Faith Misplaced, Merit Undone

One might argue the point that the fashioning of a ribbon or medal trinket to symbolize appropriate degrees of combat valor is only a matter of maintaining chivalrous military morale. Interestingly enough, an obsolete definition of chivalry has to do with the condition of being a knight in fact—knighthood being bestowed as meritorious recognition to the skill and prowess of a warrior.  Medals of distinction for valor in combat have managed to gain and maintain esteem of compatriots toward those considered worthy of adoration and praise for conspicuous courage in the face of the enemy.

Some medals were granted only on the condition that a previous medal had already been earned.  One example is the Iron Cross 1st Class that King Frederick William III of Prussia bestowed upon those soldiers who had already been awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class for exceptional bravery displayed during the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon.  Prussian General Karl August Ferdinand von Borke won his two Iron Crosses for his actions in the Battle of Luneburg on April 21, 1813, and then again in the Battle of Leipzig in October, 1813.

Such is not the case for the Medal of Honor, sometimes referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, bestowed upon recipients for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”  One does not have to earn a Distinguished Service Cross before being eligible for the Medal of Honor.  Yet there are two distinct protocols involving other conditions which must be met in order to receive a Medal of Honor.

The first and most common protocol involves the chain of command within the branch of service, be it the Army, Air Force, or Navy—the Coast Guard and Marines being under the Navy’s jurisdiction—for nomination and approval.  The second is nomination by a member of the U.S. Congress at the request of a constituent.

For a time, it was possible for one to receive the Navy version of the Medal of Honor for peacetime heroics, but by 1963 one could only earn this highest distinction in actual combat with an enemy force.  In fact, the Army Medal of Honor Review Board struck 911 medals from the Medal of Honor Roll in February 1917 for not meeting the basic prerequisites.  They had received the medals for acts such as guarding Washington D. C. during the Civil War, being on President Lincoln’s funeral detail, or even while being civilians!  

On July 25, 1963 the prerequisites for the Medal of Honor were standardized for all the military branches.  Additionally, for all medals of merit awarded to our service personnel, one of three criteria must be met: a) must be engaged in action against American enemies, or, b) while engaged in conflict with an “opposing foreign force,” or, c) while serving with friendly foreign forces in conflict with an opposing foreign forces in which the United States of America is not considered a belligerent.” (Wikipedia, Iron Cross, and, Medal of Honor.)

Participation Trophies

In today’s culture, however, social progressives are applying pressure to avoid treating children differently because of meritorious behavior. Instead of medals, trophies, or ribbons for meeting merit criteria, every child gets what otherwise would set exceptional individuals apart—participation awards.  This raises concerns regarding the long-term psychological impact on children who receive an award they did not legitimately earn because of fears over the emotional damage that might occur if they lose a competition.  Furthermore, the attitude of entitlement is fostered which can lead to overconfidence or arrogance when placed in a position where merit is actually required in order to mark achievement.

Because children have been coddled by the misguided sentiment that they should hear only how wonderful they are regardless of what they actually do or don’t do, it should come as no surprise that repeated studies are proving millennials—the first of the entitled trophy generations—are either overly stressed and/or depressed by the harsh realities of life now being applied to their life experiences.

When Pittsburg Steelers linebacker James Harrison learned that his two sons received “participation” trophies, he made national news by announcing he would be returning what his sons hadn’t truly earned.  He posted to his Instagram, “I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies!  While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy.  I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut you up and keep you happy.”

Kurt Warner twittered his agreement with Harrison’s stance. 

Conversely, the negative side of merit—demerit—is used as a disciplinary tool for the purpose of shaming individuals for bad behavior.  Whether it be students misbehaving in school, or drivers getting moving violation tickets, one must wonder precisely at the efficiency of the demerit system when it can only be enforced if one is caught in the act.  Australian journalists reported that, over the last four years, those driving company cars have avoided nearly 63,000 fines and demerit points.  The companies simply refused to identify to police the drivers committing the speeding and stop light infractions, preventing the possible license suspension for excessive traffic violations. 

One demerit system worthy of special notice is that used by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA).  Commercial truck drivers involved in accidents are assessed demerit points even when accident reports stated that the truck driver was not at fault for causing the accident.  These demerits are also applied to the truck company—affecting its ability to get freight from companies that shy away from high-risk carriers.

In 2016, the CVSA released the results of its 2015 safety week findings.  One significant insight provided this discrepancy of treatment between drivers: “Officers found that non-commercial motor vehicle (passenger vehicle) drivers speed significantly more than commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers.  Passenger vehicle drivers were issued a warning or citation for speeding 27.3 percent of the time, versus 9.3 percent for CMV drivers.” 

