Biblical Social Ethics: Wedge Principle

Social Ethics from a biblical perspective can help us make decisions on activities that the Bible does not expressly state as sin. Because the Bible was revealed for us over a long period of time, God did not create a list of rules that would dictate our actions in every possible situation. He revealed a few unchangeable rules regardless of time or place, but the rest of our decisions should be filtered through a set of biblical principles.

While I am discussing six principles in this series, there could be other principles that you can pull from scripture to help you better make decisions. I think you will find these principles will help you decide most questions you have in life.

Wedge Principle: Defined

God cautions us against anything that becomes habit forming or lends itself to further involvement which leads to sin. Of course godly habits are permitted. The caution is against activities that may not be wrong by themselves but may be formed into habits that control our lives inappropriately. A quick example of this is viewing television. Is a TV wrong or wicked? It can be, but not necessarily. What about watching TV 16 hours a day with a complete disregard for the wicked programming you may be viewing? You can see how one could lead to the other. The key is to keep the initial activity from forming a stronghold in your life so that you don’t delve into the depths of the other.

Wedge Principle: Clarifying Question

Will my involvement in this activity lead to possible sin in the future?

Man and lady holding hands.

The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 7:1 that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Does that mean that men should never have any physical contact with a lady? Obviously not. Married men and women certainly have the right to touch their spouse as you can clearly see from further down in the same chapter. Through other verses in the Bible we can conclude that Paul is talking about inappropriate physical contact. The word touch used in this verse carries the idea of “clinging to, intercourse or cohabitation” (according to Strong’s Concordance). We can conclude then that the prohibition is not on any physical contact, rather it is on contact that is obviously sensual. This is consistent with teaching found in other parts of the Bible.

Using the question, will my involvement in this activity lead to possible sin in the future? and the information above, we will consider the question of holding hands.

Is it wrong for a dating couple to hold hands? At what point is hand-holding no longer satisfying to a couple of kids? Eventually the desire will be to engage in greater physical contact. Where does it stop? I submit that, according to the Wedge Principle, you will decrease your likelihood of progressing to obvious sin by never involving yourself in holding hands to begin with.

Wedge Principle: Biblical Basis

Here are some verses that help you see the principle of avoiding things that may lead to further involvement.

Deuteronomy 12:30, Matthew 5:27-35, Romans 16:19, 1 Corinthians 6:12, Ephesians 5:12

Wedge Principle: Application

The Wedge Principle can be seen in the case of abortion. Previous to the Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court in 1973 it was legal for a woman in 14 states to have abortions because of rape and/or incest. The Roe v. Wade decision established federal laws on when an abortion could be performed. The number of abortions increased dramatically following that decision. Consistently since 1988 the number of abortions performed in the US due to rape or incest has been 1%. Where there is a risk of death to either the mother or the child, abortions are performed 6% of the time (of course virtually 100% of the time the baby is killed in the abortion process). The other 93% of the time an abortion is performed because the child is unwanted or inconvenient to the life of the parents. How did we go from allowing abortions in cases of rape to having over 1,000,000 children killed every year in the US through abortion? This is an example of where we did not heed the Wedge, or sometimes called the Slippery-Slope Principle.

Other applications:

  • Is 16 years old too young to be dating?
  • Should men be alone in a car with a lady?
  • Is it permissible to play violent video games?
  • Should a Christian have Internet access?
  • Is it appropriate for a 13-year-old child to be on a social network?

I think this principle takes some spiritual maturity to know how to apply. You don’t want to go as far as to say that you will never go outside your house because it might lead to sin; however, you can also argue that you limit your risk of seeing and doing something inappropriate if you are not around other people. The application of the principle depends on the person as well. People who are not at all tempted by cigarette smoking can be a great witness to their co-workers by participating in a work related activities away from the office. However, if the temptation to smoke when hanging out with unsaved co-workers is too great for someone, they should abstain from any unnecessary contact that might tempt them into an activity they know is wrong.

Some of the biblical principles of social ethics stand on their own, but don’t forget to apply as much of God’s Word as you can to any decision you make. The Wedge Principle may not give you enough information to make a wise decision by itself. Spend time in the Bible while looking at some of the other principles for direction from the Lord.

Social Ethics – Biblical Principles for Making Decisions

Biblical Principles of Social Ethics

I took a class in college many years ago called Social Ethics. The premise of the course was to show how to make proper biblical decisions and avoid improper decision-making models. Most students seemed to enjoy the class probably because it required us to stretch our thinking on how to make our own decisions. It was a time we were looking to break away from our parents and push forward into a life of our own. There were many decisions to be made during those college years.

In the class we were taught ethical principles that I have personally used for over 20 years to help me make decisions on what is right and wrong in various situations. Most doubts can be resolved with these six principles. But the Bible has many principles that you can use to help you make decisions. The six principles mentioned here are examples of how you can look for other principles in the Bible.

Social Ethics Defined

Social ethics are the set of rules—often unwritten—that are accepted by a society on what is and is not appropriate. These are not laws to be obeyed, rather they are principles to be applied to different situations to help you make a proper decision based on what society deems appropriate. As we look at ethics in several related posts here, I will be talking about ethics in a biblical frame of mind. Therefore, the society that makes up the set of societal rules in this context will be the body of scripture as given by God.

Different societies, cultures and countries have their own set of ethical principles. What is acceptable in one place is taboo in another. Since God wrote His Word to teach us throughout time and history, it is a book full of principles that can be applied in any time or place. Therefore, biblical principles of decision making can be applied in all societies and time periods.

The Decision-Making Process

First we should look to God’s Word to see if there is an absolute law stating what is and is not acceptable. A good example is the Ten Commandments. God tells us what we should and should not do in cases of murder, lying, theft, etc. When God has written a law, it should be obeyed.

However, out of necessity, the Bible is a book of principles instead of a list of laws. It would not make sense to anyone until the start of the 20th century to have a catalog of laws about automobile driving rules in the Bible. But the Bible has principles that can be applied when driving a camel, a car or a rocket ship. Sometimes people will justify something as being acceptable by God because He did not write a specific prohibition of their chosen sin in the Bible. Taking a few minutes to look at biblical principles and applying them to the questions at hand would show the person that what they want to do may be wrong.

To start your decision-making process there are two things you should note:

  • God’s laws are to be obeyed.
  • God’s principles are to be applied.

One of the biggest mistakes a person can make is to apply ethical principles to that which God has already prohibited in His Word. It causes confusion when you try to use these principles to justify something that God already prohibits.

The Six Principles

There will be a series of posts which discusses each of these principles in detail. My fear is that you will only look at the principle and the question which helps you apply it without reading the full discussion and application of the principle. Please take the time to see how to properly think through the principle and what the biblical basis for the principle is.

Why Apply the Principles?

Learning to live by principles is a mark of spiritual maturity. Not applying God’s principles of social ethics is a sin as much as breaking one of God’s laws (Romans 14:21, 23; James 4:17; I Corinthians 8:12).

There are many non-biblical ethical models as well. They all break down and are not easily applied in every situation. This is because they are based on man’s wisdom at the time and place the ethical model is devised. At a later time in history those models no longer work because the social ethics of the world has moved to something new.

Learning and applying these six principles of biblical social ethics will help you as you seek to grow spiritually in your Christian walk.