Saturday, August 15, 2009

Principle versus Policy

As I watch the continuing debate over the nationalization of health care my emotions are stirred to the max. I have strong feelings on the issue. Surely such a passionate position must have Biblical support. Surely God must be on my side on this issue. Surely God must be opposed to the nationalization of health care. The truth is much of the debate is not a matter of Biblical truth; it is a matter of policy. In other words, all of us can see that our health care system is in serious trouble. The possible solutions, however are many and varied. The cost of medical care has reached enormous proportions. For it to continue its present course will eventually make medical care unaffordable. Part of the problem lies in a system where the free market has been usurped by a system where insurance companies pay our bills. The consumer is completely removed from the actual costs. The consumer simply allows his insurance to pay the bill. This has led to unreasonable costs. No consumer would be willing to pay five dollars for a band-aid, unless of course someone else pays the bill. The other problem lies in the unreasonable costs doctors have to pay to protect themselves from litigation. Our legal system is also in need of overhaul. These statements, however, fall into the category of policy rather than principle. We can zealously oppose increasing our national debt as a matter of principle. It is sinful to allow our actions today to place a burden on future generations. We cannot, however, place matters of health care policy on the same moral level.

I'm using the health care debate as an example of the difference between principle and policy. Our inability to discern between the two can cause many problems for our church. We all have strong positions on many different issues. We must be able to separate the difference between principle and policy. Let me give some other examples. All of us agree that children must be properly disciplined. This is a Biblical teaching; a matter of principle. How each family implements this teaching is a matter of policy. When we try to bind others to our particular position of policy we risk causing needless division and strife. Another example: All of us agree that children are a blessing from God. They should be received with thanksgiving. This is a Biblical teaching; a matter of principle. One family may decide that this means a family must have unrestricted births in order to properly reflect this principle. Another family may decide that given the Biblical mandate to train each child, having 3-4 children is a more reasonable approach. One side may accuse the other of usurping God's Providential control over their fertility. The other side may say having unrestricted children is irresponsible; like refusing medial care because we trust in God's Providence. The truth is, both sides are correct. Both are recognizing children as a blessing from God and both are understanding the high responsibility of parenthood. They are in disagreement over policy, not principle. Neither position is necessarily sin. One more example: All of us agree that parents have the duty of educating their children as a matter of principle; a matter of Biblical truth. Some assume that homeschooling is the only proper means of fulfilling this Biblical mandate. What do we do, however, with a single mom who has to work to feed her family? She can't homeschool and can't afford private school. Is she in sin to send her children to public school? Is it not possible for her to be involved in their education; visiting the school regularly, regular contact with the teacher, oversight over their study, etc. Both parents can believe the same Biblical teaching (principle) while working out the details (policy) in a different manner. There is a difference between principle and policy.

As a general statement, reformed churches tend to be smaller in size. Sometimes this is true because Biblical truth is often unpopular. Unfortunately, it is also sometimes true because reformed churches can become very dogmatic on various issues excluding people who don't hold to their positions. Often it is a matter of failing to discern the difference between principle and policy. I recently read an article in World Magazine that described Capitol Hill Baptist Church as "a church that sits blocks from the political heartbeat of the country with members working for both parties." When I first read it I was surprised. Imagine serving in a church alongside a Democrat; not only a Democrat but one who actually works for his party! As I looked at the complexion of our own church I immediately concluded this would never work. We have positions that are too strong. But many of these positions are matters of policy. Need we be divisive on these issues? I visited Capital Hill Baptist Church (Mark Dever's church) last summer. They are reformed, but they are a large congregation. They were packed on the Sunday I visited. Their worship was Biblical and God honoring. The sermon was expository and edifying. Imagine, I may have been sitting with Democrats! Associate Pastor Michael Lawrence stated in the World Magazine article, "Our church has tried to draw a line on issues of principle without getting involved in the debates on policy." May God grant our church the wisdom and grace to discern the the difference.

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