Whether good or bad, cultural pressures are influencing perceptions on systems of merit or demerit.  Considering that in society there is a movement away from meritorious reward, could there be a similar movement within the religious—the spiritual—realm?  If so, then how could we identify that which leaves merit undone?

Spiritualists promoting unconditional love would have us believe that there is no punishment for disobedience.  In a 1979 article, Rev. Melvena V. Hafner declared, “When we love one another we shall hold no fear of breaking the Ten Commandments, as we strive to live to do good toward our neighbors.  As Spiritualists, we learn that through a God law of love, if we make mistakes we can atone for them.” (The National Spiritualist Summit, Vol. 61, No. 658, Aug.1979, 20.)

Another article opined, “Any religious system that tends to produce a negation of natural, healthful joyousness in living, by insisting upon the necessity of suffering and deprivation in the present and the expectation of an ephemeral reward in some equally ephemeral paradise of the future, produces harmful consequences in the lives and affairs of its adherents” (V. May Cottrell, Ibid, 15).

Now, it is not the position of Adventists that humans have the ability or power to atone for one’s mistakes, aka sins, where disobedience of God’s law is involved.  It is by faith in Christ’s merits that we are saved.  Yet many quote Ellen White’s statement: “God hates sin, but He loves the sinner,” as though it is definitely unqualified (Prophets and Kings, 84).  However, elsewhere we see the qualification in a 17-page letter Ellen White wrote: “The Lord hates sin; but He loves and forgives the repentant, believing sinner, and takes him under His guardianship and control….”

“The work of Satan is plainly defined as that of resisting the meritorious work of Christ.... When Christ steps in between the tempted souls and Satan, the adversary is angry and opens up with a tirade of abuse and accusation, declaring that Christ is unfair in protecting these souls, and in lifting up a standard against him....” (Ms. 27, 1894.)
“God does not change his plans and devise new expedients to save man in different ages or dispensations.  With him ‘is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’ He does not abolish the law to bring man into harmony with himself.  If he had proposed to destroy the jurisdiction of the law over man at any time, he would have done so when Adam’s failure to keep its requirements brought him under its terrible condemnation.  But God does not provide any such escape in this emergency.  He expels the guilty pair from the garden.  The law says the penalty of sin is death, and they have brought on themselves, by deliberate choice, the loss of eternal life.  The course of God toward the rebellious has not changed.  There is no way back to innocence and life except through repentance for having transgressed God’s law, and faith in the merits of the divine sacrifice, who has suffered for your transgressions of the past; and you are accepted in the Beloved on condition of obedience to the commandments of your Creator.
“God’s love and justice have provided one way, and one only, whereby man can be saved from eternal separation from Heaven and alienation from God, and that is by faith in Christ and obedience to his law. The Spirit of God operating upon the human heart never leads men to belittle the law of Jehovah. Enlightened by this divine influence, we will see with awe the majesty of its requirements, the heinousness of sin, and feel the terror of its inevitable penalties upon the transgressor.” ” (Signs of the Times, Dec. 15, 1887.)

Scripture reveals the cause and effect that determine worthiness for merit or demerit. Death is decreed for the one who is worthy of it at the mouth of two or three witnesses (Deut. 17:6, 7).  After the execution, the body was to hang on a tree as a sign of God’s displeasure (21:22, 23).  Jesus spoke of those He considered worthy of Himself, when He said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37, 38).  Those that refused the banquet invitation were declared as unworthy, as well as those who refused to put on a wedding garment (22:6-8, 11-14).  Of the future world, Jesus speaks of those “accounted worthy to obtain that world” as being equal with the angels (Luke 20:35, 36).

We also read of God’s worthiness to receive love, glory, honor and power on the basis of His acts of creation for His pleasure, and because of redemption’s success (Rev. 4:11; 5:2-14).

Through His suffering, Jesus established His merits by obedience—“earning the right to become the advocate of men in the Father’s presence” (Desire of Ages, 744).

We have this commission:

There is a world to be warned. To us has been entrusted this work. At any cost we must practice the truth. We are to stand as self-sacrificing minutemen, willing to suffer the loss of life itself, if need be, in the service of God. There is a great work to be done in a short time. We need to understand our work, and to do it with fidelity. Everyone who is finally crowned victor will, by noble, determined effort to serve God, have earned the right to be clothed with Christ’s righteousness. To enter the crusade against Satan, bearing aloft the bloodstained banner of the cross of Christ—this is the duty of every Christian (Review and Herald, Jan. 31, 1907).

Let us not be found with our faith misplaced, or Christ’s and our merit undone.


David Thiele is a truck driver and author who lives in Berrien Springs, MI.