KOHLBERG’S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT
Relationships do go two ways, but the way one understands the two sides of “judgment” goes back to how one sees God’s law. Imposed law, i.e. human law projected back onto God, which came through the little horn power, and has infected Christianity, including Adventism, sees judgment as you have described. God and heavenly beings “judging” us based on our “actions.” I believe this is completely false.
When we see God’s law as the design protocol for life, then we realize our actions (As Jesus taught in MT 5 regarding adultery and murder) are merely symptoms, or the outworking of sin in the heart. Another way to say it is, when the character is deviant from God’s design the automatic outcome is to sin behaviorally. Thus, the actions are “symptoms” to reveal the condition of the heart. The non-divine beings can observe the actions to understand how things go in the heart. But, God Himself doesn’t look on the outward appearance, He looks on the heart. And He “judges” the secret intents of the heart, in the same way a doctor, who examines and MRI and looks inside the person “judges” what He sees. God accurately diagnosis what the actual condition of each heart is. And our actual heart condition is determined by whether we trust God and open the heart to the working of the Spirit, which is determined by our judgment of Him.
So, the idea that God judges us based on our actions, is an artifact of the Roman infection of Christianity, and is needed for the babes in Christ, who, according to Paul focus on the actions and are not acquainted with righteousness:
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, (Heb 5:11-6:1)
Notice, the children, the spiritual infants, are focused on “acts that lead to death” in other words on being judged by their acts, or actions. This is not righteousness, not even acquainted with righteousness. This is childishness. This is like an adult brushing their teeth because mommy has a rule and if I don’t I will get judged bad by mommy. This is penal theology, God has rules
and He must judge us if we don’t do right.
Christianity is filled with children, who as children needed the rules to help them, but who have never grown up to understand what righteousness really is. What is happening is that people find themselves at different levels of development, intellectually, morally, relationally and God wants to reach them all, so God has used language for the children, the babies, but sadly, many of the children never grow up and continue to believe God’s baby talk is what He wants for all eternity. This is where penal models of atonement and judgment and punishment arise. Have you read Kohlberg’s moral development stages, which do a good job of describing normal human development, and give some insight into the mindset different people view the Bible through:
KOHLBERG’S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT
A. PREMORAL OR PRECONVENTIONAL STAGES:
Behavior motivated by anticipation of pleasure or pain
STAGE 1: PUNISHMENT AND OBEDIENCE:
Avoidance of physical punishment and deference to power. The immediate physical consequences of an action determine its goodness or badness.
The atrocities carried out by soldiers during the holocaust who were simply “carrying out orders” under threat of punishment, illustrate that adults as well as children may function at stage one level.
- Israel as it left Egypt – slave mentality
STAGE 2: INSTRUMENTAL EXCHANGE:
Marketplace exchange of favors or blows. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Justice is: “Do unto others as they do unto you.” Eye for an eye mentality. Wrong doing must be punished.
Vengeance is considered a moral duty.
- Israel at Sinai, God tries to advance them one step into maturity, but sadly much of the Middle East still operates on this childlike level
B. CONVENTIONAL MORALITY:
Acceptance of the rules and standards of one’s group.
STAGE 3: INTERPERSONAL CONFORMITY:
Right is conformity to the behavioral expectations of one’s society or peers. Individuals act to gain approval of others.
Good behavior is that which pleases or helps others within the group. “Everybody is doing it.” One earns approval by being conventionally “respectable” and “nice.”
Sin is a breach of the expectations of the social order.
Retribution, however, at this stage is collective. Individual vengeance is not allowed. Forgiveness is preferable to revenge. Punishment is mainly for deterrence. Failure to punish is “unfair.” “If he can get away with it, why can’t I?”
- Israel after the time of the judges. Their request for kings, “everybody is doing it” So they turned away from God and tried to conform to the world around them – this led to the 70 years to teach them not to be like the nations around them, which helped them go to the next level
STAGE 4: LAW AND ORDER:
Respect for rules, laws and properly constituted authority. Defense of the given social and institutional order for it’s own sake.
“Justice” normally refers to criminal or forensic justice. Justice demands that the wrongdoer be punished, that he “pay his debt to society,” and that law abiders be rewarded. “A good day’s pay for a good day’s work.”
Injustice is failing to reward work or punish demerit. Authority figures are seldom questioned. “He must be right. He’s the Pope (or the President, or the Judge, or God).”
- Israel at the time of Christ, a legalistic system of rules that must be kept for the rules sake.
