Do Gray Areas Exist?

I don’t like gray areas.

Black and white lines are so much easier. Right or wrong. Good or bad. Righteous or evil. Every painter knows that when you mix black and white, you get gray. And when you try to find a compromise between godliness and sin, it only results in waffling, vacillating, wishy-washy gray areas that cause a host of problems.

Could there possibly be a way to completely banish “gray areas” from our lives and churches?

Just what is a “gray area” anyway?

Biblical Christianity is filled with black and white statements. Jesus himself said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6). 1 Thessalonians 4:3 states, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.” These statements leave no room for any arguments on the way to the Father or on God’s opinion of fornication.

There are also many essential Christian doctrines such as a belief in the Trinity, the death and resurrection of Christ, and salvation through faith. By studying the Bible, we know that these doctrines cannot be compromised if a person is to be a true Christian. Once again, to argue against these doctrines is to argue directly against the Word of God, and that is one argument you have absolutely no chance of winning.

But what about the things in Scripture that are not clearly stated? What about the “non-essential” concepts that are taught, but the practical applications are not completely spelled out? Welcome to the dreaded “gray areas.”

What about clothing, smoking, methods of dating, music, or wedding bands? While the Bible contains many principles that apply to these subjects, you would be hard pressed to defend an airtight “black and white” stance on these issues strictly from the Bible.

So how do you deal with them? Could there be more than one correct view of a moral principle?

A problem

Here lies my main beef with gray areas. It seems like a cop-out. I find it hard to imagine the holy, holy, holy Yahweh to have multiple opinions on ANY topic or issue. Yet in our postmodern world, it’s far too easy to fall into the trap that everybody can be right. And it’s also far too easy to label something as a “gray area” instead of actually making the effort to study it in depth and take a personal stand.

In my short lifetime, I’ve heard far more youth say, “What’s wrong with that?” than “How can I best glorify God in this area?”

The Bible is not Google. You can’t just type in a question and receive an immediate answer to every topic that you will ever face. Studying God’s Word can be a difficult and daunting task. And while many of the Anabaptists in my circles will pride themselves in a strong work ethic, I feel that our mental work ethic often leaves much to be desired.

Yes, the crux of the Bible is simple. Everybody has sinned against God and therefore deserves eternal separation from him. Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, died for those sins, and rose from the dead. Anybody who believes and confesses this will be saved from eternal death and, instead, will go to heaven.

But if this message is all that God wanted us to know, he could have put it on a postcard. Instead, we have 66 books full of words; every single jot and tittle is important. We shortchange God and ourselves when we only study the essential doctrines or “salvation issues” while labeling the rest “gray areas.”

Live out of conviction.

It is my firm opinion that gray areas should not exist in a Christian’s worldview. Convictions based on God’s Word should guide every area of life. If God’s Word does not clearly take a stance on a certain subject, so be it. But we must still use the principles of Scripture to take a stand in our personal lives. People who just go with the flow end up on the “wide road that leadeth to destruction.”

Give grace.

Here comes the tricky part: while we must be living lives of conviction, we must NOT force our non-essential convictions on others as a requirement for salvation. A full essay could be written on this point, but since it is not the main thrust of my article, I’ll leave it at that. (In fact, I have intentionally decided to focus this article on having strong convictions, because I believe it is easier to err on the side of grace at the expense of truth.)

Questions to ask

So how will you decide what to do in the “gray areas” of life? How can a person form convictions so that they are not set adrift by the current culture? As already mentioned, there is no way to shortcut thorough Bible study. But as you study, here are some things to consider.

      1.   What do my church leaders say about it? One of the purposes of the church brotherhood is to be safety against false teaching. While the Bible is the ultimate authority, we are also commanded to obey our church leaders (Hebrews 13:17). “Disregarding church guidelines and pastoral advice — simply because we don’t like them — is disobeying the Bible”?
      2.   Will this negatively affect our fellow believers? Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 make it clear that if something we do will cause a fellow believer to sin, we should not do it.
      3.   Does it go against my conscience? Don’t take your conscience lightly. Romans 14:23 equates violating your conscience with sin!
      4.   What spirit does it feed? Even though some actions are not a sin in themselves they can be very detrimental to your Christian life. Starving the sinful appetites of the flesh can only be a good thing.

 

Gray areas can be a hotly debated topic that have broken many relationships and have even split many churches. How do you navigate these areas in your life?

