, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." When Christ speaks we have more than mere words; we have a creative deed, an enactment in the hearer's heart. In His own life these words were dynamically alive on all occasions! If hate could be calculated in terms of money, the ledgers of Israel's leaders would show more dollars credited to their account under the heading "Feelings against Christ because of His human relations actions," than of any other phase of His work.
Woman of Ill Repute Interrupts Banquet
See Simon the Pharisee shake his head in disdain over Christ's acquiescence to the deed of a woman whose character he well knew, as she anointed His head and feet with tears and perfume. A woman whose past excommunicated her from society was received reverently and joyfully by Christ. Read Simon's heart as he thinks, "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner" (Luke 7:39). Christ knew the thoughts of his host, yet not for a single moment did He waver in His actions. He was guided by principle not policy. Her extravagant gesture was commended, not condemned. The true principle of human relations never shone brighter than at that moment. When Luke recorded this story he added details the other evangelists omitted. This was doubtless to impress non-Palestinian Gentiles that some great men did accept Christ.
Let us set the stage. A house crowded with well-dressed dignitaries; a table sumptuously laden with banquet delicacies; servants gleamingly outfitted for the special occasion. . . . In the midst of this gathering of religious aristocrats Mary quietly slipped up behind Christ and performed an act which to most people would be embarrassing at a picnic, let alone at a feast, especially when the past life of the anointer is remembered.
"Don't Embarrass Me!"
The only thing that harmonized with the occasion was the alabaster box. All other details seemed incongruous. An anointing at a feast was totally out of place to the elite, society-trained mind. But the most incompatible part of this scene was the person who performed the deed. Here was a woman with a past, with an uncoveted reputation. Many of those present knew who she was and what she was. Her very presence tainted the thinking of the majority of the guests. Christ was seemingly on the spot. What would He do? What would we do? He could have whispered in her ear, "Don't embarrass Me! Your presence and actions will only cause Me trouble. Many of these folk just won't understand. I will be severely criticized."
How differently our Lord responded to her loving deed. A life based on principle not policy made the difference. Thank God, Christ accepted her and her act of worship. Had this episode never happened, millions would have lost the comfort it has inevitably brought. It is significant that all four of the Gospel writers refer to this deed. Note these impressive words of Ellen G. White: "Until time should be no more, that broken alabaster box would tell the story of the abundant love of God for a fallen race."—The Desire of Ages, p. 563.
A Modern Magdalene
While conducting evangelistic meetings in a country overseas, I had an experience that deepened my appreciation for this story. A young non-Christian woman was attending the meetings every night, eagerly learning the truth. In time we found out to our utter amazement that she was a professional prostitute, even practicing her trade while attending the meetings. Prejudice against her was natural. Belief in Christ's power to change a girl so deeply sunken in sin wavered. Could she ever, if she were converted, make significant gains in Christian growth? That which fortified our hope was the story of Mary Magdalene out of whom Christ cast seven devils—the woman who performed the unforgettable act at the feast in Simon's home.
The world scoffed and some members raised their eyebrows when this girl asked for baptism, but when she united with the church heaven rejoiced and those who acted on principle rather than policy gladly accepted her as one for whom Christ died; one who needed and received the loving, cleansing grace of God even as they themselves.
Love Beyond Measure
"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," said Jesus. Here is a principle beyond measurement. Conversion causes it to be applied to self and not to the other fellow. Conversion demands that we act by this principle regardless of the attitude of others. Conversion insists that in Christ we are brothers and sisters. There can be no reservations or questionable deportment such as Peter once exhibited.
"It happened like this. . . . He, Peter, was in the habit of eating his meals with the Gentiles. After they [the Jews] came, however, he withdrew and ate separately from the Gentiles . . . out of sheer fear of what the Jews might think. The other Jewish Christians carried out a similar piece of deception, and the force of their bad example was so great that even Barnabas was affected by it" (Gal. 2:12, 13, Phillips).* This injudicious act brought forth a severe rebuke from Paul, who publicly denounced him. "Even the best of men, if left to themselves, will err in judgment." —The Acts of the Apostles, p. 198.
Christ never made a mistake like this. His crucifixion proves it. He marched forward on the straight obvious line of principle. Even though He needlessly suffered at the hands of those He tried to help, He would not and could not change His course. Undoubtedly, some took advantage of His stand, but this can never be offered as an excuse for not taking a stand! Martin Luther's cause was hindered by the unguided and uncontrolled zeal of some of his supporters, but these unfortunate pages of history can never be used as reason why the Reformation should not have started.
The prejudicial barriers among humans were broken down by Christ's attitude and actions. He never resorted to any display of numbers, slogans, or outward pressure. He simply acted on principle and expected the same from His followers. He ate with tax collectors and people of ill repute. He dined with the ostracized Zacchaeus. He was a part of, and mingled with, the human race. His eyes were blinded to caste, creed, or color. To Him a human being was a human being. Nothing could stop Him from fraternizing with a person if by doing so He could save his soul.
Jewish Church Policy
The hatred between Jews and Samaritans stands as one of the world monuments to bigotry. The only way one could tell a Jew from a Samaritan was by his dress and accent. Prejudice was so great between the two groups that a Jew would avoid a Samaritan as he would a leper. The mere shadow of a Samaritan falling across the food of a zealous Jew meant contamination; the food would be thrown away. Isolation from the Samaritans was standard Jewish church policy. But Christ dared to cross that line. "He must needs go through Samaria." Why? John tells us. The wife of five husbands needed salvation. Christ was not just a liberal-minded Jew. He was "the Saviour of the world," so said those Samaritans, those ostracized people. His association with them was not motivated by government grants. His was the divine mission of winning souls for the kingdom. And our mission is the same. The policy and practice of our Lord always coincided with the principle, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
In a modern setting, the Advent Movement at the recent spring meeting of the General Conference Committee formulated a policy structured on this principle. It is now a matter of record that in one area of human relations, the North American Division has laid down guidelines for our ministry and laity. Here is the action that was passed:
Action Taken at Spring Meeting of the General Conference Committee April 13, 14, 1965
"WHEREAS, The Seventh-day Adventist Church in its Autumn Council of 1961 took action rededicating our denomination to the basic principles contained in the following representative statement by Ellen G. White: 'No distinction on account of nationality, race, or caste, is recognized by God. He is the Maker of all mankind. All men are of one family by creation, and all are one through redemption. Christ came to demolish every wall of partition, to throw open every compartment of the temple, that every soul may have free access to God. . . . In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free. All are brought nigh by His precious blood.'—Christ's Object Lessons, p. 386.
"WHEREAS, It is our belief and conviction that all persons should be given full and equal opportunity within the church to develop the knowledge and skills needed in the building up of that church, and that all service and positions of leadership on all levels of church activity should be open on the basis of qualifications without regard to race; therefore,
"We recommend, That the following principles and practices be adopted and carried out in our churches and institutions:
"1. Membership and office in all churches and on all levels must be available to anyone who qualifies, without regard to race.
"2. In our educational institutions there should be no racial bias in the employment of teachers or other personnel nor in the admission of students.
"3. Hospitals and rest homes should make no racial distinction in admitting patients or in making their facilities available to physicians, interns, residents, nurses, and administrators who meet the professional standards of the institution.
"It is further recommended that these recommendations be given very serious consideration and that every effort be put forth to implement them as rapidly as is consistently possible."
We are confident that the ministers of this division will take the lead in putting these recommendations into practice. When the trinity of principle, policy, and practice speak the same language, God can and will have His way and great will be the spiritual results.
J. R. S