STAGE 4 ½:
Between the conventional stages and the post-conventional Levels 5 and 6, there is a transitional stage. College-age students that have come to see conventional morality as relative and arbitrary, but have not yet discovered universal ethical principles, may drop into a hedonistic ethic of “do your own thing.” This was well noted in the hippie culture of the l960’s. Disrespect for conventional morality was especially infuriating to the Stage 4 mentality, and indeed was calculated to be so.
C. POSTCONVENTIONAL OR PRINCIPLED MORALITY:
STAGE 5: PRIOR RIGHTS AND SOCIAL CONTRACT:
Moral action in a specific situation is not defined by reference to a checklist of rules, but from logical application of universal, abstract, moral principles. Individuals have natural or inalienable rights and liberties that are prior to society and must be protected by society. Retributive justice is repudiated.
The statement, “Justice demands punishment,” which is a self-evident truism to the Stage 4 mind, is just as self-evidently nonsense at Stage 5. Retributive punishment is neither rational nor just, because it does not promote the rights and welfare of the individual. Only legal sanctions that fulfill that purpose are imposed– protection of future victims, deterrence, and rehabilitation.
The freedom of the individual should be limited by society only when it infringes upon someone else’s freedom.
- What Jesus tried to teach them, no need to punish the woman caught in adultery
- All humans are valuable, even the lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes
STAGE 6: UNIVERSAL ETHICAL PRINCIPLES:
An individual who reaches this stage acts out of universal principles based upon the equality and worth of all human beings.
Persons are never means to an end, but are ends in themselves. Having rights means more than individual liberties. This is the “Golden Rule” model. A list of rules inscribed in stone is no longer necessary.
At this level, God is understood to say what is right because it is right; His sayings are not right, just because it is God who said them.
Persons at this level have accepted God’s invitation to “come and let us reason together”.
- Jesus lived this level
- The New Testament church lived this level and the Apostles taught this, thus the law is the law of love, and that the written law was useful only to diagnose and not given for the righteous but for the wicked. The law is written on the heart, new covenant
- This is the level our class seeks to achieve
THE FOLLOWING ARE OBSERVATIONS THAT WERE MADE BY KOHLBERG
1. STAGE DEVELOPMENT IS INVARIANT.
One must progress through the stages in order, and one cannot get to a higher stage without passing through the stage immediately preceding it.
2. IN STAGE DEVELOPMENT, SUBJECTS CANNOT COMPREHEND MORAL REASONING AT A STAGE MORE THAN ONE STAGE BEYOND THEIR OWN.
3. IN STAGE DEVELOPMENT, MOVEMENT THROUGH THE STAGES IS EFFECTED WHEN COGNITIVE DISEQUILIBRIUM IS CREATED, THAT IS, WHEN A PERSON’S COGNITIVE OUTLOOK IS NOT ADEQUATE TO COPE WITH A GIVEN MORAL DILEMMA.
4. IT IS QUITE POSSIBLE FOR A HUMAN BEING TO BE PHYSICALLY MATURE BUT NOT MORALLY MATURE.
5. KOHLBERG BELIEVED THAT ONLY ABOUT 25% OF PERSONS EVER GROW TO LEVEL SIX, THE MAJORITY REMAINING AT LEVEL FOUR.
The Bible enjoins principles of modesty, humility, and wise stewardship of the money. Application of these principles might preclude the purchase of expensive jewelry, furs, flashy cars, or other items primarily for show. A person functioning at level six would have no problem applying these principles. Persons functioning at a level four on the other hand, might make rules about “jewelry” (in a church for instance) or red dresses, or cosmetics. But they might not even notice a flashy car or the lady who wears a new dress every single week. Those things aren’t on the list. If Kohlberg’s observation is true, then level 6 thinkers would be in the minority. They might even be misunderstood and persecuted by a level 4 majority (Christ being the primary example).
STAGE THEORY AND THE ATONEMENT
Level 1: Man sinned and offended God. God responded with angry vengeance taking the life of Jesus.
Level 2: God somehow struck a bargain with the Devil, a market place exchange of Christ’s life, paid as a ransom to the Devil, in trade for the devil’s releasing his hostages. In the popular version, Satan found out too late that God had conned him, when Christ rose from the dead.
Level 3-4: The Law must be kept. Man broke the Law. Someone had to pay the penalty. “The wages of sin is death.” Jesus paid that penalty. The integrity of the Law was maintained.
There is an aspect of truth on the law must be kept when the law is understood as the law life is built upon.
Level 5-6: He demonstrated that separation from God is death. (“Why have you forsaken me?”) Since we separate ourselves from Him, not He from us, He is not our executioner. He allowed Satan to play out his hand, exposing his selfish character for all both man and angels to see, and thus erasing all sympathy for the accusations of the fallen foe. God’s character was vindicated.
