If you’ve read some of my previous posts you’ll know that I’m heading to this Christian party where drinking is going to take place. Says it right on the invite: “we gonna get our drink on”. Well, it doesn’t say it quite like that, but it’s a cocktail party and while some people say that all the references to wine in the Bible were actually references to grape juice, the word cocktail in this passage actually means alcoholic beverage. In fact, I wanted to bring beer—specifically PumpKing from Southern Tier Brewery—but was informed hard drinks were the order of the day.
Originally this party was supposed to be attended by 5 couples. Sadly, various bureaucratic Church issues have lead two of the couples to drop out. It’s a nasty piece of gossip that I won’t slim you with. Suffice to say, not everyone in this group, or the affiliated Churches the groups represent, are okay with Christians consuming alcohol.
When I heard about this, about how some of the people invited to this event were up and arms about other Christians having a drink, my mind shot to the scripture about not being a stumbling block. I gnawed on it for a while (without actually cracking open the Bible—big mistake) and made a case for why I felt you’re not actually being a stumbling block for another believer if that believer doesn’t have a problem with drinking beyond disagreeing with your theology on it. I’m talking purely about orientation to drink here, not addiction temptation, not battle with alcoholism, just the belief that drinking is evil and therefore it should never be done by anyone, especially not by a Christian.
I drink. I’m okay with it. I don’t think it’s sinful to do it. So when I found out it was going to be this big issue, and that people who found drinking wrong were going to be coming to a drinking party while those who found it okay were going to avoid it, I did what anyone would do in my situation: I brooded. I paced the house and monologued about fundamentalists killing my good time. I conjectured about how ridiculous it is for Christians to declare drinking bad when the first miracle Jesus performed was turning hundreds of gallons of the water in stone basins into the good stuff so people could get smashed at a wedding party. I decried of how preposterous it was these abstainers should come to a cocktail party in the first place! I comforted myself with thoughts of how weak their faiths were and how I might flaunt the strength of my own by drinking… Show up with a keg, scream, “No body leaves till we finish this baby! Woo-hooooo!”
In summation, I acted like a jackass. What I didn’t do during all this time, however, was consult the Bible.
It turns out that this isn’t the first time this issue has come up. There have always been, and will always be, people who are diametrically opposed to the consumption of foods and their related spiritual consequences. In Romans Chapters 13, 14 and 15, Paul tells the Church in Rome that it’s not about food or drink but about the kingdom of God. That you can drink and not sin before to the Lord if you know in your heart that drinking is okay. Or you can not drink, and honor the Lord in your heart if you feel it’s unclean. Basically, it’s your call. Every man, according to his faith on the subject, is free to do what he thinks is okay (abstaining from excess—like my keg idea—because wanton drunkenness is never looked at as okay).
The real issue is not the consumption. In the passage of scripture that ends chapter 13, Paul talks about how love fulfills the commandments. If you love someone, you’re not going to tear them down or burden them, or quarrel, judge, or condemn them. Next chapter, Paul says, “let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats.” Paul later says, “the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Paul does refer to the one who abstains because they feel it’s unclean and sinful as the weaker in faith and the one who sees no reason to abstain from anything God has made clean as the stronger. When I first read this I was like, “Ha! I’m the stronger believer.” Then, promptly after that went through my head, I felt like an ass again. It’s true that the person who sets legalistic rules on their behavior is a burden to those who don’t have them. Yes, it can feel pretty unfair to the stronger believer. But it’s not about what’s fair or who is strong. It’s about peace, righteousness, and joy. It about not despising the person who abstains. It’s about, as Paul also says, living in such a way that builds up your brother. “For Christ did not please himself…” Therefor, Paul says, it’s the obligation of the “strong” to bear with the failings of the weak—which also means keeping your mouth shut and ego in check because thats not helpful either.
If you look at all the chapters together it’s remarkable how they mirror this present day party issue. People divided over consumption. One party despising the other for weakness, the other party being judgmental concerning to much liberty. The issue is not consumption, it’s faith. It’s one party trying to honor God by abstaining from anything that may cause them to sin, and the other party trying to honor God by relishing the freedom they have in him. Paul says fairly plainly that the those who are on the freer end of this should do whatever they can to help their less free brothers and sisters along for the sake of unity and love. And while doing that, Paul also says “the faith you have, keep it between you and God.” Which I take as an admonishment not to rub someone else’s lack of freedom in their face, or, conversely fly the flag of condemnation when someone consumes something you may believe unclean but scripture say isn’t.
It really isn’t about superior or inferior here. It’s about not being divided. If that means you have to abstain, then do it because you know that by doing so you are honoring God and helping unify the Church, which, if we’re honest, has more than enough reasons to divide as is.
After I read this passage a couple of times, I realized more about the true nature of the Church, or at least what it’s called to be—love, constant understanding, the strong breaking themselves down for the weak, peace making, no despising, no judging, believers going without so that others may come closer to a God who loves them and learn interdependence on one another. I wish we saw that more in our society. Then I realized that we can, at just about anytime we want too. Following in Jesus’ foot steps—a homeless, impoverished, son of a Carpenter—doesn’t require much more than making the choice to do it.
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