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  • Christianity

    Christians and Drinking–We’ve Missed the Point of Freedom

    November 21, 2017


    Image Credit: Canva

    A Facebook friend and fellow minister recently posted a photo of himself enjoying a cigar and glass of bourbon while on vacation. A thread of over one thousand comments followed; some voiced disapproval, which in turn evoked displays of mockery and irreverence, including a meme with Jesus puffing on a cigarette.

    But it was this comment, from a young, personal friend who’d sat under the man’s ministry, that compelled me to speak up at the risk of being lumped with “the ridiculous”:

    To see someone who once held my respect and honor do this is sad…. I have struggled with alcoholism and smoking; seeing a man post a picture of him doing both honestly sucks. It makes me want to fall back and be who I was.”

    Another and more prominent evangelist replied to the commenter, shaming him for placing the blame of temptation on the original post. Those who suggested the photo might be a “stumbling block,” he called “retarded Pentecostals.”

    When I pointed out the minister’s rudeness and insensitivity, he replied thus:

    (Notes to self: ponder how self-respecting people can happily follow and applaud leaders who act like jerks on social media. Make sure readers understand most professing Christians are not sarcastic and condescending.)

    But I digress. 

    The topic of whether or not it’s a sin for Christians to drink has been written about ad nauseam on the web, so I’ll leave that question for others to answer. 

    The better question, and one that relatively few in the church ever address is this: is it wise for a Christian–especially a Christian leader–to put his drinking habits “out there,” as in the case of the aforementioned Facebook friend?

    (I can almost hear a collective snicker from the “academically enlightened” as they smugly sink beneath their fedoras, close this post and return to their theology books, after striking a casual selfie pose with a bottle of Guinness and quoting CS Lewis for the caption.)

    This may be hip, but is it wise? Or maybe there’s an even better question: is it completely loving?

    I think you need to ask the college kid who is feeling the pull toward the party scene, especially if he or she has looked to you as an example of a spiritually mature follower of Christ. Young people are getting precious little help from the world in the way of resisting this temptation; so they look to the church. And if all we have to offer is a Facebook post flaunting our “freedom in Christ,” we have seriously missed the point of Christian liberty.

    See, freedom, if not governed by love, has lost its purpose. The whole point of freedom from religious legalism is that it enhances, rather than hinders, relationship with people and with God. But the abuse of freedom not only hinders fellowship but potentially blocks people from entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.

    As a former “victim” of legalism, I can appreciate ministries that emphasize grace and freedom. I know full well the joy of seeing people come out of religious bondage. How well I remember when I made my own journey out of “religious Christianity” and into an authentic love-relationship with God, realizing He is wildly, crazy-in-love with me just the way I am, and cannot get enough of me, even in my worst moments (that, my friend, is true freedom).

    But that amazing love of God resulted in a love for people that caused me to think more circumspectly about influence (for the record, I am currently thinking about how I should be more careful in this regard). I did not succumb to “the rubber-band effect”: too many people spend so much time in a legalistic system that when they are finally released, they sail far off in the polar opposite extreme of “license”, if only license to cause others to sin.

    And they are quick to mock and scorn those of us who speak out on behalf  of “the weaker brother.”* They would do well to consider Cain of the Old Testament, who was solely focused on personal responsibility without regard for his fellow man. They with their “liberty clubs” don’t give the weaker brother a fighting chance at going on with God. There was so much in that long Facebook thread that screamed, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

    This is nuanced, situational, cultural and contextual, of course. When I sat at a pastor’s dinner table in Haiti and he poured me a plastic cup of Sauvignon Blanc, his only drink for honored guests, I had to choke that dry stuff down, out of love for my brother--the same love that might make me say “no thank you” to an American waitress offering me, a pastor, a bottle of wine in a public place.

    (A friend of mine took his new pastor out to lunch, intending to ask for help with his drinking problem. The pastor ordered a beer. I can still hear the bitter disappointment in my friend’s voice as he told me his search for a helpful church was back to square one.) Legalists ask, “Is this a sin?” Lovers of wisdom ask, “Is this the loving thing to do, right here, right now?”

    That is why the writer of Proverbs said wisdom is “the principal thing.” Everything, including freedom, must be governed by wisdom. But too many of us would rather follow rules, including our own rules concerning Christian liberty, than take the time to listen to the voice of wisdom. It is always easier to follow a simple, self-made formula than listen to a “still, small voice.” And “grace people” are as guilty of this as legalists are.

    But if love were at the heart of everything we do, this wouldn’t be an issue and I wouldn’t feel the need to blog about it. The apostles wrote: “…the greatest of these is love” and “…above all things have fervent love for one another.” We in the church seem to have forgotten our priority; we have come to value personal freedom over love for others. If it were not so, we’d be more than willing to keep our personal convictions where they belong–in the privacy of our homes.

    Finally, some will argue that the church’s legalistic view and teaching about alcohol is what actually causes people to stumble; if we’d teach freedom in the first place, stumbling would never be an issue, since no one would be “taught” to see it as sin.

    These dualistic thinkers (how ironic!) seem to have given us two choices: teach and celebrate freedom, or worry about being a stumbling block. I contend that wisdom says we teach and celebrate freedom while not being a stumbling block.

    I’ll conclude this post with what the New Testament scriptures have to say about that:

    (First century converts to Christianity had been taught by their Jewish tradition that it was a sin to eat “unclean” food like pork, or foods offered to idols before going to market. Here’s Paul’s response):

    *“Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s alright to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.

    Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

    I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good.

    For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat.

    Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God.

    Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.”
    ‭‭Romans‬ ‭14:1-3, 12-23‬ ‭NLT‬

    “Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church…. But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?

    So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.”
    ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭8:1-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬
    “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.””
    ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

    “Jesus said to his disciples, “Stumbling blocks are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”
    ‭‭Luke‬ ‭17:1-2‬ ‭NET‬‬
    “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God….”
    ‭‭I Peter‬ ‭2:15-17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

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