Level 7: Atonement becomes at-one-ment. God did what it took to win our love and trust, destroy the infection of sin and restore us to unity with Him again. Neither God, nor His law, defined as the eternal principles upon which He bases His government, change, but our understanding of His law changes, and God speaks to us at each level of our understanding. It is a mistake to cling to expressions appropriate to an earlier age of understanding, regardless of how valid and useful they were in their own context, when more appropriate expressions exist.
Where are you on this moral hierarchy? Where do you experience the majority of church leadership to be? Have we taken the first and second angel’s messages to the world?
The message of the third angel can only be effectively given when the first two angel’s messages are given in their right light:
9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.” 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.
Angel = messenger
Loud voice = heard all over the world
Worships = values the doctrines, adheres to the principles, practices the methods of the beast, regardless of denomination
Beast and image = a merger of religious and political powers, particularly the merger of religious rhetoric with human law constructs, creating a dictator god and political religious organization that will use coercive tactics
- Mark = that which distinguishes one as a follower of the beast system
- Forehead = true believer in the penal legal god who must punish
- Hand = practitioner of those coercive methods even though one doesn’t believe
- God’s anger and wrath = God letting go His restraining hand and allowing unremedied sin to take its full toll
- Burning sulfur = God’s life giving glory, the Greek thion, neutered form of thios, which means divine, or God, and which is the basis of “theology” the study of God. Thus, the burning sulfur is God’s fiery presence, the fire of truth and love which consumes sin, seen in Ezek 28, the fiery stones Lucifer walked amongst before his fall, or Daniel 7 when the ancient of days took his seat. And the text explicitly states this fire takes place in “the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb.”
- Smoke = Is what is left behind after something is burned up. Thus it symbolizes the history of the lives and choices of the lost, the memory of what they chose and did which is remembered by the saved forever and ever. We never forget the lessons taught us through this battle between Christ and Satan, and why the wicked are lost in the end – by their own choices.
- Forever = eternity, the end of the wicked is eternal, and we will remember for all eternity, never forgetting
- No rest = the mind is never at peace or rest in deviation from God’s design, and they never enter the eternal rest, or reunion with God
- Keep the commandments = live the law of love
- Faithful to Jesus = represent God rightly and tell the truth about God’s character
My paraphrase of the Three Angel’s Messages:
Rev 14:6 Then I saw another messenger flying in midair, and he had the eternal good news about God’s character of love to proclaim to everyone living on earth, to every nation, tribe, language and people, which represents a movement of people who arise to proclaim the truth about God’s character of love throughout the world. 7 He said in a clear resounding voice, “Be in awe of God, and glorify him by living his methods of love, because the hour has come for everyone to make a judgment about God and worship the Designer, Creator and Builder who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and springs of water, which all operate upon his law of love.”
Rev 14:8 Then I saw a second messenger follow the first proclaiming throughout the world, “Don’t trust Babylon the Great, a symbolic description of religions that misrepresent God; it is fallen into the lies about God and intoxicates the world with its pagan views of God, maddening them with its adulterous idea that God coerces and must inflict punishment if not properly appeased.”
Rev 14:9 A third messenger followed them and proclaimed in a voice heard throughout the world, “If anyone gives worth and honor to the beastly system of coercion by choosing the methods of the beast and thus marking themselves as loyal in heart by embracing the character of the beast or marking themselves as loyal in deed by practicing his methods, 10 they will reap the full fury of unremedied sin when God let’s go his protective hand. They will experience immeasurable torment of mind and burning anguish of heart when they stand in God’s fiery presence and are bathed in unquenchable fire of truth and love, all in the very presence of Jesus and the holy angels. 11 And the memory of their suffering and the lesson of their self-destructive choices will never be forgotten throughout all eternity future. There will be no peace of mind, day or night for those who prefer the methods of the beast and model after him, nor for any who choose to mark themselves as followers of the beast.” 12 This requires patient endurance on the part of the healed who live God’s methods of love and remain true to Jesus.
Is there any wonder why the church has not fulfilled its prophetic mission? We cannot fulfill the mission until we come back to the truth about God, reject the dictator view of God, which is promoted in:
- the imposed law model
- penal substitution theology
- God must punish sin
- Sabbath is a test of obedience without reason just because God said so
- Judgment is God sitting in judgment determine who will be saved and ordering punishments
- God is the source of inflicted pain, suffering and death
- All sin must be punished and God will inflict it
All these presentations continue to confuse the world and misrepresent God and obstruct the message of the three angels from doing its work in preparing the world for Christ’s return.
Feel free to leave your comments below!