Have We Lowered the Bar?

The term “Lowering the Bar” has its roots in athletic competition. The “Bar” is progressively raised. Have we lowered the bar so far that we’ve forgotten our ultimate goal? Or are we strivi

The term “Lowering the Bar” has its roots in athletic competition. When young athletes are learning to high jump or pole vault, good coaches understand that it is important to give them a goal which is actually attainable. After they master the process of making successful jumps, “the bar” is progressively raised, thereby encouraging them to extend their limits.

In daily practice sessions, athletes begin with a lowered bar, working up to their maximum limit. It’s standard practice. It makes perfect sense. BUT — no successful athlete ever forgets that the lowered bar is only there to help him / her take the steps upward toward the goal.

High Academic Standards

In academic pursuits, a similar process is used. No reasonable person would ask incoming first graders to work advanced algebra problems. For them, “the bar” is set much lower. Some years ago, in an effort to coordinate educational standards, U.S. president Bush promoted a set of standards called “No Child Left Behind”. In some cases, the new standard seems to have become the academic equivalent of athletes never raising the bar above the level that could be mastered by the least physically fit athlete.

In many school systems, the “old” standard had been that any grade lower than 70% was unacceptable. Some better schools had required 80%, and a few model schools had required 90% mastery. Under the new universal standard, 60% is acceptable.

It’s great to encourage weak students to achieve all that they can, but surely we can agree — in many fields of endeavor, 60% mastery amounts to total failure. Would you be pleased to fly with an airline pilot who successfully lands the plane 60% of the time? Would you be happy to submit to the care of a brain surgeon whose record of “getting it right” hovers around 60%?

The “Old” and High Moral Standards

This process has invaded our moral and spiritual standards, as well. The television industry is only some 60 years old. In the early days, primarily because of the influence of the organized church, TV shows didn’t portray married people sleeping in the same bed. The worst language that you’d ever hear from your TV was “Gosh”, “Golly”, “Gee-Whiz”, or “Dang”. Nudity or near nudity was unthinkable. Stations actually lost their licenses for “crossing the line” of what was accepted as “Decency”.

The standard was high, and we should be honest — in some cases, it was a bit comical. It was right to lower the bar just a bit — for example, allowing people who were portraying married couples to “sleep” in double beds. It’s a slippery slope, though, and today, we have slid far down that slope. We’ve become accustomed to “prime time” shows featuring profane and vulgar language, “jokes” that emphasize inappropriate innuendos, extreme / graphic violence, the portrayal of unmarried couples (both heterosexual and same-sex) engaged in illicit relationships.

Moral Standards Gone Low

Today, there seems to be absolutely NO church influence. The argument to lower the standard has promoted the concept that television should reflect real life. From that lowered starting point, we’ve descended even further, so that the most depraved members of society seem to have higher standards of conduct than those depicted on TV’s worst shows.

Humankind has a long history — extending all of the way back to the Garden of Eden — of “testing the limits”. Today, whatever limit of decadence is portrayed on TV is soon tested and “surpassed” by those who reject authority.

Our Response

Christians should be alarmed that recent studies find little or no difference between actual life choices made by unbelievers and those of professing Christians. Have we lowered the bar so far that we’ve forgotten our ultimate goal?

The great apostle Paul was fond of sports metaphors, and often spoke of His spiritual journey in such terms. In Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV), he wrote,

“Therefore.... let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith....”

In Philippians 3:13b-14 (ASV), he said,

“...but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

In our society, somebody has “lowered the bar”. If our faith is valid, our true goal must always be to “...press on toward the goal (which is) the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

The church can no more enforce God’s standard on unbelievers than the best athletes can force all competitors to match their best jumps — but like star athletes, we must always strive to lift the bar to new heights, and to inspire / encourage each person to progress toward achieving lofty goals — goals which please our Lord.

Philip Herr has been active in ministry since 1972, beginning in bi-vocational ministry, later moving to full time mission director status. Philip starts each day with short devotions from daily email devotionals on a wide variety of Christian devotional topics.


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