Troy Troy Stauffer’s home lies just north of Hershey, PA (the sweetest place on earth). A member of the class of 2011 at Faith Mennonite High School, he has now returned to his alma mater as Mr. Stauffer and teaches some math, science, and phys ed classes. When not grading papers or doing lesson prep, he enjoys sports, videography, strategy games, spending time with friends, singing, and playing piano.

 

6 thoughts on “Do Gray Areas Exist?

  1. Very well written!

    Steve Bauman
    MANAGER

    CHERVIN FURNITURE & DESIGN, 19 Arthur St. S, Elmira, ON
    P 519 669 5077 | C 519 897 7190 | CHERVINFURNITURE.CA

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  2. I would suggest that the “grayness” of the sort of “gray areas” discussed in this article are (mostly) an illusion, a mirage caused by our perspective. We see life from where we are (in the middle of it) and judge according to our own perspective and worldview. For some (including many conservative Anabaptists, it would seem), that worldview includes a strong inclination to grade specific actions or activities on a moral scale (right or wrong, or if we don’t know, “gray areas”). I’m feeling this inclination coming through with the author’s question about “clothing, smoking, methods of dating, music, or wedding bands”.

    While there may be many reasons we think this way, I don’t believe that reflects reality, or the way God thinks. It’s not just grading on the wrong scale, it’s using the wrong criteria. It’s a bit like grading a math exam based on whether the answers are even or odd. We all know that odd numbers can’t be good, right? I mean, just look at the label — “ODD”! Likewise, we all know that causing the death of another human being is bad. But is it always sin? Like the math test, it depends on the “problem” you were given. Righteous judgment must consider the whole reality, not just whether we like the answer. And reality is that a person’s love for God, and consequent love for other people, determine and expresses his posture toward God and the righteousness of his heart.

    This has been God’s perspective from the very beginning. Even in the Mosaic Law (the closest thing we have to a divine code of conduct), on the issue of killing, an exception was offered for accidental homicide. The punishment of death did not depend on whether the offender caused another’s death; it depended on whether he hated the other person (Deut. 4:42, 19:6). Jesus laid this out in the Sermon on the Mount, pointing out that despising or hating another is the real issue, because it’s the opposite of love (Matt. 5:21-22&f).

    There are a few issues, like adultery (which Jesus addressed next), on which our action/result-based grading seems to work all right — simply because there’s hardly a conceivable way to commit adultery without intent, or at least failure to love properly. Disqualifying odd arithmetic answers works too when all the problems end with multiplying by 2. But many issues in life just don’t work that way.

    So I agree with the author that the Christian’s worldview shouldn’t really have “gray areas”…but the deciding factor is not how the specific action rates on some scale of good or bad (many details of which are invariably human inventions anyway since the Bible doesn’t give them). The deciding factor is how the heart and mind behind the action stand in relation to God and His kind of love (and truth, which never contradict if they’re His kind).

    There’s much more that could be said but this is supposed to be a comment, not an article 🙂 …. I’d be interested in hearing the thoughts of others on this.

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    1. Very interesting comment Adam. I too had the “there’s much more that could be said” feeling as I was trying to write this article.

      I believe you are right on when you say “The deciding factor is how the heart and mind behind the action stand in relation to God.” This truly is the standard.

      And as a math teacher, I particularly appreciated your exam grading illustrations. 🙂

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  3. I appreciate your heart here, because lots of people seem to live with the attitude that “if the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that it’s wrong, it must be right!” That leads into all sorts of problems.

    However, I would still state things a little differently than you did here. I think that as long as God is infinite and we are finite, we will have grey areas. I think that for much of life, whether asking “is this the right person to marry?” or “is this music good to listen to (now)?” we are asked to live by wisdom. Wisdom is drawing on insight from God’s word, from life experience, from those around us, and more, and then making an informed judgment call as to a good course of action. Quite often several different choices could please God, as long as we are sincerely seeking to honor him.

    I once heard an older brother say that he is confident about fewer beliefs now than when he was younger (he used to be quite black and white), but that now he is more confident than ever about those things that he does believe–things clearly laid out in Scripture. I suspect that might be the path of humility that God calls some people to walk.

    I’ll end by affirming your four questions at the end of your article. I think those are exactly the sort of questions that a wise person will ponder. Blessings!

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    1. Thanks for the clarification Dwight. Yes I definitely agree that every choice we make is not a black and white issue. Hmmm, I suppose when I loosely use the term “gray areas” I was more referring more to overall “doctrinal” type decisions as opposed to “everyday” decisions.

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