Q: When does the end justify the means?A: Such “end-means” thinking comes from Utilitarian theories (argued by people such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham), which hold that right actions are those that produce the greatest good. These theories open the possibility that unethical actions that produce a greater good are justifiable.
In a biblical worldview there is ultimately only one end for human life—“to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” (The Westminster Catechism). Everything else in life, in some sense, is a means toward this end. Or to put it another way, we use everything in life to fulfill the end of loving God and neighbor. Ask yourself then, Can an unethical or immoral action be a means to an end?
Christians should not employ utilitarian “end-means” thinking to make ethical choices. Rather, we should employ the biblical worldview and biblical truths as frameworks for our decisions. As finite and fallen creatures, we cannot figure out all the consequences of our actions or choices. We can only choose as wisely, as faithfully, and as prayerfully as we can in messy situations. We have to trust God to work everything out for the good (Rom. 8:28).
—Shiao ChongShiao Chong is campus minister at York University, Toronto.
Q: I would like to visit one of our church members who is HIV positive, but I’m afraid for my own health. Should I be worried?
A: The short answer is no. There have been no documented cases of casual transmission of the HIV virus.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). With reduced immunity, the person who has this virus is at great risk of developing many kinds of infections and certain cancers. The virus is usually transmitted through sex or by contact with blood, such as sharing needles or receiving blood transfusions. Most cases of AIDS in the world are in Third World countries. If you have Internet access, go to http://www.crcna.org/pages/osjha_hivaids.cfm for more information on this pandemic.
There are also many people in North America with HIV/AIDS—approximately 1 million. It is this group of people whom most of us are likely to come into contact with.
People with HIV/AIDS are often socially excluded—even by their fellow Christians. Not only do they have to deal with their health problems, but they must also deal with risks to their jobs, marriages, and social networks. To then be judged and shunned by their fellow Christians is terribly wrong. We know better.
Coming back to your question, please do not be worried about catching HIV from visiting someone. Have a coffee together—or a meal—without fear. The disease is not transmitted via saliva or perspiration. Even offering a hug is OK. It will do both of you good.
Dr. Herman Borkent practices medicine at Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta.
Q: In seeking nominees for council, it’s always easier to find people who will serve as deacons. Is the office of elder more weighty or difficult? Are elders more important than deacons? Is giftedness not a consideration?
A: Our Church Order says that the “offices differ from each other only in mandate and task, not in dignity and honor” (Article 2). Yet general practice has been that a person serves as a deacon before serving as an elder. Sometimes that’s the desire of the nominees themselves because they realize that elders sometimes get into very delicate and sensitive pastoral situations, and they wish to gain some experience in the general council before serving in the consistory. Sometimes that’s simply tradition. Typically elders have previously served as deacons.
These practices and perceptions are changing. The ministry of deacons has expanded significantly beyond counting money, and they, too, face delicate and sensitive situations that call for discernment. No one should assume that the calling of deacons is easy and that of elders more difficult.
More councils are looking at a person’s gifts, not at whether that person has served before. A council I previously served asked a person who had served as a deacon and an elder to stand in nomination again. He consented but wanted to serve as a deacon because it better matched his gifts.
—George Vander Weit
George Vander Weit is pastor of Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.