ETHICS & Implications of Wesley’s quote: I would not tell a lie to save the souls of the whole world.

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 9/2/10.

John Wesley famously said, “I would not tell a lie, no, not to save the souls of the whole world.” So, I ask my students to grapple with this.

One student remarked that according to a book he read (written by two of my close friends, Gary McIntosh and Charles “Chip” Arn) that “the goal of your financial investing should be to make the greatest number of disciples” (What Every Pastor Should Know).

Subsequently, the discussion turned to a discussion if finances could be used in an unethical way because more people would be saved as a result.  As I mentioned above, I know the authors of the book and this is of course not what they are saying.

But, this reminds us that outcomes can (but should they?) be used to justify the means.

According to John Wesley’s writings, it has to do with our understanding of God’s foundational action in love. Here are some questions that will help our understanding of ethical actions:

  • Would God have us do something unethical to make the greatest amount of disciples (This is part of the question in the story of the “plank of Carneades.”)
  • In other words, should we do something that furthers benefit to ourselves or even someone else’s soul … when that action is unethical?
  • And finally, would God require such action?

What are your thoughts?  If you are a student of mine, you can reply in the discussion forums to garner more points.  For all others, this is a good exercise to keep your leadership team sharp when considering ethical dilemmas.